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.
August 27, 2011
I’m glancing back in time (before I became a blogger) to review my China trip in 2006, if you are new to this blog. We are lucky to have a very frank, honest guide in Vicki Shuang. I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog that before we left the ship, she warned us that the envelopes left in our room for the “non mandatory” tip should not be used. Instead she gave us all the envelopes we wanted and instructed us to deliver the tips directly to the workers we want to reward, or not, as we see fit. She explained that the well paid managers take a percentage of the tip money for themselves and the workers get the rest. When Michal and I directly tipped our table workers, one of them broke down and cried, he was so unbelieving and grateful. So, folks, when you buy Chinese goods, remember how exploited the workers in this country are. And, if you go with a tour group, remember to tip directly.
Followed by the rest of the revelers in an open vehicle like a bus with a roof. City people are more affluent but Vicki tells us this is a poor province and reminds us that it is from this province that spicy Chinese food originated.
We see vast farmlands, rice paddies, people working the fields with water buffalo wearing the typical straw Chinese sun hat and black pajama like pants or more modern blue jeans. We see goats, chickens, dogs, geese and sometimes a single tethered cow. Clusters of villages with wooden or cement buildings, and a few motorized tractors fly by. Vicki tells us that at one time this area of China supplied all of their food. Among our group, we talk about our visit to a city family in the Hutongs. and wonder what it would be like to visit an unpaid family? I’m elected to ask. Much to our surprise, she instructs the driver to pull over in the next village we come to.
You can see the bus parked on the road in the background. Vicki stops at this building on the right which is like the community center for this village, and asks if it would be all right for us to visit a local family. The building contains a small store, a barbershop and a meeting room.
However, the main crop of this area is cotton that we could see being raked on cement slabs in front of every house. Michal and I chose a small house next to this building and Vicki went to talk with the owner. She consented to let we “big noses” visit her house.
The rooms were very small and dark. The only picture I could take was out the back door where her storage room full of bagged cotton was stacked. One bed took up the whole of one room from wall to wall. She cooks on a huge wok about two feet in circumference that sits on a cement column where you can see a gas fired burner. Implements hang from the wall.
She allowed herself to be photographed with Michal and I. She has two grown sons, both have graduated from university. One son works on the Three Gorges Dam building a silt collector. The other is an architect and works in Beijing. It occurred to me that nowhere in the United States would a tourist bus pull up to your house and even remotely expect anyone to allow a busload of people to tromp through your house. We tried to pay her and she refused the money, but Vicki insisted she take it.
As we walked back to the bus, I wanted to stop and take a peek into the store. This handsome gentleman was just coming out and I asked him, (indicated) I’d like to take his picture. Then I showed him his picture on the digital screen. The fellow on the right, watching, quickly took my picture with his cell phone and showed it to me. I felt like such an idiot. At that time I didn’t even own a cell phone.