personal note: I decided to share my book with friends and students in China because it is too expensive to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with those you care and love. Peace, Steve, usa, October 15, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
– 371 –
Jacob and I walked to the farm…a distance away from the farm house. We met some curious elderly women in the neighborhood, somehow I looked like I came from a different planet to them. His parents decided to focus on raising cucumbers for the winter in hothouses. And they had competitors nearby. Many farmers in that area raised banana plants for the markets. Jacob’s parents were very lucky because they could make some money doing what they enjoyed doing. I was surprised that they did not raise some vegetables for the local markets. They raised some chickens and ducks, for their eggs and family consumption, not for the markets. I saw the parents were happy what they did everyday, living a simple life in the farm.
The farm house is big enough for everything. In America, we call this type of building a rambler, or a one-story building. In Jacob’s farm house, the center is the living room where the family would entertain their guests. There is a TV there but I doubt they have time to watch anything. To the left is Jacob’s bedroom with an air-conditioner. The parents installed it for Jacob’s comfort. To the right of the living room is the parents’ bedroom. And adjacent to it is a big kitchen and dining room. The kitchen is very modern using electricity for most cooking appliances. The traditional wood-burning stove is gone for good. And they have a refrigerator to store different things without having to run to a country store for ingredients to cook something. They also have a separate freezer and I loved it because I could have iced water to drink every day. My body clock tells me how long to put a bottle of water in it before it freezes or becomes frozen, which could cause the bottle to break.
And behind the kitchen is the bathroom, a traditional Chinese toilet (that means you squat and not sit) and a shower with hot water. I doubt they would use the tub for bathing but it is there. Right outside the bathroom is an area to brush your teeth in the mornings, or wash your clothes using a concrete washboard with running water on top of it. And there is plenty of space to hang your clothes on clotheslines to dry in the open air. For transportation the parents own a motorcycle and a motorcycle truck to transport the farm products to the markets. Motorcycle trucks are common in many small towns and villages, used primarily to transport goods and other heavy things. In some cases they would use it to transport humans.
I was not happy with Jacob because he did not want me to visit or play with his dog. The poor dog was on a leash. I could see the dog was not happy at all. The dog was left all alone, without any human contact the whole day. I would have walked the dog if Jacob would allow me. But the dog was the untouchable in the family. The same
– 372 –
with Jake’s grandma because she had her cat on a leash and left it in a corner of the house. The cat was not allowed to roam the big house. Jacob is definitely not an animal lover. I wasn’t sure if Jacob, a farm boy in his heart, is aware of the fact in contemporary China, much has been written about how many senior citizens are adopting dogs for companionship because all their adult children are gone forever. In big cities, I had seen in the evenings, many elderly people and couples would bring their pet dogs for a walk in their neighborhoods or in the parks. Chinese people are becoming like the Americans, for many the pet dogs are treated like their children: eat, sleep, play and travel with them. Except the Chinese I know do not want to sleep with their pet dogs. Like Muslims, some Chinese including Jacob believe that dogs are considered “unclean” animals. My best friend would not sleep with his pet dog—Feifei—despite spending tons of money for regular cleaning and grooming at a pet shop.
I was lucky because I had dogs and cats when I grew up in our farm. Everyday I had chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, pigs, tree squirrels, wild birds around me. And I grew up to love all farm animals…each contributing some life and vibrancy to the boring farm. My brother would use a trap to catch tree squirrels for food. The meat tasted delicious. I would collect eggs laid by our hens. Only the ducks and the pigs would love the muddy water. Once or twice a year, we would sell the adult pigs to a businessman who would be buying pigs from a few families in our village. The pigs, now in rattan cages stacked on top of each other, would be loaded into a big lorry or truck to be taken to a slaughterhouse. And only during the Chinese New Year, our family would slaughter a chicken or two for the New Year Eve’s big family dinner. Once in a while, my sister-in-law would cook a chicken with some Chinese herbal medicine for my brother, and we would have the opportunity to eat the chicken meat. The broth with the herbal medicine was for my brother. Though life was hard in the farm, the animals provided me hours of joy and happiness. Jacob told me they lost some chickens to some wild dogs up the hill behind their farm house.
Jacob lost his father to heart disease when he was about nine years old. He and his mother and stepdad moved to this house when he was about eleven years old. They abandoned the old house, now empty with dust and dirt, down the road from the present residence. I wanted to see it for myself. As an American I told Jacob the parents should preserve the old house because the building was in good condition. And there was some old furniture which Americans would dearly love to preserve and use…usually to show to friends and visitors. Americans love to collect and preserve old things, generally. I wish Jacob’s parents would do something to preserve the old building…maybe one day Jacob could use it as a guest house or a country house away from the city.
– 373 –
The first night lying in bed in the farm house in China, I could not help thinking how much I hated the farm when I was growing up because then I did not have any choice. I rebelled against it because I could not see my future as a farmer in the farm. I felt I had the brains and will power and determination to do better with my life. And I hated the farm. Now? Now I have a choice and I would love to live out in the countryside away from the hustle and bustle of city life, away from air and noise pollution in the cities, away from the hurry and rush in urban environment, and now I have a deeper appreciation for the farm life. One of quiet and peace and time to enjoy the world around you…nature and birds, and grass, and trees and plants and the weeds and the wild flowers…what a paradise to me. And everyday you meet happy people living a simple life, content to raise some vegetables and chickens, with time to chat with neighbors and helping one another in time of need. And now with cars or motorcycles, you are never too far away from the towns or cities or supermarkets or supermalls. Jacob has wifi and the internet in his farm house. What else do you need? In many ways, everything is within reach or at your fingertips.
Jacob’s sister came to the house with her two children: a boy and a girl. She had a second child before the Chinese government officially passed the new law in January 2016, encouraging all child-bearing women to have a second child. It is interesting to know that the previous one-child policy was not strictly enforced in the countryside in China. Jacob and his family live in a small village, away from the scrutiny of the local government. And farmers have always enjoyed the privilege, though illegally, of having more than one child to help in the farms in China. The sister brought the kids over to visit with the grandparents. Her husband is a car salesman and they live in a comfortable two-story building not far from the farm house. I gave the children a small gift inside the red envelopes since I was not there on New Year’s Eve. Later that evening Jacob’s brother-in-law came and joined us for the evening. We sat around in the living room, chatting and eating watermelon seeds and peanuts, common snacks during the Spring Festival.
The next day, Jacob’s stepdad arranged for a relative (or a taxi) to take us to see the famous Fujian Toulou. In fact, I had been there when I first came to teach at Xiamen University in 2008 as part of the orientation program for foreign professors. And each year the university would invite us to visit different cultural and historical places in Fujian Province. I had climbed two famous mountains on two different occasions but I would not do it again because I did not feel safe while crossing a narrow path at the peak of one mountain with no guard railing to protect you should you fall or slip. As one Chinese professor jokingly told me then, “If you fall, that is the end of you because this is not America, there is no rescue team to look for you in this rugged terrain down the steep cliffs and ravines…” I would not and never take any chances
– 374 –
while I am in China! With over one billion people, you are as significant as the sand by the seashore…or a hungry starving leftover child in some remote area in China…too many to count. I do not believe there would be a rescue team waiting or ready to save you in the thick bushes down the ravine. Advanced technology but limited resources! This is China.
So what is Fujian Tulou? It refers to some Hakka buildings that are scattered across three counties in Fujian Province: Nanjing County, Yongding County and Hua’an County across the Fujian-Guangdong border, west of Xiamen. The Hakka people are no strangers to me because the renowned late Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew (a good friend to China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaopeng) was a famous Hakka, someone well respected by the Hakka communities in mainland China and Southeast Asia. Historically, the Hakka people, a Han subgroup, migrated south to this region in Fujian Province from central China around the 14th and 15th centuries, and from here many later immigrated to Taiwan, Singapore and other Asian countries.
Civil engineers and architects continue to marvel at how the Hakka people (like those who built the pyramids in Egypt) were able to build these unusual enormous residential dwellings—tulou—to live in (and why only in Fujian Province in China) at a time when bandits, thieves and marauders roamed the countryside and defensive structures were constructed to protect and keep them safe. According to Huang Hanmin, an architect who has studied extensively these tulou: “From the beginning their main function was to defend the people’s safety. The historic record shows constant threats from wild animals, bandits and warlords.” They were built at a time when there were land battles between the clannish Hakka people and those who had occupied the land. They reminded me of the perennial struggles between the Jews and the Palestinians in modern Israel. Though according to the Holy Bible, the Jews were the original settlers in the land given by God to His chosen people, the Jews.
In the 1980s (during the Cold War), American satellites misidentified the tulou as China’s nuclear missile silos because of their donut-shaped tops, built in clusters. The tulou buildings became famous when 46 of them, out of a few thousand, were designated World Heritage Sites in 2008 (the year of the Beijing Olympic Games) and these tulou are officially called Fujian Tulou.
Unknown to me, Jacob’s relative drove us first to see and tour the famous Yan Shui Yao Village, located not far from a famous tulou building, Huai Yan Lou, all located in Nanjing Country, one of the three counties where we can visit all the 46 tulou designated as World Heritage Sites. After the driver dropped us at the entrance to this famous village, I immediately noticed that there were no bicycles, motorcycles or cars
– 375 –
in this whole area. And I started to complain to my hosts (poor Jacob and his best friend) after the first hour or so that the pavement or path along the scenic route along the river was hard on my feet (and the delicate feet of all other descent tourists) because it was not meant or made for walking…terribly uneven with rocks and gravel popping up everywhere on the rough surface, the result of poor planning and design. Maybe it was designed deliberately to look and feel this way. With all the thousands of tourists how come the people responsible for this tourist attraction did not pay much attention to the road, public safety and comfort to our feet and ankles and knee joints? Somehow it reminded me of my time up the Great Wall of China. There the steps up and down many sections of the Great Wall were so unevenly constructed, unlike those evenly spaced regular stairs at home, that they could hurt the feet and legs of certain people climbing these steps for the first time. I also complained loudly about it to my Beijing hosts at that time. I believe the government officials or administrators need to pay more attention to the comfort of tourists who are used to good roads, lanes, paths, steps or stairs, and pavements in other parts of the world. And now here at Yun Shui Yao Village, if I was not careful, I might stumble over some of those protruding rocks on the pavement and hurt myself. Not good for any tourist. This is China, Steve.
Here in China, nobody dares to complain about anything. And because the majority does not say anything, nothing will be done to improve the current situation. And this is one of the biggest problems facing contemporary China where most people just accept the status quo. Because nobody would take your complaints seriously. Worse your complaints, in time past, might land you in a hot spot with the government. Whereas in the United States where I come from, if you pay for something, you have the right to voice your opinions or complaints because you are not happy with some service or products. And most times the people responsible for a product or service will try to make you happy because they want you to return again, and again for your money. Why is this difficult to understand? Whether you are an American or a Chinese? This is China, Steve.
I could only complain to my hosts, not to the government. Who am I to dislike what nobody seems to care for? Or is afraid to say anything? But the whole time, while enjoying all the scenery, the crowd and all the vendors, walking on the uneven pavement bothered the shit out of me. I had to watch carefully every step of the way, avoiding a fall. It was a bittersweet experience all the way, just about the whole day.
This is China.