On 19 August 1975, after three anxiety-riddled nights of waiting, six hours of cross-country travel, and another sleepless night squashed into a single bed with her two parents, Jia was finally ready to say goodbye. Not just to her family, she realised, but also to the last remnants of her home, her city and her entire life so far. As she stood at the village’s edge and watched the cars dwindle beyond the glassy landscape of rice paddies and distant mountains, she steeled herself against all remaining fear and doubt. For my mother, this was her chance to contribute to Mao’s revolution and the future of her beloved China.
On that first evening, Mum recalls how city kids from around the Sichuan province mingled around a small celebratory fire. Like her, most were in great spirits, laughing and discussing the great adventures that lay ahead. Some, however, were already homesick, and cried or sat quietly in fearful apprehension. Her surrogate family had welcomed her enthusiastically, assigning her a bed in their modest home. When it was time to sleep, Mum recounts with lucidity even now her horror upon hearing the rats scampering across the straw roof. She barely slept the first week, convinced they would fall squealing onto her bed during the night.
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