July 18, 2012
It’s a long ride across Szechwan Province and we talk among ourselves about how political our guide, Vicki, is. She was very open about Tiananmen Square, the skimming of tips on the ship and the workers hot, miserable quarters where they have to live and about her own family and so on. We had a paid family visit and we speculate what it would be like to visit a family that is not paid. I get elected to ask. And, much to our surprise, she instructs the driver to pull over on a side street in the next village we come to. The picture above is the one I took on our walk back to the bus, but the building was the first one we came to.
The building was divided into three units, a small store, a barbershop and a meeting room. A guy was getting his haircut.
And a bunch of older men were playing majong in the meeting room in the middle of the afternoon.
As we walked past the building, I saw a stack of reeds and hay in front of a pond. We learned later that the pond supplies lotus roots and leaves and edible fish for the table.The roots feed the pigs along with another pond weed, the leaves are used to wrap things. Food can be eaten from them wrapped picnic style and carried to the field in a cloth sack.
On the right was a group of houses with people out in front raking cotton. Each house had a garden in which I saw chard, lettuce, cukes, beans and squash, spinach, radishes. The houses are modest and close together.
It appeared that all members of the family worked the cotton at every place.
And Vicki confirmed that this province is known for its agriculture having at one time provided the entire food supply for China. Now, only 7% of the land here is used for farming and this area is predominantly cotton.Some areas have wheat and orchards and other ground crops.
We are unsure whether we will be able to get inside one of the houses so I asked if we could approach. Vicki asked me to pick out a house, and I did. She knocked on the door and asked the lady of the house if we could come in and see her house. She felt honored to meet big nosed people for the first time.
We walked past her garden and there was a pig sty in front of her house. Super clean, no unpleasant odor.
She agreed to allow us to have our picture taken with her. With Vicki as our interpreter, we learned that she has two grown sons, one is working at the dam as a silt catcher, the other is an architect in Beijing.She farms with her husband who was out in the field.
She showed us her kitchen which only had room for two people, really, with a column rigged with a huge gas wok. A shelf held a few implements. No table, nor chairs to sit and eat that I could see. I took the picture surreptitiously because Vicki couldn’t fit in the room with us and I didn’t know how to ask.
The same for the bedroom, a double bed that stretched from wall to wall. Very small areas in which you could barely turn around. When we stepped back outside, Vicki said the woman was apologizing for her housekeeping, though the place was very clean.
She looked at me oddly when I took a picture of her broom. They all use these straw brooms they make themselves. Bathrooms are communal outdoor pit toilets.
We asked Vicki if we could offer her money as a thank you for her hospitality. Vicki said yes and we did and she wouldn’t take it and kept refusing until Vicki insisted she take it. She was lovely, and positive and everyone enjoyed the visit through Michal and I. But, if the reverse happened, could you see an American family inviting a tour bus load of strangers off the street into your yard, and even two people into your house? The others stood around and watched and got to peek in through the door. All the neighbors were watching us.
On the way out, the fellow who had been in the barber chair was finished with his hair cut. I asked him if I could take his picture. Then I showed it to him. The fellow standing behind watching is the store proprietor and not to be outdone, he whipped out his cell phone and asked me if he could take MY picture, then showed the picture to me. I felt like and idiot, the ugly American. I didn’t even own a cell phone at the time.
We loaded back into the bus. We see motors like this everywhere.
People here seem happy and content. They have a great community life, everyone knows everyone else in the neighborhood. Life is simple and good on the farm.
These people are obviously taking their cotton to market, but we also saw hot peppers and loads of pigs going to market.
We continued our long bus ride. Vicki pointed out many farms with ponds and a shack where the farmer sleeps at night when his fish get big enough to eat. He protects his fish so no one will steal them. They raise mostly cod and eels. Raising fish for sale is quite profitable as is the lotus roots they harvest from the same ponds in the winter. In summer they grow a seed used in tea. It is very bitter-tasting but the locals like it.
In New China, under Mau, the farmers suffered the highest taxes. They were made to take risky ventures. He asked them to make iron. They couldn’t market it and transport it to the cities and their efforts failed. They weren’t skilled and didn’t strengthen it properly and it was weak steel. When the people in the provinces claimed the Yangtze was dirty and making people sick. Mau demonstrated how wrong they were by having a newspaper reporter take his picture swimming in the river, instead of taking steps to clean it up. He raised his Red Guard from high schools and elementary schools because anyone who didn’t join was subtly punished. The people were offered rewards, things they desperately needed, to encourage their children to become part of the Red Guards, or join themselves. He instructed the people to capture “useless” song birds to eat when they were hungry. He sent out plans for cages and the people practically decimated the song bird populations for a tiny bit of protein, on his instructions. That is why Chinese people value song birds in cages, explained Vicki. They are very rare in China now.
We arrive in Wuhan City, population, 8 million. More tomorrow.