Life in the village
Only 45 minutes from Beijing, life is at a different pace. In between the bouts of Chinese tests and procrastination, I spent the last weekend on another “rural” stay. Earlier in the semester, our program visited this small village outside of Beijing to meet families and lay the foundation for future research. We returned to this same village over the past weekend, staying with our same families and conducting research.
Life in a village, even such a short distance from a major city, is slow. The village has only 19 families, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers. While at the stay, we got a taste of what their daily routine consists of, what food they eat, and a general idea of how the rural village fits into China as a modernizing nation.
The family I stayed with run their home as a bed and breakfast, so the accommodations were very nice: the bed was much larger than the one I have in my University dorm. The pillow, on the other hand, was stuffed with rice, which created a big crick in my neck in the morning. Most of our time was spent eating, observing, or sleeping.
Food is a big part of life in China, but even more so when you reach a village. Our most social periods were meals, prepared by our host grandmother in a wok. Watching her make a huge variety of dishes, all of which were delicious, I have come to realize that learning to cook basic Chinese cuisine is infinitely more difficult than cooking Western food. Before one meal, our host grandmother offered to show us how to make tomatoes and egg, a traditional Chinese dish. Stir-frying egg, ginger, and scallions in a wok, she added fresh tomatoes and covered the pan, which intensified the flavors. This was probably the first dish we ate which I could confidently try to make at home. We also had a delicious dish of cabbage, which we had harvested from the family’s farm plot, and onions.
The bad? Chinese food, as is common knowledge, often has a lot of MSG added in. Even at our home’s kitchen this remained true, sending the majority of our group into a food coma after meals.
Observing, we mostly noted the patriarchal structure most families organize around. There were, however, a few “this is China” moments. The most disturbing image by far occurred while we were shopping at a small “market” set up in front of the village committee complex. In the distance, we heard a recording of a man shouting some unintelligible Chinese. After a few moments, a truck with a very creepy man in it pulled up and stopped in front of our group, staring blankly. In the back of the truck were cages filled with emaciated dogs. As he drove away, we asked one of our Chinese helpers what the man had been doing and what the recorded message said.
“He’s selling dogs for meat,” replied our teacher.
There are times when I love China, and then there are times where some of its practices surprise and nauseate me. I may eat meat, and I know where my food comes from, but I don’t think I will get used to thinking of dogs as a source of meat for a while.
Our family also had a two-year old girl, possibly the cutest toddler ever. She, however, did not embrace us as much as we did her. On our final day, our teacher recounted what the parents had said to the baby when she was crying:
“Quite down, or we will send you upstairs to the laowai”
Translation: We will send you to the foreigners.
The worst fate imaginable, of course. She warmed up to us a bit by the end of our visit, but I think it will take some time before she gets used to Americans….