When she was young, her family had a farm that was situated on the land where my apartment building is located. They pretty much lived hand to mouth, and never had actual money. Ling Ling has often said to me that her attitude in life, which was probably fostered in her early years, is that she has to depend upon her own hard work to live. That was certainly true when she was young. They ate what they grew, and had no one else to help them if they couldn’t grow enough. They lived off their own sweat and hard work.
When she reached middle school years, her parents didn’t have the U.S. equivalent of $2 to spend for her school tuition, so she wasn’t able to continue her education. Instead, she began working on the farm alongside her parents. She didn’t have time to play or study, because there was always plenty of work for her to do. If she didn’t help, their family would have less. So she worked from the time the sun came up, until it went down at night.
Once, her family decided to go visit some family members in a nearby city. Of course, anyone who lived in the city was well off. While they were visiting, these older family members offered them some books that they didn’t need anymore. Ling Ling said she took about 15 pounds of books with her back to the village.
Their family didn’t have electricity, and they didn’t have the money to buy oil for a lantern, so Ling Ling’s reading was limited to what she could do by the light of the moon, or the light of the fire in the fireplace. She said that one time she was leaning so close to the fire that her hair got singed! But she loved to read the books that she had been given. She only had an elementary school education, but could read fairly well. You have to remember that reading Chinese isn’t like learning an alphabet. To be truly fluent in reading Chinese, you really need to know 2 to 3 thousand characters. She only knew what she had been taught in elementary school, but was able to read fairly well.
Imagine Ling Ling’s delight when I told her about the encyclopedia set we had when I was growing up. She thought that sounded wonderful! And it was, but I wonder how many of us really appreciate the opportunities we have to read and learn. She still reads today, and also always tunes in to the evening news. Even though she couldn’t continue her formal education, she continually tries to increase her knowledge of the world. With the internet so available to me, it makes me think about the many opportunities I have, that I maybe don’t appreciate.