How uncle cured my mental friction after being back in the village for three days
"My uncle always said that he could only take care of himself, but he actually took care of the whole village. "
As many of you know, Ginger River has a full-time job other than making this newsletter, and sometimes it can be quite busy and challenging. But as a Chinese Substacker who is committed to offering you quality content about a real and complicated China, Ginger River presents you a story today which he believes you should not miss.
The 11-minute video of a story of a resilient villager who became disabled as a teenager went viral on all of China's social media platforms today. It was first posted on Bilibili, a video-sharing website in China, by 衣戈猜想 Yige Caixiang, an uploader, and got over 15 million views in a day, ranking first among all the videos on the platform. A Wechat blogger 粥左罗 Zhou Zuoluo posted a text version of the story on WeChat. Later, Yige Caixiang posted another video in response to netizens’ questions about his second uncle.
In this newsletter, you can find a YouTube link of the video by China Daily and a translation of the story by GRR. In the uploader's words, how his uncle maintains solemn self-improvement in the midst of struggles and difficulties makes people respect him.
The original title of the video is 回村三天，二舅治好了我的精神内耗 “How uncle cured my mental friction after being back in the village for three days”. It is noted that the uploader told the story in a uniquely humous, objective, self-deprecating, ironic and even unruly way, with a tango music as background music. To Ginger River, it is a way of showing attitudes towards the difficulties and challenges we all have to face in our lives.
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This is my second uncle, the once talented young man of the village.
This is my maternal grandmother, an old lady who dances popping every day.
The old house where they live was built at a time when the United States didn’t even exist yet.
Uncle was the best student in his elementary school, and the best in junior high school. The city's general examination collected a total of three test papers from the rural areas, one of which is from my uncle. One day, when he came home with a fever, the doctor in the next village gave him four injections on his buttocks one day, and he became disabled.
My second uncle who was teenager at that time lay in bed, never wanting to go back to school. The teachers came to the door three times to persuade him, and my uncle lay across the bed with his eyes closed, not saying a word, like a Mr. Wolong with a broken leg.
For the first year my uncle refused to get out of bed. He found a barefoot doctor’s manual from somewhere and read it frantically for a year, but my uncle's leg was not injured, but disabled, so his efforts did not solve his problem.
So the next year, second uncle threw away the manual, left the bed, and sat in the patio for half a day like a large frog.
In the third year, he stopped watching the sky and watched a carpenter doing work for his family, who left after three days. Then second uncle told grandpa that he had learnt how to do the woodworking, begging grandpa to go to the blacksmith store to make woodworking tools for him. After that, for the first time in three years, he went out of the courtyard to the production team to make benches for people, making two a day for one dime a piece, so he could support himself.
One day, he came to the production team with his crutch as usual, and the captain told him that he didn't need to come anymore because the production team was gone.
Uncle asked why. The captain told him that China began to reform and opening up.
So my uncle began to “reform and opening up” as well, wandering around the various villages in town to do carpentry for people. One day on the road, he met the doctor who gave him the four shots back then, and he said to my uncle, "I would have been sued today (if I did that to you today), And I would have had to take care of you for the rest of my life." Uncle laughed, scolded him, limped and went back to work for others.
Later, I don't know what is wrong, but uncle just cannot get his disability certificate, and he was very disappointed. He actually went to Beijing on crutches. He wanted to go to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall on the Tiananmen Square to see him.
He said that the reform and opening-up is very good, and good for him. Why? Because it is fair, said second uncle.
Soon, second uncle did not have much money left. A cousin of his in Beijing is a soldier and second uncle went to live in the military community as a family member of the soldier. People did not expect that my second uncle actually got along quite well with the military. Second uncle does not like to chat and socialize, only love to work. We don’t know how he got the carpentry tools in the army. At a time when the conditions in the army were still very difficult, second uncle silently made a lot of cabinets and tables for the soldiers. Which soldier would not like such a homie?
One day, my second uncle's cousin went to the bathhouse and saw an old man and my uncle sitting in a bath. Second uncle's cousin was so scared that he couldn't say a word because the old man was a military chief he had only met a few times. The chief was squatting in the pool at the moment to give my uncle a back rub.
Later, when second uncle returned to the village, everyone asked him how Beijing was. "Beijing people rub backs very well," he replied.
When it came to the age for my second uncle's two sisters to get married, second uncle was very sad, but he had his own way of expression: When great aunt and my mother got married, all the furniture, including every drawing, every board, every piece of glass, every decorative strip, every screw, and every paint was done by my second uncle alone.
Can you imagine how fantastic it was for a girl in a village in the mountain to have such a set of furniture when she got married in the 1980s in China?
The grandmother's family was so poor, so second uncle thought that when his sister got married with such a set of furniture, her parents in-laws would look up to her and perhaps treat his sister better. You may say I'm bragging, because on the future it said Shanghai brand, but you have to know that this is made by my second uncle, who always has a way to manually make whatever brand for you as you like, such as Tianjin brand, Beijing brand, Hong Kong brand, or 超豪华OK "Super Luxury Ok."
Then, the young second uncle adopted the newborn Ningning. Second uncle desperately tried to make money by doing work in the surrounding area, so most of the time Ningning was taken care by second uncle's sister-in-law at her house. Second uncle rarely accompanied her.
When Ningning was a child, people often talked about her behind her back, saying that she did not know how to be polite. A child who had been abandoned twice, what manners could she have for the world?
Ning Ning and her boyfriend got married ten years ago. For the 200,000 yuan of the county house, second uncle contributed more than 100,000 yuan. I can not imagine how he saved up.
Second uncle used half of his life savings to Ning to buy her a house, but he was so happy about that. This is the style of Chinese parents -- the respectable and poor Chinese parents, humble but great.
Second uncle in his early 30s was in his prime time of matchmaking, but he told me that he always felt that he could only take care of himself in his life, not others, so he never thought about this.
Second uncle lied. At that time, there was a woman from the next village, with a husband and two children. People did not know what kind of opportunity brought the relationship between second uncle and the woman suddenly very close, and soon became too close. She often came to the second uncle's house, and the second uncle often went to hers, even when her husband was home.
Her two children also liked second uncle, and later she began to attend all the family events as an official member of his family, and was very considerate of him, keeping his messy hut in good order.
So many years passed, but the woman did not divorce. The four siblings of second uncle gave full support to them at the beginning, but turned strongly against them, suspecting that the woman might just want to get second uncle's money.
In elementary school Ningning called the woman "old fox", and called the woman's daughter who was her classmate "young fox." [GRR's notes: In modern Mandarin and Cantonese profanity, the term "fox" or "Huli Jing" describes a woman who seduces married/romantically-involved men. Here obviously second uncle was not married/romantically-involved with others, but the word was still used as profanity against the woman] The honest second uncle did not know what to do about it.
Later, the woman and her husband died of gas poisoning in a workhouse in some other places. The details of this relationship are beyond my comprehension, and second uncle's sister-in-law can't remember clearly about it, while my second uncle is reluctant to talk about it.
What was it all about? It was neither today's fashionable fairy jump, or Xian Ren Tiao 仙人跳 [an extortion scheme, where a man is lured into a compromising position by a woman and then blackmailed. The English counterpart for this term includes badger game, sextortion, and honey trap.] , nor that year's La Bang Tao 拉帮套 [La Bang Tao is an old tradition in China. In the past, when a husband was seriously ill and could not support his wife and family, he would find another man to take care of his family. After the husband dies, the wife would officially marry the man who takes care of the family. The tradition no longer exists now.] Has love ever come to them?
Decades have passed, the story of the deceased ended without a hitch, and now there is nothing left but "a bad debt", rotting in the heart of the second uncle alone. Growing scabs after bleeding cannot be teared down because a tear will bring down the flesh.
And so another 30 years have passed. Nothing special. Yes, the life of ordinary people is like this, sometimes too ordinary to not fast-forward 10,000 times to see the ending. Time flies, grandma is 88 years old now.
Now the cost of labor in the countryside is getting higher and higher, and it's a good time for second uncle to earn money. He would like to earn a little more money for his own retirement, so he won't have to be a burden to Ningning in the future.
But grandma can't take care of herself now, and she doesn't want to live very much. Once she even hung the rope to the door frame [to kill herself]. The Chinese people always say "birth, older, illness and death", but between birth and death, why should there be "older and illness"?
This is not the unkindness of God, but compassion. Otherwise, if we all die at the age of 70 or 80, with good health and strength, how much would we miss this world? Wouldn't that be even more painful? In this sense, "older and illness" is a necessary exercise between "birth and death".
So when my uncle went out a few years ago, he started to put my grandmother in the tricycle. When he went to someone's house to do carpentry work, he leave her on a small bench beside him.
A 66-year-old man carrying his 88-year-old mother, this 6688 combination is simply cool as hell. [6 and 8 are both lucky numbers in China]
These years, second uncle gave up his carpentry work and provided full-time care of grandma. He helped grandma wash her face in the morning, wash grandma's feet in the evening , and accompanied grandma to exercise in the afternoon.
Every 20 steps she took, she had to sit down and rest for 10 seconds, and every 20 steps she took, second uncle was 3 meters behind her, and it took 10 seconds for second uncle to catch up.
The last time I saw such a tacit walk and move was in Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen. Jordan likes to gift Pippen a supercar [Michael Jordan gave Scottie Pippen his red Ferrari as a Christmas Gift in 1997], and second uncle likes to make noodles for grandma and top them with some scrambled eggs with tomatoes. Mmm, yummy, yummy.
Ningning grew up with little education from second uncle, and today Ningning is the most filial child in the village. It can be seen that the best way to let children be filial is to be silently filial to one's own parents. Children are small, but not blind.
In fact, it is difficult to define the second uncle as a carpenter. During the three days I was home, he fixed a plug-in board, a gas stove, a bedside lamp, a toy car, a stiletto, a washing machine, and a faucet for the village people.
On the way back, he was stopped by another aunt and fixed the lock of her house. Before he could enter his house, he was called to another house by another old man, saying that the induction cooker was broken. Second uncle went to his house and found that he just had forgotten to turn on the power of his plug-in board. Poor old man. Back home, second uncle fixed another grandma's phone and radio.
Grandma had a stomach problem, so he gave her acupuncture. People don't like the bare wood on the gatehouse, so second uncle designed it himself and painted it on for people. A temple was built at the top of the hill, and all the dragons on the temple were carved by him.
There is no fortune-teller in the village, so second uncle became a fortune teller. Of course, the sign was made by himself, the bamboo tube (for fortunetelling) was made by himself, the book was made by himself, the trigrams were copied by himself. [GRR's notes: second uncle said that he did not think that doing fortune-telling sets a good example for others, according to the uploader in another video]
He even had a whim one day to make an erhu [a Chinese two-stringed bowed musical instrument]. He used wood for the body of the erhu, copper core of telephone wire for the strings, bamboo for the bow shaft, and fishing line for the bow hair. We don't have pythons here, so he went to the mountains to catch some double-spotted brocade to make a skin. You see, second uncle always has a way.
I'd love to show you the decent erhu, but unfortunately my grandmother let my silly brother play with it as a hoe more than ten years ago, and it was broken.
Among all the farming tools, furniture, electrical appliances and vehicles that are available in this village, there are only three things that second uncle won't fix: smartphones, cars and computers. Because he do not have these things himself. But now he has got a smartphone bought by Ningning, and when he dismantled it for a few times he will also be able to learn how to repair it.
It's late at night, and the lights are still on at my uncle's house -- he is fixing something for someone else.
Do you hear the sound of gongs and firecrackers? It's not that someone in the village is getting married, but after all the young people have left, the wild boars have come back and people have to find some ways to scare them.
There are just a few hundred old men and women left in the village. If something is broken, sending the repair store to fix it is not an option. Not to mention the cost, the town is 30 miles to the mountains and if the aged took bus to the county, they can not even find the direction after getting off the bus.
Second uncle always said he could only take care of himself, but he actually took care of the whole village. People in the village jokingly called him 歪子 Crooked, but each of us knew very well that we love this Crooked, and we could not live without Crooked.
When China's college entrance examination was resumed in 1977 [after the Cultural Revolution], second uncle was 18 or 19 years old. If not for the four injections he took after the fever, he might have gotten into university and become an engineer.
In that case, he would have been given a house by his work unit and a pension by the state, so he would be able to relax and enjoy his life. An old man in the next village was like that, and he was not as good at studies as second uncle in school. If that was the case, how good it would be? Second uncle would have become an old codger full of leisure and fun like Wang Jusheng, in 汪曾祺 Wang Zengqi's book. [Wang Zengqi was a contemporary Chinese writer. He is famous for his short stories and essays. Wang Jusheng was Wang Zengqi's father]
Looking at him, I am reminded of the lines in the movie "Chess King": "He is a genius, but he was born at the wrong time. He should have been nurtured by the country and become famous all over the world. He shouldn't have gotten so poor."
It's a pity, it's really a pity.
I asked my second uncle if he had ever thought of it that way, and he said he never had. Such a mentality made second uncle the second happiest person in the village. The first happy person was just now, the "Mr. Tree" of our village.
So you see, the first happy person in this world is the one who is not responsible for others, and the second happy person is the one who never looks back.
Who doesn't have regrets? People are often dying when they realize that the biggest regret in life is always regretting past regrets. Regrets in the movie is the foreplay of the rise of the protagonist, in life it is the poison that makes people sink.
I stayed in Beijing for nine years and had the privilege of meeting a few very excellent people, but second uncle's experience here allow me to see all the ordinary, beautiful and tough characteristics of our nation.
It is said that the most important thing in life is not to play with a good hand, but to play with a bad hand well. My second uncle played very well with a bad hand. 他在挣扎与困难中表现出来的庄敬自强，令我心生敬意 His solemn self-improvement in the midst of struggles and difficulties made me respect him.
I was able-bodied, went to college, and was born in a time of opportunity, so I deserved to have a fuller life than my uncle.
Today, my uncle is still walking his own path. Where will this long road eventually lead?
There is a decades-old notebook under my second uncle's bed. The first page of the notebook is a sentence he excerpted: 下定决心，不怕牺牲，排除万难，去争取胜利。Make up your mind, don't be afraid of sacrifice, overcome all difficulties and go for victory.
Yes, this road of life must lead to victory at the end.