A Family Trait
When I was a little kid, my parents took me to my father’s hometown, JiangDu, to attend my grandmother’s funeral. I lived in the modern city of Shenzhen almost all my life, and I did not know what to expect on my first visit to JiangDu. Even though I was young, I recognized that while JiangDu was a beautiful and quiet place, the people there faced great adversities such as poverty, starvation and homelessness. It was in such conditions that my grandparents—who could neither read nor write Chinese—amazingly raised four children with little or no government help.
There is an old Chinese saying “eS‚c?¦???a?ˆc§?c?Za?· ” (jieyue shi yi zhong meide). eS‚c?¦ is a complicated word which means “to save,” “to be frugal,” or “economic.” The saying could be translated as “Frugality is a virtue,” or more commonly recognized—“A penny saved, is a penny earned.” My grandparents were able to raise four children by teaching them this simple, yet very important lesson.
When my father was a boy, he walked several miles to school. He studied without most of the necessary materials such as pencils, books and schoolbags. When he was my age, he lived on very little money, reused everything that could be reused, and almost never went to restaurants for meals.
My family knew how to survive during harsh times, and wanted to pass on this trait to me. From a young age, my parents took every opportunity to teach me how and why we should save. Even after China’s economy improved and both my parents had stable jobs and constant salaries, my parents still emphasized the importance of saving. In the beginning, I didn’t like their lessons. I didn’t understand how spending a bit here or there by having meals out in nice restaurants, or by splurging on a new toy could affect the family’s budget. I remember crying one time to try to get them to buy a candy bar for me.
Years later, I spent a summer in Shanghai at my cousin’s apartment, which was far away from downtown. When he went to work, I was left by myself to explore the city. My cousin gave me some money and a map of Shanghai and told me to just take a cab to get where I needed. But Shanghai is a large city, and it costs a lot of money to take a taxi. I remembered the many lessons my parents taught me about saving and began to heed their advice. I took a careful look at the map and circled the places I wanted to go. I mapped out places of interest that were accessible by metro, bus, and walking. Then, I set out on my day.
At the end of the trip, not only had I seen many of the sites of Shanghai, but I also had money to spare. My cousin was impressed and allowed me to keep the rest of the money. I used the cab fees I saved to buy some gifts for my parents. They had taught me this virtue and now I had used it in real life.
At first I despised my parents’ frugality, but now I have great respect and admiration for my grandparents’ and parents’ ability to raise a family and endure such unfavorable conditions. The true value of the lessons they have taught me has recently been reinforced by the financial crisis that is facing the Wall Street and the rest of the world. It is strange to see a country that is usually economically strong face financial instability. It shows that anyone can fall under a tough financial situation. So I will keep my family’s lesson close to my heart and hope I will be able to instill these values in my children when I have a family of my own.