Chapter 2. Working Extremely Hard to Build a Career

a) Unsuccessful First Love

When I was eighteen years old, a matchmaker re-introduced me to a young man who lived in the same village as me and was a classmate of mine in elementary school. His father was a prosperous homebuilder. He himself was quite well known in our area for being a skilled steel framer and had several students studying under him. Their family was quite wealthy and was the first family in our area to buy a television. A lot of people in our village went to their house to watch TV. We dated for half a year. One day he suddenly told me that he didn't want to see me anymore. I didn't know why. I was heartbroken. Later I found out that he had heard about my leg problem and was afraid that I wouldn't be able to have children. It's that damn leg again! It destroyed my hope of a happy marriage! Before long, he started to date a high school classmate of mine, and they often walked past my house. I couldn't bear the pain of seeing them together, and decided to leave home to start a life in Chengdu City, the capital city of Sichuan Province. I told myself, "Let's see which one of us will be more successful in a few years, him or me!"

b) Going to Chengdu City with Barely Any Money in My Pocket

My father didn't want me to leave home. So he only gave me 5 yuan, just enough to pay the bus fare to Chengdu and back. My mother saw how determined I was and gave me another 10 yuan without telling my father. I took the 15 yuan and arrived at the home of a relative in Xichadizi, a suburb of Chengdu, on February 20, 1985.

Shortly after I arrived there, the Yingkoumen Township Clothing Factory started hiring. Several hundred people applied for 60 positions. My sister was a seamstress so I had learned how to sew when I was young. I was the first one that the factory hired, and was put to work in an assembly line that only employed those who had several years of experience as a seamstress. I got up at 5 a.m. every day and walked a long way to get to work. During lunchtime when others were resting, I would quickly eat two steamed buns and go back to work. In the evenings, when other people were off watching TV and resting, I would work until late at night sewing buttons on clothes. In the summer it was too hot to wear shoes. I would put a piece of cardboard on the footboard of my sewing machine and put my bare feet on the cardboard. At the end of every evening, my feet would be badly swollen.

I managed to work enough overtime to earn around 60 yuan a month, twice my normal salary. I lived very frugally and saved 40 yuan every month toward my medical fund. A childhood friend worked in the factory with me and I would split one penny's worth of preserved vegetable for breakfast and five pennies worth of vegetables for lunch. In the evening, we often heard a watermelon vendor shouting, "A dime for a piece of watermelon, a dime for a piece of watermelon!" We really wanted to have a piece but we never bought it even once. After living like this for a couple of months, I developed a strong craving for meat and finally bought the cheapest meat I could find. It was from the pig's head, and was almost pure fat. In order to save money, my friend and I didn't rent an apartment. We paid some people a small amount of money to sleep in their office at night. The office was very cramped and there wasn't enough floor space for us to lie down. So we had to sleep on a desk. Every night, we took things off the desk, and moved it slightly away from the wall. The two of us slept on the desk but the desk wasn't long enough for us so we placed chairs next to the desk and put our feet on the chairs. In the morning, we put everything back so people could use their office again.
While working in the factory, I went to the Hongguang Hospital on Shihui Street of Chengdu City seeking treatment for my leg. A doctor there told me that it was varicose vein and I needed surgery. My mother came to the city so she could take care of me after the surgery. She brought 50 eggs for me, which was a rare, rare treat. I even paid the deposit for a hospital bed. But right before the scheduled surgery, another doctor examined me and said that I didn't need the surgery after all. He told me that while it was unsightly, the black vein running along my leg wasn't causing any harm to my health. I believed him so I cancelled the surgery.
I took a string of jobs after leaving the clothing factory. I first worked as a cleaning lady at the Waidong Air Force Hospital in Chengdu City. After that, I operated a flea market stand near Jiuyan Bridge followed by another stand on Liulichang Street selling automobile accessories and cigarettes. After earning some money, I attended Wainan Taipingyuan Provincial Truck Driving School in September of 1987. In March 1988, I graduated from the school. I then leased an old truck from Sichuan Music College for 200 Yuan a month and began to earn money as a truck driver.

By the end of 1988, I had earned enough money to buy a used truck and began to work for myself. At the beginning, I transported truckloads of sand from Jinmahe District, Wenjiang City to different places in the province. I then transported coal from Rongjing County and Weiyuan County. Later on I transported waste metal and cement.

c) Putting My Life at Risk Just to Earn a Living

I feel very sad when I recall the dangerous things I went through when I transported coal from Weiyuan County.

Because I had suffered from so many health problems, I wanted to make as much money as I could while I was still young. The coal that I transported came from several small privately owned coalmines. The coalmines didn't have ground scales to weigh the coal and the owners of the mines could only roughly guess the weight of the coal by looking at how big the pile was. When a buyer went to buy 5 tons of coal, he often actually got coal that weighed close to 7 tons. Since the buyers got a good bargain, they were willing to pay the truckers more for transportation. Weiyuan County is in the mountains. The road there was rudimentary and narrow. It had only one lane going both ways. It was too narrow for a car to pass a bicycle rider or a pedestrian traveling on the same road. There was a story of a skilled truck driver who had a terrible experience the first time he drove that route. The road was in the mountains next to a river. He was afraid that the road wouldn't be able to bear the weight of his truck so he tried to drive his truck as far away from the riverside as possible. After driving over pieces of rocks, the oil tank belt of his truck broke and the rocks also damaged the truck body. He was so scared. Luckily, he managed to complete the trip. But he never dared to go back. I was only 23 years old. I had just gotten my driver's license and had no experience. But I began making regular trips there and put my life in danger on numerous occasions in order to make some money.

One time I was driving seven tons of coal going down the mountains after a heavy rain. It was impossible to control the speed of the truck with just my hand brake and foot brake. I changed gears and used the recoil of the engine to control the speed. The road was slippery and the turns were sharp. I was driving as carefully as I could. Unfortunately, the front wheels of my truck slipped off the road and fell into a pea field, and the truck was left hanging over the edge of a cliff. The buyer of the coal was also in the truck with me. He had been on the road a lot but he didn't know how to drive. The only way out for us was to back the truck up. But it was a very dangerous thing to do. The truck was loaded down, and the road was going downhill and it was slippery. If I didn't move the truck with absolute precision, the truck would go over the cliff and we would die. We ended up placing big rocks in front of each of the four tires to slow down the movement of the truck a little bit. I climbed into my driver seat, stepped on the gas pedal, and let loose the clutch with great care. I felt my heart pounding in my chest and I was fighting for my life. I must have had someone watching over me that day. I was able to back up the truck with just one try.

There was another time when the road was flooded after a heavy rain. When the buyer and I had almost arrived at the coalmine, I suddenly saw that the flood had washed away a part of the road. It was impossible for us to turn back because the road was too narrow and I would have to back up a long way before I could find enough room to turn the truck around. I parked the truck on the side of the road. The buyer and I tried to figure out what else we could do, but in the end we realized that we had no choice but to try to drive over the flooded road. The buyer said to me, "Ms. Zhong, it is not a big deal if I die. I'm already in my 40's and my son is all grown. I have already experienced so many things in my life. But you are still young, and you aren't even married yet. It will be a shame if you die this young." I replied, "It's okay. If I die, that is fine by me, as it will put me out of my misery. It means that I won't have to suffer anymore and I won't have to find money to cure my leg." The reality was quite grim - the road couldn't bear a lot of weight and the flood might wash the truck away if I didn't control the speed well. But there was no other way out. I pushed the gas pedal down as much as I could and we finally managed to drive over the flooded road.

One time when a buyer went to Weiyuan County to buy coal, he asked me to carry a load of used construction supplies from the Southwestern Institute of Ethnic Minorities. I knew that there were a lot of dangerous roads near the place that he wanted to go. So I asked him ahead of the time if the road he wanted to take was well paved and could bear the weight of a truck. He answered yes but it turned out what he said was not true. When I arrived at the Wuhuang region near Ziyang City, the road ahead became narrower and narrower. It was a very rudimentary road that rose up and down along the mountains and clearly not designed for trucks. It was getting dark, and the weather suddenly changed. Lightning and thunderbolts started to roll, and gusty wind and a rainstorm soon followed. The rain was so heavy that I couldn't see a thing even though my windshield wiper was going full speed. In addition, the construction supply I was carrying was loaded too high and the truck felt heavy at the top and light at the bottom. All of a sudden, the truck began to roll over. I didn't dare to drive forward anymore and had to park the truck by the side of the road. It was raining heavily, and water started to leak into the cab. Looking at the coal owner and his grandson who were sleeping peacefully in the covered truck in the back, I couldn't hold back tears. At that moment, I hated my diseased right leg. When the daylight finally came, the villagers saw the truck that had almost rolled over and couldn't believe their eyes. They said among themselves, "Who dares to drive a truck here? If the truck had rolled over, you would have no choice but to dismantle the truck and sell it for scrap metals. Who would dare to tow your truck back in town?" I ended up placing some cornstalks on the road to increase the friction and used centrifugal force to straighten up the truck.

Even though I had repeatedly placed my life in danger, I continued to make trips to the coalmines. I felt it was the only way I could make enough money to treat my leg. I left Chengdu City at 3 a.m. every morning. It was midnight before I finished loading coal at the coalmines in Weiyuan County. I would then drive the truck back to Chengdu City and unload the coal. By the time I finished unloading the coal, it was almost time to go back to the coal mine again. A whole week would often go by before I could even sleep. Whenever I felt sleepy, I would pull over and take a nap inside of my cab. Often times just when I fall asleep behind the wheels, a trucker behind me would wake me up with his horn since the road was too narrow for him to pass me. I was so tired that I could fall asleep anywhere at any time. I was taking on too much and I felt I could collapse at any moment.

Even though the work was dangerous, the pay was excellent and truckers often had to wait in line to pick up the coal. Some drivers didn't want to wait in line and tried to cut in. They ended up bringing some snakes with them and would release the snakes when I wouldn't let them cut in line. When the snakes began to crawl toward me, I would be so scared that I had to run away and had no choice but to watch them load the coal ahead of me. I swallowed my tears and I vented my misery by writing the following in my diary, "I'm just like a tire, wearing out, running around and around, and not knowing when the end will come. When it is pricked by a nail, it's when I get ill. When it explodes, it's when I leave this world."

I kept on asking myself why being a human being is so miserable and why we came to the world. I went to see a fortuneteller and I was told, "A noble person will come and help you." So I eagerly waited for the noble person to come.

d) Unsuccessful Marriage

After my first boyfriend broke up with me over my leg problem, I stopped being picky about whom to marry. I would marry any guy as long as he was willing to overlook my leg problem. I wanted to prove to people that I was capable of having children. I hastily married a worker and gave birth to a son. Because of various reasons, I separated from my husband when my son was only three years old. In my son's mind, he never had a father.

e) Motivation Comes Only with Pressure

Shortly after I became pregnant, I started to transport cement for Xiao Yongcai, the owner of a cement factory in Chongqing County. After working for him for some time, he found me trustworthy and asked me to work for him exclusively. His relative, Mr. Hu, was also a trucker who worked for him. I always got up early in the morning and came back very late at night. Because I put in long hours, I was always able to complete one more trip than Mr. Hu could. Mr. Xiao began to call Mr. Hu "Lazy King Hu" and joked that Mr. Hu was not as capable as a pregnant woman. Mr. Hu said jealously, "Motivation only comes with pressure." He was exactly right. I indeed felt huge pressure and wanted to make as much money as I could while I could still move around. There is a Chinese saying, "After suffering from an illness for a long time, nobody will be left with a dutiful son." What would happen to me when I couldn't move and there was nobody to take care of me?

Less than three months after giving birth, I went back to work. I shipped cement for Mr. Xiao during the day, and shipped bricks for Li Huacheng from the Guixi Cement Plant at night. Since I was still breastfeeding, I had no choice but to take my infant son with me on all the trips that I made. He often stayed up late with me. Sometimes I wouldn't be able to take him home all night.

Because I had worked for Mr. Xiao for a long time and he was pleased with my work, at the end of 1991 he helped me land a job transporting cement for the Materials Section of the Road Construction Department of Chengdu City. At that time, Chengdu City was constructing its Loop 2 Highway. I was given a special permit. With the special permit, I could transport as much cement as I could. I was also allowed to overload my truck and drive on roads that trucks normally weren't allowed to drive on. The road construction project needed a lot of cement and I couldn't meet the demand with just my own truck. So I hired the city's No. 5 Transportation Department to help me. At the end of every month, I billed the City Road Construction Department and paid the cement factory and the No. 5 Transportation Department. My bookkeeping was always meticulous and I never made a mistake. I ended up becoming a major trucking subcontractor for the City Road Construction Department.

f) Unsuccessful Surgery

As the years went by, my business flourished and I became more and more successful. But my right leg grew worse. The bulging blood vessel became as thick as a thumb and I could see several big lumps along the blood vessel. I had to rest my leg on a chair while playing Mahjong or watching TV. I often felt a sharp pain in my leg after driving for a long time. When I couldn't bear the pain anymore, I went to Chengdu City's Army General Hospital in January of 1995, several days before the Chinese New Year. I was diagnosed with varicose veins, and was told that I had to be operated on right away. The surgery took place around the Chinese New Year. Dr. Chen Chongdian was the surgeon who operated on me. The surgery started at 9 a.m. I was given anesthesia only in my lower body so I was fully conscious and could hear the sounds of the surgical equipment banging into the tray and my flesh being cut open. Everyone was silent and I felt I was attending my funeral. The surgeon cut open the blood vessel from the outside and then from the inside. He clamped down the blood vessel, cut the flesh around the vessel on the outside, and pulled the blood vessel out. I felt pain but I didn't dare to move a bit. The doctor showed me the vessel that he had taken out. It was long and as thick as a chicken's throat. The doctors in the operating room soon appeared puzzled and told Dr. Chen to cut open another blood vessel. I soon heard Dr. Chen say, "What happened? It is not varicose vein after all." Another doctor said, "No. It appears to be aneurism of the cranial artery." After that, the room fell dead silent. I knew that I had been misdiagnosed and the surgery was a mistake. But at the point, what else could I say or do? I just tried my best to forget the whole thing and move on. I spent a week resting in the hospital and went home after the doctors took out my stitches.

After a period of time, the surgery incision healed, but my leg remained badly swollen in the place where the blood vessel had been taken out. I went back to Dr. Chen Chongdian, and he told me, "After discussion, the hospital has decided to operate on you using the newest technology pioneered by surgeons in the U.S. We feel bad about what had happened before and will operate on you the second time free of charge. Let's give it a try." It was a difficult decision for me to make. The surgery was very risky and there was a chance I would be paralyzed if the surgery failed. Although my leg was swollen and painful, the aneurism was contained. I was still very young, and I could still move around. So I decided not to do the second surgery.

g) Wish for Cultivation

In August of 1996, I took my mother and my son to climb Qingcheng Mountain. We took the back route. It was a difficult climb. We had to grab onto tree branches and rocks to climb up the mountain. The heels of my shoes broke and my right leg felt swollen and painful. But I kept going because I didn't want to disappoint my mother and son. We took frequent breaks along the way. When we climbed half way up the mountain, a group of about twenty old ladies quickly passed us and climbed up very quickly. I was amazed by how fit they were. Even though they looked to be about 60 years of age, they didn't seem to be tired at all after the difficult mountain climb. I heard them chanting "Buddha Amitabha" from time to time. I thought to myself, "How can those old ladies climb so fast? Maybe there are really Gods waiting for them up ahead? They walk so fast and so effortlessly!" My mother, my son and I finally climbed to the top of the mountain when the sun had gone down and visited the Baiyun Temple. I attended the Buddhist ceremony along with those old ladies, donated some money to the temple, and begged the Buddha to cure my disease and to bless my whole family.
We spent the night in the mountain. The next morning as we were leaving the Baiyun Temple, I saw a nun at the gate waiting for people to draw straws to tell their fortunes. She appeared to be about 30 years old. I went up to her and asked her curiously, "You are so young. Why did you want to be a nun?" She told me about her painful marriage, and said she had enough of the secular life and went to the temple to cultivate. I was interested in the word "cultivate." She seemed to have read my mind and said, "You should come to cultivate too." I said, "I have a mother and a son to support. I also can't let go of all the worldly things. Can I still cultivate?" She replied, "Yes. You can cultivate at home. Just read the scriptures at home." I flipped through the thick scriptures and asked, "Do I need to come back to the Baiyun Temple if I decide to cultivate?" She said, "Yes." Looking at the sky-high mountain, I thought, "Forget about it. The mountain is too high and too hard to climb. I won't cultivate here. I'll find someplace near home and then start to cultivate."

First published in English at:

Translated from part 1 of