Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dark Duck Village

*This post is from a few weeks ago, but I'm just now getting around to putting it up*

Scott, Jamie, Kevin and I accompanied "Seagull" (Kevin's teacher friend) and Kelly (Kevin's student) to Kelly's village for lunch today. Seagull, a fascinating woman whose name somehow describes her personality perfectly, was the leader of our little group. She decided that we should meet at the gate of the university at 8:00 am. Thinking the village was a couple of hours away, I packed plenty of bottled water and snacks for the "long journey"... I soon found out the village is about ten minutes away from the middle school where we teach. We got to the family's home around 8:30 am on Sunday morning, wondering what we'd do next.

Since it was still way too early for lunch and the family seemed shocked by our arrival, Kelly took us out on a two and a half hour walk through the fields around the village. On the way, she told us that she'd forgotten to let her family know we were coming until about 20 minutes before our arrival. So, while we were strolling around outside taking pictures, seven people were busy slaving away to make us lunch. Oops!

Anyway, I had a good time walking through the fields. It's interesting how neat and tidy the rows of crops are, in contrast with the disorderly, dirty village. It really felt as if I'd stepped back hundreds of years: barefoot farmers in straw hats and rolled- up blue trousers worked in their individual family plots, pulling weeds and watering. We saw eggplant, sweet potatoes, rice, and lettuce... among other things. I learned that sweet potatoes must grow underground for one year before they're ready to harvest, and that the farmers have a hard time making a profit because they must employ a "middle man" to sell the crops for them at the market, who then keeps most of the proceeds.

After a little while, we arrived at Kelly's former primary school, a dusty, barren place with one ancient classroom building, one newer facility, a dirt track with makeshift ping-pong tables, a dirty "convenience shop," and some dorms for the teachers. Kelly wanted to show us her old classroom, so we went in. Seagull decided to write "I like English! I like my foreign friends! I love Jamie!" on the blackboard and demanded that we take her picture next to it. She also wanted one fo her sweeping the floor. Seagull's photo demands are very hard-core; throughout the morning, she would dive deep into the bushes, lean flirtatiously on a bundle of crops, or hang on a tree limb and then shout "Scott, take my picture!" Pretty funny stuff.

On the way back through the village, we ran into a group of ten little ragamuffin children. They were shy at first, but after Kevin shouted "Good morning" at them a dozen or so times, they warmed up to us enough to follow us around belting out "good morning" and giggling. Kevin chased them around with his camera for a while, but it took a while to convince them to be quite that bold. When he asked Seagull why they were so hesitant, she immediately replied, "Because you look like an alien!" Eventually they bunched around Kevin and everybody got a photo together. It was pretty cute.

We finally got back to Kelly's house around 11 to find her family scurrying around preparing lunch. Kelly's home is a relatively nice one, as village homes go. It's set up in traditional format, with three stories of open-air rooms arranged around a large courtyard , where the kitchen and shower are located. Kelly has her own bedroom and there are several separate sitting room areas. Her grandparents live in neighboring homes. Kelly lives at school and has a job at a fast food restaurant, which pays her 15 yuan ($2.50) and dinner for five hours' work in the evening. She returns home on the weekends for meals and to visit with her family.

We were served an impressively delicious and elaborate lunch. It's amazing that a family with such minimal kitchen facilities and only a few hours' time can prepare a meal with so many vaired dishes. We had shrimp, crab, octopus & snowpeas, noodles, wonderful dumplings, green vegetables, soup, two kinds of chicken, and rice. There were at least twelve of us at the table, but we only finished about half of the food. During lunch, the Cantonese side of the table communicated as best it could with the English side, thanks to the help of Seagull and Kelly. I especially liked Kelly's mom: a very hard-working, muscular, tanned, no-nonsense woman who didn't sit down to eat until the rest of us were all settled and eating. We sat around after lunch to be polite, but Kelly's parents as well as the four of us had had enough before long; so, the foreigners were bundled into a cab and sent on their way at last.

I don't know how you say "Don't let the door hit you in the *** on the way out" in Cantonese... but I'm sure Kelly's mom muttered something along those lines as she smilingly waved good-bye.

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