An exemplary retirement life of an ex-army couple to 'benefit the people'
If you come across a nonagenarian couple cultivating crops in a rustic courtyard in central China's Hubei Province, you would probably think they are retired farmers.
Every morning, they slice some home-grown vegetables like cucumber into their breakfast of various noodles.
"Occasionally, we add a small amount of meat powder," 90-year-old Ma Xu said in a recent video interview with China Central Television. "If we order such a breakfast from a restaurant, it would cost 6 or 7 yuan (83 or 97 US cents), but our homemade meal costs less than 1 yuan."
Sometimes, she also visits local wet markets to buy vegetables at bargain prices.
She and her husband Yan Xueyong were both born in 1933. They are retired army doctors who choose to live a frugal life. For about 60 years, they have lived in a 30-square-meter rural bungalow with a small courtyard, although they could have moved into a new apartment because of their former senior military ranks.
One reason they chose to stay at this humble home is that they are afraid many local patients may no longer find them if they move away. Offering free medical service to those seeking help has become a part of daily routine in their retirement life. A tearful local vegetable vendor recalled to CCTV that she would have developed a severe heart disease had it not been for Ma's free and successful treatment of her rheumatic arthritis.
For a long time, the elderly couple remained Samaritans in the eyes of most people close to them, but few knew why they lived such a frugal life. They never ate in restaurants, grew their own crops to meet most of their daily needs, and hardly refurbished their dilapidated home. A snobbish stranger may well have thought that the couple was living in a financial straitjacket.
But in 2018, Ma stunned those who knew her ― and myriad others who didn't ― with a decision to donate 10 million yuan ― the couple's life savings ― to her faraway hometown in a county in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.
When she went to a local bank in Wuhan, the Hubei capital, to remit the first installment ― 3 million yuan ― the bank staff were so astonished that their first reaction was that the old lady might have been a victim of a telecoms fraud. All were greatly relieved and moved after they realized that Ma, 85 at the time, was sending the money to help children in her hometown get better education. The second installment ― 7 million yuan ― was remitted in 2019 after the deposit matured.
"I have saved every penny I can to realize my dream (of donation)," she told CCTV. "Look at this stitched shirt, I have worn it for many years and still don't want to throw it away. It can endure for many more years."
Their lifetime savings comprised of other incomes as well, such as those from their patented inventions.
As China's first female paratrooper, Ma invented inflatable ankle braces to help cushion Chinese paratroopers from ground pressure when they land. The invention got a national patent in 1989. To test the function of the inflatable ankle braces, Ma and her husband parachuted many times with the new devices before they finally succeeded.
For Ma, studies and scientific research are one of her life pursuits, aided by a dream to become a person who, in her own words, can "benefit the people." She also won a national patent for another invention: an oxygen supply vest. Likewise, she parachuted many times to test the effect of the special vest.
"I love books, and I would try my best to buy a good book, however expensive it may be," Ma said. "The wooden bookshelves are the most valuable asset in my home. They cost about 500 yuan."
At the age of 78, she even gained admission to a renowned medical school for graduate studies.
Such is the spirit of Ma, a Communist Party of China member and a retired army doctor who never "retires" from learning and researching with the aim of helping others. To her, personal material comfort comes last in a well-lived life.
On July 31, on the eve of China's Army Day, Xinhua news agency reported that President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, had recently replied in a written letter to the paratroopers of a model airborne company, encouraging the officers and soldiers to inherit the heroic spirit of Huang Jiguang (1931-1952), who sacrificed his own life for the victory of Chinese troops in the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.
Ma ― a teenager then ― was a medical staff member fighting in the same group as Huang.
Remembering her comrades-in-arms who had died heroically in battles, Ma once said that it's happy just to live. "Our life is limited, but our contribution to our motherland is unlimited," she noted.
My hats off to Ma, her husband, and many heroes of her time, for their heroic spirit of self-sacrifice.