Connecting Mandarin and English,
(October 5, 2008) (return
hard to believe that we went from one of the most challenging days of our
Chinese lives to probably the best. With the possibility of not returning
to China hanging over our heads, albeit the possibility remote to the point
of not existing, we chose to visit the home of Yiqi on this weekend. We
can always see more beautiful mountains but this may be a once in a lifetime
Before heading out of Nanchang, we stopped
at the Engage Pavilion or Pagoda. It's a landmark in Nanchang and badly
neglected by us so far. Kan told us that it was built in 653AD
by Li Yuanying, the 22nd son of the emperor Li Yuan, and rebuilt 29 times,
most recently in 1989. Probably it was destroyed, possibly the timbers rotted
or possibly they just wanted to improved the elevators, lighting and plumbing.
After a long climb up the stoop, probably to the third of nine floors, we
pay a yuan to ride the elevator to the top. As you may have noted in pictures
of typical pagodas, the size of the floors decrease the higher you go up.
Indeed, the top floor was small with a stage, some seating for an audience
and an opening to the floor below. Of course, it was decorated exquisitely
and the performance was to start in fifteen minutes. We had a mental timeline
so we started our descent down the stairs.
The eighth floor opened to a balcony around
the outside which we used to snap photos of the smog shrouded city and Gan
River. The next floor had more elaborate decor, and a gift shop where we
gathered some bootie. The remaining floors were similar repeats and don't
deserve a sentence in the writing; besides I forgot the details of each
floor. Back in the courtyard the notable and humorous quote of the day came
out as "I'm going to the toilet. Shall we go together?"
The drive in itself was an adventure although
the destination overpowered the journey. Signage in the back country is
non-existent so there were repeated stops along the road to ask a local
directions. There was a 50-50 chance that we'd have to reverse our direction.
City driving consists of weaving in and out of traffic and narrowly missing
the pedestrian all at less than 20 miles an hour. Try the same at 50 miles
an hour and the back seat driver becomes an ill back seat driver.
Our dream trip to the country included some
first hand experience with rice harvesting. Directly beside the road the
farmer was cutting rice with a scythe but we were beyond picture taking
before we consciously realized what we'd seen. "Never mind! Later!"
was the satisfying response. Sure enough later we did see another with a
scythe; and another with a foot-pedal thresher and another with a self-propelled
thresher that we call a combine. To dry the grain the farmers need a clean
flat surface and, so, why not use the highway? Well, maybe not in America
but here, closing one way so spread out the grain seemed routine. Maybe
using my shoes to push the thresher would have been better that gather mud
in the rice paddy. The lady farmer did OK also because she got some chocolate
in trade for some photos.
approached the village, or farm as they called it, Kan pointed to the rice
fields on both sides of the road and said that's where he worked for a couple
the Cultural Revolution when education was discouraged and farming was encouraged.
Kan was about 17 in about 1970. The first stop was t what had been their
school. They were the age of high schooler but the school was more like
an agricultural trade with connections to the university where we are now
working. The buildings were abandoned for the most part while some were
being used for a middle and a new building was being built. Even with the
new use and the new buildings, it felt like a page out of the book of China
of the '70's.
Up the street and around the corner we met
a man on the street. This was common on this trip as we asked directions
often, but this gentleman, dressed in a full suit, was a classmate of Yiqi
and he was going to lead us to his farm on his motorcycle. The
road was a challenge; narrow, rutted and filled with watery mud holes. This
was new territory for us as we were finally close to the soil and in the
country with the workers. They said he started this pig farm about 10 years
ago from scratch. It felt like some that had been passed down through the
generations or recycled from the community farms of the '70's as the building
were stark and very rustic. While the toilet was adequate (porcelain hole
in the ground) it was not American by any standards.
Bowls of food were being brought into a small
room containing a extra tall table,
two wooden sofas, stools, a 5" wide bench which Gail and I shared and
a second table back in the corner. The food was delicious, home cooked some
distance away, probably in the pig barn, and plentiful. Partially into the
meal we were joined by a man and woman who worked the pig barns, the wife
(the man sat with us from the start), a teenaged grandson who did most of
the food catering and a cute little second grade granddaughter, who was
very proud of her new pet a turtle. After we had eaten a reasonable fill
of the pork, fish, potato-like soup and numerous other dishes, they brought
in a two gallon container of rice. And after they cleared and wiped down
the table, we were served one of these huge grapefruit -like fruit from
which each of us took a section. It has the flavor of a grapefruit without
the tartness and the texture of a grapefruit only tougher and drier.
the tour of the barns began; barns that felt more historical than modern,
but clean and well kept. The first room on the right as we entered this
typically long barn with pens on both sides, contained a bed. The room on
the left was a kitchen and you could see that there had been recent activity.
The sow in the first pen was huge according to the expectations of the non-pig
farmers. The piglets like the sow were very healthy and clean as were the
pens. They keep about 200 sows and raise the piglets only a little past
weaning and sell them to neighboring farmers. Later we learned there were
probably about 1000 such pig farms in the county. We asked how the drastic
increase in the price of pork over the last year has affected their business.
They basically smiled.
We could say much more about the pigs, their
feed, their handling and the layout of the farm, but we slowly bounced back
over the country road,
asked directions when we got to the edge of the village and ended up at
a dairy farm. Again the topic we feel comfortable with. The cows were holsteins
and at first looked like heifers. Further down the aisle of continuously
stanchioned cows, they were milking cows with full udders. About five workers
were milking by hand, most just squatting beside the cow. One had a stool.
Several of us had to allow our instincts to move in and also milk a few
strokes. One worker was feeding them sweet potato vines. There was also
a two-wheeled wheel barrow filled with sweet potatoes. Further down the
barn were the young heifers also stanchioned We spoke with a petite lady
who seemed to be a foreman whose answers indicted her knowledge and the
management was similar to that of American dairy farmer but perhaps several
Kan thought it was
time for a relaxing walk in the park and so he stopped at a playground/park.
The playground was filled with children and as soon as we were spotted the
relaxing walk was over. Kan was flabbergasted as the children came directly
toward us with their exuberant "Hi", "Hello" and "How
do you do?" As about fifty gathered around, we snapped a couple pictures
which just got their adrenalin going more. If you ever want the experience
of the Piped Piper or super stardom, come to China and visit the children.
We continued our walk around the lake as some tried their basic English
and other giggled when you said "Hello" to them. What a kick!
I should have had the movie camera for this.
Next we stopped by the small street where
Yiqi used to live. It had been remodeled so much since the '70's that she
didn't recognize. Some local residents came out and explained the reconstruction
process. Then there was the kindergarten where Weiwei played as a baby,
the hospital where she was born and where her grandmother
(Yiqi's mother) died when grandma took Weiwei to the hospital for a checkup.
The visit with several doctors (classmates of Yiqi and Weiwei's 37-year
old cousin) and another classmate of Yiqi's in ICU was a shock to us who
find ICU a real remote and sterile site in American hospital. We do keep
reminding ourselves we are in another country and the advances in recent
years are fantastic.
Dinner at the "Happy Times"restaurant
including Yiqi's sister and nephew, the pig farmer, two other gentlemen
and the director of the county. We had a chance to discuss politics with
him through Kan's interpreting and we felt like this was one of the most
wonderful integrations into the rural life we have ever experienced in any
foreign country. He sees China's top issue to providing basic needs for
the Chinese people: food, shelter and education. Education is key to their
success, as they see it, and children go to school six days a week. He sees
international trade and the opening of China as major steps for China and
children need English for this work. I wish Americans would also realize
the importance of understanding the Chinese language and culture as China
will become a major player in world trade very soon. He, like also every
student we have talked to, feels like Obama would benefit the world best.
They see him as open to international discussions and as a change to a government
whose policies have failed for eight years.
The ride home was via the expressway and was
intended to by expedient. However, we missed our corner, had to drive an
extra 50 kilometers, were visited by a policeman, and drove around the perimeter
of Nanchang before we arrived at our apartment. However, arriving at the
apartment as any time is wonderful and blessed news. Thus, ended the greatest
day in China.
A note about Chinese names:
It may be a county but it looked like a city so we asked what was
the name of the city. It's called Dongxiang County. "Are there
other cities in the county?" "Not really!" So everything
in this area is governed by the county including the city and it
has but the one name. "I think I get it."
Next is another day.