One of our school’s directors knows a guy who knows a guy who is apparently somebody of consequence in this village, because they arranged for us and our classmates to get distributed among different village families for a morning and lunch. It was a little over an hour’s ride outside the city with about 3000 people, but it felt like stepping into another world – not that Tianjin doesn’t already feel like another world sometimes. Jessica, myself, one other student, and one of our teachers met our village family around 10am. We chatted, went for walk around the village to see the ‘supermarket’ (by village standards, I guess) that the son owns (this family is among the well-to-do in this village), had lunch around 1pm, and headed back. Took a million photos, and got better shots than usual – lots of people-pictures this time; people are always more interesting to me than places. There’s a few photos below, plus the full photo gallery, and a few seconds of cute video (getting swarmed by kids and Jessica holding a baby).
Something to keep in mind: The last figures I saw said that 900 million Chinese (the vast majority) are from the countryside, while a mere 400 million are urbanites. Our hosts today quoted the same numbers. Yet most of the West’s contact (news media, English teachers, language students, etc.) is with a minority within the urban minority – the relatively few rich and/or educated who have some decent English skills. So our view of China in the English speaking world is a bit skewed. Most Chinese don’t live in cities.
Split-pants are most definitely the apparel of choice for babies in this village. Most people seemed excited that we were there; having a couple foreigners visit is apparently big-ish deal.
Lunch with the son and his little brother (that’d be Mr. Wang and Mr. Wang). There were other family members around, but they didn’t eat with us. We talked and ate in the kè tīng (客厅), which is kind of like a living/dining/drawing/entrance room for entertaining guests.
Houses and apartments aren’t arranged like they are in North America, nor are priorities the same when it comes to home design and repair. This family’s kè tīng is about the same size as our entire apartment (we also have a kè tīng, but it’s tiny, and most Westerners probably assume it’s like a landing, where you take off your shoes and hang your coats). It was really nice, with a high ceiling, painted, clean, shelves with books and photos and trinkets, a huge engraved mirror, TV, stereo system… all very impressive, especially considering what we’d just seen outside. The rest of the house – the family part, or non-guest part – was pretty spartan by comparison, but not entirely. They sleep on kàngs (炕), which are brick beds heated from underneath by a pipe system that runs from a coal stove in the kitchen. But what surprised us was when the girls asked to use the washroom (it had been kind of a long bus ride right after breakfast). The wife led them out of the house to her neighbours’, apparently trying to find friends who had a washroom, but she gave up after ten or fifteen minutes. Then she finally led them back to the house and through a bunch of rooms into a walled courtyard (this house had at least two such private, outdoor courtyards). She showed them a panel of wood leaning against part of the wall in one corner, behind which was the ‘washroom.’ She was terribly embarrassed, but once Jessica returned and smiled and didn’t make any big deal about it, and the other student and our teacher didn’t seem to mind, she seemed much relieved. I feel bad almost, bringing it up, and I only bring it up because it is so curious to me the way they seem to have prioritized the house – a fancy kè tīng but facilities that, honestly, rank below most of the choos we used when staying with village families in rural Africa (who didn’t have the means to improve the situation).
Picking cotton, and shucking corn. This cotton lady was really friendly and stopped to talk. It was corn harvesting time in this village; the streets were lined with small mountains of corn and corn husks, and it seemed that the job of shucking the corn belonged to the elderly.
Many front gates were decorated this way; front entrances are important. The second photo is from the side street our family lives on, and a pile of corn husks in the foreground.
School got our for lunch while we were walking around, and our presence caused quite a stir among the elementary age kids. I love all the different expressions in this photo.
The full photo gallery is ready.