The Chidren of Hong Kong - an excerpt
He felt grimy. He was standing up to his knees in a soup of mud and brown sludge. The buffalo ahead of him was struggling to pull the dredge for the umpteenth section, and it slipped again and again. Lim Yok felt a welling sympathy for the poor animal, which responded so patiently to his shouts, in such difficult conditions.
At dawn that morning, Lim Yok had driven the beast from the field to the tackle hut where the leather harness was kept. As he had slipped the loop around the cow’s neck the thin worn leather had snapped … again. He had repaired it with twine that his father kept for the purpose hanging on an adjacent nail and cinched the belly-cord to use as purchase for the shafts of the new dredge.
He had been told to deepen the irrigation ditches on the southern side of the rice paddies where their neighbor Lu Ming ran his ducks. Normally, that would have meant draining the ditches, and with some friends, digging out each ditch by hand and hauling the muck away for other fields.
That hadn’t appealed to Lim Yok so he had devised the idea of using the family mud-cow to pull a dredge. This he had constructed from the prow of an old scow that had lain for years on the edge of the main irrigation channel. It was shaped like a long wooden bucket, and he had shaved the bottom edge so that it would scoop the mud. By a combination of shafts and ropes he had been able to fasten it to the buffalo’s harness. The buffalo pulled it for a while and when it became an anchor he lifted it by other ropes and tipped its half-liquid contents onto the bank.
The buffalo moved on again along the ditch … it strained its head upwards as it lurched forward with eyes searching the sky as if for relief. All day it struggled forward, heaving its shoulders upwards above the muddy waters against the deadweight of the dredge. Every ten yards Lim Yok raised the dredge, spilled its contents and dropped it back into the water.
The idea was a success. He cleared the whole north ditch that otherwise might have taken a week of hard labor for three of them. However, it was back breaking work and Lim Yok wasn’t at all sure that the efficiency was worth it. He would still be expected to work tomorrow, equally hard, and after all the ditches had been deepened, there would still be other work. The week would still be filled with work whether he did the ditching now or whether it took longer.
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