Maria Holland

China Day 1 – The Cousins and Fish Eyes

In Public, Uncategorized on May 24, 2007 at 12:05 pm

I woke up around 3 a.m. and, even though the sun was risen and the room was light, I had the good sense to go back to sleep.

We all got up around 7 and met the family. Timothy and Naomi are the parents, and they have four children: Mary Frances is 9, Ruth Anne just turned 8, Miriam is 4, and Lyte is 2. Pretty much as soon as we introduced ourselves, they left for the airport to pick up some visiting relatives. So we were left with the farm to ourselves.

For breakfast, Amanda made fried eggs. We were all surprised when she cracked them and the yolks came out vivid yellow. I guess that’s what pastured chicken eggs look like! We also had toast made with “bristle-brush bread” (so named because it does to your intestines what a bristle brush does to a bottle) and equally yellow, homemade butter; fresh oats, both plain and baked; fresh raw unpastuerized milk; and both orange and sweetened mango juice. It was delicious. While we ate, we all took a turn on the internet. It was very slow, but the fact that we had access to the internet was above and beyond what I was expecting.

To get familiar with the property (and also to burn off jet lag), we spent the rest of the morning walking around the part of the farm near the house. It was a very cold day, which I was not prepared for. The forecast for Yanji had been around 85 F all week – not accurate at all. Also, I should have thought that any site we were evaluating for wind power would probably be, oh, I don’t know . . . windy?? A light fleece jacket does not do much to break class 5 wind, unfortunately.

We went to the pig barn, where the pig farmer explained to us how he buries corn which the pig then roots around for, turning the soil in the process. Timothy was very excited when we told him about this, because he had been trying to get him to do that for a long time. Then we walked up to the shepherd’s house and saw him shearing sheep (it was a very cold day to be sheared; I really felt for them).  We also saw the greenhouse and chickens, cows, and cashmere goats.

         

We also went up to the headquarters, which is about a 10 minute walk from the house, where they have an office building, some workshops, and the ‘cafeteria’.

The most interesting sights we saw were not part of the farm property. There is a Chinese Army basic training camp just over the hill from the farm, and soldiers apparently take liberties on the property. We saw three soldiers tramping through the garden, practicing surveying or something. That was when our favorite past time started – surreptitiously taking pictures of Chinese soldiers.

This was also the time when we were introduced to the Blue Scar. In China, property ownership can be overridden by planting a crop in the land – then the crop owner controls the land until the harvest. Because the farm is so big, the family couldn’t effectively control all 1,500 acres or so, and ginseng farmers had moved in. Ginseng is a 7-year crop, during which time it robs the land of nutrients. After the harvest, all that the land is good for is pine trees. Wood is a 40 year crop . . . so basically, ginseng farming is a very effective way to squat and take over land legally. The reason for the name (‘blue scar’) is that ginseng grows naturally in forests and therefore cannot handle direct sunlight, so farmers cover each row with blue tarps.

        

 
The entire time we were walking, we never saw the sun. Instead, we were covered by what I had dubbed “the Communist Sky” the day before in Beijing – it’s the most uniform gray you’ve ever seen in nature. The Communists don’t allow the sun to shine, at least not in Jilin province!

Eventually we saw rain moving in, so we went back to the house. The family had returned, bringing more family with them. This was when we met ‘The Cousins’: Rose Mary, Melody, Edwin, Ian, and John Alan.

We all had an amazing lunch together – grilled cheese sandwiches made with fresh homemade bread, cheese, and butter, and served with homemade marinara sauce. Then I showered and took a nap before we headed into Hunchun (the nearest city, about 20 minutes away by car) for dinner.

Driving in Hunchun is itself an experience. As Tanner said, “There’s nothing like a quiet ride . . . nothing like it in Hunchun at least!” Double yellow lines mean nothing to them. Cars, trucks, bikes, and sanlunchas all share the road – but that’s not the right word for it, because the word ‘share’ has a positive connotation. They honk constantly, every time they pass someone or approach an intersection. Or maybe just for the heck of it. Ian thought he caught on to the system: “So, does one honk mean ‘I’m going’ and two honks mean ‘You go’?” Jesse replied, “As long as there’s three honks, it means ‘Everybody go at once’. Honking is kind of like water balloons – it makes you feel good to throw one out there, but it doesn’t really do anything.” Despite this, the Chinese don’t wear seatbelts. Neither did we, but we always arrived safely nevertheless.

    

I was at a table with Tanner, Amanda, the cousins, and Naomi – pretty much a party. We had such a great time and were being so loud and, generally, American that the waiters started taking pictures of us! In the middle there was a turn table that eventually filled up with 13 dishes, including chicken wings, pumpkin doughnut things, very chewy corn, and salad. Those were the normal dishes . . . among the more unusual dishes:

– slimy transparent noodles. When I told Paul about them later, he said “Yeah . . . those were tapeworms.” I’m not sure I would be surprised.

– pig feet skin. When they brought it out, it looked quite appetizing. John Alan even said “Bacon!!” quite excitedly. Unfortunately, that emotion was short lived, as we could see by the expression on his face after the first sickening crunch.

We all tried it, then asked the adults at the next table what it was. And that was when the First Chinese C
ulinary Law was created: “Don’t ask before eating. You don’t want to know.”

– fish eyes. These were consumed totally consciously – it is amazing how strong peer pressure can be among brand new acquaintances! We all ate one (we even had to raid the other table’s fish for their eyes) and we all took out the indigestible pupil as proof.

I attribute this event more than any other to the close bond that developed between the EWB (Engineers Without Borders) and CFC (Cousins for Christ) groups.

         

After dinner, I read a little bit, watched a video with the family, did Evening and Night Prayer, and went to sleep around 10:30.

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