One Yuan


PureInsight | February 17, 2003

[] As a child, I lived through the Great Cultural Revolution when there were only a few classes taught at school. Therefore, we spent most of our time playing or sitting on the side of the street. Girls would play a game where players performed complicated routines on a pair of long bands of rubber and those who could not perform the routine without making any mistakes were fouled out. This simple game was one of the most important activities of my childhood.

We were poor and I did not have money to buy the bands for the game. I found an old bicycle tube, and made my own bands out of it. But they soon broke because they wore out quickly. I dreamed that some day I could buy a brand new band to play with. But I had no money. One day, I saw two yuan (Chinese currency) that my mom had left on the table. I thought for a long time before I finally decided to grab one yuan. It took all my courage to walk out of the room. I was very nervous. I paced up and down in the yard while tightly holding that one-yuan bill. I wondered what to do next. To a little kid at that time, one yuan amounted to a million dollars today. I imagined that with that yuan I could buy lots of rubber bands, wrapped candy, colorful papers, beautiful sewing threads and so on. It was as if all the expenses of a lifetime could be paid with this one yuan. I felt at that moment like a millionaire. But after the excitement wore off, I began to agonize about my parents finding out. Where was a safe place to hide the money, since it was getting dark? I couldn't think of any hiding place. Besides being worried about my mom's reaction, I was also concerned about my elder brother, who was a little nosy. He had a sixth sense with respect to any trouble that I got into. In the end, he would either expose me or get his share. Right then, the hand that was tightly holding the money became sweaty.

The more I thought about it, the more desperate I felt. Thus, I first pretended to be sick and went to bed without eating or drinking anything. That night I couldn't sleep well, tossing and turning, as though I were fighting a battle. In my dream, at times I saw policemen chasing robbers and thefts happening, and at other times I was chased and tried to escape. Finally, it was morning. I was so scared and my body was all sweaty.
At breakfast time, Mom asked me gently and kindly whether I felt better. Then she said to herself, "Very strange, I put two yuan on the table yesterday. How could they then become one yuan?" I heard my mom's question. My guilty feeling made my face turn red, and I was afraid that my mom would notice it, so not thinking, I bent down to tie my shoelaces. After I bent over, I then realized that that day I was wearing a pair of shoes without shoelaces. My brother saw it and began to make fun of me. He stood aside facing Mom, peeking at me, speaking in a strange voice. His tone of voice made me so angry that I almost bit him. I couldn't stand it anymore. I rushed into my room, grabbed the one-yuan bill that I had hid under the pillow, and handed it to my mom. I said, "Mom, I found the money for you." Mom appeared relieved and asked me, "Where was it?" I randomly pointed to a direction, "Over there." Then I took my school bag and ran out as fast as I could. I felt as if two glowing eyes were watching me.

I sat on the curb, thinking back over the past 16 hours that I had been a "millionaire." I realized that it was better to use a bicycle tube to make my own rubber bands instead of buying a nice, new, real rubber band. It was more comfortable this way. I now recall my mom's words, as if there were a cassette tape playing in my head, "Be an honest and kind child."

This little childhood experience and my mom's words have etched themselves deeply into my brain. After growing up, the memory of this experience was often like a warning, reminding me that your heart will not be at peace if you obtain something through improper means.

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