The Hua Family
A two-hour motorcycle ride separates Mr. Hua's humble abode in Xiaohusai from Mengku Elementary School. Despite the winding trails and steep mountain roads, he and both his twin daughters can already navigate that path effortlessly.
永秀 (Yong Xiu) and 永兰 (Yong Lan), both ten years old, are not only biological twins, but also mirror each other in their identical bobbed haircuts, outgoing personalities, and never-changing look of excitement when they are recorded on film by their father. To Mr. Hua, his two girls matter more than anything else in this world. Unfortunately, the time he is able to spend with them is incredibly limited; even when 永秀 and 永兰 return home from boarding school on the weekends, most of their day is dominated by either homework or labor in the fields.
永秀 (Yong Xiu) and 永兰 (Yong Lan) (2023)
永兰 (Yong Lan), standing in front of her family’s house in Xiaohusai (2023)
"It really would be great to leave Xiaohusai and bring my girls on a little trip within Yunnan once in a while.” Mr. Hua tells us. His voice on the other side of the phone call is lagging slightly due to the village’s poor internet connection, but it is still easy to recognize his heavy southern accent. “Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to understand any of the road signs or words if I left. I’d get lost almost immediately.”
Mr. Hua had dropped out of school before he was able to learn how to read or write properly. When asked to spell out his name, he even needed to consult his wife for assistance. “But if my children ever end up going to college,” he adds optimistically, “they could help me read maps and type sentences… I’d be willing to smash all my pots and pans if that’s what it takes.”
Lamentably, in truth, Mr. Hua didn’t have too many pots or pans left to smash. His family doesn’t own much land, and the few hundred kilograms of tea he is able to cultivate each year is barely enough to support their bare living necessities, let alone repay the debt that he owes to friends and relatives.
From the footage and images provided, it is not difficult to deduce that Mr. Hua's daily expenses have already been pared down to the bare minimum: his children wear the same worn-out outfits all week long, no repairs have been made to the holes occupying the kitchen ceiling, the family’s only source of heat comes from chopped branches, weekend homework assignments are finished under the faint light of a burning fire… “But it’s no big deal,” Mr. Hua says with a light laugh. “We’re all in this together and one way or another, I’ll definitely find a way to send them to college.”
The Hua family’s kitchen and stove (2023)
永秀 (Yong Xiu) and 永兰 (Yong Lan), studying in their family’s front yard (2023)
The word college frequently peppered our conversation, yet Mr. Hua never uttered it in a dejected or sorrowful manner. Rather, it was a topic that he lit up to when discussing. “They could go to college in Kunming (Capital city of Yunnan province where Xiaohusai resides), or even beyond Yunnan,” Mr. Hua tells us dreamily. “My partner and I wouldn’t have to work in the fields anymore when we grow old. The girls would take care of us.”
A light chuckle, presumably from Mrs. Hua, can be discerned in the background as Mr. Hua speaks. Even though we cannot see her, it is still effortless to imagine the contented expression that must have graced her face.