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Stitching together life's pieces

By Xu Lin (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-04-20 08:36
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'I know I did a silly thing to jump from a building last year,' girl says

Beijing - From a moment of utter desperation and hopelessness, 18-year-old Tian Yu has literally pieced together new hope for her future.

Stitching together life's pieces

Tian Yu, an 18-year-old former Foxconn employee who survived a suicide bid last year, has restarted her new life making cloth slippers in her village in Hubei province. [Photo/ China Daily]

The girl was one of a dozen workers who threw themselves from dormitory windows at high-tech company Foxconn, in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, in early 2010.

She was also one of the only two to survive.

Paralyzed from the waist down, she returned to her hometown, a small village in Laohekou, Hubei province, after six months in hospital.

A new sliver of hope came in November when two journalists from Shenzhen, Chen Yuanzhong and Tu Qiao, bought her two books about fabric art and Japanese-style cloth slipper making.

"They hoped I could learn a livelihood, for which I owe them a lot of gratitude," she said. "I became interested in how to make cloth slippers after reading the books."

She has since turned her handmade cloth slippers into bestsellers on the Internet.

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In April, a post on micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo - China's equivalent of Twitter - calling for netizens to buy her slippers was forwarded more than 20,000 times in 12 days. Some celebrities also forwarded the post, such as A-lister Yao Chen, China's "Queen of Weibo".

Online retailer Taobao's Alipay, a domestic version of PayPal, has established an online shop to sell 100 pairs of her handmade slippers at 50 yuan ($7.65). The cost of each pair is 26 yuan.

"I want to make a living by myself to ease my parents' burden," she said.

Letao.com, a Chinese online shoe retailer, is also planning to sell Tian's slippers on its website.

"More than 110 pairs have been sold. We are making slippers day and night so we can deliver them as soon as possible," she said.

Such success did not come easily. It had to be pieced together stitch by stitch.

Tian, together with her 41-year-old father Tian Jiandang, started learning to make slippers in February. She read the books for her father, who is illiterate, and followed the instructions.

Since it was difficult for them to buy several of the tools in the village, Tian's father, who used to be a carpenter, made the tools himself.

With its 66 different procedures, slipper making was not an easy skill to master. For example, the sole consists of four pieces of 2.2-meter long cloth, and each piece has to undergo several procedures such as sewing and thread cutting.

If they make a mistake, they have to redo the slippers all over again. After a month of trying, they finished their first pair.

"My father learned how to do it and taught me. At first, we could only make two pairs a day, but now it takes only one and a half hours to finish one. Practice makes perfect," she said.

They mailed about 40 pairs to Chen, who sold the slippers to his friends and then posted the call at Sina Weibo.

Now Tian gets up at 7 am, lies back against a pillow and sews until 6 pm. Since it is the slow season for farming, her parents, 78-year-old grandma and younger sister help her make slippers.

"My family can all make slippers. We've bought a variety of cloth and offer about six colors. I want to add up customers' preferences in color and give them more choices," she said.

In addition to making slippers, she does one hour of rehabilitation every day. For example, her parents lift one of her legs with a rope, and swing the rope to move her leg. She also raises herself up on her hands in her wheelchair.

She takes care of herself as much as she can and does housework in her wheelchair, such as sweeping the floor and feeding chickens.

At night, she surfs the Internet, chatting with friends via QQ and browsing Sina Weibo. She has won about 23,000 followers on Sina Weibo and likes to communicate with them online.

"I want to thank those who like my slippers," she said.

Her family cultivates two-thirds of a hectare of land, earning about 4,000 yuan a year. Like other farmers, her parents do part-time jobs in the slow season to help with expenses.

In the village, young and middle-aged people like Tian go to big cities to earn money, while the aged stay at home to farm.

"Many kind-hearted people helped my daughter and gave her gifts such as a wheelchair and a laptop. But she needs others' attention rather than donations. It's uncomfortable spending others' money," Tian's father said.

"I know I did a silly thing to jump from a building last year," Tian wrote in her Sina Weibo.

"I will try my best to make beautiful slippers to pay back people's care for me. I was once deep in desperation, but I know I should cherish life because the world is in fact full of love," she said.

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