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Those Left Behind


New Year’s Wish

When the day’s classes are over, 4th-grader Mei Yan waits for her “bus” (actually an old tricycle) at her school gate and daydreams. With every passing vehicle, she hopes to see her father or mother’s kind eyes, but logic dictates to her that her dreams are merely fantasy. Her parents are far away, and she spends weekends at her grandparents’ home.

When she arrives, Mei Yan immediately rushes to the kitchen. But unlike her peers who expect mother’s snacks to be waiting, the mature 11-year-old starts preparing dinner herself. Tonight, it’s rice and fried chicken with Chinese cabbage for her final dinner of 2010.

“It’s New Year’s Eve,” I remark. “Why don’t you have more dishes?”

“What’s the difference between today and tomorrow?” She answers my question with another question, like some wise sage. “It’s just another day for me. They’re all the same when my mother and father are gone. I wish they could come back.” And she plops down at the table in sorrow.

Like many buildings in Tiandeng County of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Mei Yan’s grandparents’ home has three stories. The first floor shelters livestock, the second floor is the main living area, and the third floor is an open balcony.

Yan’s parents first left to work when she was only six. She has considered her life tough since then, but the first year was especially hard. She was rarely able to sleep well or maintain an appetite. She yearned for her parents’ embrace so much that rivers of tears were not uncommon.

“I can still remember my mom’s hug when she returned home for Spring Festival,” she recalls as a single teardrop trickles down her cheek.

As a result of her solitude, Mei Yan psychologically matured before her time, learning to endure the loneliness by closing herself off to others.

And she is certainly not alone. At her school of 440 students, 365 have been left behind by parents who travel elsewhere to work.

Home Alone

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