When I was a little girl going to elementary school, it was the 1960s and China was having major problems. We were still suffering in the Great Famine. Mao was saying it was a natural disaster, but the truth is that it was a man-made disaster.
All the food was rationed, and everybody lived off food vouchers. Just having money was not enough; without vouchers, money was useless for essential items and food.
Each family would only get one voucher to buy one jin of eggs (one jin is a little over a pound), which was about seven eggs. We needed vouchers for everything: flour, sugar, bread, cookies, soap, meat, clothes, and even matches to light the stove.
At that time, women got rationed fewer flour vouchers than men. Men got slightly more for flour or rice, but it was still not enough for them.
To me, and to most of the children, if you got to eat an egg, it was like a holiday. Only on a special occasion or if you were ill could you have an egg. Once, when I had a fever, my grandma pan fried an egg for me. It was so delicious! The next day, I was feeling a bit better, but I still wanted to stay home so I could have another egg. My grandma wouldn’t give me one because she wanted to save it for my sister, who was getting sick too.
Later, in 1982, I went abroad to study. I had a leftover egg voucher and gave it to my friend. She was so overjoyed that she would do anything for me. She looked after my mother while I was away.
Once, my friend couldn’t get her daughter into the local kindergarten with the best reputation, so she bought some eggs and sent them to the school master. The problem was solved on the spot.
Nowadays, no one can imagine how important it was to have vouchers for food and clothes. Meat and eggs were considered a luxury for an ordinary family. I longed to have eggs, even at the cost of being sick with a fever. The same thing happened with my neighbor’s boy. While in hospital, his mother made an egg pancake for him. He told me he wished he could stay in hospital forever. You can see how much weight eggs had to a child at that time.
Dreams of my childhood
It really wasn’t funny at that time, but if you asked any kid what they wanted to do when they grew up, most likely the answer would be connected with the food industry. “I want to be a lady selling sweet ice sticks,” or “I would like to sell sausages.” In our minds, if you were in the trade, you could eat as much as you liked. Or they’d say they’d like to work in a restaurant, which sounds like a very foolish dream, but to us, if we could eat something special, we would work hard to get it.
Nowadays, eggs are still my favorite food, and the little boy from next door is now a surgeon in a hospital. He said he has never been able to find a better egg pancake than the one his mother made for him when he was small.
Difficult time in my childhood
My parents were busy with work (they were officers for the government), so they sent me to a junior boarding school. I would go home on the weekends. One time, I came home and my mother was making dumplings. My mother’s colleague was visiting, and I begged the auntie to stay longer and play with me and have dinner, so she stayed and had dinner with us. She ate most of the dumplings. My mother was so angry after she left because we didn’t have enough food left for our family, and having dumplings was only for special occasions like New Year or a birthday, and this time it was because our family could seldom eat dinner together. I felt so bad after that. The famine really caused our human relationships to change.