The Chen Family
"Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!”
Mr. Chen is accommodated to a life of waking up before the sun does. Raising an arm worn out from endless farming and planting, he quickly turns off the alarm, pulls on his long black boots, and heads out to the fields. The green tea mountains of Xiaohusai stretched outwards far into the misty mountains, beyond to Gangkou, and, further than that, to areas Mr. Chen and his family had never been able to visit.
The cool summer breeze of dawn would have been rather enjoyable in the eyes of someone who lived in a modern city, but Mr. Chen is never given the luxury to pause and enjoy the misty morning. He has roles to fill in and money to return; he still owes thousands of RMB to his relatives, and the only way for him to return the money before the New Year was to farm more tea.
陈发敏 (Chen Fa Min), working in the fields with Mr. Chen (2023)
“A life of sleeping at one and waking at five is tiring, of course.” Mr. Chen sighs in an accent that is somewhat difficult to understand as he talks about his repetitive farming life. “But we don’t have another option.”
陈发敏 (Chen Fa Min), five years old, and 陈发昌 (Chen Fa Chang), seven years old, are Mr. Chen’s children. Every semester he needs to dedicate approximately 3000 RMB for their education. Unfortunately, even before either of them have reached middle school, Mr. Chen is already struggling to afford their tuition fees.
Yet, Mr. Chen’s concerns prove to be unnecessary, because 发敏 (Fa Min) and 发昌 (Fa Chang) are both performing exceptionally at school. As Mr. Chen recalls, “Even though they do occasionally throw fits, the children are always keen to help with chores and always study hard.”
陈发敏 (Chen Fa Min), standing in front of Mengku elementary school (2023)
So far, the hard work has been able to pay off, as 发昌 (Fa Chang) had just scored a ninety seven on his most recent exam. “If only both of them could leave this place and go to school in a big city. I’d hate for them to retrace my paths.”
陈发昌, eating a homemade dinner meal (2023)
As the pink clouds made way for the rising sun, Mr. Chen knew it was time to stop farming for a while. He drops his basket, which is full with today’s first batch of tea leaves, swiftly climbs onto his tarnished motorcycle, and drives down the little road that leads home. 发敏 (Fa Min) travels to kindergarten on foot, and Mr. Chen only needs to go home to pick 发昌 (Fa Chang) up for school.
Next year, when his daughter also enters elementary school, he would have to come up with a plan to squeeze both children onto his little motorcycle.
The morning sun continued to burn, stretching Mr. Chen’s bent back into a long, lonely figure, leaving a path of flying dust behind.