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John Hodgson’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 02 May 2006

Location: China

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.