Pedalling in the Countryside of China

Annika en la provincia de Yunnan

Yunnan, China, December 2013

Biking through the roads less traveled in China makes me forget, that within this borders lie the lives of nearly 1.3 billion people in the world. Of all of those people, 49% of them live in the country side. They are the ones responsible of the fields that feed themselves and the other half of the population of the most populated country in the world.

For what we could make out after cycling a thin line on map of the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan, every little corner of fertile land was an opportunity to grow some kind of crop. I even saw crops on the inbuilt land in the middle of Chengdu, on of the three biggest cities in China with more than 15 million inhabitants. As incredible as it may seem out of the 15% of fertile land in China only 1.3% of it is used for cultivating crops.

As it is already usual in our lifestyle, dusk came and so the time to find a place to hit the sleeping bag. So Annika and I diverted from the road unto a small one in order to find that lucky corner and spend the night.

No space for us, surprise. We then decided to ask for help and beg for a place in a families garden. As a cyclist tourists you need to remain humble and accept the fact that most of the time you depend on other people that you don´t even know.

Experiencing the Countryside of China

So we found a nice family gathered around their camp fire just outside their home. At the beginning they did not understand what we were asking for, but in the end they kindly offered us a place to camp just besides one of the recently new building of their house. Annika and I were very thankful and slowly we gained their confidence. It was very easy, the family was very nice. We took out our picture set that we carry when we want to introduce our own family and friends and we played with the families chubby baby.

Soon after we were sitting right beside them in the campfire. We tried to explain with our limited Chinese (just a couple of words) that we came from Mexico and Germany to our curious hosts. Dinner time had arrived and… guess what? We were invited.

Nuestra Familia China

Nuestra Familia China

The head of the house guided us to the dinning room, which was the oldest building in their territory made out of wood and brick. As soon as we entered we started experiencing to what I call the true cultural lesson in the third biggest country of the world. Inside the construction of the dinning house, in the next room their was the body of a really big pig that must have been sacrificed that same morning. Apparently we had arrived just in time for a family feast, that we never really figures out what it was.

The head of the house sat us where all the men of the family sat, and curiously the grandmother. The table was full of dinner plates for everybody to share served in aluminum bowls. Everyone received a set of Chinese chopsticks and the eating frenzy began.

About 60% of the dishes were prepared with pork meat. Each and everyone of them tasted special and unique. There was also a plate of fried potatoes, mushrooms, steamed vegetables and other dishes we could not make out their ingredients. We were also served steamed rice as a side dish. In China it is a costume that the guests eat from the best pieces of meat on the table, so our accidental hosts made a big effort to assure that we eat if not from the best, a lot.

In the middle of the meal, the head of the family took from under the table a big transparent container filled with a green fluorescent liquid that looked like Mr. Green. He distributed small shot glasses to everyone on the table as if they were playing cards. He then filled those dangerous crystal glasses and said the word GAMBE.

In China la head of the family must begin with the first toast of the night in which everybody must empty their shot. After the first shot is well shot, then every now and then a guest form the table must invite the table for a toast in order to show respect to the head of the family and the house in which they live in. So Annika and I drank a couple of glasses from Mr. Green´s liquor that event though looked like the liquid that fills the glow in the dark rods at Disneyland, actually tasted good. We also made a couple of toasts each, what the heck this family was awesome.

With a filled stomach and a happy war feeling inside our hosts kept on inviting us to eat from the never ending aluminum bowls of real Chinese food. In china, if you finish your plate and leave it empty means that you are still hungry. Annika and I did not want to waste any food so every time we finished there was a new spoon that filled our bowl once again.

La night went on and the grandfather, the eldest from the family, smokes cigar after cigar. Which leads me to clarify yet another curious custom in this country: the cigar sharing.

It is very common that among men every time you grab a cigar to smoke, you must give from your own package one cigar to every man on the table. The rule applies to all smokers, Annika included. At times the cigar traffic was so big that Annika ended up having 3 cigars on her hand.

At the end of the meal the dinner plates where lifted from the table and it was time to have some fun with the music. The green liquid was stored and nobody argued. In China getting drunk is not well seeing by society, so families end their parties with just the right amount of alcohol in their veins to get them feeling alright.

With the music the family sang together, danced together, joked together and celebrated together. Most of the Chinese people we met had a great sense of humor. It seems to me that you can always hear some kind of laughter wherever you are in China, inside a bus, the train or even a government building.

As the party went on Annika was asked to record in her camera a choreography prepared by the girls of the house. They played that song so many times that Annika and I were learned the main verse of the song in Chinese.

Nuestra Amiguita

Our Friends Xi Liu

The km of pedaling kicked in and Annika and I started to feel sleepy. The family noticed and the grandmother guided us to the kitchen. The ladies of the family brought a container of warm water along with a towel and a pair clean sandals. We cleaned our feet and prepared us to go to bed. There were two big rooms, one for woman and the other for men. We both slept in our respective room together with other family members, they had given us a bid to sleep on that night. We could not believe it. I slept very good in the recently build house. The new building of the house was very modern, equipped with a HD TV and a satellite dish. It was inevitable to compare the two buildings of the house one just in front of the other. A little bit like China, one rural and the other newly built.

So there we were sleeping inside the house of a wonderful family, living like we were a part of them. We could not even speak the same language and we were treated as the Chinese guests.

When you read statistics most of the times they only represent numbers. But when you experience them they take on a whole new meaning. I do not know all 49% of the people in China, but today I can have a much better feel of what is oign on in their lives and that is very valuable to me.


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