This neighbour is not mine. He is, or rather was, Lina’s. Lina is one of my teenage students. The story she told about this neighbour struck me.


First of all, here is some background info about Lina. Her family live in a suburban district of the city. A suburb of a city in the West might conjure up positive images—cleaner air, less congested roads and the quiet. However, the suburbs of most Chinese cities do not put such rosy pictures in people’s minds. Most rich people and the middle class in China still prefer to live downtown. A suburb of a Chinese city is sometimes referred to in the Chinese press as “the junction between city and country”. There public amenities are lacking, and most residents in the neighbourhood make a living by doing manual labour. Some are vendors of vegetables. Some are scavengers. Some work at construction sites; some in workshops or factories.


Lina was a lively and outgoing girl when she was fresh at the school. As high school progressed, she seemed to get caught in the grip of a pressing high school life. Heaps of work and fierce competition among the students dragged her down. For a time, she talked very little and kept her head bowed in class. Actually I got a bit worried about her. Luckily things have been looking up since the beginning of this term. She started to talk more, and smiles are coming back to her face.


This is what Lina writes of her neighbour.


Shengliver, this week I would like to share with you a story of my neighbour. He was extraordinary.

Before my family moved to the neighbourhood from Yunxian, his family had been there. According to my mother, he was very handsome as a young man and he made a fortune by doing some successful businesses. In fact, he was popular among a lot of girls then. So many lassies courted him that it was hard for him to choose.

He ended up with one of his admirers. They got spliced and later a son came to their life. But things started to change a few years after the marriage. For some reason the man stopped his businesses and every day he did nothing but loiter in the neighbourhood. He probably gambled and lingered at teahouses.

Quarrels erupted between the man and his wife. Their squabbles came more and more often. The relationship got to a point where they would not tolerate each other under the same roof. The marriage had to cease and they ended up in divorce. The son went away to live with the mother, leaving the man alone in their old family bungalow.

After his divorce, he took no job, and without a stable income, life became harder and harder. He had a traditional house and he rented some rooms to migrant workers. The money went for food and daily necessaries. But the rooms badly maintained, his rent was low.

Some years ago, when I went back home on the weekend, mother told me that the man had gone insane. He started talking to himself and life became a mess. Dressed in tatters, he had trouble making ends meet.

Then one weekend last term, while chatting with mother over dinner, I learned that the neighbour had died. This is how he perished.

The man could not afford gas for cooking so he went up to the mountains way behind the community to get firewood alone. He went away and did not come back for a number of days. No one cared and he had no relatives at all around.

Some time later, someone in the neighbourhood went up to the mountains. My neighbour’s body was found there. It was hung upside down from a tree, with the arms dangling in the air. It was summer and the corpse was already decomposing. Insects and maggots were eating away his flesh.

It was speculated that it was not a suicide, judging by his posture in the tree. Probably he had been in the tree tearing some branches off when he lost his balance and he was hung there in this way. Probably he had cried for help but there was no other soul around. Nobody heard him. He died either from hunger or from pain.

Poor neighbour, you died a wretched death. Although most adults in the neighbourhood loathed you, you were popular among the children. When I was younger, we kids enjoyed playing games with you, and you never failed to come up with something fun to entertain us.

At his burial no one shed a tear. His only son attended his funeral but there was no trace of grief from the lad. Instead, he was rather happy about the father’s demise.

Poor man.


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