Will Things Ever Get Better? – A Discussion between Chen Jiaying and Xiang Jing

Xiang Jing x Chen Jiaying:

have children in their twenties. They even don’t know what their children are doing now.

Xiang: They’re lucky to get a phone call here and there.
Chen: A lot of the kids don’t talk much with their parents now, but they will talk to us. The parents often ask us what their kids are doing.

Xiang: You’ve traveled all across China?
Chen: Yes. I haven’t been to every corner, but I’ve been to most places. I was about 14 years old when the Cultural Revolution began. After that was the “Big Link-up of the Red Guards.” When I first set out for the “Big Link-up,” I still had the fervor of the Cultural Revolution, but before long I began to take it as little more than a rare opportunity to travel. At the time, I had no idea what would become of China; I just felt that most people spent their entire lives in a single place, and that I should move around. I had my sights set on remote places like Yunnan and Xinjiang.

Xiang: How did you travel, by train?
Chen: I took the train, and it took a very long time. For instance, when we went to Urumqi in Xinjiang, the ride lasted for a whole week. When we crossed the Gobi Desert, sometimes the train would climb a hill, and then it would slow down to a walking pace. The train to Urumqi was completely packed. It was hard to sit down and hard to sleep. We helped the dining cart hand out meals, which were little boxes stacked up in bamboo crates. I can’t remember, but I don’t think they charged money for it.

Xiang: Did they charge money for the train tickets?
Chen: The trains were free as well. Thinking back, it was pretty nice: a 14 year old boy carrying a basket of food, wearing an apron to protect against the leaking juices. I would push around through the crowds on the train as I handed out meals. The head cook and the head officer were very nice to us, letting us stay with the attendants in the dining car. I got along well with them, and they opened the door, letting me sit on the ladder on the side of the train. I sat like that through the Gobi Desert, looking out at the expanse of desert all day. The reason they dared to let us sit there is