Thursday, April 5, 2012

Out in the Country, Feb 23-24

Feb 23-24

Visit to the Countryside!

Not entirely sure where I ended up, but for someone who doesn’t have an affinity for buses I sure do go places on them.

E, a lady from Europe who has been living here for 4 years and speaks Chinese very fluently. We went to visit a friend of hers who lives in the country. Her family is there, and she is working in the city. She only gets to visit once every week or so.

Using the bus for the very first time by myself (sounds simple, but it feels like an accomplishment. E texted me the stop in Chinese where I needed to get off at, as well as the stops before. So I played the matching game! With the different stops on the sign above the seats for me to count and match the mysterious signs with the ones on my phone, to sign, to the flashing marquee above the driver with the current stop. ) We met at her apartment, met up with the lady we would be staying with. I was told to call her something in Chinese which is pronounced “Jay-Jay” which means “older sister”. E was called “may-may” (again, pronounciation) which means younger sister. And I was referred to as “su-may” which I think was something like “little younger sister”.

From there we got a bus together to the train/bus station. We waiting on the alternative bus (the main one had already left) until it had enough passengers to depart. We then spent 4+ hours on the highways and eventually back roads that took us through towns and villages that became smaller and smaller as we wound around the hills, and weaved into the other lane as we passed slower vehicles in front of us (yes, sharp bends and passing in the lane that was for traffic going the opposite direction we were traveling. Picture that sentence right there.) no worries though, we honked a warning before going around the vehicles.

A couple short stops at Fill Stations (aka gas stations. Sometimes with a tent or two set up selling hot food). There was one stop that the driver was spraying water underneath the bus. Not sure why…I suppose the high amounts of mud. I went to the bathroom. And by that I mean ducked around the corner where there was a curtain hanging. Perhaps five concrete walls that were maybe three feet high occupied the narrow space. Those would be the western version of “bathroom stalls” and instead of a western toilet, two boards perpendicular that had several inches of gap between them. BYOP…Bring Your Own Paper. Thoughts: be sure to balance carefully, and for goodness sakes whatever you do never breathe through your nose!

At the town we tumbled off the bus at was perched high upon a hill. Walking through to where we were to catch the van to where our hostess lives, we gathered a small crowd of mostly children. They have probably never seen foreigners.

Another not short enough drive down the winding hill and we had arrived. The pavement abruptly ended and we walked a bit down a dirt road, then inbetween houses on narrowing, slick paths. We picked our way through the muddy barnyards. From pens beneath mud buildings, often a few steps lower into the ground, a bull, or few pigs would stick their noses through their wooden bamboo gates to look up at us. Chickens scattered ahead of us as we picked our way between concrete homes and buildings made of mud.

When we arrived close to the end of the town to her house. Well, her house was the one made of bamboo type structure, and had mud plastering outside of it. Her, and her family, were now in her brother’s house. (the government provides funding for homes in the country. to encourage moving from cities perhaps?) this one was two stories and made of concrete. Four rooms in the bottom, and the top either unfinished or not in use during the cold season. Two rooms had beds to sleep, a large bowl filled with flour or ground rice, and a hot plate. The other room had a small alter, with candles lined up, and decorations running up and down the sides…built to burn in honor of the gods or ancestors or something. The back room had the coal stove, the bed, and a cupboard for a pan for cooking, a few dishes, television, and small filtered water tank. One light bulb lit up the room. I suppose we were not that far out since there was some electricity. Often remote places share a generator that is used to provide power one section at a time, Or for only one for a few hours in the evening.

The concrete floor, though frequently mopped, was covered in mud. A kid or two would come through, mud splattered. It was impossible to avoid, with no separation besides a doorway from the fields and barnyards. Her toddler wore the split pants that most kids that age wear around here. Diapers are not in high use, and since the floor is already dirty….it is not an issue to clean that up as well.

We walked around the fields they farm. Here, that is what they do. Often the grandparents will stay and work in the fields, the kids may work with the crops as well or go to the city to work. If that is the case, their children are cared for by the grandparents.

We followed a small winding mud path that was on a rise between planted fields, and we clambered up a rocky hillside to overlook the nearby hills. It was so quiet and peaceful.

Once back in the house, six of the ladies wandered in, joining us around the coal stove. They talked rapidly in Chinese (E brilliantly translated). I watched them closely. Seeing the differences in ages (represented in various stages of teeth: no teeth, small teeth, rotting teeth, and no teeth!) They watched me too. Commenting on how nice I looked with glasses on (the Chinese think glasses look very nice and smart. I wore them just to better see the countryside outside the window). They asked if I had a boyfriend, excited to set me up with their sons. I tried not to panic, E explained this was their round about way of saying they like having me around.

E told me, while we sat there that they were comparing us. They often do that here, with the person of interest often standing right next to them. This tactic is even done around children, comparing behavior or intelligence bluntly. (a tactic to encourage competition? and therefore achievement?) Between E and I, our relationship statuses, language capability, the length of our time in china, and our ages were all being compared.

Dinner was simple, and very good. I tried to pick the vegetables and doufu from the center of the bubbling hot pot on the warm coal stove. E was offered stay at the grandmothers house, in her bed. Here, it is very common for close friends (same gender) to share a bed. It is an invitation of friendship, and closeness. Like saying that all is well between two friends. We stuck together though. Bed was a double in the corner of the concrete room, and comfortable despite the cool air wafting in through the open gap above the door.

Oh, and the toilet. Well we would have had to find the path that led around a few buildings to step in between the narrow walls with a low husk- thatched roof. Luckily, there was a bucket nearby. very accommodating for their visitors

All those camping trips and out-doorsy moments… just became valid.

Before leaving the coal stove, we followed the tradition of most households here to wash our feet before bed. A tub with hot water (from the stove top) and a towel was given for us to rinse off then pat dry. Then clean shoes/slippers to wear to walk over to the bed.

Friday, February 24

Morning started early. This was a rooster based alarm system. When I shuffled over to the stove, I was handed another clean wash cloth with which I was to wash my face in the hot water. Refreshing! Breakfast was hot spicy rice noodles. We were served plenty, our hostess graciously filling our bowls generously before her own.

We headed back to the main road, back on the narrowing paths that linked between the muddy road and cut between houses and barns, past small gardens fenced in with dried bamboo. While waiting for the van that would take several people from there into the city, we stood around in front of one of the concrete houses that had a small paved area in front of it. Some of the newer homes are like this. We were invited in, this is being polite. And if they joke about you not having visited, they are not actually put out or upset.

Eventually we did go into the one ladys house. 9 people from the town, as well as the three of us. We went through a room with a couch, a room that had bags of rice I suppose, and other crops to plant, stacked in one corner. A large open bowl of a ground up grain. Lines of hot red spices strung up to dry. The back room had the coal stove, the bed, television and several small narrow benches that were pulled close to the center stove for people to perch upon. They chattered away in Chinese, and I sat there rather comfortable in the oblivion to the conversation. I was told by E that they said I should stay longer here and in China…that is the round-about way of saying they like having me around I suppose J I guess I make a nice room decoration/obstacle course for the kids hah.

They walked us to the van that would take more than 5 people back.

It was a long drive. The windows had such thick tint over them I could only see the shapes of the hills. The driver smoked, often, so that the inside air was stale and heavy. And the same 7 songs kept playing on repeat.

Absolutely worth what I got to see and experience.

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