(Due to the length, I will break this up into three parts)
The day I returned from my village expedition, my wife and I chatted about the trip and our good friends Chris and Sarah came over and discussed it further. You know what I realized? I’m much better at re-telling stories by writing them, partly because it helps me process what I experienced. And I also realized that I will not forget impressions and pictures from my trip, but journaling it here will help me remember it even better. So here’s my journaling, processing, and re-telling of what I experienced over the past five days... I hope you enjoy it.
Day One - Travel to Weijialou (The town I spent most of my time in.)
Lawrence was nice enough to book us tickets on a long distance bus to take us to his hometown, Weijialou. It’s the town his parents currently live in and is an eight hour bus ride to get there. It’s been a while since my last long distance bus ride, so it will be good to get to do it again. As we’re waiting to board our bus I have to pee about a million times (I have a nervous bladder; something about not having control of when I can go to the bathroom drives me crazy to the point where I will pee about four times before leaving on any trip where my bathroom stops will be controlled by an outside source.) I walked over to go to the bathroom and joined the already long line in front of me. After a minute or two I saw two guys emerge from the same bathroom, (They looked to be single capacity only) so I was confused when I looked up and noticed the sign above that particular bathroom in English saying, “Urination Room”… A smile came to my face and deep down I already knew the trip was going to be a success.
Along the way to his parent’s town, I was scanning the countryside and mountains thinking of our looming hike (Lawrence supposed it would be eight or so total hours to do all the traveling we planned). So I turned to Lawrence and half-jokingly asked him, “Is hiking through the mountains dangerous?” to which he assured me that it wasn’t, because there were no more wolves in the mountains. Ummm, I didn’t even think of the possibility of wolves…
One fascinating thing that I noticed as we drove was that the mountain faces were littered with cave-like holes. Because of their frequency, I asked Lawrence what they were and he told me, “Those are homes.” What I found out is that this is the style of home in this area of China (but of course not everyone lives in this type of home). They carve out homes into the mountains (which are dirt mountains, not rock). They have been doing it this way for-- a long time. With China’s long history and diversity I still have a LOT to learn.
(I had a hard time settling on what word I would use to describe the mountains in this area. I didn’t want to call them mountains, because they are smaller than mountains and made of dirt (not rock), but they’re also bigger then hills. See my dilemma? In Chinese however, they use the word mountain to describe them, so I will also call them mountains. Just know that the area isn’t like the Rocky Mountains or anything, but is still pretty rough… make sense?)
We arrived in Weijialou earlier than expected, which was pleasant. Our bus stop was on the side of the highway (as opposed to a building or parking lot), which was a little different then what we are accustomed to in America. As we disembarked from the bus I could hear music and fireworks coming from the town. I asked Lawrence what they were for. “A wedding or a funeral.” he informed me. I immediately notice the similar cave like homes working all the way up the mountains surrounding me.
The town however is in a kind of ravine and it has homes and buildings which are free standing. My friend told me that this town is home to an estimated 1,000 people.
Settling into my hosts’ home went really well. Lawrence has a good family and like all Chinese people, hospitality comes naturally to them, to the point where my personal hospitality insufficiencies become painfully obvious to me. I felt immediately taken care of and I was very grateful to have such wonderful hosts. Their home is one room that is about 40 feet long and about 15 feet wide. The back 1/5 of their house is raised up about three feet and is an area used for hosting guests, watching TV, hanging out, and finally, sleeping. (I should mention that in certain parts of China the whole family sleeps in the same bed… like this part) The night came quickly and as word spread around town that a foreigner was visiting, we had many guests. Most just poked their heads in through the door, but others came in to get a closer look.
In China, you don’t “call ahead” to make sure you can visit a friend (As we do in America.) Here you just walk to your friend’s house and invite yourself in. This fact was reinforced to me as we sat there greeting the dozen or so guests who stopped in. Lawrence’s family simply poured some tea for each stopping guest.
The man sitting next to me for most the night told my friend (Since my Chinese isn’t that good) that he was not in favor of the new government policy which made education free to children in grades 1-9 and also gave them a free egg and bag of milk a day. He told me when you give this generation everything they won’t know how to work for it. It’s crazy that in America we spoil our kids with toys and what not, here being spoiled is a free education, milk and an egg. Just different.
Like I said, the beds in these houses are huge and are meant to accommodate the entire family for sleeping. For my first night I shared one with the neighbor (the same guy who complained about the things that this generation got for free), my friend and his younger brother. I laid in that bed exhausted from traveling (with little sleep the night before) and interested to see what I would find out the next day. Little did I know that the next day was going to be a very challenging one to say the least…
(To read part two of my journal click here.)