Friday, June 18, 2010

Professor Deborah Post - Explorations in China

It was pretty early in the morning when we all piled on the bus to head for the home of Charles Guo, the coordinator of this year’s China program. I am sure there was nothing that everyone would have liked more than a little sleep, especially as the trip would take more than two hours. Sleep was pretty hard to come by under the circumstances.

Once you get outside the city of Xiamen, driving through the pretty spectacular undersea tunnel, an object of national pride on the part of Chinese volunteers who joined us for the day, the mode of transportation changes. There are fewer cars and many, many more motorbikes. Motorbikes carrying mother and child; motorized bikes with truck beds balanced precariously on top and heavy loads of materials, mostly granite or pipes or construction materials, carried in the back. For the students in the back of the bus, it felt like our bus driver was mad, furiously hitting his horn as he swerved to pass trucks, motorbikes and pedestrians. The students all said they were afraid for their lives. Those of us up front, though, had a first-hand view of the driver's attempt to avoid the cart pulled by a buffalo blocking traffic or the last-minute maneuvers to avoid motorbikes and pedestrians who appeared out of nowhere. The remarkable thing to me is that there are not more catastrophic accidents in a country where there are few traffic signals at all. In reality I was more concerned about his frequent expectoration out the side window. If the wind blew the wrong way...

China 2010 students and faculty aboard the bus.

Charles and his family were quite generous with us and treated us to a fabulous meal at a local restaurant with all manner of seafood including flying fish and turtle soup. We adjourned to Charles's family home, which we in the U.S. might call the homestead, and while the other students and our guests, Peter and Melissa, wandered around the house, I had an English/Chinese lesson with the children of the cousin of Charles. It is quite an extended family and one that has not complied with the one child rule at all. There are exemptions from this rule for those who live in the countryside but in this particular case, the family paid the fines that the government levies against those who violate the law. The result though is fine extended family with three different households.

Professor Deborah Post with the children of the cousins of Charles Guo.

China 2010 program coordinator, Charles Guo, with his nephews.

The best thing about the trip, as far as I was concerned, was the chance to get out of the city and to see mountains unobstructed, or only partially obstructed, by high rise housing. Sweet potatoes, peanuts and eggplant seem to grow wherever the farmers find some empty space, but the main crop was clearly rice – fields and fields of rice. The most popular animals were goats, chickens and ducks, and there were the most remarkable or ingenious woven baskets that served as “homes” for the chickens. The rooster, at least, seemed pretty comfortable inside as well as outside the house singled out one front room for his favorite place.

China 2010 students Robert King and Melissa Ausili.

We were served watermelon (how could we be offered anything but) and tea and then we took a walk down a well-trod path (no sidewalk here) and under a railroad trestle where we got a great view of the DaWu mountains (I think that is the anglicized version of the name), which means Big Fog or Foggy mountains. The DaWu mountains provide a backdrop for their sister chain, the "fairy castle" mountains. And yes, that is cattle out there grazing in the rice fields.

China 2010 student Ben Shaw

Of course, the farming methods in China are not mechanized. How could they be with each family owning a small piece of land that they cultivate? The fields are filled with women with hoes and old women and men carrying the “natural” fertizlier we know as “night soil” out into the fields. It makes for a verdent green field, a bumper crop of vegetables and rice, but the smell is a little off putting. I have the same reaction to the cow manure and the chemical fertilizers that they spread all over the landscaping work done at home in Long Island each Spring. I left my farming roots back in upstate New York more years ago than I like to remember, and I have no interest in renewing that connection. I don’t want my hands in the soil, but the fields and the animals and the hardworking Chinese people in the countryside are an inspiration and a quiet place to meditate on the beauty of the countryside that seems to be disappearing in an massive effort at "rural/urban integration" here in China.

By Professor Deborah Post, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in China 2010

All photos courtesy of Chenhuan, my chinese volunteer

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