Mom and daughter live off corn on the cob

Updated: 2011-08-02 07:15

By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily)

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ZHENGZHOU - While most of her classmates are enjoying the summer holiday, 10-year-old Li Shuangshuang has been helping her disabled mother sell corncobs to passers-by.

Mom and daughter live off corn on the cob

Ten-year-old Li Shuangshuang, who spends her summer vacation helping her disabled mother sell corncobs to passers-by, enjoys a light break behind their stall on Friday, in Zhengzhou, Henan province. [Photo/ China Daily]

"Try fresh and sweet corn! Two yuan each!" the girl, bearing her characteristic bright smile, calls out from behind a big aluminum pot on a stove next to their tricycle.

The mother and daughter have set up shop along the sidewalk facing a hospital in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

Not far away is a large piece of cardboard - the "bed" where Li and her mother take turns catching up on their sleep during the day and stay over night.

Her mother, 36-year-old Wang Huilan, was crippled as a baby. They seldom return home to sleep because it takes too long and the road is too rugged.

"Even if we go back we'll still sleep in the courtyard because it's too hot in our home," the girl grinned.

What they called "home" is a low brick house they rented inside a coal yard three months ago.

The single room is less than 10 sq m and dark. The only piece of furniture is a crude, matted bed.

Li's parents, who came from rural Xuchang to make a living in Zhengzhou in 2003, ran a stall selling various goods. Li has helped look after the business since she was 4 years old.

Her ill-tempered father often bullied the family and returned to their hometown three months ago, taking their 2-year-old son.

"I feel sorry for my girl because I can't offer her as much as other parents do," the mother said in tears. "But I will hold on to let her receive a better education here, even if I have to beg."

Closing up shop about 11 pm, they have to wake up at about 1 am to get better corn at the wholesale market; sometimes arriving earlier than the wholesalers.

"She'll ride the tricycle, and I'll push it from behind. Sometimes she even carries me on it," the mother said.

It's usually past 3 am when they get back, and after taking another three-hour sleep, they get up again to peel and boil the corn.

"The morning is the best time to sell our corn," the little girl said.

They wash in the hospital and bring water from there to boil the corn.

They can earn about 30 yuan ($4.65) on a good day, however, when the weather is bad they can't make ends meet. To save more, they usually have steamed buns. Li has also turned to selling little items like cartoon stickers and phone pendants to make extra money.

When there are few customers she does her homework by the shop window behind their stall, simply squatting on the ground.

"It's not a problem. I have already finished half of it," Li said. According to her, she has many friends at school and her classmates often come to buy her stuff.

"She is very outgoing, diligent and willing to help others," said Zhang Li, her math teacher at the Huimin No 2 Primary School.

Zhang recalled that when the school proposed every student donate 5 yuan to relieve quake-hit regions in 2008, Li, who could get only one yuan from her father, brought all the change in her piggy bank, which added up to 30 yuan.

"She leads a hard life, but she's honest and kind-hearted," said Li Shanling, a street patroller who has become friends with them.

"Many residents here know them, because the girl is quite sweet and greets everyone she knows," he added.

After Li's story hit the media, some organizations and individuals donated clothes, food, books and more.

Thanks to one donor, her wish for a bicycle came true.

"Now it's convenient for me to help mom bring things I couldn't move between home and the stall," Li said, adding that her biggest dream is to earn enough money to bring her brother back to the city to attend kindergarten here.

In her shabby home, the girl, who wants to be a teacher, draws grids on their door and makes it a blackboard to practice writing.

"I'm deeply touched by their story," said a frequent customer surnamed Lian, who first asked help from the media for them. "They have chosen to make a living with their own hands, and the girl is so optimistic despite her family's condition."

"She is very young, yet she's so independent. I really respect her," said Song Guoning, 13, who visited Li's home with her father after learning her story. "I couldn't imagine their living condition until I saw it with my own eyes, and I cherish what I have now."

Pan Yanan contributed to this story.


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