It's just 6.30.
An hour and a half ago I decided that it was cool enough to go for a walk down to the river. In a way, one might say its not much of a walk the one mile of straight road across the road from college and then straight straight straight along to the river's stop bank. Up the stop bank and there's the river. Of course you hear the gravel and sand dredges well before you get to see them just over the stop bank - on many a night I distantly hear the gravel dredge working right through.
This evening I decided to take the camera because there are many wild flowers waking for spring and yesterday afternoon there was a duck "herder" with his thousands of bobbing white puddle paddlers grazing the rice fields. I though I might find an interesting shot or two, the changes going on in the fields with the warming weather I was interested to record. Last seasons rice fields I'm sure now will soon be replanted, most of the cotton plants have been bundled away for fuel, the rape will soon be harvested and every hundred metres or so is a cloche of cotton plant seedlings.
The countryside is building up more and more for the flush of the growing season. As I crossed the road from college I saw a fellow tottering along laden with carry pole and two baskets. I am always impressed by the vast amounts that are carried in China using these bamboo carry poles, they are close to the most basic means of carrying goods but each day in our province alone there must be thousand of tons of merchandise moved from one place to another. As I went along the road to the river I realised I was being followed by the pole carrier.
I paused to get a photograph of an old chap and his young helper cutting the now maturing rape: the gold flowers are most gone and the green "pods" are swelling with their seed on the now drying stalks. Rape is a brassica so now too the river walk smells like a wander through the cabbage patch. The old chap paused from his work and greeted me, the young fellow paused too to write characters in the road's dust and the pole carrier arrived and decided that this was a good place to ease his shoulders and have a cigarette. A conversation ensued between three of us, the young fellow too shy. I throwing my hands round in over emphasised body language, I drew a map in the dust of Tai Ping Yang (The Pacific Ocean), of Zhang Gou (China), Australia and finally New Zealand. Happiness , we all knew where we each came from. We talked on for a few minutes, established that " Wo Zhang wen yi dian, yidian - My Chinese language is very little. ", and then I went on.
I was interested to photograph the thousands of ducks that were puddling around these fields: some of last seasons rice fields are now being flooded and the minute frogs are everywhere, its a paradise for water lovers. I soon Came up to the "duck herder" , lying on his motorbike, he greeted me with "Hello" and like last night offered a cigarette (an inevitable part of the masculine social scene). We talked a bit ("Hello" maybe is the total extent of his English), I think I do well with the grimaces, smiles, gestures and "Ay ahhhhs" and laughs that are all part of my body language repertoire. "Tim bu tong" means, not understanding, once people hear me say that they often relax a lot more and much more actively try to communicate with me - conversations like these generally end with laughs, friendly smiles and waves. "Zai jian", I call.
The buffalo header who was with the duck herder made a wonderful picture against the green field and distant hills as the sun settled and he bestraddled his was beast disappearing off. I declined the offer of a motor bike ride to the river bank.
Soon after I got there several women appeared walking home along the top of the stop bank with their children.
A similar conversation to the earlier one developed, they were interested to see their photos on my camera, "Piao liang - how beautiful". Like peasants world wide they can be wonderfully warm and friendly.
Down below us there was a fellow walking around from place to place, spray pack on his back and him pumping out poisons to rid the cotton plant seedlings of pests, organics isn't practised here.
The women carried on towards a nearby village, supper was calling.
The duck herder arrived on the scene, again offered a cigarette, again offered a ride back along the road to college both of which I declined.
Looking back along this straight road, past the green fields, past a copse of young camphors, the college all white, makes a beautiful contrast to the sombre hills in the rays of the setting sun.
Back I went past the bundles of cotton plants, past the ducks to come once more to the duck herder again lying on his motorbike, he allayed my concerns that he and hi bike were precariously positioned to fall into the nearby irrigation drain. We talked about the English writing on his bike, he believed me that I knew what I was reading about when I pointed to the lights and the switch. Once more we parted friends as I headed back for college.
A few minutes later a fellow came along the track towards me on his motorbike - the always travel at absolutely minimum throttle. He stopped pulled out his cell phone made a number of incomprehensible gestures, we smiled and agreed, "Tim bu tong" and then happily turned his bike around and road off the way he had come from.
Back I walked towards college, but paused to photograph some wild roses. As I finished a hunched figure came hobbling along, I took an initial photo, I greeted her with "Ni hao. Nihao ma? - Hello. How are you?" She responded in a friendly manner, she was interested in me photographing these flowers, and soon we were walking together towards college.
Outside my apartment our little headmaster (there are several headmasters here) was hovering and enjoying the early evening. He greeted me with "Hello" then "How are you?", I will never know whether that is the total extent of his English however it was a friendly gesture. Six months ago he would say nothing to me certainly not acknowledging any English but now he is initiating social exchange. After a couple of minutes we agreed the evening was beautiful especially as the nearby honeysuckle was so powerfully fragrant. He posed in front of the honeysuckle, I photographed him and we went our ways.
All that in the last ninety minutes - "Make every day a happy day" as one of my students frequently tells me. I try to Jean.
Location: Nanchang, China
270306 The Wedding.
From when we began teaching at English First we became good friends with Zhu Yi Zhen Shelley.
We would often go and visit her family and have a meal with them; Shelleys father is a good cook and always made us very welcome. As has been so often the case we have no verbal language but, one way and another we communicate (body language !!). Shelleys elderly uncle is a bright eyed octogenarian and always insisted on talking with us, with or without Shelleys translations. Shelleys mother was always about and making sure that we were comfortable. Shelleys brother and his fiancé lived nearby and usually came and had a meal when we were there. Despite this environment where there was absolutely minimal English we always felt comfortable at Shelleys home and despite that English, we always had lots of fun and laughter.
Coming back to China it was a wonderful surprise when Shelley told me that her brother and fiancé really wanted me to come to their wedding on a Sunday in a few weeks time. I organised my teaching schedule and went.
When I pulled up in my taxi the bride and groom, Shelley, a cousin, and another made up bridal party which was at the door of the big restaurant waiting to greet guests; all were bright eyed in anticipation of the big event.
The restaurant was a typical Chinese eating house, a large open area for many diners on the ground floor and conspicuous stairs going up to the smaller eating halls and private rooms on various storeys above.
Shelley and her cousin took me up to the eating hall that was for their wedding. I sat with her father eating nibbles till all the guests had arrived and the bridal party made its entry. Disappointingly both Shelleys mother and her uncle were indisposed that day. A friend of the groom was MC and he certainly dominated proceedings. The speech making went on for about twenty minutes and included the couple ceremonially bowing three times to each other. Champagne glasses were stacked for a cascade of wine which was poured and then just left. (As we were leaving I suggested it could be drunk instead of just being poured into the rubbish bucket. That suggestion was taken up enthusiastically; we all agreed that the wine was too good to waste.)
There were, as always at a Chinese meal, many many dishes. Fish, ue, always takes an important place on the table; poached river fish, small battered and deep fried herrings and prawns, xia, were sort after and shared from friend to friend. The soup, tan, is another important dish the pork bones, pear and carrot was a favourite. I most enjoyed the suckling pig, xiao zhu, with its crackling I think.
Towards the end of the meal the bridal couple did the round of the tables talking to each of their guests, the bride supping on yoghurt, the groom trying to avoid too many gan beis (empty the glass) with the often very potent rice wine, bai jiu.
My table companions, who had absolutely minimal English, were all keen to have photos with me as is so often the case: getting a photo with a foreigner has a special attraction for many Chinese people.
So we all left well fed and happy to have seen this young couple formalise their marriage.
Another different China experience for me.
Location: Qiu Jin, China
260306 A Walk to Qiu Jin.
Occasionally I go shopping for vegetables etc in our nearby town of Qiu Jin; its about six kilometres away. The bus trundles past about quarter hourly but I like to walk as I can see more of what I think of as real China and can see the seasonal changes in the countryside and maybe meet and talk with the locals ( body language some words accompanied by laughs, smiles, grimaces and lots of hand and arm movement).
Yesterday I was talking with Jean and Amy and we decided that we all needed things from town so decided to walk there, their friend Lisa also decided to come (they are all hometown friends from Dancheng in Henan).
At the moment spring is showing its early signs, buds are swelling and a few recumbent plants are showing their most glorious flowers. The rice fields have been sitting for a couple of months and some of last seasons fallen grain is springing up: despite questions to many people I have not had a definitive answer as to whether this will be allowed to continue growing for next season's grain: some fields are now under flood.
The rape is now flowering covering fields with gold. Bundles of last seasons cotton plants are waiting to be taken away and stacked for fuel. The air is a little warmer and I have the feeling that the land is taking a great breath before the onslaught of the coming growing season.
Look to my photos at "A Walk in the Countryside".
Every day brings some different experiences, the contrasts are so great to life at home, 1,300 million people with a proud 50 century old culture compared to New Zealand, 4 million people with a maybe 2 century history: it's different.
Location: Fenglin College, China
240304 Its snowing at Fenglin.
Last night I slept just a little colder than usual and woke as usual about six, it seemed light through the curtains and everything seemed quiet. Drawing back the curtains there was snow, a hundred mil thick on the ground and still falling, everything was in high contrast, the trees and fences seemed now black and the gardens, paths and buildings white under the blanket of white. I was excited to get out there and into it, I felt sure this would be something for just one day, tomorrow it would be gone again. Out my back window the soccer field pristine and the trees on the hills were like balls of kapok. I quickly breakfasted and decked myself out in my warmest.
I met Jean (Qin Jin Jin) outside, she loves walking and this was a slightly different so she wanted to make the most of it too: we decided to wander up in the hills behind the college.
Everyone else seemed to be content to stay under their duvets everywhere was quiet.
The tropical bamboo seemed incongruous with its icicles, the yews it seemed to be perfectly natural covered in hoar. A deserted cottage had taken on a picturesque air the warm brick colours highlighting the surrounding whiteness. We walked for an hour or so but hardly saw a soul, everyone presumably snug in their beds. Passing through hamlets every twenty minutes or so it seemed that the early birds were fowls, though we saw one toddler standing in an open doorway wondering what all this whiteness was.
Last year when Judi and I were walking through the villages we met a couple of old chaps sitting outside chewing the fat over past times. As jean and I walked past that house they saw me and invited us in. We talked for a while body language only !!!! but Jean filled in the gaps. Three of them now live in the single room cottage, about four metres by four metres, and the verandah outside. The youngest is in his sixties, his sister in her seventies and their older brother into his eighties and they all sleep together in the bed that belonged to their parents who built the cottage.
We headed back to college and found one of the boys Sean had built a snowman but as the snow had stopped falling and the day was beginning to warm, his life I expect will be shorter than my elderly friends.
Everyday brings a different experience.