CAMBRIDGE SKILLS FOR FLUENCY
4. Write a short essay describing something that you have been using for a long time. Consider if you still like it and why.
I Have a Watch
Chinese society has been undergoing massive changes over the past three decades. In this tide of great changes, our daily life is prone to the impact of new ways of life. Durable consumer products, for example, tend to be dispensed with when they remain fairly new and usable. Many people have unconsciously developed a habit of fancying brand-new things in disregard of old ones in this industrializing society. However, some people still love old things.
I have an old mechanical watch. It was made by a Shanghai factory in the late 1970s. The brand name of the watch was Chunlei. It was a 19-jewel watch. It was bought by my mother for me in Guangzhou in August 1980, when she and I were on the way back to the farm in Hainan where we worked, from a visit to our relatives in Jiangsu province. Before we made this trip, I had worked as a teacher of English in the secondary school of this farm for a year. In fact, I could not afford to buy such a luxury at that time, because I was badly paid at that school. My monthly salary was less than 50 yuan. I spent almost all I earned that year, buying food, clothes, and books. The watch cost my mother 125 yuan. It was a huge sum of money for a farm worker like my mother in the early 1980s.
Over the past 30 years I have been using this watch. Its band and casing are made of stainless steel. It has a transparent glass lid. It is not waterproof or quakeproof. This brand of watch is no longer produced by that factory in Shanghai. With years of wear, it does not look fanciful now. In the 1990s it broke down for several times. Each time it was out of order, I managed to have it repaired.
It ceased to work for the first time when I began to study for a MA degree in Shandong University in Jinan in 1993. I visited several repair shops on and outside of the campus, riding a very old second-hand bike, in an effort to find a right shop for repair, but in fact the watch was never put all right in Jinan although I paid some money for its service. While it was not fixed properly, I never had the intention of throwing it overboard. When I graduated in June 1996, I went to visit my wife in her native town with this watch in my backpack. (We had entered into a secret marriage in March 1996 before I graduated in summer) There my wife eventually had it fixed at a local repair stall in the town. I was ecstatic about its being able to work again.
In late August 1996 after my wife and I made our home in Guangzhou, my watch stopped working once again. This time my wife suggested that I buy a new watch now that I was newly married and got a new job at a college. But I refused. Several times I tried to get it fixed when we sojourned in Guangzhou for eight months. But it seemed that there was no good shop nearby where it could be serviced. I had to keep it in a drawer in our temporary home in the college’s hotel. When we transferred to Haikou eight months afterwards, I brought it back with me in my baggage.
Shortly after we settled down in Haikou, I took my old watch in to a shop on Xinhua North Road in the downtown area for an overhaul. The old repairman in the shop, who obviously was a Haikou native and had been retired, told me that it could be fixed. He wanted to charge me 30 yuan for his service. I agreed. Several days later, I took back my watch with a light heart—it was operating well again. Afterwards, it acted up for several times. Each time it was out of order, I took it over to the old repair shop to have it fixed. The old man always offered his best service without charging extra. I was grateful to him for repairing the watch that I treasured so much—he proved to be devoted to his work.
I still like and use this old watch though I do not reject a more expensive, fashionable one. It has been working well since I had it repaired eight years ago. You know, some old things made in those years are of higher quality. Now if I do not use it any more, I will be at a loss what to do with it. When a thing has been used for long, you are likely to nurture great affection for it. Then you have no heart to do away with it. Mechanical watches are more durable than electronic and quartz ones. Actually in these years in Haikou, I once turned to using an electronic watch and a quartz watch when my old watch went down. But they did not endure long enough. (Naturally they were cheap ones) So each time these glossy watches failed to work, I turned back to my old watch that lay idle in a drawer of my desk in my home.
My wife, seeing the watch was repeatedly down, motioned that I throw it to a dustbin. But I was reluctant to do so. Now it has proved that I have made a right decision. Fashionable products with specious appearances are mass-produced in this modern society. Many of them turn out to be low-quality and short-lived. Most importantly, this old watch was a precious gift from my mother in those hard years. It is a symbol of love and thrift. My mother was frugal all her life. It was no easy thing for her to buy me such a costly watch in 1980. It therefore is a most cherished possession for me. Only many years afterwards did I fully realize that her buying me this watch was the embodiment of her deep love for me. To my great grief and distress, my mother, who was bereaved of her husband in 1978, passed away in 2004, 13 years after she suffered from a severe stroke in 1991, becoming half-paralyzed, unable to look after herself ever since. Her death was a great shock for me—she breathed her last in my arms. Having led a miserable life throughout, she left scarcely no things for me to commemorate by. So this watch has naturally become a commemorative object that I can easily carry wherever and whenever I go. And moreover, I should adhere to the virtue of being thrifty, a tradition that my mother valued all her life, although my living conditions have greatly improved since I graduated MA in 1996. So my keeping and using this old watch is precisely the best memory of her.
In an age when new industrial products are mushrooming and greater mobility characterizes Chinese society, it is harder than ever for people to keep used things for long. Modernization is an irreversible trend. In this process we have lost many things. Some of them are valuable, though. It is important that we remain to be sober-minded in this period of great changes and do not lose the sense of orientation. Some things are worth cherishing throughout our life, after all.
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