Snow, firecrackers and dumplings are conventional elements for the Spring Festival or China's lunar New Year. But this year's Spring Festival was a bit special for Liu Jinyan, a 60-year-old Harbin native, as she had a family reunion in the southern hemisphere's summer heat.
Accompanied by her daughter and son-in-law, who live in New South Wales, Australia, Liu and her husband attended the National Day parade and a classic car exhibition in downtown Sydney on January 26, 2009, the first day of the Year of the Ox, which also happened to be Australia's National Day.
"It was my first ever overseas trip. The National Day celebration in Australia was just like a big party, and I was excited to see so many classic cars at one time," Liu recalled. "It was interesting and impressive that we had hot dumplings as we had during previous Spring Festivals at home while the outside temperature was more than 30 degrees higher than in Harbin."
Once an educated youth
Liu Jinyan in 1972 (COURTESY OF LIU JINYAN)
Liu never dreamed of going abroad some 40 years ago when she was an educated youth, or zhiqing in Chinese, referring to millions of young people who during the "Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976) volunteered or were forced to work in the countryside under a directive from China's then leader Mao Zedong.
Born in 1949, Liu is the second of four children. She did not enter elementary school until the age of 10, since she had to take care of her sick mother and younger siblings. Her studies came to an abrupt end in 1968, when she was forced to work in Baoquanling Farmland in Hegang City, some 400 km away from Harbin, as an educated youth.
The farmland at the time was rich in natural resources but lacked laborers. Not surprisingly, the daily chores that Liu and her zhiqing peers did ranged from farming and road construction to channel digging, brick making and house building.
The happiest moment every day for Liu was reading in bed after finishing her work--reading had been her hobby since childhood. She shared books with her Beijing peers, who brought many from home. It was reading that opened the first door for her.
"I can't remember its title, but I do remember a compilation of Russian movie scripts, a very old book with blank shabby pages. It took me a long time to finish reading," Liu said. "I might not have understood all the contents, but it opened the door for me to learn about foreign cultures."
Medical books were among Liu's favorites besides foreign literature, since one of her childhood dreams was "becoming a doctor to cure mom."
Peers in the farmland affectionately called Liu "sister," because she was the eldest educated youth and she treated others like her own siblings.
Liu's eagerness to return home became desperate in 1973 when her mother passed away, leaving her sick father at home alone. Good news came in October 1975, and Liu finally reached her sweet home in Harbin "like a bird out of a cage" a month later.