LIFE IN EXILE
Long Days in the Freezing Winter
As mentioned earlier, the main task of the Labor Camp in northern Fujian was to provide Shanghai with bamboos for scaffolds. Bamboos were plentiful in the forests. The big rafts made with bamboos were berthed by the river bends where the flow was slow. With risen water level on days of heavy rain, the big rafts were taken with the flow all the way to the railway station where they were then dissembled and loaded into the train for transmission to Shanghai. On other days when the water level was low, bamboos could not be transported this way as the waterway was too narrow and rocky, causing the person on the raft to fall off when the raft hit the rocks.
It was bitterly cold in the mountain regions of northern Fujian in the winter, because the duration of sunshine was very short, usually from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The overnight frost on the bamboos was over an inch thick. There was a time when we had to stand bare-footed on the icy, frosted rafts with trousers rolled up to the knees, as none of us had any boots during our four years there. We all shivered in the cold with tears, runny noses, chattering teeth and numb hands and feet. All we had for breakfast was just a bowl of gruel, made of 2.2 ounces of rice, and half a slice of preserved bean curd. The suffering of hunger and cold was almost unbearable. Fortunately, these days did not last too long; otherwise, more inmates would have died, and died more quickly.
Later, with improved indigenous methods, in winter we were allowed to build the rafts on land instead. The workload, however, was increased and we had to "fight by torchlight" on days with bright moonlight. I remember that, one night, after a long day's work, we were instructed to work an extra shift to carry the chopped bamboos from the mountain slopes to the riverbanks. We started at 7 p.m. but were still working by 12 midnight! Even though we were totally exhausted, we were not allowed to take a moment's break; for there was an overseer keeping an account of the number of bamboos carried. We worked until 2 a.m. and were rewarded with only a ladle of gruel. Under such awfully torturous conditions, more and more inmates died. Their dead bodies were piled up inside a rundown morgue, as there were too many of them for quick disposal.