Episode Seven

China Collage


We took a trip into the rural areas. The area farmers want to preserve their lifestyle (and make some money) so they are developing eco-tourism.

Field with Chinese scarecrow

Each year they plant a yellow flower (with the unfortunate name – rapeseed) that is harvested for cooking oil – the blooming terraced fields look terrific. Some families open their homes to people who want to take photos – eco-tourists in a way.

The villages are scattered around the valleys and the locals are constructing paths and a small road system to connect it all. We stayed with a nice family.

The older folks stay in villages and keep the traditional ways, daughters, kids stay and many men travel to cities for construction etc. They really have a good thing going, even with economic downturn, and for me it was great seeing the terraced fields up close, along with the Qing Dynasty buildings.

We visited a village famous for its woodworkers. The houses in this part of China feature elaborate wood carvings. This village was the place was the traditional home of many of the craftsmen. My private student, who is a fabulous artist, told me about the town.

I bought a couple very nice carvings. The local government charges an admissions fee which the locals receive little benefit from, so we snuck into the village – basically just walked in with the locals – there are alternative paths into the town. We crossed a backyard/farmyard filled with dung, which required a careful cha-cha-like dance.

The Reading Room. Could use some air freshener.

The village has a rather famous 900 year old wooden bridge which was very interesting to look at. Also, while wandering the narrow streets a one-armed boy strangely asked us to help him break into a house which he said was his – very shady. We refused, and my Hong chastised him for being dishonest.

A few of the older buildings from the small village – no road, partially abandoned.

We enjoyed wandering the narrow streets. On the way there we drove off road – although the little car is not built for this, and visited a very tiny village. The locals were stunned to see yours truly there, and they told us a group of rich businessmen had purchased the best woodwork from their village and moved it to the Hengdian Movie studios.

April 2009

Wavering on the brink,

I am doing fine. I have accepted a position as the Academic Director for a new language school – kids 3-12, who are taught only in English. It is part of a joint venture with an American publisher. The boss speaks no English, so a curse and a blessing. The parent company has a huge investment in China. Over 60 facilities and growing fast, for now ours is the biggest – 25 classrooms. They say they want my creative ideas and odd energy. I will get paid double what I make at university – for full time starting in summer. I am working part-time on weekends, and planning etc. when I have time.

The above is one of my favorite parts of rural China – a “Farmer’s Car”. Farmers customized three-wheeled trikes and make them into “cars”. This one had a large rooftop water heater, which made it looked jet-powered.

When we stayed in a farmer’s house, Hong and her brother took over the kitchen and showed the owners how to cook southern style. We paid 80 RMB for a chicken and the two of them made four dishes out of it. Southern Chinese are the best cooks in the country.

Local ladies washing clothes in the river. These stones have been used for centuries.

A rice threshing machine.

View from the roof of the farmer’s house where we stayed.

View down the valley of the interconnected eco-villages. Photography is a huge hobby in China.

A salamander on the edge of a field. I told my wife and brother-in-law, the fact that it was there meant the water was pretty clean.

I am anxiously watching the unfolding swine flu pandemic – just sent Traditional Chinese Medication to my family. I will keep a close eye on things. I am exposed to thousands of people everyday, so my immune system has been strengthened through its near constant conflict against microbial assaults. The Chinese economy does seem to be riding higher than most overall. The construction guys are slowly returning to some construction sites – a good sign. The currency has been stable these months too.

May 01, 2009
Happy International Labor Day

I have reached a saturation point with my students. I can no longer spend twice as long outside of class as inside to get ready – the return on my time investment is too low. I do love teaching about the great writers, but they on the other hand seem to be enamored less with the reading and more with my storytelling.

My newspaper class is my plum class for the week. Half the girls (refuse to be called young ladies) and I talk each week. This week I took in a pile of magazines and newspapers, which I worked on, and wrote much of, and let them discover for themselves what writing is all about – and we talked about the future.

A strange encounter outside a boarded up “spook-house”.

I do not think the WHO would ratchet up to Level 5 without a reason. The traditional Chinese medicines I sent to my kids – to fight the flu – were the same things used during the deadly SARS outbreak to fight off the virus. I am concerned that the swine flu will meet its cousin the avian flu here in this part of the world, and each will teach the other its dirtiest tricks. And then we have a super-flu. Perhaps I am overly concerned.
It looks like I will be here a while – visit US when I get the money, and rack up a reputation and with perseverance – money.

People in rural China mostly ride two-wheeled transportation – motorcycles, scooters, bicycles. You can always tell when you are in the countryside – motorcycles zooming in every direction over the road.

May 21, 2009
In the news

I am trying my best to get into better shape physically and mentally. Do my best to let things roll off me. And I walk about 6-8 hours a week – walk to language school.

The school is already a dead end. They are not going to pay me until June 15 – two months after starting, with no explanation as to why, just an arbitrary decision – in violation of contract law, with no recourse. I try to ignore the kids when they run past my office, banging on the glass walls as they scuttled away. And the cherry on top came when they had me substitute for a foreign college kid who has a class for little kids- teaching. Imagine teaching six letters of the alphabet, and the days of the month to small fry who do not speak English. And doing this while sitting in a kindergarten chair – to drum up business (the college kids are cheap entertainment for the gawking parents). Now usually, I try to hold my pride in check, but I was bothered by being put on display in this way, while I should have been in my office preparing lessons for the summer. It was one of the last straws. So I will not be staying on with them past the summer. My university already made me an offer.

The talk is of swine and influenza – fear and loathing of Canadians and Americans is reaching a steamy level on campus. Several have been quarantined, not due to symptoms, but due to their geographic location and ethnicity – i.e. they are white and from North America. The university boss, however, returned from a junket and was in quarantine at home – after, of course, visiting campus.

Many students are taking the precaution of sitting further back from the foreign teachers. Being ostracized because of your nationality is not so nice a feeling. We were warned not to take the elevator in the building, because the Canadian students take it to the fifth floor. My god, I never knew that you could catch the flu from an entire region – and from people who are not sick. The recent events highlight the lack of modern thinking.

The sky is gray, the traffic is contorted (according to LaoTzu there are many paths through an intersection); air heavy with unmet goals, sweaty with exhalations – deep stillness descends – within the pale walls of introspection, I find myself inspired to create – move my hammering fingers to the keys – hope flung full force against inertia – discovering the flexible membrane of reality. The truth lies not out there amongst the stifled and stymied, but within this pale mortality – reddened and sore. But each breath , every heartbeat, each blink is a testament to the spirit. The movement, the teetering forward into the fray, step by step – nostrils flared and brow beaded with perspiration – I press ahead – my mind eye quivering with anticipation.
Wedged along the edge

Four room countryside hotel. They have guests on holidays, and on special occasions when people come back to their hometowns. We had lunch there. The owner was the strongest looking guy over fifty I have ever seen. This was on the way to “Gator Town”


crouching tiger hungry monkey
Now after an elating Father’s Day, I felt a blessing had been bestowed on me. It was strange, but since then, I have felt a part of me, the part that rumbled and grumbled at minor disturbances, has been sealed off – gone. That part of my persona that would makes my pulse pound and anger bubble over some perceived injustice I could not change – it has been evaporated. In my subconscious, I felt it was the almighty universe hard wiring in a release valve. You know, like a way of saying, hey now you can’t do that and you will live longer because of it. Peace of heart – the proper description will come to me. So, I have opened the spirit-communication channels again – the karmic tide is rising – I feel it swelling, and it is thrilling.

This is the root from one of the original domesticated tea plants in the Neolithic Hemudu Village.

We went to the place where part of Crouching Tiger was filmed – the part where they fight in a bamboo forest. Fed a hungry monkey – my first time – ahhhhh. He was lonely and starving. We bought peanuts for the little family unit. Their hands are very soft – of course no claws – lucky me. We became instant friends.

I also saw the only panda I ever saw in China. Actually I saw the back end of the sleeping panda. We only had to pay half price because the “panda man” was not available, because it was the off season.

July 2009

Went to the Yangtze River Alligator Farm – in a place actually called Alligator Town (two hours from anywhere else on earth). I saw a two sentence mention in the provincial tour guide, which I am editing, and writing articles for. It is part of the initial stages of the environmental movement here. Very cool, and bringing the species back from the brink. I wrote a well-received article for the magazine about our visit.

After that we visited, we visited Yuyao, Zhejiang which is the center of the Neolithic Hemudu Culture (5500 BC to 3300 BC).

The Hemudu culture was one of the first to cultivate rice and tea. The homes were on stilts and it was very unusual to see the archaeological site up close. There are many interesting artifacts in the museum.

After that we crossed the new Hangzhou Bay spanning bridge. It is immense. There are signs saying don’t stop in the bridge. So what did we do? We stopped and took photos 🙂 We then went to Shaoxing which is the hometown of China’s great writer Lu Xun. Lu Xun’s writing is one of the foundations of modern Chinese literature.

Introduction Back: Episode Six Next: Episode Eight

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