For Payton
and Deona


Connecting Mandarin and English,
          Chinese and American,
                    people with people

Dongxiang County
(October 5, 2008) (return to Homepage)
     It's 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 opportunity.
     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.
     As we 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 years during 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.
     Then 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 decade behind.
     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.

We would love to hear from you; your comments, your questions and your suggestions. For security purposes we ask that you send us an email at and we will post the messages