Having long been living in this alley, I know almost everyone here. It is, however, the housewives that I usually see in the daytime, the rest being either out working as family providers or away in school. All these housewives are kind and considerate. My mother, for example, takes care of my sister's daughter even though she herself is busy with housekeeping' yet if she finds it necessary to go out shopping, she need not worry because there is always someone in the neighborhood coming over of her own will to help with our household chores. When suppertime is over, these housewives also like to gather at a certain place for a friendly chat about the daily goings-on in the alley or other things. They are also security-conscious, trying to keep each other out of harm's way. I is thanks to such mutual help and precaution against harm that we in the alley have lived so happy and so undisturbed a life.
We have moved into this apartment for nineteen months. Our neighbors are an assorted group including merchants, teachers, grocers and government employees. Once I went hurriedly to work and forgot to turn off the faucet connected by a hose to the washing machine. It was only when I got to my office that I remembered what I neglected to do. Anxious and uneasy, I called up one of my neighbors, a Mrs. Lin, to ask her to take care of the faucet. She was obliging enough to do what she was told to do and I was so grateful. According to an old Chinese saying, a distant relative is less likely to help you out than a near neighbor. There is certainly a ring of truth in this. There are, however, neighbors and neighbors. Although our neighbors are generally friendly and always ready to help us, there are some who tend to do something unpleasant. They scatter their garbage where it is not supposed to be scattered and a couple living on the floor just above us often quarrel and fight around midnight with so much noise that I simply cannot have a good sleep at all. The Bible says, "Love thy neighbor." Well said, but I would like to add: Make yourself lovable before you expect to be loved by others. I really hope all of my neighbors will love each other. Only under such circumstances can we find our hours at home enjoyable.
I live in a rural area. As in most rural areas, this area has plenty of fresh air and luxuriant vegetation. What makes me even happier is the neighbors I have, all of them simple and honest folks. I don't think I can find the like of them in a city. In general, city dwellers, except in their own small circles of acquaintances, see each other as total strangers, and it is not unusual to find people living in the same apartment house brush past each other without showing any sign of recognition, not so much as a nodding of the head. Neighbors are usually compared to our close friends and as such they should help each other if help is sought. My neighbors are all farmers, who are rich, not in material possessions, but in hospitality, and their honesty to help are legendary. For reasons quite obvious, it is important to get along well with our neighbors and avoid quarreling with them over trivialities. I am a good neighbor to my neighbors, and so are they to me.
Our old home was located on a grassy plain and not far from it were wide farms and a big orchard. There was a dirt road running past our house and winding up a hill; along the road you could find a serpentine creek alive with fish and prawn as well as a big pond often cluttered with blooming lotuses. The grassy plain, wide farms, dirt road, crooked creek and the pond are the things I can hardly forget and also the things that often put me in mind of my days first as a child and then as an adolescent. But, alas, no traces are now left of the scene of my past. Our old house has given way to a high apartment building; the dirt road is now replaced by a smooth highway; the wide farms and that big orchard have long been converted into factory grounds. Though I have lived in that apartment building for a long time, I am not acquainted with my fellow occupants, not knowing who they are and what they are. I dislike this impersonal human relationship and also the surroundings of my present dwelling place. The old creek is still there but so heavily polluted by a near-by factory that neither fish nor humans can find its water drinkable. There is also no fresh air, no fragrance of the soil. I deplore the side-effects of a material civilization. If we do no try to solve the problems that plague our neighborhood, the quality our life will simply turn from bad to worse.
If there is anything special about my neighborhood, it is that there is a beautiful orchard and all the residents are good neighbors. Far removed from any heavy traffic flows, this neighborhood is also a place of peace and quiet. I can still picture to myself how I spent my girlhood happily here. Besides playing boisterous ball games on the ground we children also played in the trees of the orchard and picked whatever fruits we could lay our hands on. Each of us had his of her own pets, such as dogs, guinea pigs, pigeons and even butterflies. Fast friends we were in those years, Our parents often gathered in one place for a chit-chat after supper and we children were rapt listeners even though we did not really understand what they were talking about. They were never harsh on us kids. Our next-door neighbor Mrs. Wang was especially liked by us because she habitually sent us cookies. Our own grandma was an excellent story-teller and we children often fell under the spell of her fascinating stories. Mr. Chang was also an unforgettable character. Whenever we saw him he was singing and his baby face and soft voice pleased us all. This is my neighborhood, a world unto its own which has remained largely unchanged in so many years. It is nice to live here and my neighbors will surely agree with me.
I live in the country. Our family lives by farming. Close to our home is a small farm. In spring we can see the tender green of the young paddy shoots mellow with the passing of the months. Looming in the distance from our farm are the blue mountains, which are clad in all shades of red at sunset. What a spectacle! I often said to myself when I looked away at those mountains at such a moment. The wonders of nature, I believe, can have a soothing effect on anyone in distress. Not far away from our house lives an old couple. They always get up early and then go for a walk hand in hand. They never quarrel and live like a pair of newlyweds. With no children living with them, they take helping others as a way to alleviate their feeling of loneliness. They are my most affectionate grandparents. I love them as they do me. I hope that someday when I get married my wife and I can live like them in the country enjoying a carefree life.
One of my best neighbors is Mr. Chang, a thirty-year-old, tall and handsome, friendly and considerate man. He is a hard worker, especially so in the past when he had to make money to feed his family. Now his hard-working habit has paid off; he has established his own business and his family is in much better financial shape than ever before. He has a deep-seated sense of honor and is trustworthy, industrious and tolerant and it is such virtues, I think, that win him respect and make him well established in society. By contrast, Mrs. Li is one of my worst neighbors. She is a woman in her forties, bulky and with a strident voice. She likes to shout her demands, which greatly annoy us, and is also self-righteous in everything and intolerant of any small faults of others. How others would feel is not what she cares. Rich as she is, she is disliked by all her neighbors.
The Wangs, a family of five, are our nextdoor neighbors. It is seven years since they moved into our neighborhood. The oldest of the family is the grandma. She is over seventy and hard of hearing; so if you speak to her you must speak louder than usual. Mr. and Mrs. Wang are both teachers; he teaches English and she music. They have two twin daughters who look much alike and always wear the same clothes. Although I have known these two girls for seven years, yet it is difficult for me to tell the one from the other. The Wangs are characteristically warm-hearted and it seems that they are always ready to help anyone in need of help. Neighbors are said to be a group who can hardly agree on anything; however, the longer I get along with the Wangs, the more I like them. I am glad I have such good neighbors and I have a hunch that they feel the same as I do.