XIA SHA: I had this dream many years ago but I still remember it very clearly. I dreamt about a big market full of people. A friend of mine and I were walking down the street. On the other side, a boy came walking in our direction, he was very young and pretty. My friend introduced him to me, she said he was the cousin of so-and-so. Then we walked away, but he left a very strong impression on me. A moment later, a war broke out. It was like the Second World War, a lot of people were arrested and brought to concentration camps. I was among them. In the camp, we could move around but mostly we had to work. My job was to clean the railway tunnel of soot and ashes. There I saw the boy again. He had been caught as well. It seems he was the leader of some group. We saw each other every day but we never talked to each other. We kept at a distance, just doing our work, sometimes looking at each other.
One day, a train passed by suddenly. The tunnel was very narrow, it was very dangerous to stand there besides the railway tracks, and I got very scared. The boy came running towards me and pushed me against the wall, protecting me with his body. At that moment, we fell in love with each other. Later, we married inside the camp. We lived in a very small room, outside there was a corridor and at the end of the corridor there was a house made of glass. One day we were in the glasshouse and I told him that I was pregnant. He was very happy and kissed me. I still remember this feeling very clearly, even today. When our baby was born, the boy had suddenly disappeared. I couldn’t find him anywhere, it was very mysterious. I didn’t know if he was dead or alive, nobody had any information about him. I felt great pain but I had to keep on living for my son. From that day on, I was just another mother, with a scarf around my head, wearing an apron, cooking for my child. We lived together in happiness, except for the fact that we were not free.
One day, my child went out to play with some other kids. He took a floating tire with him because there was a river in front of our house, he put the tire in the water and got into it. Later, somebody came to my house and told me that my child had been flushed away by the river and that he had drowned. I was totally despaired when I heard the news. I had lost everything, my child, my husband, my freedom. But I still had to keep on living because I hadn’t had any news about my husband yet. Maybe he was still alive, I thought. Maybe we would meet again some day. Finally, after a very long time, I was set free. Then I saw that the camp was located on an island, surrounded by the sea. The sea wind was very cold. I walked through the meadows outside the high walls of the camp. Then I woke up.
My life is quite ordinary, like the life of most people who were born after the 70’s. I was born in Jiangyou, a small town in the province of Sichuan. It’s a place that has lots of factories and mines. I like the atmosphere about those old state-owned enterprises. I have a rather simple life. I always had the same group of classmates, from kindergarten until high school. Then I went to a city called Mianyang, which is more than forty miles away from my hometown, to study at the university. There, I met my husband. I worked for some time after I graduated, then I quit and started a master’s degree. In the meantime, I got married. We’ve been married for four years now. Our life is quite simple, not much happening really, but we are happy. I like staying at home, reading books, playing games. I especially like card games and Mah-jong. When I was a student at university, I liked rock music. I still like it today, but I’ve become more peaceful. It’s still part of my life, but it’s no longer my lifestyle. I try to give my best in my work and in life. I like to think of myself as an ordinary person with some unusual aspects.
The reason I’m in Chengdu is simply because my husband found a job here. He graduated last year, I did this year. As long as I’m with him, I don’t care where I live. If he wanted to go back to his hometown in the province of Xinjiang, I would go with him. But now he has a job here and he likes it, so I stay here with him. I think life is pretty much the same in every city. They all have basically the same structure, you have supermarkets, cinemas, shopping malls, big streets, traffic jams. The important thing isn’t where you live but who you live with, and that you follow your heart, that you do what you really like to do. The rest is pretty much the same everywhere. That’s what I think.