As we drive from site to site, from our hotel in Ya'An to the panda base and back, our guide provides us with a running commentary on life in China for her.
She is young, somewhere in her late twenties, early thirties, the granddaughter of professional people, the daughter of people caught up and punished in the Cultural Revolution. Based on what her parents have told her of their lives, she feels her life is good today. She is married and expects to have a child in the near future. She and her husband have their own apartment. "Today I line in a nice home," she told us. She grew up in a single room with a curtain to separate the rooms. She knows eventually they will need a larger place. Not only so they have room for a child, but also so there is room for her parents. Women who are government workers like her mother retire at age 55 (Men at 60) in China which works out well. This not only makes room for young people to move into their jobs but also so they can baby sit their grandchildren while their children work. Her husband's family was responsible for helping them get the apartment and furnishing it.
It is also good that people retire by 55, she comments. People in their 60's are the result of growing up as Red Guards. "They have no respect for people.
In China it is the responsibility of the groom's family to pay for the wedding and to set the couple up. This not only means obtaining an apartment but furnishing it and furnishing it goes far beyond beds, dressers, tables, chairs and couches. Apartments in China which are located in the large high rises do not come with any appliances. They must be painted, air conditioners must be purchased, clothes washers are bought but seldom dryers. Instead, clothes are hung on the balcony to dry.
Our guide went to the University where she studied aeronautics. Now she has a job as a guide which the government helped her get when they gave her husband a job in the Beijing area. "Today I line in a nice home," she told us. She grew up in a single room with a curtain to separate the rooms.
We pass a hospital and she tells us that relatives are expected to take care of the patients. They bathe them, make their food and feed them.
In a restaurant one afternoon we are seated next to a table of young people. Periodically, they all stand up, raise their glasses, and shout "gam bei". Our guide explains that this is a group of people who are out for lunch with their boss. They are participating in a custom that is a way to get promoted. Every time the boss wants to drink, everyone stands and toasts him with "Gam Bei." The boss drinks a little, the employees are expected to down their drinks. We wonder what conditions those employees are in by the time lunch ends.
She tells us a myth about her people . "Do you know how yellow people were created?" There are three colors of people, she explains. White, black and yellow. After god made white and black, he had to figure out another color in the middle, so he chose yellow."