I am afraid to tell my mother, but I am seriously contemplating village life. Last weekend I was given the awesome opportunity to travel again to a small village in the Chinese countryside. One of my colleagues has a Chinese friend who was celebrating his birthday in a village about four hours away from Hangzhou and he invited me along to travel with him.
We arrived in the town of Jiangshan late Friday evening and proceeded to the Old Train Station which has been transformed into rows upon rows of small restaurants, usually only having five to six tables each. Papers, dirt and rubbish lined the floors. I have adopted the motto that the dirtier the restaurant, the better the food.
We had a typically Chinese three-hour-long dinner with some of my friend’s Chinese friends who do not speak English. I was a little scared and overwhelmed at first; I tend to be self-conscious of my Chinese language skills around new people. They were so patient with me and had such lovely dispositions that soon we were laughing and talking like people whose homes are not an ocean apart.
Saturday was spent exploring Jiangshan, which did not take long because it is comprised of only two main streets. We met some other friends and the birthday boy and headed into the village around noon. It took about 30 minutes to reach the village of about 300 residents.
When we arrived at the countryside, we were greeted by fields of green which have been harvested for rice, farmers herding cattle to the nearest dam for water, and children roaming free lighting firecrackers in water pipes. The residents watched our small traveling group carefully, I am sure wondering why we were there and where we had come from.
My Chinese friend’s house was newly built. The home took seven months to complete and the family is very proud of the concrete shell they now call home. Our first night there they had an “inauguration” party where many families came to eat and celebrate the completion of the house. We ate a meal of all meat, in true celebratory fashion, including turtle, duck, chicken livers and lamb.
The next morning we ate breakfast of eggs and rice and then went for a walk. The pace of village life is so different from anything I have ever experienced. We ate. We went for a walk. We ate. We went for a walk. And repeated this cycle all day. We walked to the next village and visited some of the birthday boy’s friends and then ate cake and gave gifts.
The village has a man who is in charge and the families decide who it will be. There is also a new highway that is being planned to connect the village to the nearest large town, Quzhou. When I expressed concern over the loss of their crops and beautiful scenery, I was met with expressions of gladness because there will be increased traffic and, therefore, more ways to make money. The villagers will also be more exposed to the outside world once it is easier to reach Quzhou in a faster and more economical way.
After begrudgingly saying goodbye and leaving the village, my friend and I took a taxi to the bus station for our ride back to Hangzhou. We began speaking with our driver who asked what nationality we are. My friend explained that he is French and I am American. Our driver then asked us in Chinese, “Where is America? Is that north of China? And how far away from France is America?”
My friend tried to explain the world layout to our driver but before it was clear we had reached our destination and had a bus to catch. It was fascinating to me that this man could live a whole life and not know what existed beyond the boundaries of his own town. I thought about what a life that must be to never see a map or know where your location is in the world. He is a content taxi driver in Jiangshan, China, and that is all that matters.
Throughout the weekend I kept jokingly threatening to run away into the village for a life of solitude and contentment. But then I realized that that would mean killing my own food and learning a dialect; so I hopped on the bus and headed for home-contemplating the difference in lives of the people whom I had lived amongst for only a weekend.