Abacuses are pretty rare these days, but when my mom was a child growing up in China, almost every family had one. My mom’s family had several, and this is one of them. Knowing how to do basic arithmetic functions on the abacus was basic knowledge for her family. There were classes at schools that taught students how to use the abacus. My mother came from a poor family that relied on running a small shop that was similar to a dollar store to make a living. Because of the cultural revolution, their small store was taken away by the government in 1949, over a decade before my mother was born. After they regained the store in 1990, my mother would help out at the store whenever she could, still using the abacus to calculate the cost of items and change. The small store still exists in Xinhui, where she grew up and where I was born, but it’s now under the ownership of one of my uncles, and he use a calculator instead of an abacus.
– Joyce Gao