Yaofei did not go back to his home village in Yunxi when the winter holidays started. Instead, he travelled all the way up north to a town in Shaanxi called Tongguan, where his parents had been working for years at a gold mine in the mountains.


It is the custom that Chinese families get together for a reunion in their home places at the Spring Festival. My readers might believe Yaofei must have regretted not being able to go back to his hometown in Yunxi. He stressed in the journal that he did not feel any disappointment at all, because all his family members were there at the gold mine for the festival—parents, sis and him. Apart from his immediate family, Yaofei’s uncle and aunt worked at the mine too, his cousin being there with the parents.


One day the family climbed the mountain where the mine was. They were greeted with a majestic vista at the pinnacle, where they saw all around them ranges of mountains blanketed in snow. It was a crystal world, and the view was simply out of this world. Yaofei was in a merry mood, knowing that back in Shiyan there was very little snowfall at the time.


Time with sis and cousin was of high quality. They had not been together for two years, so they enjoyed each other’s company all the more. The snow added to their joy. The slopes were their playground. They skated and tobogganed down them again and again amidst hearty laughter.


Despite the homely atmosphere, life at the camp was harsh. The parents lodged at some huts. It was freezing there. Wind crept in through the cracks. When it rained, water found its way into the dwelling. There was no decent furniture at all, let alone modern conveniences like an electric cooker or a microwave oven. What was worse, they even had trouble getting access to drinking water due to the weather. They had to walk a long distance to fetch water from a pool. One morning, Yaofei offered to go and get water in two buckets. When he reached the pool, a fierce dog was guarding there, snarling at him. He did not dare to approach the pool. Luckily, an adult nearby came over to give him a hand. After the buckets were loaded, he carried them back to the hut on a pole. It was a hard slog, Yaofei realised.


The Spring Festival is generally a time of good meals for the Chinese, but Yaofei’s family did not have festive delicacies there. The snow made the roads to town icy and slippery, so the family could not get any decent food from shops in town. They had to make do with their reserves at the huts.


Yaofei did not have a great time in Tongguan as far as comfort was concerned. But the holiday there was a great lesson to him. It raised his awareness of the family’s existence at the mine, which has in turn shaken him up and brought him down to earth. Studying in high school without any family around is hard for Yaofei. He must be lonely at times. Last term, after a monthly exam, he stayed at a cybercafé for a whole night. It alarmed his class director so much that the old man lay in the teen’s bunk bed in the dorm throughout the night until Yaofei returned at dawn the next morning. The boy was later rebuked by the administration for breaching the code of conduct.


Anyway, Yaofei has grown a lot through his special Spring Festival with his family at Tongguan. The lesson learned there, having instilled a sense of urgency and responsibility in him, hopefully will help the teen fare better through the remainder of high school. Good luck, lad.


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