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Neighborly kinship: Family bound by more than blood

Updated: 2021-07-20

Neighborly kinship: Family bound by more than blood

Zhou Qianhui, a 50-year-old resident in Liangjiang Area in Southwest China's Chongqing, takes care of her "grandpa" at hospital. [Photo/Visual Chongqing]

Night is usually the busiest time for the Sanyawan Aquatic Product Market in Yubei district. On the night of July 16, Zhou Qianhui, 50 years old, was busy organizing and delivering products. After 9 o'clock, she went to a quiet corner and called Shao Kaizhen, a nurse at the First People's Hospital in Liangjiang New Area, "How's my grandpa? How did he feel today? Did he sleep or not?" She hung up the phone and became worried after hearing that her grandpa was inappetent. She called back, "Miss Shao, I will send my grandpa pumpkin porridge tomorrow after I get off work."

Zhou asked about Ke Ruilin, who is 111 years old. He is not her grandfather by blood. But they have lived in the same neighborhood for over 30 years. And over the past 15 years, Zhou Qianhui has been taking care of the old man.

30 years ago, he was a nice elderly man good at cooking

Ke Ruilin was born in 1910 in Jiangjin district, Chongqing. He married Xie Shuqing 30 years ago and lived in Renhe town. Zhou was a little girl then and knew that elder Ke worked as a chef and loved to share his dishes with neighbors. She remembered that he would offer some dishes to her family whenever he'd cooked something delicious. "My parents often helped the two elders carry water and plant sweet potatoes."

The two families were on good terms and the elders quite liked Zhou. At the age of 19, Zhou started her first job at the restaurant where Ke worked. Zhou said, "When I knew nothing about society, Grandpa Ke taught me a lot. My grandpa died when I was very young. To me, Ke is like a grandfather."

In 2003, Zhou Qianhui met Ke Ruilin again when Ke was looking for an apartment to rent. Zhou at the time was already the mother of a child, and Ke was a childless elder, giving up his government-provided resettlement apartment to pay for his wife's medical bills for cerebral thrombosis. Ke rented Zhou's apartment, for which Zhou charged half of her monthly rent, but sometimes she didn't ask for it at all and gave Ke a free ride.

Zhou also helped Ke take care of Xie, his wife. Xie was unable to move properly, so Zhou usually offered to wash her body. "Zhou was very careful when taking care of the elder. She even bought a hairdryer in case Xie caught a cold after shower", neighbor Xia Yubi recalled.

14 years ago, she added his name to the household register

Xie passed away in April 2006, and Ke became a lonely old man living in the rented apartment. "I'm afraid," he frequently uttered. In Zhou's memory, Ke liked sitting outside the supermarket next to the apartment during the day, and persuading Zhou's father to stay with him at night. Zhou felt that Ke was afraid of being alone.

She never thought her husband would agree to move into Ke's rented apartment. She said it to the old man, "I will not give to you mere soup while I am eating meat." From that point on, Zhou never received another penny from Ke. She and her husband call Ke "grandfather", while her son, Deng Zhonghong, calls him "great grandfather".

Deng, a 28-year-old young man now, said that he used to sleep with his "great grandfather". "Mom would say, 'this is your great grandfather, and you will look after him.' I have had one more kind elder since then to protect me from my parents' criticisms." Ke had found a new home.

Ke lost his household register and ID card over the past few decades. Because of that, he was not able to receive a subsistence allowance even though he did not have any income. In 2007, with the help of Renhe sub-district officials, Ke "officially" became Zhou's grandfather, and Ke was finally able to receive his subsistence allowance, while Zhou continued applying for other subsidies for him. Ke wanted to give all his money to Zhou, but Zhou insisted he keep it.

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