From the Old Country by Lihe Zhong T. M. McClellan Tiejun Zhong

From the Old Country by Lihe Zhong T. M. McClellan Tiejun Zhong

Author:Lihe Zhong, T. M. McClellan, Tiejun Zhong
Format: epub
Tags: LCO004000, Literary Collections/Asian, FIC029000, Fiction/Short Stories (single author)
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Published: 2014-02-24T16:00:00+00:00

Part 3

Homeland

7. Zugteuzong

竹頭莊

Written in spring 1950, and revised in 1952 and 1958. First published, posthumously, in Complete Works I (1976).

One day in April 1946 …

Toward noon I took the Taisuco half-gauge train1 home to Zugteuzong,2 after fifteen years away. The train was really battered and shabby, and the wooden carriage, with its joints all loose, screeched and squealed as it rocked and juddered wildly, so that passengers’ knees bumped off the knees of the person opposite and their elbows jabbed into the ribs of the person beside them. Each time this happened, the passengers would smile at one another in mutual understanding, without saying anything.

There weren’t many passengers, but all of them were strange to me. When I looked more closely, it did seem that a few faces were familiar, but I couldn’t remember any of their names. They were all good farming folk: simple, honest, frugal, and hard-working, devoting their whole lives to their land and their crops. As in the past, they wore bamboo hats and went barefoot; some of them had pipes in their mouths, and some held bamboo shoulder poles, their loads between their knees. It seemed to me that something was missing here. Only after a while did I realize: none of them were chewing betel nut; this was different from before. I particularly noticed those with blackened and recessed gums: these had been betel-nut chewers in the past. Another thing was that most of the women did not wear the traditional smocks that had been kept to by our Hakka women since immigration.3 Partly because of strict Japanese prohibitions, partly for economy, the younger women in particular had switched to simpler, pretty tunics worn over trousers.

They sat on the hard wooden benches. Some tucked one foot up on the bench, while others sat with legs crossed, letting the train shake them to and fro like grain being riddled. Some talked to their neighbors about farming; some only sat, staring idly at the scenery outside the windows; and some made no sound at all, unless to clear their throats.

The train left the sugar refinery terminus and headed into the countryside. Formerly, the only crops in the fields round here had been sugar and bananas. Now, as far as you looked there was nothing but paddy fields planted with nothing but rice. But the fields were dry, at this season when water was so absolutely essential. The rice stalks, now over a foot tall, were gasping, anemic; the leaves hung numbly, not just yellowing but with a white color that showed that the plants were suffering. The tips of the leaves were a gray-brown color, some even burned dark brown; they were all curled up like tea leaves. As the dry wind swished over the paddy they presented a sea of parched yellow as far as the eye could see. To the onlooker it was like an endless field of fire. Dazzling sunlight flickered and shimmered over the paddy fields. The sky was like a sheet



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