Ordinary Extraordinary People: One Girl’s Journey from Village to City
Do you ever wonder about the people you pass by on the street – who they are, where they are from, what their life is like? Do you ever wish you could know (and I mean really know – not just know information from a guidebook) more about the people you encounter as you travel? I sure do.
It’s the people, not just the topography, that gives a place its uniqueness. The trash collector, the lady who sells vegetables, the gate guard, the old guy who drives a rickshaw – all of these people have stories. Their faces beckon me – they make me want to know their stories.
Well, this is our chance.
I’m starting a new weekly tradition – ”Ordinary Extraordinary People”. Each week, I will interview one “common” person and share that person’s story with you. One week, it might be a trash collector. Another week, it might be a Tibetan nomad or a noodle-shop worker or a child. I want to know these people’s stories, and I want to share their beauty with you.
So, today I want to introduce you to Luo Jiao.
That’s her holding our baby daughter.
Young and vibrant, Luo Jiao is not like a lot of girls from her hometown. Most of them dropped out of school by the time they were pre-teens. They still live back in the village where Luo Jiao is from, and many became mothers years ago. Luo Jiao is a college graduate, still single, and teaching Chinese in the provincial capital – a city of 9 million people.
But Luo Jiao still goes home from time to time. And home is never too far away from her. It’s left its mark on her – the scar on her upper lip is a reminder that she is not really a city-girl. When she was a child, a water buffalo charged her and ripped open her upper lip. She was rushed to a hospital and nearly died from loss of blood. Now, there’s only a small scar left to bear remembrance to the incident.
Luo Jiao lights up when she talks about her home. Despite the city life she now leads, she is a country girl at heart. From a mountain village in southwest Sichuan, Luo Jiao grew up climbing trees and swimming in the river. Her parents were farmers, though her dad also worked as a fisherman. The home she grew up in was nothing like the apartment buildings that crowd Chinese cities today. The house of her childhood was situated in a yard that connected to the homes of her aunts, uncles, and grandparents. These were mud homes, often having two levels. Their kitchen and bathroom were separate buildings from their living quarters. “You have to go outside to get to the kitchen, and I always complained about how cold it was!” she laughs.
Beside her house were her family’s crops. Rice was once the main crop of the land, but tobacco replaced it when Luo Jiao was just a child. “My dad taught our neighbors how to farm tobacco. He used to tell us that a skill has no meaning unless you share it with others.”
It’s obvious that she has deep respect for her father, a quiet but incredibly skilled man. “He could fix everything in our house,” she describes fondly. But those kinds of skills don’t get you very far in China. Skilled labor is still labor…and labor is reserved for the uneducated. The poor are left with the grunt work, which only gets them more poverty and more grunt work. “But my dad doesn’t care that much about money. He thinks that, as long as we have food and shelter, that’s enough” Luo Jiao explains.
She worries that many people in her hometown emphasize success over morality. “All parents care about is success, success, success. They don’t teach their children how to just be people!” She says many people in her village have become lazy and selfish. “There are some people who just sit around and play mahjong all day – they don’t work!”
I asked Luo Jiao what her dream is. “I want to change how education is done in China. Maybe I can only influence a few people, but I want to train people how to do education differently. Like in the West, you can homeschool. I think that’s really good. Children need more freedom, not to be in school for so many long hours like they are in the Chinese system.”
“My upbringing really influenced me,” she continues. “Sure, living in the city is nice, but I like the country life. It’s simple, but it’s really good.”
Thanks, Luo Jiao, for sharing your story with us.
What interesting characters have you encountered? Share their stories with us in the comments below.