Beijing, Mrs. Zhang’s Living Room



Name: Mrs. Zhang Zhenzhu

Age: 68

Chinese zodiac sign: Goat

Education: College


Profession: I used to be an accountant at the China Education Press Agency, which is an institution of the Ministry of Education.


When you are at home, what is your favorite activity? What do you enjoy the most?

I found some old people who sing together in Tuanjiehu Park. I go there every morning from 9 to 11. I like singing. We sing old songs; the ones we grew up with.

I used to teach dancing in Tuanjiehu Park for two years; ballroom dancing and Latin dances like the Cha-cha and Rumba. But some time ago I stopped teaching dancing as a business. I also have set-up a small restaurant and a grocery store, when young people from my hometown came to Beijing looking for work. These businesses are also closed now.

What I enjoy most these days is singing and feeding the stray cats in the park.


Name three of your daily routine activities:

I wake up early every morning, between 5 and 6. After cleaning the rooms I go to the park and take care of the cats. Then I go to another park to sing. After my lunch I usually take a nap. Then I need time to prepare food for the cats and go to the park to feed the (approx. 30) cats. Around 7 pm I return home and then I watch the news on TV.


What is your favorite food?

My favorite food is pita bread soaked in lamb soup (Yangrou Paomo), a dish of my hometown.


How much money does your family spend on food per day?

I live with my son and his family. They get up late and eat only two meals a day. I must have three meals. We eat separately most of the time. My meals are simple. I like to eat vegetables, fruits, grain and rice and I usually spend 10 to 20 RMB per day.

The cost of feeding the cats is between 600 and 700 RMB per month, including fish and liver. The pet shop gives me a discount on cat food. The normal price is 100 RMB for one pack, they just charge me 80. I need at least 5 packs every month. I give injured and sick cats a special treatment. They will get more meat and soft food.


Where is your hometown? (if not Beijing: do you miss your hometown? if so, what do you miss most?)

My hometown is in Shaanxi. I came to Beijing for work in 1978. I miss my hometown, especially my family, like the brother of my father-in-law, my aunt and my grandmother. I miss those old people. I go back every one or two years. We always have a lot to talk about. They tell about their lives and the things that happened; sometimes good, sometimes bad. We usually keep on talking until 3 or 4 am, or sometimes the whole night.


What is your most precious childhood memory?

The six years in primary school. My family was too poor to afford me to get into school. But I loved to study, so I secretly went to the school. Those six years were so precious to me. When I finished the study in primary school, my mother refused to spend money on my study. So I left home, found a job to make money and continued the study. The job paid the tuition fee for me. My junior high school was a night school.

Because I liked singing, dancing and writing poems more than studying accounting, I dropped out of school for a while. Later, I started to work in a department store as a salesperson. My boss offered me six half-days off each week, tuition reimbursement and the use of pen and paper. Because of these conditions I started to work there and continued my study at the night school. After graduation I became a teacher at that same school.

One of the first things I did when I came to Beijing was taking an entrance exam for adult college at the Central University of Finance and Economics. I passed and was able to complete my studies.

What struck me those days was that poor people could not afford to pay the tuition fees. But also that many poor people, like my mother, where very backward in their thinking. My mother thought that a boy is more important than a girl and, as there was not enough money for her son, it was impossible to contribute money to the study of her daughter. That was the reason why I left home and found a job. I had a very bad relationship with my mother at that time. I told her that I would go away as far as possible. But I wrote many letters to my hometown and included poems I wrote. Other people who saw these said that “this child must have a bright future”.


What are the three most important things in life for you?

Be happy, be healthy and do what you want to do. I have a pension and don’t have to work anymore. But I want to run some business if there is an opportunity. That way I can give the cats a better life. I cannot always feed them with low-price cat food.

It is important that the cats are well taken care off. The other day, I got sick and ended up in the hospital. I worried about the cats, wondering who can help me to feed them. I called a friend who also feeds cats in a park, but she was also ill. So, I sneaked out of the hospital to feed the cats. I have feelings for these cats and once you start feeding them (7 years ago) you must be persistent.

My son and grandson are believers. My son is working as a Christian missionary and has limited financial resources. I worry about him. Maybe foreign parents can let their children go, but I cannot. Last year, I bought a house for him. It was affordable for 300,000 RMB. But most of the time they still live at my place. I hope I can do more to help them and to make sure my grandchildren can go to college. They will need money. I am very worried about them.


What are, according to you, the values that one needs to live up to in life?

Be kind, honest and help others. Believe in “man proposes, God disposes”.


Would you say you are a) happy b) somewhat happy c) somewhat unhappy d) unhappy

Everything has two sides. No one is perfect. I have a pension from the government. I can have cats and do what I like to do. I am very satisfied. I will give my children advice about life and they have the right to listen or not listen. I am very happy now. I love to chat with my friends in parks. We have a lot of subjects to talk about; the past, news, political events. We never hide our opinions to each other. We can say everything we want, it is really free in our world. We discuss decisions of national leaders or historical events. I like to look at programs on history, war and political themes or read books about it. Health is also a subject I like to read about. I learned a lot about things which I did not understand in the past. I can understand our country, the nation’s history, so I can see the future.


What do you expect will the future bring for you?

I hope I can have a good health, do more business and keep feeding the cats.


What is your religion?

I’m not a believer. My son tried to persuade me, but I will not believe. Believers still need food. If you are unable to make a living how can I follow you? One of my former colleagues is also a Christian, He lives very well and is also feeding stray cats as well as donating money to poor children. On the other hand, I entered the government unit when I was 14 years old and I got a different education from them. I am state cadre, but not a Communist. I have a lot of political experience. But I stick to my own way. I believe in seeking truth from facts, I believe in science and I believe that hard work creates wealth.









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