Written by 
Li Yongqing, Cangxi Vocational Senior High School, Sichuan Province, China 
Date: Oct, 2016

I have a friend. He was with me for about five years. He’s not a machine. He’s not human. He is a real, live farm cow. I call him Tieniu (‘Iron Cow’).

Tieniu effervesced with vigor and energy. After being led out into the field and strapped up to the plow, despite his unmistakable air of perturbation, he nevertheless got to plowing with all the strength he could muster. Every time I saw it, I couldn’t help but swell with pride. After all, I’d raised Tieniu since he was a calf. Every day after class and over winter and summer breaks, it was my job to take Tieniu out of the paddock. While other kids were watching the cartoon series ‘Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf’, I was sitting atop Tieniu, riding him out to pasture. I would hook my legs around his horns and lie down on his back, looking up into the expanse of blue sky above, feeling my spirits rise.

My daily rides on Tieniu were the best times for me. The feeling reminded me of the lyrics (slightly altered) of a Jay Chou song: “I ride a bull, humming a tune, … oh oh.” 

I remember one time when we took Tieniu out to plow and, because the path between the fields was exceptionally narrow, which made Tieniu plod extra cautiously, and perhaps also because he was just too heavy, the path collapsed, sending Tieniu tumbling down as well. He got caught on a rock and when I finally arrived at his side to pull him up, I noticed his leg was bleeding. Even so, he didn’t turn homeward, but rather continued plodding toward the field. Perhaps he knew he still had unfinished work to do! Hoping to get him home to rest as soon as possible, Grandpa and I quickly hooked him to the plow and he began tilling the earth. I knew it must have been particularly painful for him that day! Just over an hour later, our ‘bull-headed’ cow had finished the job. We uncoupled the plow and I rubbed Tieniu’s leg with my hand. He returned my show of concern by lowering his head and giving a throaty snort. We took a different route home, hoping it would put Tieniu at ease.

After graduating to junior high school, I began returning home just once a week, and my rides with Tieniu out to pasture became less and less frequent until one day, when I returned home on holiday, I was greeted by silence instead of Tieniu’s familiar snorts. I searched his stall in the shed and found in his place a mechanical plow. Grandpa told me that this was a genuine ‘iron cow’. But, I thought, could this ‘tieniu’ be anywhere near good as my childhood friend? I thought not. I went out to the paddock, but still found no sign of my beloved Tieniu. Anxiously, I ran to everywhere that Tieniu frequented, but again came up emptyhanded. I sat on the narrow path between two fields and let my mind drift aimlessly. I finally understood the true pain of losing a bosom friend. I knew Tieniu had been sold off. I trudged back to the house, where Grandpa confirmed all of my suspicions. The dam burst and tears flowed uncontrollably down my face.

In time, I became accustomed to Grandpa’s iron cow … his so called ‘genuine tieniu’. Whenever I took tieniu out to the field, I always checked the width of the path and changed the wheels accordingly, proceeding slowly forward with my hands on the safety handle, ready to cut power if the machine looked like it might slip or tip over. My days of watching the world pass by on the way to the field were few and far between. Now, by the time I’d driven tieniu to the field, the ride left me so shaken that it was awhile before I could straighten up properly. After switching wheels, I would sit back and watch Grandpa zip through the business of tilling. It was these moments that got me thinking most of my lost friend. Tieniu would never have put me through such an ordeal. But, on the other hand, this new machine made tilling a lot faster. But still, it was noisy and dirtied the air with pollution.

Tieniu! I yearn to sit atop your rough, warm back while you graze in the pasture and to not be shackled to this convulsing and lifeless monster. This is my honest sentiment. I shun the cold world of the machine for the warm, comforting world in which humans and animals live side by side in harmony.

Reviewer Comments

In simple words and honest sentiments, the author describes passionately and emotively his life’s transition from a reliable old farm cow to a ‘genuine iron cow’. Simple and easy-flowing, this story of the affections of a boy for an animal touches the heartstrings.