The Tunnels

roofsFrom 1999-2000 I taught English at Tsinghua University in Beijing. It was my first job out of college and I’m glad I kept a number of student pieces from that time. To follow is one student’s response to the assignment: Share one of your earliest childhood memories.

In my childhood memory, there are many funny things. But there is one thing in my heart that is unforgettable. It seems like it happened just yesterday.

In 1974, my parents and I lived in Xinjiang province. At that time, the relationship between China and the former Soviet Union was very tense, and it seemed a big war might break out. So the Chinese dug many tunnels in Xinjiang to counter a possible Soviet invasion. The tunnels were very deep and wide, but many of them remained incomplete with the tunnel doors left open. These tunnels became our playing paradise.

One day after we left school, some of my pals got together and suggested we play in the tunnel. We collected many pitch papers and lit them for light, as the tunnel was very dark. We were all trembling. The light was very weak, and we held each other’s hands inside the tunnel. Suddenly someone shouted, “A ghost is coming!”

We all ran and didn’t care about each other. A little girl who had come with us was left behind and started crying loudly. When we ran out of the tunnel, we didn’t feel fear anymore and it was very stimulating. That little girl started to laugh. When we saw each other again, we found that everyone was quite dirty. When we washed out faces, our nasal mucus was black.

We cleaned each other off in order to avoid our parent’s blame. From that time on, we often went into the tunnel to play and saw many sites. The more times we went to the tunnels, the braver we became. Our games there persisted for a long time.

Now, many years later, I still remember this game of my childhood. I don’t know about those tunnels anymore, but they have given me a fine memory. I hope someday I have a chance to play in those tunnels again. Perhaps it is impossible.