Chapter 10 and 11
The family begins their sad procession from their house, in search of food in the south. Through the cold and harsh winds, they persevere. Wang carries his frail father on his back while O-lan struggles with the young girl in her arms. The boys cry out in pain, but Wang coaxes them with the promise of good things at the end of their journey. As they pass through town and the House of Hwang, Wang overhears two villagers cursing the rich family inside for ignoring the plight of the poor when they have food and money inside their gates.
The family meets up with another group of people heading south, and they learn of "firewagons" that are headed in that direction. Seeing his family at their last breath, Wang decides that they will ride these trains, lest his family pass away in front of him that very night. They board the train and ride.
With the money from the sale of his furniture, Wang buys passage for a hundred miles of road and some food to eat as they ride on the train. Wang also saves a bit of the money to buy mats to build a shed once they reach the south, since he has heard a man on the train speak of doing so.
Wang inquires further and the man tells him that to survive in the south, many rely on the public kitchens and begging. When he asks if there are opportunities for employment, the man says there is the hard work of pulling a ricksha, but for him, he would rather beg.
When the train arrives, Wang painstakingly finds his way to the mat store, despite his inability to understand the directions given by the southerners with their harsh accents. When he returns to his family, he looks around his strange environment, where the people look to be well-fed but also full of contempt for beggars. He decides to site his hut near a wall, where he has seen other huts situated. After O-lan constructs their shelter, the family makes its way to the public kitchen, which is located near their new home.
At the kitchen, a great mass of people await, excited upon smelling the rich fragrance of the rice. When Wang attempts to take home what he has not eaten, a guard warns him that he cannot take anything with him that is not in his belly. Wang learns from the guard that the reason is because some men will take the rice home to feed their animals, instead of leaving it for the poor. With full stomachs, the family returns to their hut to sleep.
The next morning, Wang looks at the market in front of their hut, with its overflowing meats and vegetables, and tells himself that surely one cannot starve here. Yet, they are without any money. O-lan takes the family and shows them how to beg, a skill she learned from her unfortunate childhood. When the boys fail to see the severity of their plight, O-lan slaps them to make them "fit to beg."
Wang, meanwhile, rents a ricksha and attempts to overcome his awkwardness at the head of this strange vehicle. Yet, just as he is about to give up on the venture, his first customer hails him. Painfully, Wang delivers him to his destination, but he is sore and aching when he comes to a stop. When he goes to change the coin he is paid, he finds out from other ricksha pullers that he has been paid less than the proper fare. Wang is ashamed at his ignorance but reminds himself that it is enough to feed his family. However, he remembers that he has to pay the rental fee for the ricksha and groans. At night, when he returns to his family and pool their money for the day, they see that they only have enough to pay for rice in the morning. Only the grandfather has not contributed any money, trusting that his son and grandsons will care for him in his old age.
Browse all book notes|
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Chapter 2 and 3
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 6 and 7
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13