"The 'Strangers'" by Xia Lin ('18)

I used to remember that my village is small, quiet and peaceful. Villagers own farms in front of their houses. They usually plant some fruit and vegetables on the farm, like eggplant, tomatoes, hot peppers, and pumpkins. Life is slow and relaxed. After meals, the adults usually go to each other’s houses to chat, or sit under the trees. Kids group together to play in the street. I was one of the kids who always gathered with the others to play from sunrise until sunset. Our favorite games were “Hide and Seek” and playing the long rubber band. These two games would gather most of kids together. This is what most of our childhoods looked like.

This is what the street I grew up on looks like now with the new housing units.

This is what the street I grew up on looks like now with the new housing units.

I used to think that this would be our life forever. Then, so much shifting started to happen in the neighborhood due to the economic development in China. The villagers started to immigrate to other countries like Japan, the United States, Spain, and Canada, or some of them just moved into a larger city in China. The village soon would be half empty, and one day there came a group of strangers to fill up the space. As the governor announced, they are people who came from “Sichuan” province, they are going to be part of the huge family in our village. I still don’t know why they were coming to our village, but it didn't matter in some ways because at least they were making the town “alive” again.

All the villagers were curious, but nice to them. Once they met each other on the street, they would nod, smile, then talk about what’s going on. They usually have communication issues due to the different dialects existing in China, but they still tried to use their broken Mandarin to communicate. This seems like such a nice gesture to each other. The children, started to play together without any issues; they don’t have to communicate deeply, and the only thing they had to be able to say to each other were things like “Let’s go play” and “OK, wait for me”.

Where we used to be able to go down to the water to catch fish, there is now pollution and industry.

Where we used to be able to go down to the water to catch fish, there is now pollution and industry.

Later, my family moved to the United States, but I always missed how peaceful and joyful the village was, and wished that one day I could go back to join them. Six years passed, and I finally had a chance this summer to go back to visit with my entire family. I was so excited.

However, from the moment I stepped out from the airport, a strange feeling occurred. This feeling got stronger as the car got closer to my village. Everything had changed! The farms and trees had disappeared, and instead, they have tall buildings built where they were.

When I took a closer look at the village, I noticed that there were still some houses that remained the same- those stranger's houses. There are even more strangers who came to live here and were seeking jobs. They either rent space in the old houses, or they built small houses next to each other.

What once was a mountain filled with trees, is now being slowly leveled and stripped of its foliage.

What once was a mountain filled with trees, is now being slowly leveled and stripped of its foliage.

After some days’ observation, I noticed the relationship between those strangers and the villagers had also changed. The villagers didn’t get along with the strangers anymore. They usually sat together in a group separate from them. There was something weird going on in between them. The villagers would sometimes complain that the strangers were alcoholics, and would steal money from them. Even my own grandfather found one of them entering into our house while we were out. Those strangers were also disrespectful, they were rude and disrespectful to the town’s traditions, they never got involved with the activities in the village at all.

The strangers seemed to have different opinions, too. They thought that the villagers all depend on their sons who went off to work in another country to send money back and feed them so that they don’t have to work at all. What the villagers are doing is sitting around, purchasing goods, and gossiping.  

“Hate” had grown on both sides of the village. Then I noticed that the younger kids were still playing together. How strange is that! I convinced myself that children are innocent, they don’t know about the prejudices we adults fixate on, and instead they are focuses on friendship. But I also predicted that their relationships with each other would become like their parents' once they get older. As always, once children grow up, they start to seek a group that they fit in with. As a result, they might also notice the difference between the "strangers" and the villagers.

This was the worst visit of my life. I was completely upset by what I noticed. I hate this situation, and I understand why it's happening, but I can’t do anything to change it. The worst part is that I spent my whole summer standing in line with the villagers, which I understand I’m not supposed to do. After this summer, I realized that the people I grew up knowing will never go back to how I remember them, they are now the real strangers. The pure memories of my childhood will stay in my mind, but the feeling of home and familiarity will never come back anymore.