丁莊秀園

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Days In The Forest Farm (semi-autographic)

(2022-11-29 15:14:15) 下一個

Some of my American friends want to know life in China so I wrote this English version of my life as Intellectual Youth in the forest farm during later time in Culture Revolution. Hope you will be interested. Any feedback will be greatly appreciated.


Days in the forest farm (1) Arrive

[Self Song - Chinese poem] Memory

Memory is bitter, and we were planting trees together.
Today I am planting a tree in my garden, where are you?

Memory is sweet, and your smiles are in my heart.
Warmly wishing you the best, wherever you are.

Recalling the years of the youth in the farm, Yijun's eyes began to blur. The days between age seventeen to nineteen were the most important days in his life. How he hoped that he could be reborn, that he could return to the youthful time and relive those windy and rainy days that were somehow regretful and somehow sweet.

This is an autobiographical story of his days in a forest farm. The names in the story are half-true and half-false. And what happened to someone here maybe happened to someone else not here. If time can be reversed, then this story can be like this...

September of 1974. Colorful flags were flying on the streets, gongs and drums were filling the air, and there were middle school students on the roadside singing the quotations of the great leader Chairman Mao: "Young intellectuals must go to the countryside to receive re-education from poor and lower-middle class peasants". In the motorcade, there was a hooded Jiefang brand truck. This was a military vehicle of Wuhan Air Force. It drove from Wuhan to Zhongxiang county. Among the soldiers, there were two exceptions, a boy, and a girl, who were intellectual youths going to the countryside. This was also the first time they met.

"Lili, have you been to Zhongxiang's army?" It was Yijun asking. He was sitting next to her. He got up early this morning and wore a new green army uniform from his father. This was the first day in his life that he left home alone and would be far away from home. He was very excited.

"No, it's my first time," she replied in standard Mandarin. She was a very beautiful northern girl, with fair skin, a somewhat flat round face with two long braids behind her, a headscarf wrapped around her head, and she was sitting quietly in a corner of the car, which were full of male soldiers. She was visibly uncomfortable, and her eyes were on the floor.

"Here is called East Mountain, but it's the westernmost part of Wuhan. My father used to be there. When I travel there, the car must go through a long and narrow road. If there were cars on the opposite side, one of them must backup all the way." He tried his best to find something to say to her. It was the first time he spoke in Mandarin, and he found it very interesting. 

In China, the house was provided by the place where you work, so you may live at your father's place or your mother's place. He grew up with his mother who was a middle school teacher. He was envious of the children who grew up in the army compound, especially those girls, who have very limited contact with the locals, the lower class of the society. They speak in Mandarin since most of the army generation are from north of China. She was far less enthusiastic than him, and she answered a few words from time to time. Her words became less and less.

Ping, Ping, Ping. A soldier in front knocked on the window of the cab and the car stopped. She jumped out of the car and hurried towards the village by the road to use the restroom. The soldier said to himself: "The driver is too young to be sensible. Don't you know that there are women in this car? We need to stop a few more times on the road."

After she came back, the car continued to go west. The two middle school graduates on the car were tired. The road was bumpy. It would take eight hours to reach the destination, about three hundred miles away. About one third of the trip would be mud road. The destination was the forest farm where the intellectual youths would live. This year was the first year that the so-called Zhuzhou experience had been implemented. Instead of distributing the intellectual youth into small groups to live with farmers, they were all put in a single point, called the youth point, which was convenient for centralized management. 

They finally arrived. There were twenty-four youths here, half male, and half female. They were greeted by three thatched cottages on the mountain.

Most of them were the children of leading officials in Zhongxiang county, which was about five miles away. Let's call them county children. Four of them were from the local army, about twenty miles away. Let's call them army children since their parents were from local army. It also happened that two of them were boys and the other two were girls.

"My name is Yasu," another army girl introduced herself in northern dialect. However, her appearance was more like a girl from the south; her cheekbones were slightly prominent with short hair, and her body looked thin. When she talked to him, she smiled and gestured. She was good looking, but not as good as Lili. He could clearly feel that she was much more enthusiastic. Her family was with the army.

Another boy from the army, Weiguo, spoke with a Sichuan accent. He grew up in Sichuan province. He was sent here because his uncle in-law works in the army. Apparently, this youth point in Hubei had better living conditions than the one that he was supposed to go in Sichuan. 

The three thatched houses were like an open square. The west was the kitchen, and the north was a larger storage room. It was divided into two. Half of the house was relatively clean. It was given to the girls. The other half was storage. The east house was used to raise livestock before. Now it was cleaned and given to the boys. The floor of both rooms was covered with straws, which were their bed. The rooms were very small. All boys slept on the straw next to each other. Each boy brought one quilt. They put half of it under and half above to sleep. They barely had enough room to turn. The situation of girls was similar. There was only one simple restroom outside, which was newly dug a hole for the girls. There was no restroom for boys. They needed to go to the woods to find a place, and a few leaves as bathroom tissue to clean themselves. There was a big yellow dog in the forest farm, and very friendly with the boys. It slept outside at night. If anyone wanted to poop in the forest, it would follow him and guard him. In the night, there were no lights in the wild. With the dog as company, the boys feel much safer; the dog even ate and cleaned the ground afterward.

The work of the first few days was not very busy. Everyone was given a sickle to cut some grass.

"Did you sleep well last night?" asked Yijun.
"It was terrible! There were mice everywhere, running around, so I couldn't sleep all night," answered Yasu.

The grass in the forest was almost two feet high, as if it had not been cut for a long time, and everyone was waving their sickles vigorously.

Suddenly, a little hedgehog ran out, and several boys excitedly surrounded it. The little hedgehog's body became a ball of thorns. One boy took off a piece of clothing and wrapped it up. After finishing work, he took it back to the dog in the forest farm, but if the dog opened its mouth to bite, it immediately clumped into a ball, leaving the dog nowhere to eat. Later, the little hedgehog ran away when the dog was not paying attention. 

One cold day in November, they went out to cut the grass again. "Snake!" Yasu exclaimed. She jumped aside and immediately pulled Yijun with her hand. When he came and saw what was, he quickly jumped aside. This was the first time he saw a snake in the wild. Lili noticed and immediately stepped on it calmly, and she said to him with a slightly mocking tone: "I thought you wouldn't be afraid!" She spoke with a smile on her face. She let the snake go away and said: "Actually, the snake at this time is nothing to fear. The weather is already very cold, and the snake is about to hibernate. It can't open its mouth anymore."

He was very impressed. "Next time I'll step on it too. If you can do I can too," he said to himself silently.


Days in the forest farm (2) Sweet Potato

Yijun always believed that he was a very capable person. At home, he could do all kinds of housework. In school, his academic performance was always the best. He was the leader of Young Pioneers in primary school. He was the leader of Communist Youth League in middle school. He assumed that he will be a communist member when he becomes 18 years old, the minimum age to be a member. Only the best can be communist members.

Farm work was totally different than schoolwork. Most of the people here grew up in Zhongxiang county. They were very good at farm work. Among the four army children, only Weiguo was from a different province. He also had some farm experience. That left only three people without any farm experience: Yijun, Yasu and Lili. They always fell behind in farm works.

There were 24 intellectual youths, and 6 local farmers. One of the locals was an old chef. Each day, a boy and a girl were selected to help the kitchen. The boy's main task was to carry water. The forest farm was on top of a small hill, and the water was from a small river below the hill, which was a big challenge for Yijun. It was even more difficult on rainy days. Just filling the bucket with water was very technical and it took him a lot of time to do it. He then needed to walk on the muddy small path to carry the water to the top of the hill. He could easily fall to the ground and needed to start all over again. He needed to carry two buckets of water about 16 times each day.

One of nice county girls called Minmin volunteered to help. She was short but had no problem carrying water. She was friendly and liked to joke. She helped to carry some water. She also gave him a few demonstrations on how to fill the bucket with water. He clearly felt shameful that he needed a girl to help to do a boy's work.

He was so tired that it was like his body was broken. Weiguo said with concern: "Don't compare with us, everything has to be done step by step."
"I can’t believe that I am even worse than her," he answered.

Farm work was only part of the suffering that he had from the beginning.

The vegetable garden had just been expanded, and there were not many vegetables for the time being. The pantry was stocked with freshly harvested sweet potatoes and a big vat of ready-made hot sauce. Everyone ate sweet potato, porridge, and hot sauce three times a day, every day. When he was in city Wuhan, it was only during the Chinese New Year that his father's unit distributed some sweet potatoes, which was a rare treat and he liked it very much. There was nothing else in the forest farm. Sweet potatoes can be eaten casually, and they were delicious. He ate them happily, but Weiguo advised him not to eat too many. He did not listen. After two days, his stomach and throat started to feel uncomfortable. He didn’t want to eat them again, but they were the only available meal. Sometimes there was no rice, only sweet potatoes, and he had to eat them. He felt very bad and since then, he has never liked sweet potatoes even after many years!

He was eagerly looking forward to holidays to change the current situation.

The forest farm gave each intellectual youth two days off. This new national policy had greatly improved the living for them. The children in Zhongxiang County were only five miles away from home, so they could walk home on foot. A military vehicle will come to take the army children to their parents. Weiguo's uncle was a busy high-ranking official in the army. He usually stayed in farm. Only Yijun and the two girls would go.

By arrangement with the township, the army vehicle would arrive at the forest farm at noon, they would have two nights and a whole day in the army, then back at noon to the farm. It takes 4 to 5 hours ride from farm to army. The car would need to cross a large river on ferry. He was happy to spend two half days on road since there were two girls to accompany him, especially time to wait to cross the river.

There were neat willow trees planted on both sides of the river. The sandy beach was smooth. There were only planned willows, giving people a sense of cleanliness and elegant feeling. The trunks of these willows were thick, but not very tall, and trimmed with new wickers extending all around. When waiting for the ferry by the river, everyone must hide in the car if rains. Other times it would be very nice out there. Mushrooms grow in the trunks of the willow trees. They can be very big after rainy day.

"There are mushrooms on the willow tree, let's go pick mushrooms!" Lili sent an invitation,
"You guys go, I'm too tired to walk," Yasu was not so active.
"Let's go together!" He invited again.
"You go, I'll just walk around, remember to come to my house for dinner tomorrow, and bring the mushrooms," she said.
She stayed and the other two went.

"The mushrooms on the willow tree were edible. My father and the others specially tested them, and they tasted very good!" she said.
"Huh?" He was surprised but happy. "She seems to know lots of things better than others" He thought to himself.

"There used to be a lot of mushrooms here, and no one eats them. Now some people know that these were delicious, and there are not as many mushrooms as before," she said,
"Oh," he responded. "She must have learned that from her father," he thought.

Later, her father used the mushrooms picked from the tree paired with a big mouth bass to make a dish and it tasted very good! He put some chestnuts and sprinkled chopped green onions on the outside, which left a deep impression to him.


Days in the forest farm (3) Vacation

In the evening, the car arrived at the army, a place called Guoliu creek. During the Cultural Revolution, chaos was every were except the army, they were actively preparing for possible invasion by The Soviet Union. The army moved to the mountains in an orderly manner. It used to be a very remote mountainous area with no roads. Many locals had never seen what a car looks like. Now there were very neat rows of military camps built by the soldiers. The bottom half of house was local stone slabs, and the upper part was made of bricks.

Yasu got out of the car first. This was the area where the family accompany the army live. There were a few scattered brick houses. Lili and Yijun’s father were both on the higher side of the slope. This was the area where the single army officials live. The fathers were waiting there.

After dinner, he greeted his father and went to her place. Her father was not there, and the two young people had already forgotten their fatigue in the forest farm with their cheerful laughs.

"Dad, you were going to take us out to play tomorrow?" she saw her father coming in and went up to meet him,
"Okay, okay, what do you want to play?" her father asked,
"Of course, something fun," she said, tilting her head.
"Let's take you up the mountain to hunt the wild yellow goats!"

She leaned to her father’s arms. He was stunned by the scene. Not only was he jealous of her father, but he wanted to touch her hair, of course he dared not. He has a younger brother, but no sisters. “How sweet a girl's smile can be!” He certainly wouldn't be snuggling into his father's arms like her because he's a boy, and this seems to be the exclusive right of a girl.

"Tell your father, we'll go up the mountain together tomorrow," she said to him.
"He was a very kind senior military official," he thought as he came out of her house. That night he couldn't sleep well, and her beautiful figure couldn't go away.

The next day, looking at the good weather outside in the morning, he couldn't wait any longer: "Dad, we're going to hunt the wild goat, are you ready?"
"Of course!" His father was like a magician, took the pillow away, and a bright black pistol was displayed in front of him.

Her father also brought a pistol, and the group of four walked towards the mountain.

The scenery of Guoliu creek was very beautiful. This road passed through the middle of the cliffs of two tall mountains. If it was developed into a tourist spot, it would be a "one-line sky". There were small lakes and streams beside the road. He has remembered that scene, and later wanted to go back to see it. But the radar regiment was no longer there.

"Look, Ganoderma lucidum!" her father first discovered it. Ganoderma lucidum was one of the precious traditional Chinese medicines. It can be found on some mountains. It was expensive to buy.
"Do you want to pick it up?" she asked,
"Let's pick it up when we come back, no one will pick it up anyway," her father said. But when they came back, everyone had forgotten about it.

They were walking, chatting, and looking at scenery. They were not hunting very seriously. It was not until afternoon that they found a wild goat. Her father raised his gun. But he didn't shoot, he said: "You can't shoot too hastily, especially when there were people around, and the distance of the pistol was not far enough."

The goat spotted the man and ran away. "However, let the two youths shoot and have some fun!" He didn't want to disappoint the kids too much. He explained the essentials carefully, especially emphasizing that at any time, the muzzle of the gun should not be pointed in the direction of anyone!

The first time he took the gun, he felt that it was much heavier than he thought. He held his breath and fired a shot. She however didn't seem to care, firing three shots in a row before returning the gun to her father.

Dinner was at Yasu's house. She had a younger sister. Her parents warmly entertained the three intellectual youths and their parents. Everyone sat around the table. Her mother poured her and Lili a glass of red wine. Her sister was too young to drink. She poured a glass of white alcohol for him and other adults. He suddenly felt that he was an adult now.

In the evening, he and his father not only talked about various experiences in the forest farm, but also talked about Lili's father,
"I see the beautiful handwriting on the wall of his house, it seems that her father wrote it himself," he asked.
"Yes, her father is very talented, he used to be the head of the entertaining unit, and her mother was a dancer there, which may delay his promotion. According to his qualifications, he could be much higher rank now," his father said. Both Yijun and Yasu father were under leadership of Lili’s father.

On the way back to the forest farm, he said to Lili, "I thought about it for a long-time last night and wanted to ask you that is it true that your father played the role of Wangcheng in movie Heroic Children?” That was a very popular movie.

"What? Do they look alike? Definitely not," she replied with a smile,
"Oh, sorry," he also smiled awkwardly.


Days in the forest farm (4) Boy and Girl

Wuhe brigade consisted of six small brigades and one forest farm. The forest farm used had only one person to work there. Now there were about eight locals to join the intellectual youths, who were to be reeducated by the farmers. Most of the farmers were illiterate so the Zhongxiang county sent a person, called Comrade Tang, as technical leader for the youths. 

To show respect to the farmers, all the intellectual youths called them grand uncle regardless of their age. The one farmer who was the only person who lived here before was Uncle Sun. The chef was Uncle Nan. One young farmer who was a tractor driver and was about the same age as the other intellectual youths became Uncle Huang. There were two female farmers. The older one was Aunt Xing, and the other, who was too young to be an aunt, was called Sister Zhou. Unmarried Zhou was about Yijun's age, and her delicate face and pair of long braids make her look like a city girl. If he had some questions needed to ask farmers, he would first look for sister Zhou, followed by Aunt Xing, and finally the other uncles. All the farmers were leaders of the intellectual youths.

Normally the field manager would decide what to work each day. But comrade Tang was also important in the determination process. The first big thing Comrade Tang did for the forest farm was to build houses for the intellectual youth. They needed bricks to build the houses and needed to make them themselves.

Brick-burning was normally done in winter. One must dig a big pit on the ground and put bricks into it for burning. This was usually a special kiln that needed to be reused. They built the kiln on flat ground since it was used only once. They mixed the soil with water in certain proportion and used wood molds to make raw bricks. After drying, they would be stacked together and fired into bricks. As the stacked bricks become higher, it became challenging to stack them. Two long tree trunks were tied up as a ladder. Girls would help to put bricks into baskets. Boys would need to carry them to the top of the stacked bricks. Later, the length of the two pieces of wood was not enough, so it was extended with more pieces. Carrying a heavy load of bricks and walking up to the top was very tough. It was also dangerous since the “ladder” could be very slippery. To prevent feet from slipping, he and others were barefooted. Even the brick kiln was already higher than one floor, he was not afraid. Confidence was important to do the work.

The house was built by a special construction team, and the intellectual youths were to provide helping hands. The house was built on a lower slope, with a water pond next to it. The three houses also stood in the shape of a courtyard without walls. The kitchen was on the west side, with storage rooms. On the north and south sides were two rows of houses. The boys were on the south side and the girls were on the north side. There were two people per room, each with two beds and a table. It was just mud floor which was still much better than the old place.

This was also benefited from another national policy. That is, the intellectual youth were distributed to the place according to the parent's unit, and the parent's unit often contributed money to help. The army provided steels that was in very short supply at the time. The steels were a very hard to get commodity. The county got some from the army. They in turn provided other needed materials and manpower to build the houses.

Yijun and Weiguo were in the same room. Yasu and Lili were also in the same room.

Yijun, who was a quiet person, was still like a student in school. He put an extra piece of glass in the house on the table, found some red paper, cut a string of lace with scissors, and inlaid it under the edges of the glass. There were several books in his room, including some middle school math textbooks, and a violin in a corner of the room, which made the house a little more bookish. Weiguo was a poor student. He even failed to graduate from first grade in middle school, so he was older. He went here with “backdoor”. But he was more experienced socially. He thought he was a little funny. They came here to receive re-education, so what the books for? Later we would see that surprisingly, Weiguo went to university first.

The weather was getting colder, and there was no decent farm work to do. But the intellectual youths also follow the field manager to get up every morning at 5:00 am before dawn, and work until it was completely dark before going home. A trench of a foot deep and a foot wide was dug in the middle of all trees. The area of the forest farm was very large. There were stones everywhere, and it was very difficult to dig. When working, boy and girl were matched as a team. Boy would use a pickaxe and girl would use a shovel. As the saying goes, "Men and women match, work was not tiring", but doing this every day for a few months was still tiring. Though it was better to have a desirable partner to work together.

The partner was assigned by the field manager. Though he would be a little embarrassed to ask for a preferred partner, he would try anyway so he can work with Lili or Yasu. He may deliberately delay the time to be picked. When he and Lili were together, they sometimes complained together.

"Is it useful for us to be so tired digging trenches?" she asked?
"I don't know, even if it's useful, I don't know how useful it is," he replied.

Was it any use of digging a trench between trees? This question also puzzled him from time to time. When his hands were peeling off layers of skin, he often asked himself: "Is it worth it?" At that time, labor maybe more important than the result of it. There was even a saying that "it was better to harvest the grass of socialism than harvest the grain of capitalism!" In this sense, hard farm work to learn from farmers was important than any economic benefit that may have. They also talked about light topics.

"I hate to wear a hat. Girls are good, wearing a headscarf is so beautiful," he said enviously.
"No. Guys are good. Just wear a hat is much simpler," she said.
He didn't think so. "But men have to get haircut, it's troublesome," he added another reason for girls.
"It is a big trouble to wash our hair," she told him. They keep arguing men or women was better. He listened with great interest.

They talked about how they liked the opposite sex, but there doesn't seem to be anything like "I love you", and neither of them knew what those three words meant. However, it was natural for opposites sex to attract each other. After a long time together, they certain can feel the attractiveness from the other person. He sometimes compared her with Yasu.


Days in the forest farm (5) Yasu

[Bu operator - Chinese poem] Spring dream

The cold day brings the spring breeze, and the
long night urges the spring dream.
It was pure love and naive, that they
planted peach blossoms together.

The seeds are also unbearable, and
only aggravate the sorrow.
When the 800 days are gone, it is hard to say goodbye!

This was to say that Yijun and Yasu spent many days in the forest farm. He felt that she was warmer to him. When the two of them went to dig trenches together, she always brought a pot of water with a military kettle. She always let him to drink first,

"You drink first, I'll drink later," he said.
"Women can drink the water that men drank, but men can't drink the water that women drank. That's the rule here," she said.
"I always thought boys would like to drink the water that girls drank, and girls won't want to drink the water that boys drank," he said with a smile. He really thought so, and it was the first time he had heard of such strange rule. She was a very persistent. He always seems to do what she asked.

When they were resting, she would sometimes sit down next to him and play a game of guessing the middle finger with him. He often felt flattered and sometimes even a little uncomfortable since touching of opposite sex was supposedly prohibited. Of course, he was very happy inside. He liked to recall scenes of the day when lying in bed at evening.

"You're so nice to me, I'm more comfortable only when I'm with you," he told her gratefully,
"I am little bit more daring and more comfortable only with you," she explained.

She was weak physically. But she always worked very hard. He would always try ways to make her work less and let her rest for a while. He was also quite worried about her physical condition.

In the forest farm, you basically eat whatever vegetables were in the vegetable field. From the earliest April when the vegetables were available, broad beans were first. You would eat those every day, and then there were green beans, lentils and so on. When peppers were harvested, you ate them every day all month long. To make the peppers less spicy, you cut the peppers and dry fry them in a pot, then wash the pot with water to remove some of the spicy taste, and then add some oil to stir fry. There were also a lot of red peppers that were mixed with salt and pickled in a jar which would be eaten when nothing green was in the field. There were some very good chili peppers soaked in sesame oil. That was not for anyone to eat. It was reserved for the visits of the leaders of the brigade. Summer and autumn have the most vegetables. Lots of melons, gourd melons and cucumbers. In winter, mainly radishes and cabbage, these two were the least afraid of severe cold, especially cabbage. But cabbage was difficult to preserve. Radishes can be kept for a long time. The radishes just harvested were delicious. But were all put in the cellar and would be eaten when nothing else was available.

In the forest farm, from January to April, it was called “the green and yellow are disconnected” since nothing was in the field. They would eat the radishes in the cellar. By then the radishes have been around for a long time and have lost their moisture and taste like broken wood. Fortunately, there was a spicy sauce to mix, which can barely be eaten. The main food in the south was rice. It was often porridge, and sometimes with sweet potatoes, pumpkins. Sometime, no rice. Wheat was the main food in the north but very rare here.

There were two special treats a month. Typically, one of them was to eat steamed buns made with wheat, and the other was to eat tofu. Although these two were not expensive, they needed to be bought from outside. There was not much money left after buying oil, salt, sauce, and vinegar. The budget per intellectual youth was 19 cents per month!

Meat was only eaten during spring festivals. At that time, the forest farm would probably kill a pig, and everyone can eat together. The local farmers also kill pigs at home, and sometimes they would invite intellectual youths to their home. It seems that the big yellow dog in the forest farm must be specially raised. It clearly loves to eat meat, but it never touches any things that were put on the table or stool. It only eats the things you put on the ground. Good dog!

The monthly holiday was the time to make a big supplement of meat. When it was time for the holiday, Yasu would invite her two youth companions to her house for dinner. She would ask him to come early to help prepare dumplings. 

That day, he arrived at her house before four o'clock. The adults were not there, only her sister was doing her homework in the back room.

"Come and help me roll up my sleeves, and I'll make the dough," she said,
and after helping her roll up her sleeves, he stretched out his hand and said, "Help me roll up my sleeves, and I'll make the dough."
"You can? ... Then let me make the stuffing," she picked up the cabbage stuffing,
"How about the taste?" she stretched out a finger and let him lick it,
"Sister! What are you doing?" her younger sister just saw it, and yelled,
"It's nothing! You do your homework," she ordered.

Although it was really nothing, her face was red: "Let's ignore her,"
"Yes, ignore her," he smiled…

"You're making dumplings very fast, I can't imagine that you are good at doing things," she praised,
"Sure is. My father has many colleagues from the north, and they like to eat dumplings. Although, our family are the southerners!" he said,
"You are using the Shanxi wrapping method, and I am the northern wrapping method. First fold the two sides and then squeeze the front, and there would be two folds in the front," she demonstrated.
"I've learned something new again," he practiced the new method.


Days in the forest farm (6) Hero

On the eve of the busy farming season, a congress of model persons was held in the county. This was part of communist education. Five intellectual youths from the forest farm were selected, among them Yijun and Weiguo. The biggest advantage of attending the meeting was that you don't have to work, and there were free dinners. During the conference, the delegates studied and visited Zhouzhuang brigade in Zhongxiang County, which was a demonstration of advanced farm.

In addition to the neat farmland, Yijun was impressed by a canal, which was long and wide, all made of large stones and cement. built on the ground,

"It's not easy! How much labor does it take?" he said to Weiguo enviously.
"It's for setting of the model. They can't build it by themselves," he replied disapprovingly.
"Ah? Maybe they got help from some local people?" he said in surprise.
"No way. People would not be able to do it. I think the canal was made with large bulldozers," he said,
"If that's the case, how do we learn it? We don’t have the machines," he seriously asked Weiguo for advice.
He just shrugged and didn't answer. This sounded like cheating. You cannot achieve the same with only manpower.

After returning, Weiguo proposed the intellectual to learn from the old revolutionary predecessors, carry forward the revolutionary tradition, and invited a local old Red Army to give a report on the revolutionary struggle of early years. From the forest farm you can see a mountain in the distance from a high point, which was said to be the place where Li Xiannian, who was chair of Chinese congress in sixties, fought guerrillas. He invited Aunt Xing from the forest farm to tell everyone about the evil old society. She cried bitterly. Under the leadership of the field director, the intellectual youths visited a local place called Wutan. There were five small mounds where five martyrs who died in the Anti-Japanese War were buried.

The story goes something like this. In a battle against the Japanese devils, two Japanese were captured as prisoners. Five soldiers were sent to escort them to a different place. One of prisoner broke free from the binding rope. Although the other prisoner was killed, all five soldiers were killed by one escaped Japanese prisoner!

"What kind of hero is this? Five men with guns not able to control a single unarmed one." he seemed to have a sullen feeling in his heart, which made him feel very uneasy.
"Although they didn't succeed, they were still very brave." Weiguo was calmer.
"This, and..." He felt uncomfortable for the next few days, but that was the real story.

"There are small crabs in the small river ditch over the old forest farm, do you want to go and have a look?" Weiguo said, getting attention of Yijun.
"Okay!" he was interested in many fresh new things in the village.

The small river ditch was very shallow. They stood barefoot in the water. Sure enough, some small crabs could be seen on both sides of the ditch. However, it was not easy to get them out by hand. He was busy for a long time and didn't get any of them, Weiguo grabbed a few and put them in a small bucket he brought with him.

They wrapped them in thin soil and threw them into the ashes of the stove in the kitchen. After the dinner was cooked in the evening, the crab was also cooked. Of course, there was not much taste, and in fact there was not much meat. In those years when materials were relatively scarce, everything was particularly fragrant. After all, it was fresh meat, and maybe it was a little fun.

There was a similar way to eat chicken. It was the famous "beggar chicken", which was the favorite of Hong Qigong in the Legend of the Condor Heroes film. But he had never tried it. Intellectual youth often ate this way in the countryside, but only with birds such as crows and quails, not chicken. After finding a bird with a flashlight in the dark at night, quickly grab or kill it, cook it this way, and peel off its skin and feathers to eat. The biggest advantage of this way of eating was that you don’t need to cook separately. It’s not allowed cook just the bird which would be too troublesome. Just throw it in a little place inside the stove. Normally the taste was particularly good, depending on what it was compared with.

Comrade Tang, who leads the forest farm, was a technician from the County Agricultural Bureau. He had done a lot of good things for the forest farm, such as raising silkworms and rabbits, and growing some products with high economic value in the farm, such as peanuts, fruit trees, soybeans, cotton, etc. But he also had bad ideas, such as requesting to rebuild the existing moon shaped tea fields to square shaped.

These tea trees were built on a sunny slope and grow very well. The fields were in the shape of a crescent moon according to traditional habits. This was mainly because oxen were used to plough the land to facilitate the turning of the cattle and the flow of rainwater. Tang did not like these fields. He thought that the square fields looked better and asked them to be changed to square. Many farmers in the forest farm complained. He felt that what they said was very reasonable, so he went to talk to Tang but was ignored.

Comrade Tang said: "The countryside is to be developed. You can't only see the present with the old eyes. In the future, it would be mechanized. Only square fields are suitable for tractor farming. Don't listen to their nonsense. They don't understand anything." The tea trees on the edge were all transplanted according to his request. Most of them died after the trees were moved to new place. But this was only confirmed in autumn. He did not cooperate well with the locals.

The local field manager of the forest farm often said that he was a mud-legged man. Yijun felt that description was an appropriate somehow.

One day after work, he and a few intellectual youths talked about the sleepless nights and what dreams they often have. The field manager who was walking aside asked: "What is dream means?"
"Dream is what you think about when you fall asleep at night," he explained,
"But I never think about anything when asleep," he said.
"Then did you think about anything before going to bed?" he was trying to explain to him,
"I always fall asleep immediately if I lie down on my back," he said,
"It's really hard to explain then" he laughed. "He doesn't know what a dream is, and naturally he never knows what insomnia is, that should be a different kind of happiness," he thought.

In his room, the field manager saw a few books and was not very happy. He asked him to put them away, saying that books were not needed here. He was against any books. "He probably doesn't know what's in that violin box, and he'll definitely ask to put it away," he said to himself after he left.


Days in the forest farm (7) Early Rice

The hard work of transplanting rice seedings began in April. Most of the farmland in Hubei was double-cropping rice, namely early and late rice planting. Early rice started from the end of March, and the seedlings were shoveled down in pieces, picked into the field, and then planted evenly at certain distance.

Seeding transplanting of early rice is a seasonal and time critical farm work. If the time is delayed, the rice would not be mature and affect the seeding of the late rice. They bowed their waists and planted seedlings in the paddy fields from dawn to dark. The boys transplanted the seedlings into the field. Although it was hard work, generally they would rather do this. Since transferring seedings was faster than planting, so after a while, they go to planting, alternating the two works. Girls basically have no choice but to plant. You have no chance to straight your back when planting. At night, he was often so tired that he couldn't stand straight.

There were waters in the field on top of soft mud. The most hateful thing in planting was that you must go barefoot. There were so many leeches in the fields. There would always be several of them sucking blood on your feet. These leeches were soft, but their skin was very strong. There was no way to kill them. Their regeneration function was particularly strong. If you try to break it into two pieces, it will become two small leeches, so when you find it, you can only grab it and throw it as far as possible. You may not feel anything when they first suck on your feet. Once you started bleeding, they can quickly return to your feet by the smell of blood. There were also lots of mosquitoes. It was lucky that they haven't heard of any disease it spreads.

Although it was very hard, no one complained, and there was no reason to complain. No one wanted to fall behind the others, and they all worked very hard. Yasu, who was fragile, was no exception. She fell ill soon after, and she insisted on working with everyone until she fainted in the field. After that, the forest farm arranged some light farm work for her, like helping in the kitchen, and sometimes letting her and a boy go to the city to pull manure. It was easiest to go to the city to pull dung. The dung cart usually uses a yellow ox which was probably better served than a horse, and it did not travel very fast. Sitting with the dung flatbed cart, the taste was not very good.

Lili started by wearing a pair of deep-fitting rubber shoes. That didn't work very well. It was hard to move. Later, she also went barefoot.

By this time, he can do farm work just like other boys. He even thought of life as a farmer. This was a step further to follow Chairman Mao's "Go to the countryside to receive re-education of the poor and lower-middle peasants". No one wanted to be left behind, but in general, county children worked better than army children.

After a few days of seed transfer, it was back to normal activity. To improve the economic benefits of the farm, silkworms season started. There was a piece of land in the forest farm where mulberry trees were planted. The mulberry trees here were generally grafted. There were three very thick main forks, which were not tall, and the mulberry leaves were large. However, due to the large number of silkworms, there were not enough leaves especially in the later stage. The forest farm requires all boys to go out and hunt mulberry leaves. The daily quota was to be weighed.

He was probably slower than others to find the mulberry trees. When he found one, it was likely to have been visited by someone else. He was in a hurry, tried to walk faster and go further, suddenly he found himself lost! It was a cloudy day. It was not easy to tell the approximate position of the sun, it should be after three o'clock in the afternoon. He walked towards a high point and looked around there was no place he was familiar with. The most terrible thing was that he couldn't tell the directions. While looking for the way back to the forest farm, he thought about one thing that the forest farm uncle Sun told him:

Uncle Sun said that once he drank wine during the New Year's holiday, and was walking to the forest farm after midnight, he was stared at by a wolf (wild dogs?). Wolves only attack children and dare not attack adults. This wolf may be very hungry, but it still does not dare to attack him. It followed him about ten meters behind. You must not run at this time because you can't run faster than wolf. When you go, it also goes, and when you stop, it also stops. Uncle Sun simply sat for a while on a big rock near the forest farm. When he told the story to him, he pointed to the rock. He eventually went home OK. Today he happened to be carrying a pole and a dustpan. He tried hard to find way back and the sun seemed to be going down. He felt that he had to find someone to ask. There were still a few scattered houses here, and he walked towards one.

Every family in the countryside has a guard dog. Before he approached, a ferocious big dog came towards him. He vigorously waved the pole and did not let the dog approach. His shout of "Is there anyone?" seemed to be drowned out. He retreated and found another house. This time, he was more fortunate. A child came out and whistled. The dog went quiet immediately.

After asking the way, he hurriedly walked towards home, walking faster and faster, and then started running. Before it was completely dark, he finally returned to the forest farm along the road.

"Mulberry trees were usually found in places where people have houses," Weiguo said.
"It seems that we have to continue fighting with dogs," he thought.

He made some progress in the following days, but the number of mulberry leaves he got was always the least. Sometimes the mulberry tree was very large, and the mulberry leaves below have been picked. It would be very dangerous to climb the tree, especially if you were a little afraid of high altitudes. Wild silkworms can be seen on some leaves, which were the same as raised silkworm, but much smaller. Fortunately, in a few days, the silkworms began to make cocoons, and the task of collecting mulberry leaves came to an end.

Uncle Sun was very kind and honest. He never married, and he does not have relatives. Before the intellectual youth came, he was the only one in the forest farm. There were quite a few stories that make fun of him, one of which was that he stood on a stool and had sex with a cow. The second was that one year the female director of a certain brigade went with him to some conference. They lived in one place, and the woman asked him to sleep with her on the bed, but he didn't dare to touch the woman after sleeping all night.

Uncle Sun died of illness not long after Yijun left the farm. Wish he would find his other half in heaven and live a good life.


Days in the forest farm (8) Late Rice

[Seven Absolutes - Chinese poem] Double grab
the moon as a lamp to smell the valley, 
and the sun basks in the back and throws the green seedlings.
The sickle was flying, the night was short, and the sweaty field was long.

From the end of June, farmers first harvest early rice, cut down the mature rice with sickles, cut down the millet and put it into the warehouse. Rice straws were stacked together in bundles, these were prepared for cattle to feed. Then to plough, water, harrow, and prepare late rice for planting. When harvesting millet with sickle, you must bend all the time. Cutting should be very close to the ground if you were a good user of sickle. You also need to cut just enough each time. If you were cutting too long time, you would often not be able to straighten your waist after a day. Late rice was also a highly seasonal farm work. If the rice was planted late, the harvest in autumn would not be good. Therefore, there were always a few days during this period everyone would work all day and nights without much rest. Get the early rice from field and plant the later rice to the field, or "double grab" as it was called, was the busiest time of the year in farming.

Planting late rice was as hard as planting early rice, except that the seedlings of late rice were not soiled. Because the weather was hot, the leeches in the fields swim faster than those in the early rice fields, and they were also attacked by swarms of mosquitoes at night.

During this time, the intellectual youths in the forest farm were divided into groups of four, two men and two women and were assigned to the six small brigades. In fact, the local farmers still took great care of them, and there was no regulation on how much they could do. Some of the youths lived in farmer’s homes, and some lived in an abandoned thatched hut. During this period, the intellectual youth in the forest farm also took the opportunity to experience how the "old intellectual youth" lived.

July in Hubei, the sun was very hot, and people were busy under the scorching sun for the fruits of autumn. They would try to take time to drink water or eat, to wipe sweat, when they needed to change from one field to another.

The planting fields of later rice were full of water. But the ripened early rice fields were dry. When the straw piles were removed from the field, sometimes you would find a snake hiding under the shade. The most common was the black snake. They were large with gray and black alternating colors. The other common one was water snake. Both were non-venomous. Occasionally you can also find venomous snake although rare. One kind was the well-known rattle snake and the other has colorful circles on its body. Locals call it cauliflower snake. Yijun was no longer afraid of them, especially when wearing sandals, he can step on just little bit below the snake's head and grabs the head with his bare hands.

If time was right, it can be cooked and eaten in the forest farm. It was relatively easy to handle the snakes because the stomach of the snake was already broken. You just need to peel off the skin.

Yasu and he were in the neighboring brigades. It was not easy to see one another from far away, but they could meet occasionally. One day at noon, he was on his way home and saw her, she was helping in a grain field. There were several women in the field. He called her and invited her to eat cucumber with him. There happened to be a cucumber field close by. The two got together and disappeared into the field. It was called green melon field by locals though these were probably very large cucumbers. They were normally light green.

"Come on, please eat melon," he picked a cucumber for her.
"This is the melon field of the public property," she hesitated but still took it.
"Don't be afraid, I and Weizhong came here to eat yesterday," Weizhong was another male intellectual youth who was assigned to the same team with him,
"It's cool here, and the melon field is so big. No one can see us, we can eat and chat and rest," he said.

"Let's talk about your host family first!" she said.
"Okay," he continued: "My landlord is an amazing person, and I just discovered it not long ago. He was a surgeon, and the county recommended him to study in university to become a surgeon. He had an illicit relationship with a female patient. his doctor title is taken away and is sent back to work as farmer."
"It's a pity," she said.
"There are still many surgical books in his drawer, and there are many photos in it, some of which are scary. How was your landlord?" he asked.
"My landlord is very rogue. I am embarrassed to talk about her, " she stopped for a while.
"I mean, my landlady, right there in the field, do you know what they were talking about before you came?" she asked.
"What?" he saw the woman of her host family.
She said: "You have seen the vice-captain of our brigade, and he is handsome. Those women were jokingly asking him to go to her house. And then my landlord said, if the vice-captain dares to come to her house, I will pinch him to death with my two legs," 
"Huh?" he didn't know how to answer, both were a little embarrassed.
She continued: “There is an intellectual youth there, how can you say these words?" The women standing next said and shaking her head.
"Aren't the peasants in this village very casual about sex?" he asked.
"Who knows!" she replied with the same bewildered look.
"Let's leave," she suggested.
"OK."

They two seem naturally the same kind of people, good friend even like brother and sister, who can say anything to each other. But that day later, they suddenly realized that one was a boy and the other was a girl, and there were topics they cannot and should not talk about. Since then, their conversations have never been so casual.


Days in the forest farm (9) Guard Water

The double grab season soon passed, and the intellectual youths returned to the forest farm. To express their gratitude, the field manager invited them to eat lotus roots. In fact, it just a lotus field and they can go there and dig free. They needed to dig the lotus roots themselves which was not easy.

There were many lotus flowers in the pond, some of which had already bloomed and were very beautiful. The water depth was waist deep. To dig it out, you can't use a shovel or hand. You must dig in the water with two legs. Without experience, you may get your toenails broken. It hurts. There were also "ox leeches" in the water, which were like "rice leeches", but much larger in size, which was probably the origin of its name. Fortunately, there were very few of them!

The days were getting hotter. Although there were canals, there was not enough water in summer. Soon, the forest farm has a new task, which was to guard the canals and prevent others from stealing the water. Two persons would be teamed together and sleep by. Women team would be closer to the forest farm. Nobody thought the safety would be a problem for two women team to sleep in the wild in those years. The team could be a youth and a farmer. One farmer was snoring so loud at night that no one wanted to be with him. Yijun volunteered to join him. They found a high point in the area to sleep, which happened to be on top of a large tomb. Sleeping on it was not the scariest thing. At night, when one person stays behind and the other person went back to get food, it was scary to walk on the road at night. You could see nothing and no one around. In some places, you can see the ghost fire (phosphorus fire) in the distance. Sometimes a frightened bird would suddenly fly out of the grass, making a series of noises in the quiet night.

One trouble sleeping in the wild was mosquitoes. The more diligent persons would use sticks to support a mosquito nets. They just put on trousers and long-sleeved clothes, and then wrap themselves with bed sheets. Usually this didn't work well. When they wake up in the morning, there were bites everywhere. The days of guarding water were not very long fortunately.

The farmer who teamed with him invited him to go to his house to eat Panlong dishes. It was said that he was the only one in the village who can make this dish. This was a famous local dish that was once served to the emperor in the past. Its main feature was that meat was used but you cannot tell it was made of meat. The fat of the meat was first separated. After mincing the lean meat, it should be washed with water to make it almost white. Two parts of the meats were then mixed with seasonings. It would be all white in looking. It was wrapped in egg skin and steamed and cut into slices. It tastes very good. Yijun really hoped that he would have the opportunity to visit Zhongxiang in the future. He would go to the Old Palace next to Zhongxiang No. 2 Middle School to sit on the throne that the emperor once sat on, taste the dishes of the Panlong Royal Food, and enjoy the feeling of being an emperor.

It was another vocation day. On a summer morning, the sky was very blue. His father took him to go fishing black fish: "This kind of fish eats other fish and it eat only moving bait. When you see the fish, put the earthworm in front of it and shake it, pulls it up when it bites," his father on the road explained the method to him.

The fishing place was a crystal-clear creek, very shallow, and the black fish, with a round body, like a thick stick, dark and with circle of markings. They would be holding the rod to tease the fish. It was very interesting! He was very excited and that was the first time he learned to fish. Often, the bait was not fully bitten, and he was in a hurry to pull the rod. The fish was in the air and jumped back into the water to hide. He still caught some, and his father caught more.

"The meat of this fish is thicker and not very tasty, so we usually don't bother to fish it," his father said,
"I like it, it's so fun!" he said.
"What are you working at the forest farm recently?" his father asked,
"Guard the canal. The drought is bad this year," he replied.
"You may see a lot of water here, but the soldiers operating the radar on the top of the mountain cannot use them freely," his father told him: "The soldiers only have one washbowl of water every day, all drink and washing included. The water was sent by trunk every day."
"I haven't thought about it," he said.
"It is said that some troops on border of China, each person only have one glass of water a day, which was not enough to drink," his father said again, and after a pause, he continued: "The road up the mountain is not wide, and sometimes it rains, which makes driving even more difficult. Last year, one car rolled over twice. Earlier, one car rolled down the mountain. It is said that it rolled a dozen times, but fortunately no one died."
"Being a soldier doesn't seem fun, it's better to be in a forest farm," he thought.

In the afternoon, he invited Lili to go fishing with him. She was not interested because it was too hot outside! He went to Yasu, and she didn't want to go, but after listening to his description, they went anyway. This time, he wasn't very lucky. He wanted to show off his skills and was eager to catch one, but he didn't catch any, so they went home empty handed. As soon as they arrived at her door, they met Squad Leader Wang of the truck class,

"Want to go fishing? I'll take you there," he said to him. "You don't need to bring a fishing rod." They went to a deeper river,

"Can you swim?" Wang asked,
"Is it alright!" he replied,

"Look at me," He electrify the water in the small river, and many fishes belly turned over and floated to the top of the water.

"Let's go pick the fishes," said Wang. He took off his clothes, and he was completely naked. He saw that and did the same. They jumped into the river. Although the fish fainted, they didn't die, it was not very easy to catch them. With the help of Wang, they still picked up a lot of fishes.

When his father saw the fishes, he knew what was going on. His father oversees the cars class in the army.
"The management of the army is still not good now. They not only use the car's battery to electrify the fish, but even used hand grenade to bomb the fish!". But no one took that seriously,
"I want to eat the fish," he said,
"Let's do it," his father answered.

He gave some to the two girls and kept some for himself. His father got a kerosene stove and went to buy some tofu, made a pot of braised fish and tofu, it was delicious!


Days in the forest farm (10) Dam

The autumn harvest season was here, and the fields were golden, and the intellectual youths have begun to rush to harvest late rice. The nearly round rice was much fuller than the slender early rice. The harvested rice was bundled one by one and placed in the field in an orderly manner. The grain was picked with a pole. Its two ends were pointed and inlaid with an iron hoop. Farmers call it a "punch load". In case of women, one end was inserted into the bag, carried to the shoulder, and then inserted into the other bag. Men with stronger strength generally inserted into one bag, then lifted the bag over the head with both hands, pole in upright position, and then inserted into another bag. Yijun liked this way, and it was cool.

The newly harvested late rice was sticky, and every grain of rice was shiny, especially delicious, and it was very tasty even without vegetable dishes.

The forest farm also harvested a lot of fruit trees that year, including peaches, apples, pears, and chestnuts. He had never seen these fruit trees before. Among them, the chestnut tree was the most special. The fruit was spherical green, like a thorn tucked into a ball, very thorny. There were usually three or four chestnuts in it. Also, lot of peanuts were planted. Peanuts were knotted in the ground. Like potatoes and other root products, they were very suitable for sandy soil. But the soil of the farm was relatively compact, and these peanuts also knot tight. It was hard to get peanuts. They were too small and very difficult to dig out. At the beginning of the year, a lot of tea trees were transplanted and died, but most of them were not transplanted. A lot of tea leaves were still harvested. The older leaves on the lower part of the tea tree were stir dried, kneaded, and fried to make red tea. The top ones were stirred fried to make green tea. No matter in terms of cost or production, green tea was better than red tea.

Time flies so fast, and the living condition of the intellectual youths had improved a lot compared to the same period a year ago. However, it was still far from the city. For example, sometimes there were worms in the cabbage fields. It was impossible to wash the vegetables cleanly with limited time and large quantity. You need be careful, eat the vegetables and throw the "meat" out. It was also impossible to clean the water tank every day. Sometimes it takes a week to get all the water in the tank out and replace it with fresh one. One time when he cleaned the tank, he found a dead mouse in it. He felt disgusted, of course, he quietly threw it away and didn't want to tell anyone. He knew that all the intellectual youths used the water in this tank to eat and wash.

There were many rats in the forest farm. There seem to be no diseases on the farm though, otherwise it would be more troublesome.

In the blink of an eye, it was the early spring of the second year. Wuhe Brigade planned to use the wintertime to build a dam. A Dongfanghong crawler bulldozer was used to press the soil. To ensure that the bulldozer was not idle all the time, everyone had to sleep on the construction site and work in two shifts.

One night before starting, Yasu met him on a small road to grocery store.

"I can't go with you to build the dam. I am in poor health and was asked to teach at the primary school of the brigade," she told him on the way.
"Has it been decided yet?" He was still a little surprised. "The deputy secretary of the brigade informed me that I should leave soon after you left" she said,
"This is a good thing! You will do great in teaching," he said,
"I don't want to leave you guys!" she said sadly.

On the way back, the two walked slowly, and when they could see the forest farm's house, they both stopped. It was quiet.
"I'm reluctant to leave you," she suddenly burst into tears,
"Don't do this," he stretched out his hands, but didn't know how to comfort her,
She rested her head on his shoulders, choked sobbing, "Don't do this," he put his hands on her waist, a little panicked.
She only leaned on him for a short time, wiped a little tear on her shoulder, and separated.
Probably not feeling well, she gave him a smile: "It's alright, just a little reluctant to leave you,"
“I will think about you,” he said,
"Let's go," she said softly,
He seemed a little unwilling to leave.
"Come on," she started to leave, and he quickly followed,
"Will you come to see me?" she asked,
"Of course," he replied.

"I didn't ask her if she lived alone or with someone in school?" he thought later,
"Will something happen between us?" he asked as he entered dreamland.

On the dam construction site, several houses on the mountain were vacated for workers to live in. One side of the mountain had a few simple shelters and were considered as women's toilets, while the other side of the mountain was considered as men's toilets.

The first step in building the dam was to move some large stones. Lili, Yijun and Weiguo formed one group. The girl was holding the steel drill, and the two men were alternately swinging the big hammer. It took strength to swing the hammer, and the one who held the steel drill also needed some guts. It was inevitable that sometimes it would hit the holding hand. When the explosive was fired, everyone stayed far away. If you failed to retreat far and looked up to the sky, you saw small piece of stones were densely packed like rain. He had that experience, and almost got hit. He never dared to ignore the retreat command after.

Sometimes there were squibs that explosive failed to ignite. To remove the squibs, you needed manually to pull out the detonator. However, some fuses burn very slowly for some reason, and exploded much later, so that was very dangerous. Only a few experienced people can do this. Always be ready to run backwards. He admires the few brave souls.

After Yasu left the forest farm to teach, he and Lili spent significantly more time together.


Days in the forest farm (11) Lili

It took two months to build the dam. After the completion, the intellectual youths took two days off. Yasu also got the days off.

After having breakfast, he came to her house. After chatting for a while, she said that she needed to get some Chinese medicine. He went with her.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked with concern.
"It's probably going to be hard." Her eyes looked in the distance with a worried expression: "The doctor said that I am anemic."
"You should rest well and pay attention to exercise. Exercise the body," he was a layman in medicine, and chatted casually.

On the way back, she asked, "Would you like to see my medicine? It's a little scary",
"Isn't it just Chinese medicine? How can that be scary?" he disagreed.
"Let me show you the name of some first, this," she pointed her finger,
"It looks like zombie silkworm?" he was puzzled.
"Would you want to look closely?" she asked,
"Oh, no, I don’t want to look," he doesn’t like the appearance of a sick silkworm.
"I feel bad just thinking about it, why am I so unlucky?" she said,
"Doctor give you this and it should be safe, don't think too much," he said comfortingly.
"I don't want to take this medicine at all," she said.
"Listen to the doctor please."

At her house, they flipped through family photos and helped her younger sister with her homework. Before leaving, she said: “Tell your father, come here for dinner tonight.”

Although everything was the same as before, when he returned to his home, he still found that his emotions had been affected. As if he was implicated, his mood also turned a little bad.

After returning to the forest farm, he remembered that she asked him to go to school, but he didn't go immediately because he just came back from vacation. The forest farm was at the far west of the brigade, the school was at the east of the brigade, so there was still a long distance. He wanted to wait until he was in a better mood and had a little more time to go. After a few days, the forest farm had new task. The county decided to hold an entertainment show. The brigade participated in the performance, and the rehearsal time was very short, only 20 days, including the time to create programs and practice.

Some programs could be done relatively quickly. Lili participated in a duet of girls, a song name “Awa sang new songs”. He and another boy played violins to accompany the songs. One program was a small chorus to promote late marriage. The Hubei ditty “singing spring flowers”: Lyrics like “Talking spring flowers, singing spring flowers, everyone in town praises that she reads Chairman Mao's books. She is a model person and is determined to change old marriage customs…” He also participated in the chorus of eight members of our commune. Other small programs included Hubei fishing drums, a dance, a flute solo and so on. Wuhe's key programs were two small operas in local dialect which was important since the ordinance were locals. Note that they have many intellectual youths from the county who speaks local dialect. These two programs have become the most popular ones. A local teacher and Yijun were able to write some music. In fact, they were not actually composing the music, but trying to find some suitable music to use. The children's songs were used for the children's singing, and the female militia's music was used for the girls and so on, several people divided their time and participated in the writing of the lyrics.

Other participants of the show were children of colleges and universities from Wuhan. For example, Wuhan University went to Dongqiao, Wuhan Institute of Surveying and Mapping went to Huangcheng, etc. The performances of these brigades were basically all intellectual youths, speaking mandarin and performing. He was amazed by their performance. The girls were very beautiful. These were much better performing dancer and musicians. However, the audience liked Wuhe Brigade's program the most since it was in local dialect. The contents were more in real life like and funny. They got the first-place award.

The venue of the performance was in the auditorium of a middle school in the county. The county intellectual youths all could go home to eat and sleep. Lili and he were far away from their parents. But they were invited to dinner every day by someone in the county.

First day the two went to Weizhong's home. His mother was the deputy secretary of the county party committee. He lived in the county party committee compound. After eating, they saw a body weight scale. He went up and tried it first. It was 76 kilograms with winter dress on. She does not want to do but seems no choice. 

"66 kilograms. Wow, it's scary!" she cried, with a look of terror on her face,
"You were not as heavy as me," he said with a little smugness.

They go to eat with different families these days, weight was gained just in these days. In the first one or two years of the intellectual youth going to the countryside, everybody seemed to gain weight. This was even more true for girls. Maybe it was the time that girls grow up and mature.

After the performance, the actors got a vacation. This time only two of them returned to the army. While playing at her house, he accidentally saw a picture in her book. Apparently, it was recently taken, and it was very beautiful.

"Can I see that picture?" he asked.
"Of course," she handed him the picture.
"Where was it taken," he asked,
"In the county photo shop," she said.
"Can I, have it?" he asked, he seems not able to put it down,
"You have it. But don't let anyone else know," she smiled,
"Sure."

In the evening, her father cooked a dinner for them. The main course was chestnut, and mandarin fish with mushrooms.


Days in the forest farm (12) Love

Yijun carefully hid the black-and-white photo of her in one of his notebooks. Only when no one was there would he look at it.

At that time, his understanding of girls was very limited. There was no education of any kind about men and women bodies in China. But liking the opposite sex was from birth. He always admires the beauty of girls. When passing by a girl, from their body, a faint fragrance emanating from their hair often made him excited for no reason.

According to a statistical survey, girls of that age were more interested in talking with boys than in skin-to-skin contact, while boys basically want to have skin-to-skin contact with girls. There was no skin-to-skin contact between them. But holding her in his arms often became a theme in his dreams.

Although Yasu went to teaching, he still remembered her and missed her from time to time. There used to be a small amount of skin-to-skin contact between him and her. But at this age, the purpose of his love was not clear. Although there were very few themes that reflected the relationship between men and women at that time, he knew from communist books and movies that a good man should only love one woman, and he should be responsible for the woman. Now he feels that selecting one woman was impossible, if Lili likes him, he might be more willing to be with her. Yasu like him more but he like Lili more.

Some other intellectual youths in the forest farm also developed close relation between the opposite sex. Some boys obviously know more and can enjoy with his beloved girls more freely, which makes him very envious.

Not long after the vacation, he saw one youth reading a book called "The Legend of the White Snake". He didn't know what it was about, but he knew that it was a banned book at that time because there were descriptions of love between men and women. It was just an ordinary fairy book by today’s standard. He felt that a good man consciously should not read this kind of book, although he still wanted to know what was written in it.

He couldn't understand why girls were so attractive. He wished he could not think about it, but he couldn't help. He felt sad to himself: "If only I am a bad boy! If I can indulge myself for a short time and do whatever I like, then any punishment will be worth it!" He lost his motivation to join the communist party and was particularly disgusted by any propaganda meetings that he didn't like in the first place.

He didn't know if he should go to see Yasu. He wanted to know what Lili would think of him, but he dares not to ask. During this time, he was often sleepless.

In July of the second year, it was the “Double grab” day again. Lili, Yijun, Minmin and Weizhong were in one team. They did not live in farmer's house like first year. They were arranged to live in a warehouse. These four were able to be in one team since the field manager took consideration of the intellectual youth's opinions. Minmin and Weizhong have good relationship with each other. He was also very happy to be with Lili.

Although this was the busiest season of the year, the four young people had a particularly good time! There was no stove in the warehouse. They built a simple stove with bricks. In fact, it was not so easy to cook a meal for four people. This was because the pine branches were used as burning material. When the fire was on, it would be too large. You must put the fire on and off in the exact right time, or the rice would be raw or mushy. When this happens, the two men would rush to eat the bad part of the rice. The two girls would also try to give the good part to the boys. When they had free time, he and Lili sat on the lawn on summer nights and talked about their ideals in life.

One evening, when he saw that the other two were not there, he called Lili out,

"There is a pond over there that is very comfortable. I went there yesterday," he said,
"I dare not go," she said,
"It's okay, we'll play in the shallow water, and we can take a shower as well," he said.
"I can't change my clothes either," she said,
"It's alright, it's going to get dark soon, no one will come around here, and no one can see you standing in the water in shorts," he said.
"Forget it," she hesitated,
"The water is very comfortable in summer night." He persuaded.

Although it was so hot in the countryside, women in the countryside never wore shorts, and they always wear long pants when working, and skirts were even more impossible. She felt embarrassed, afraid that the villagers would know that they went swimming like this, but under the strong encouragement of him, she went anyway.

"Turn around, don't look here," she said,
He obeyed and when he turned back, she was already in the water.

She took off her trousers, only wearing a short underneath and a short-sleeved shirt on top. He asked her to hold his hand, and then led her slowly towards the deep water. He was reluctant to let go of these hands, soft, slippery, comfortable. After soaking in the water for a while, he walked towards the shallow water. Her clothes were already soaking wet, and under the moonlight, the water shone brightly, reflecting the beautiful curves of her body. She probably didn't know much about matters between men and women neither. Laughing, and laughing and playing by the two.

"Let me teach you to swim. You hold my two hands, try to keep your body as flat as possible, and use your legs to push water," he said. She was doing it obediently. He saw her two balls clearly under the shirt...,

He stretched out his hands again and spread them out, "The posture of the hands are not very complicated, I will hold you, try it?" He said,
She refused to try this move, no matter what he said, she insisted practicing without the support of his arms.

The days of double grab were not very long. He was still thinking about how to try to hug the beauty but was not successful. The day of returning to the forest farm has come. He really hoped that this time could last a little longer.


Days in the forest farm (13) Sick

Not long after returning to the forest farm, something went wrong with the farm's accountant. Originally this was the job of a local farmer. This time, the farm decided to let an intellectual youth replace him. Everyone knows that Yijun was good in math and found that he can quickly play abacus. He had learned "three, five and two" rules before. Adding or subtracting expenses on the abacus was not a problem, and his honesty was obvious to all, so he took the job.

The accountant of the forest farm was also responsible for buying rice and oil for the kitchen. He also held the key to the storage room and was responsible for keeping the rice and oil inside. He became full time to work in the kitchen. It was not as easy as you may think. He was always the first to get up in the farm and prepare the breakfast for everybody and make water tank full. At night, he had to do accounting works and fetch water, and prepare materials for the breakfast of next day. He was often the last to sleep, so he was more tired than before.

Cooking for a large group was different from cooking for a small family. For example, when stir frying cabbage, it was best to pour some water into it so the vegetables would be cooked more evenly. Often a little bit of oil was left in the dish at the end, so that there would be some visible oils in the dish. Although the level of chef may not have improved much by cooking the same dish each day, the skill level of cutting vegetables and radishes was greatly improved.

The only advantage he felt was that he moved to a small room next to the storage room in the kitchen. He had his own room. It was easier to invite Lili to come for talks. He would sometimes invite her to go out to the brigade's canteen to buy something at night. One time he tried to put his hand on her waist, but she seemed unhappy and tried to avoid. He never tried again. Their relation was not getting closer, but he didn’t want them to be further apart, at least he could see her and talk to her often.

There were many rats in the kitchen. The rice was placed in a large vat, and the oil was placed in an iron bucket. Some rats would pull his hair at night, and it affected his sleep.

One night in October, he had a dream: she was in his room late and hadn't left yet, she gave him a sweet smile, he couldn't help but went up and hugged her, her shoulder-length hair fell on his face, it smells so good. It was comfortable at first, but then he feels a little itchy, he wanted to take her hair away, but couldn't, he feels more and more itchy, he suddenly woke up and found that a caterpillar had fallen on his face.

He always had a special fear of bugs.

This year, the pine forests of the forest farm had been plagued by insects. The forest farm stove mainly used pine branches for burning. Firewood was bundled into bundles and piled up at the back of the kitchen to be used for cooking. However, when wood dried, the pine caterpillars on the branches crawled everywhere when they had nothing to eat. Most would climb to ceilings. There were pine caterpillars on the top edges of walls. They were so hungry that they couldn't crawl, so they stayed there, and finally fell when they lost their strength.

He used a long shovel to remove some of them, and felt sick and uncomfortable eating, but at night, a lot of new pine caterpillars crawled on the ceiling again.

He was a relatively introverted child. Sometimes he was afraid at night living alone. He may not be afraid of wolves and snakes. But he was afraid of ghosts since he was a child although he knows that thing does not exist. He never told anyone. He hadn't slept well these past many nights and was groggy during the day.

He did not wake up when alarm clock sounded one day. A girl who was working with him in the kitchen, came over to wake him up.

They were able to cook the meal on time. Lili saw him before leaving for work.

"You don't look very well, are you sick?" she asked,
"It's a little uncomfortable," he said.
"I'll touch it," she put her hand on his forehead,
"I think you have a serious fever," her expression became serious: "Minmin seems to have medicine there, you may want to ask her."
"It's alright," he waved his hand weakly,

In the afternoon, he felt that his brain was still dizzy, and his head hurt more and more. He came to Minmin's room. The door was unlocked. He looked at the table and saw no medicine. He searched the room and saw a box of Chinese medicine beside Minmin's pillow. He picked it up and saw the words on it: "Contraceptive Pill". He was shocked. He knew what the pill was for. He opened it and looked briefly. "Could it be?" he didn't dare to think about it more, and he put the medicine back.

He then noticed a book under it: it seemed to be something like "Adolescent Physiological Hygiene". He picked up the book, which contained text descriptions and pictures, and there was a portrait of a girl with no clothes. He had only seen the back portrait of a girl without clothes in a drawing book before. He flipped through the book voraciously and quickly, but his head was hurting more and more. After quick reading, he put the book in its place and left.

He returned to his room groggy, fell on the bed and fell back asleep. He remembered that someone came to give him medicine in the evening, and then he fell asleep again. In his dream, he and her came to the forest farm, he hugged her, her face was pink, he gently untied her clothes, "I love you," he said…

It was noon when he woke up. There should be no one in the forest farm at this time. Everyone should be working. But he saw a girl in the room washing something. It was Yasu.


Days in the forest farm farm (14) Decision in Life

"Yasu, why are you here?" he asked,
"I heard that you were ill, so I came to help," she said.
"How's it going?", she walked over and asked with concern.
"It's alright," he said, moving a little, feeling that his head didn't hurt so much.
He looked down on the ground: "You're helping me wash the quilt? I should do it myself,"
"Just lie down and don't move," she said, sitting back and continuing to wash the quilt.

He still wanted to talk, but he noticed that he was covered with quilt of someone else, not the military quilt given by his father.

"Is my quilt dirty?" he asked embarrassedly, vaguely remember what he did the night before asleep. There may be sperms there.
"Oh, it's a little bit dirty," she smiled.
"When did you come?" he asked,
"I came in the morning. You slept two whole days," she told him,
"Really?" he could not believe. After a while said to her: "Thank you!" Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep again.

When he woke up again, she had already left.

The next day he was feeling much better. He saw Lili was leaving from a distance. He waved his hand greeting her. She responded friendly but did not come and say anything. Later the girl was helping kitchen work told him: “When you had a fever, you called Lili's name many times in your dream and said love words.” She was probably embarrassed. All the youths in the forest farm should have known it by now.

He felt deeply embarrassed. Late days, he wandered alone and began to think serious questions. There were many empty slogans. Some people would say "being rooted in the countryside for a lifetime" or "become part of the poor and lower-middle peasants". These were not real. If he really wanted to be a farmer here, he should marry someone and start a life like locals. He could not make decision on too many things. One thing seems clear that his life in the forest farm was a big failure. He gave up hope to become a communist member.

Lili's home was in Wuhan, so she may go back to live in the city with him if they can go together. If he really got along with Yasu, they would not be able to go to Wuhan. He was not prepared for this. His mother and grandma would not be happy with this arrangement. The two girls were not even twenty years old at the time, but in terms of mental age, Yasu seemed more mature. Lili was her father's good daughter, as if she had no opinion. He was also more like a neighbor’s child. He always listens to teacher in school. He always listens to his parents in home. He seems never decided on anything by himself.

Throughout his life, relying on the guidance of adults, it was smooth sailing. In the countryside, he could keep up with his farm work, but he couldn't keep up with “correct behavior” politically. Only now has he realized that he needed to take control of his own life!

He felt ease somehow and relaxed now. He and Lili were still the same as before, and he stopped thinking about that ridiculous "dream". She sometimes came to his room to chat. She seemed to be a little naughtier than before, and sometimes deliberately used some curse words.

"It's the first time I've heard you speak in these words," he reminded her with a smile,
"Do you want to make other people talk scumbags?" She was not convinced.
The relationship between them was about the same as before. They were more relaxed with each other.

It was told that the farm would select someone to go to university. Universities had all stopped during the Culture Revolution. At that time university would only start to recruit students from workers, peasants, and soldiers. The selection was based on political behavior. There was no entrance exam needed. On an early winter night, a weekend, he came to Yasu's school, and they walked slowly along the path beside the rice fields, talking about the current situation,

"Do you think we'll both be stay in the countryside for the rest of our lives?" he asked,
"Mostly not," she said with a smile.
"Why?" he asked.
"Would you like to live like this all your life?" she replied with a question.
"I wish at least half of the youths would like to stay, we would all play together and grow old together like now," he said.
"It's not that simple. I knew that your dream is go to university. The brigade has come up with enrollment of university. You must strive for it," she said earnestly.
"I don't have much hope anyway. How about I come to teach with you here?" He half-jokingly said,
"Don't talk nonsense, I'm sure you'll be successful for university, good luck!" She said seriously,
"Thank you! Maybe you would get the chance first and good luck to you!" he said.

The two of them were still very vague about their future.


Days in the forest farm (15) Leaving

The first one to go to university was given to Weiguo, who was the first to leave the countryside. He became a communist member during time in the farm. He was friend of Yijun. They lived in the same room for a long time. But he was not happy. He knew that his academic performance was very poor. He thinks that his politics may be good enough to join the communist party but not the university!

"What is qualification, those hands full of calluses are qualifications!" This was a famous sentence in a popular movie at that time. Weiguo entered university by his own efforts. The environment gave him the chance.

He compared himself with others in the forest farm. From the perspective of labor, he could match most other county boys now. There were still some who can do better farm work though. From a political point of view, everyone was talking big, so the so-called performance was very important. One point may depend on the relationship with the leaders, and he was not good for sure.

He could see his own shortcomings but couldn't change it. He was not willing to follow the crowd, he was not willing to follow others' opinions, and he was more disgusted with politics. He needed to deal with setbacks more calmly, which maybe his biggest gain in the countryside. He learned from failure. He was more mature spiritually!

In fact, this turned out to be a good thing for him. He went to university by entry exam in 1978. When people know that you were a university student, they would normally ask if it was after 1978 or before 1966. Only the ones in the right years were regarded as true university students.

The second university recruit was given to Weizhong. He was also a friend of Yijun. Did he go through the back door? Probably not since he was very good person. He worked hard and did not try to have special good relations with leaders. He did not know if his mother helped her son. His mother was the second highest ranked person in the county. She was deputy secretary general of the county that time.

His mother probably helped him indirectly. Just after the New Year's bell of 1977, there was news that all intellectual youths were eligible to go back to city or county and become workers.

The logistics department of the Wuhan Military Region would recruit workers in Zhongxiang County. It wanted to recruit all the children of theirs. However, all recruitment must be approved by the county labor bureau. His father's army unit had a good relationship with the county, and the army would give the county some good material, such as steels. Apparently, some county officials also wanted their children to be recruited to Wuhan. The county required the Military Region to give the county some quota. To put it bluntly, it was like the common practice at the time that when buying good stuff, you must buy some inferior ones together. He and Lili were the “bad” stuff that you must take when you want to get children of the logistics department of Wuhan Military Region back to Wuhan.

Before leaving, he went to the school to say goodbye to Yasu. She had accepted a factory work position in Jingmen county in west of Hubei. They hugged first time. Her eyes filled with tears, but there was a smile on her face.

"Do you remember saying goodbye last time before you start teaching?" he asked,
"Of course, I do," she said,
"Be sure to write letters to me after you leave, and I would write to you as well," he said reluctantly not sure if he will.
"Lili and me, who do you like more?" she asked softly,
"I like you more," he replied softly,
"Should I believe you?” she laughed. “You know how to lie now. But I still want to say thanks!"
"I won't forget you!" he said with certainty.

One day in January 1977, in the cold wind of winter, a covered military vehicle drove from Zhongxiang to Wuhan. He and Lili sat together again. There were some soldiers on the car. They didn’t know them. They talked and laughed at each other. Some of the roads were bumpy, and the asphalt roads were not very flat. The two young people finally were tired. She slept with her head tilted against the trunk of the car. He hadn't fell asleep yet. Looking at her beautiful face, he started thinking of his ridiculous dream that he had decided not to think again. He laughed secretly.


Days in the forest farm (postscript)

He went to the logistics supply station of the military region. Lili went to a different factory. He was disappointed he was not able to be with her at beginning. But there were about fifteen girls or so new workers there. They were children who grow up in the military compound, like her, speaking Mandurian, like her and many were very beautiful like her. He was happy to work there.

At the end of the year, China started entry exams for university. They both begin to prepare for the exam. He went to her home a few times to help her with mathematics. He was admitted to Wuhan University and met his future wife there. She was not admitted first. Later became a day student (living outside of campus) of Wuhan Medical College. After graduating from university, they went their own way. They kept contact for long time since both were in the same city.

He also wrote letters to Yasu. She got married soon after she went to a factory. When the time for university entry exam, she was already pregnant and had a baby, so naturally she didn't have the energy to study. Her letter said that her health was not good, and she felt that her memory was severely degraded. She seemed to be unable to remember some things. She said that her husband treated her very well and was a very nice person. One year later, he lost contact of her completely. Wish her a safe and happy life!

I was selected by Chinese Education Ministry to study in US upon graduation in 1982. I wrote the original story in 2008 in my blog in Chinese. I want to thank my friends helping me in the English translation. Though the farm life was very harsh, I was young then. I would not know how poor China was without going to the countryside. I made friends there and was warmly treated by locals. People were very honest and no crimes. It was a valuable part of my life. I got much stronger physically also. I had chilblains every winter in my childhood but never again after I went to the farm for example. I have learned a lot which school would not teach, though I am still an inward person with low social skills. "Intellectual youths" was a generation that ended with end of The Cultural Revolution. The current Chinese president Xi is also part of it. Was it worth? That is a question for the generation. I also asked myself from time to time. I would say yes if I must give an answer!

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