Asia | China | Yunnan Province | Honghe | Jiasha – Have you eaten yet
our goal in jiasha is to visit a village and see what real country life is like in china. uncle li kindly took us on a hike down the steppe fields to the closest village before anyone else was awake.
it’s such a shame that isolation brought jiasha both its poverty and its unmatched beauty. the mountains rested peacefully under its blanket of fog, refreshed by the morning dew. the alternating stripes of red and green composed the most amazing tapestry, and i woke up with a deep breath of the sweet air.
although looking like harmless staircases from afar, each ‘step’ of field is at least my height and completely made of mud. with last night’s rain, the roads were getting real slippery. my legs were trembling by the time i got to the village an hour later. all the hours on the stairmaster back home did nothing to prepare me for the continuous descent. covered in mud from knees down, i could totally ‘mingle with the peasant class’ in uncle li’s words because i looked more like a farmer than they did. i was starting to understand why the farmers in yunnan hated their ingenious creations of the these steppe fields. it takes them forever just to get from field to field, and the chance of using large agricultural machinary on these fields is zero.
the first building i saw was the village elementary school, a simple mud brick shed with only one room. all the classes were having classes at once, with the class that the teacher was lecturing to sitting facing her, and the rest with their backs against her. the crisp sound of the children reading their books flew out of the window, as they stole glances at these ‘city folks’ standing outside.
a few early risers were already loading up their donkeys to go to town for market day, and the pigs honked from their sheds to each donkey walking by. an old man standing outside his house said hello to us, and invited us in. like most farm houses, this one had no windows and all the light came from the open door.
he and his wife were in the middle of their brunch, and she hurriedly cleared off a pile of dry corns in the middle of the entry way for us. they invited us to eat with them, but we were too embarassed to step in with our muddy feet. they persisted with their offer every few minutes, and we were afraid of offending them and accepted. a few simple dishes of stir-fried vegetables and some steamed fatty meat showed that they were among the better-off families in the village. the hostess told us that she has four daughter, two of them are married off and the other two have their own book store in kunming. they asked us whether we wanted her to cook some fresh rice, as their pot was cooked the day before. as we declined, she walked to a peach tree outside and picked a few fresh peaches for us and stuff them into our pockets.
i always thought the information outdated when i read in the books that the greeting in china is to ask the person whether he’s eaten yet. i had never seen it done in the big cities. however, this custome continued quite well here. whenever we passed a house, the family would ask us whether we had eaten, and invite us to join them. we joked that in case we lose our jobs and are starving, jiasha would be the place to come.
we caught up with the donkey caravan we saw earlier and joined the whole gang on the way to the market. about 20 minutes from town, we ran into an old man walking up the slippery stone steps one at a time with his walking stick. a lady who had been chatting with us shouted to him, as he has lost most of his hearing with age,’how old are you?’
‘do you go to the market every week?’
‘oh yeah. i sell tobacco.’ he pointed to a small sack on his back.
his long white goatee showed that he’s among the well respected elders in the village. unlike the other slovenly dressed farmers, he wore a black hat and neatly pressed traditional long straight shirt not commonly seen even in the countryside anymore. obviously market day is a big day for him.
the street buzzed despite the heavy rain. we walked past cages of squealing piglets and chickens flapping their wings. thes mell of tobacco and rice cakes steamed on the stove filled the air, all mixed with the foreign sounds of the yi language and local yunna dialect.
we couldn’t escape the hospitality of the town government after all. as we expressed during lunch that we wanted to donate some money to the middle school’s library, we got the same grand patriotic praises again. the right hand man of the town’s superintendant came, along with pan holding a big camera while two villagers waited outside for him to grant their marriage license. we protested the whole big deal they are making, but it was futile. we were sent off with a hero’s goodbye, still blind from the camera’s flashlight.