Sunday, June 8, 2008

Socialist New Village_Journal Excerpt

Socialist New Village [Trip 2]




We arrived at the village around 9:30a. The village leader greeted us briefly, and carried on about his business. The rest of the group dispersed into the narrow streets to begin their work. Ted and I walked down to the trailhead at the base of the village, and were stopped by two guys with red armbands who were sitting along the concrete wall. We tried to explain to them that everything was okay through fragmented mandarin and hand gestures, but didn’t get anywhere until we called Heyu who quickly gained us access.


The topo map we brought only covered about 5 minutes of our journey along the trail, so I started making line drawing of our route. I photographed the view around each bend in the trail, making notes along the way. The trail was well defined for the first hour and half, showing traces of three and four wheel vehicle traffic. We saw at least a dozen pheasants, which alarmingly explode from the brush, making your heart jump each time.


The terrain along the trail is lush with vegetation, but not very forest-like. After an hour of walking we finally came to a cluster of pines about 8 meters tall –finally, we thought, we found the forest. The trail slowly faded from three bare paths to one, and clusters of pines and birch trees became more frequent.


We found what looked to be an old farmhouse. Most of the foundation walls were still standing, and there were the remnants of a stone grinding wheel. Across the path from the house was a steep slope formed by sheer rock that contained a pool of water of below.


We continued along the trail and it became more and more overgrown. We noticed that the single-path trail was following an old water channel –probably a stream that was enhanced by stacking stones along it’s bank to keep it from drifting. The trail became so overgrown that we had to crouch into a walking-squat while fighting through the branches with our arms. At times the brush was for

giving, especially in areas where the trees were taller and blocked the sun from the forest floor. We found the ruins of an old earth home that looked as though it was built into the side of the hill. The hill had eroded over time causing the whole structure to slump downward. The only trace of the opening was a 50cm space with the wooden header still stretching between the rock wall structure. Farther up the hill we found old rock retaining walls holding back the earth from terraced gardens. The trees that grew in the old garden and through the home were probably 40 years old.


Ted and I turned around after three hours of hiking.




We arrived in the village around 4pm after our hike. Leedia helped us translate a conversation with an older farmer about water. Apparently there is a well in a locked shed just outside the village. Each home is tapped into the main line, although some have direct access to the line through a well-like structure in the ground. I’m not sure if this is more advantageous or part of the necessary maintenance infrastructure. No one in the town has a private well. The old man said the well water is for drinking use only, and there is plenty of w

ater, although sometimes it is muddy and contains sediment. He said that rain waters the fields and the gardens, but I did see some homes water there gardens with city water. He said the crops in the field fail when there is not enough rain. In the village, rainwater runs off the roofs and the streets into the sewer. It is not collected anywhere.


We talked to another farmer, probably 50 years old, about irrigation. We asked him why the town below has irrigation and the village doesn’t. He said they have more water. There is a reservoir just down the road from the village, but they don’t have the money to buy the equipment to pump it up to their fields for irrigation. He also said that sometimes it rains too much, and other times not enough.


Night Life


We went to the next town over for dinner at the house where we were staying. The woman served beef ribs, hard-boiled duck eggs, peanuts, pork and asparagus, and a few other vegetable dishes. We drove back to the village to see it in the evening. At 7:30p many people were outside, sitting along the concrete planted areas on the main street with their toddlers. The women seemed to congregate in one group and the men in another. We sat with the villagers and tried to speak what little mandarin we knew –our names, where we’re from, our occupations etc. It was friendly with lots of laughs. The orange glow of the streetlights came on at 8pm, and there are enough around the village to light the major intersections between the small streets –contrary to what the village leader told us at our first meeting.




The next morning we woke up early to get to the village by 6am to see the morning routines. Heyu, Ted, and Andy and I were the only ones that made it. When we drove up the farmers were already out in the fields, crouched down with their hands busy in the soil. The landscape was hazy and morning dew dripped from everything.


Andy and I went down to the three abandoned homes at the base of the village to photograph each one. About eight farmers walked past us carrying scythes, and headed into the hills to tend to the terraced fields. Ted and Heyu joined us and we interviewed two forest rangers that were guarding the trailhead. They said that they work everyday, and there are two shifts, day and night, which are from 7a-5p and 9p-5a. The job pays 500 Yuan per month. One of the rangers lived in the only occupied house at the base of the village. His great, great grandfather lived in the same house, and his inheritance showed. He had a big plot of land, three houses within his courtyard, as well as smaller peripheral structures where he kept 5 goats. When asked what he did when it rained, he said he just goes inside his house. The forest ranger job began to look more and more like soft-welfare. The only thing they really had to do was stand there, and stop anyone who tried to walk up the trail. He had divorced his wife and lives alone with his 12 year-old son who attends boarding school. When asked about using some of his space as a guesthouse, he said that he had thought of that before and would be very interested. 

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