The tile pavement clicked as I ran down the alleyway to the office. I tried taking a shortcut rather than taking the main roads. Ming and probably some pedestrians gave me a look as this 95kg American hopped stairs and dodged pedestrians.
“What happened?” Ming smiled. I must have been a few minutes late. Thankfully, he planned for us to meet forty minutes before we would meet the rest of the group for that day. From the office we took a bus down to the ‘Mansion of the Prime Minister.’ Ming said it was the former mansion of a famous advisor to one of the ancient warlords, during the Era of the Three Kingdoms. It was now a tourist spot.
The group we were to lead on tour was a dozen or so high school students, mostly from the U.S.A. Ming and I talked to their group supervisor, Parker, while waiting for the last of the high school students to finish in the bathrooms. Parker said they all went for Sichuan hotpot last night and some might take longer in the restrooms. I went over to fill my water bottle from a cooler and watched the group of students. Some were huddled in a group talking excitedly about something and others stood by awkwardly while many had their smart phones out.
Once everyone had re-grouped in the lobby we clambered into a large van and began the hour-long drive to Anlong Village. When I wasn’t looking out at the massive industrial buildings or the stream of green taxis I talked to one of the girls sitting behind me about going to college.
“I just graduated high school and will be going a school in California, I’m considering doing Environmental science.”
“That’s a pretty hard, but a good major.” I told her, myself being an Environmental studies major.
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. After seeing some of the pollution in the cities here in China and elsewhere, I feel something needs to be done.”
We talked more about how much Chinese she knows and when she was last in China. I also answered some questions about what I am doing here at CURA and what the organization itself does. Though, it was still early in the morning for most of us and even Ming was closing his eyes. Soon most of us in the van had fallen asleep to suddenly find ourselves outside of the Ecological center in Anlong Village.
After some difficult and yet relaxing yoga led by a local villager, we all went into the next room to check out some of the traditional Chinese farming equipment of Anlong. Ming pointed to a giant stone wheel, explaining it was a replica of an old water mill stone. We all stood and pondered for a moment at all the other equipment in the room. There was pottery, a wooden wheelbarrow, mallets, grain thrashers, and an artistic mural of the village illustrating how many of these tools were used by the farmers. It was black and white and resonated with nostalgia. Most of the students were looking over it with intrigue while others lightly touched some of the wooden tools.
We recollected outside. There were birds somewhere fluttering around in some nearby trees. Insects hummed under the shady brush, harmonious with the steamy air beating in the sun. The students now appeared more awake and alert. No more updating statuses on their phones. Ms. Xia, the yoga instructor stood in the doorway smiling. She was originally from the city and had only moved out here later in her life, when she married the ecological farmer Wang Cheng. She seemed to understand the energy that the students felt from the natural environment.
Next was lunch at the Zhao family home. As part of the tour the students were served ecological meat, vegetables, and rice – all chemical free. The same girl that had talked to me in the van was talking excitedly to her peers about how good the food tasted. Those around the table nodded or murmured with full mouths. Once finished up and full, we helped carry the plates and uneaten food into kitchen, then stood in the courtyard for a picture with the family.
The house was on the edge of a road with wide ditches on both sides. The gray silt earth was full of water and so irrigation was needed. All of the surrounding land was being used to grow some plant or crop. Students stopped along as we walked through, snapping pictures of corn stalks, rows of rice, trees to be sold, fruit groves, and even some unknown purple plants. The landscape was clear of tall buildings, few homes, and save for the shimmering asphalt road, it was green. A lone motorist roared by in the silent heat. A few students were walking alongside Ming, listening to him explain how the Anlong Village project had gotten the attention of the local government who had recently decided to pave new roads into the village. This simple change, which allowed for easier transportation throughout the village, might actually be affecting the balance of some of the wildlife. In other areas of the world, it has been observed that certain caterpillars and other bugs that used to be able to easily cross the dirt paths were now being fried to death from the heat-retaining roads.
The group stopped at a convenience store for ice cream near the entrance of a government built centralized-living neighborhood. Ming stood on a bench to explain that this neighborhood was built, just as many of the roads, by the government in an attempt to ‘modernize’ the countryside. This new neighborhood was built with modern infrastructure, but this meant that the traditional self-sustaining cycle in the Chinese village would no longer be in place. For example, garbage and sewage from this neighborhood were rerouted out of Anlong to somewhere else, where they may cause pollution and not be treated locally in an ecological manner by green systems already present in the village. This reminds me of America’s urban sprawl problem and I wondered if China’s Go-West Policy of mimicking western socio-economic culture could be blamed for this. Another concern similar, to the American urban sprawl is whether the people that move into these homes will actually partake in the community and environment of Anlong as they commute to work elsewhere.
Incidentally a woman with her baby boy noticed our group outside of their tiny neighborhood and invited us inside to see her home. Once inside, one could see that Ming’s concerns were justified. Their home was full of new electronics, a large HD TV screen, fancy decorative lights, and an audio system. It didn’t seem as though this family would be spending too much time outside with the agricultural community. I could see something like a reverse culture shock on the students faces. I myself didn’t expect to find such modernity and consumerism in what was supposed to be an ecological rural village. On our way out the students snapped some pictures of the family and the surrounding homes.
It was a sweaty trek to the riverside where most of the actual ecological infrastructure was used. On the way we saw that not all of the farmers had joined the ecological band wagon in liu of making better money. Recently, many farmers had rented their land to companies, which in turn converted some of their land to tree farming as they could make a large portion of money from each tree even if it meant waiting several years. We took pictures of some trees that had feeding tubes penetrating their trunks as companies force fed chemical fertilizers to expedite their growth in trees and profits. It was quite odd to see plant food packets taped to the trunks with long-straw dangling from their sides like plastic vines.
Near the bridge was a small shrine to the earth god. There were little flowers and other plants set around the square stone column in reverence and gratitude for the crops and plenty. Ming told us another local legend of how rice first came to mainland China. Legend has it that a dog in Hainan that was hot from running through the rice fields decided to cool off by swimming to mainland China. Some of the rice stuck in his fur and fell off as the dog walked around China and so the dog is the living being in the household that was given the first serving of rice every new harvest.