The section of the Great Wall on which we camped looked down onto terraced corn fields and trees. We followed the footpaths down to a small collection of homesteads nestled into the hills, and then further down into a small town. It was our first time to visit some rural homes in China.
One family invited us in and let us take photos. They grew and sold food, had small backyard granaries, goats, and an underground cellar in the backyard. They also had a functioning satellite dish, propped up on and held down with some loose bricks. The TV was in the same room as their kàng (炕), a large, hard, traditional Chinese bed that can fit the whole family and is heated from underneath with coals. The next morning we saw the wife along the Great Wall, ready to sell dried fruit from their gardens to tourists.
We were quite the sight to see in the town. Woman, children and a few men came out to see the crowd of white folks and their Chinese teachers wandering around. At one point we stood on a bridge… maybe 20 of us. This ancient peasant man in a blue Mao suit came walking up. I wonder what he was thinking, knowing he had to walk right through all those foreigners. It was nice because our group could make conversation with him. He instantly became the most famous peasant in all of China, as a dozen or so cameras whipped out (foreigners and their city-girl Mandarin teachers) and he got the red carpet treatment.
It all made me wonder about how the Western perceptions of China (here and in the West) must be so skewed. The part of China most Westerners – including us – live in and interact with, learn from in school, do business with, or host in our universities, is only a small sliver of China if you consider how most of the population lives. There are many Chinas. Most Chinese people aren’t urban middle class consumers, though we wouldn’t necessarily know that from our daily activities.