Archive for October, 2010

Helping with the Harvest

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

I spent this past weekend helping a village family with their rice harvest. I got to see the entire process during the time that I was there. They were also kind enough to let us stay with them for two nights and follow their daily routine. What an eye-opening experience to have been able to learn from them!

The first is the actual harvesting. For the first time in my life, I got to use a sickle. There is a technique to cutting those stalks without accidentally hurting yourself or getting blisters. I think I did okay, but I never really got the hang of it. They say I need practice …

a lot harder than it looks ...

In the few hours we were able to help, we only did a portion and not sure how much help we were … but they called us in to rest because they wanted to make sure we had enough water and to get in before the noonday sun. It was quite a scenic place to work, surrounded by mountains and everything.

harvest is indeed plentiful

The stacks of harvest are then put together in a bundle to be readied for this machine that separates the rice from its stalk. It is quite a tedious process as they have to be churned stack by stack. Sometimes, they pound them manually to the ground first before using the machine. This process takes hours!

separating rice from stalk

Afterwards, they sift through the rice. One person fans out the chaff and the other person shakes the rice by using a sifting basket. We stayed at this couple’s house and they let me watch them work, even allowing me to take a video. They are not used to visitors and were shy at first, but they appreciated our interest in their work.

sifting the rice

After the sifting, the rice is then carried to a place where they can be dried. This one is right in front of their house. There seem to be a bed of rice drying there every other day. We tried to help put them into sacks when it was dry enough.

drying and sacking

I have never seen this machine before, not even in books. It was located inside one of their barns, covered up in plastic, as it is one of their most valuable possessions. They said that they used to travel miles with their sacks of rice and pay money to get their rice “de-shelled” (is that word?). Now that they have their own, they can have rice whenever they want and even sell them! One thing I learned about rice farmers is that they always eat new rice they just harvested and sell the old ones that they have stored in their big bins. Might as well.

separating rice from shell

Rice, rice, beautiful rice!

digital macro'd

Before we left, they asked us to bring a bag of rice for the journey back to town. Not only were they hospitable throughout our time there, they were generous. Since we were taking the motorcycle and then the bus, we couldn’t carry much. I was very happy with my bag of fresh rice!


For more of my village adventure, you can visit

Writing Day

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

my fountain pen

I spent virtually the entire day writing. What exactly do I use to write? Before I left the States, I bought this big, ring-binder notebook for taking notes and general writing. I got the idea from a professor of mine who has this big, black notebook to write on while she sat at a Starbucks and brainstormed for ideas. I also use a fountain pen that someone gave me as a gift when I was still in Shanghai. The pen requires ink refills when the cartridge empties, so I have a bottle of black ink (also red and blue) handy at all times. Notice that my ink bottle is almost half-empty. I’ve grown quite attached to this pen. I don’t think I can go back to using ballpoint pens anymore. I looked all over for fountain pens in the States (stationery stores, the mall), but I guess this kind of pen doesn’t sell easily because they took them off the shelf. When I came back to China, on the other hand, they are still sold in the stores for as low as $2 for a really nice one, and a bottle of ink for about $.50!

While I use my laptop for word processing — and certainly for writing creatively — there is nothing like feeling the pen drag against the paper and seeing the ink form in my very handwriting. I love writing. As someone was once quoted saying, “Thoughts disentangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips.” How true!

Tonight, also, I was treated to a really nice homemade dinner by some teammates. Chili, tortilla, pumpkin pie — all made from scratch. In a place like this, it takes amazing skill to pull off this menu. After a whole week of simple meals (no fun cooking for one), I consider this as my great reward!

Comfort Food

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

sunflower seeds

I am not a picky eater and I could eat just about anything, but if there is one type of food that I am craving right now, it’s popcorn. Unfortunately, they don’t sell the corn kernels here that I can pop in a pot nor do they sell (at the very least) the microwave kind. I tried looking for them, and I thought I found them when I got some dried corn kernels. I found out later (after trying to pop them in vain) that this kind is mostly for grinding and used as pig food. Oh well. And so, I had to make do with what I could munch on: sunflower seeds. Good thing today was reading day … I wouldn’t have been able to crack those shells if I were writing.

小 刘 (Xiao Liu)

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

This is my Chinese nickname over here.

In polite company, people usually call you by your last name. But instead of using the formal Ms. or Mr., they use 小 (small) or 大 (big) followed by the last name. Since I am considered a young one, people call me 小 刘.

Last weekend, I met some new friends down at the volleyball court where they play every night. There’s dancing in the park among older folks and there’s volleyball in the courtyard among young professionals. They meet from 7:30 – 10:00 in the evenings to play and socialize. On my first night there, I volunteered to keep score since I was the newbie and they needed a scorekeeper. There are two courts and I hung out with the one with mostly women. Most of the players are about my age. I even met some teachers. When I went back tonight, they recognized me and invited me to play with them. I think the last time I played was just after I graduated from college … and these people play every night!! Not only were they competitive, they began to coach me (in Chinese) as we were playing. Talk about feeling like a newbie!! They were nice and encouraging enough, but after a few rounds, I let other people play (who were waiting on the sidelines). I hung around, though, to help keep score again.

I left a little earlier than 10:00 p.m. As I was biking away, I heard some people call out, “Are you leaving already, 小 刘?” I told them I’ll come back tomorrow night.


Weekend Rest

Monday, October 18th, 2010

When I was younger, I was taught to take a shower if I get rained on so I don’t get sick. I used to think there was some kind of bacteria in rain water that needed to be washed away. As I got older, I began to think that rain water is really just harmless water — I’d simply dry off and nothing would happen. I was reminded of this childhood belief when I got rained on yesterday while I was biking. It was quite a heavy rain and I did not wear my poncho. When I got back to my apartment, I had several guests who came in and out of the apartment until late in the evening. By the time I went to bed, I felt lightheaded and feared I might be getting sick. Today, I stayed in bed most of the day and rested. I’m trying to decide whether to attribute this discomfort to the rain, to a very busy weekend, or to my body telling me it wants to rest. When I finally got out of bed, I felt a lot better.

I managed to do my laundry, but my one great achievement of the day was to get to the dishes:

before ...

... and after

Fried Chicken … and Carrot Cake!

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

I decided to give the girls a treat today — fried chicken! Here, they mostly eat pork and beef. In fact, restaurants don’t usually serve chicken. If they did fry the chicken, they use the wings so I decided to use drumsticks for a change. I remember the girls asking me what KFC tasted like … I guess this is as close I can get to it. I used a generic recipe but added eggs and corn starch to give it a crispier shell. One of the girls, Christine, wanted to help me put them into the wok:

frying them up

Big brother Vincent came to join us later in the afternoon. I met him this past summer during the Cultural Exchange program. He had been planning to visit for a while now, and it was nice of him to drop by and spend time with me and the girls. He even agreed to sit through Cinderella 2! But sadly, there was no Chinese language option in the DVD so we decided to do something else.

enjoying the chicken

Carrot cake!

Like most kids, they do not like vegetables. The thought of making carrot cake sounded unappetizing. They suggested brownies or chocolate cake or some type of fruit cake. However, chocolate is not available in this area and I only had carrots in the fridge. I assured them that it was going to taste good. I guess they believed me because they readily went to work.

stirring, mixing, grating

They ended up having seconds because they liked it so much. Another success! At this rate, I’m going to have to look for more bread and cake recipes. Maybe next time I go out of town, I can pick up some chocolate. We’re on a roll.

sampling the cake

Since Cinderella 2 didn’t work, the girls decided to draw pictures instead. They have a school assignment to get familiar with the Taj Mahal. They looked up the picture online in my Macbook and started copying it. If my Chinese was better, I could have given them some more background information. More incentive to learn more vocabulary and improve my Chinese!

drawing pictures

Village Visit

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

I always jump at the opportunity to visit a village, especially ones that are farther away. It’s a good way to see new places and meet new people. Before we got to our destination, we stopped by this marketplace where the neighboring villagers buy and sell their wares/produce once a week — this day just happened to be “market day.” I was immediately drawn to the livestock — chickens, piglets, ducks, geese, fish, turtles, but no dogs (thankfully). It was a lively and noisy and smelly section of the market, but I could not resist picking up these little ducklings! They were warm, gentle, and wiggly.

adorable ducklings

The drive to the village was long and windy. On occasions, we’d encounter the buffaloes on the side of the road with their owners, though they are usually out in the field working. Sometimes, we’d see a herd of goats being guided by an old woman or a little boy. An amusing scene that I saw was a mother duck crossing the street with her little ducklings. The roads are actually not always this smooth. In fact, we drove through a few construction sites and some very deep potholes. I’m amazed at the durability of our vehicle throughout the whole ride. It made me wonder how American SUVs (built for these types of road) would fare in these truly rugged places.

long and winding road ... to the village

We got to the village early and visited quite a few people, mostly young students. One of the things I learned is that most of them live with grandparents because their parents leave home to be migrant workers out in the city. As such, in these villages, one would find really old or really young people. It’s rare to find their parents. The children only get to see them once or twice a year. Most are able to send money, but the children still have to work the farm. We met up with a rare family of four (parents, two children) who invited us to their house for lunch. The mother had just come back from the city after spending a month and a half there. She told us that she would never go back because she found city-living to be stressful; her husband supported her decision. He needed help in the farm and seemed to have missed her, too. It was great to hear their story. Nice happy ending.

village house with rice stalks drying

There is a Chinese saying that goes, “every grain of rice in your bowl is won by the sweat of the brow.” I now know this to be true. I’ve seen a single wheat stalk and I know how much work goes into filling a sack of rice. Some families who can afford it have animals to carry their harvest; I only saw one family with a horse. Many, though, are like this old woman who walk to and from the field, using a stick to carry their harvest. I don’t think I will look at a bowl of rice the same way again.

old woman carrying rice bundles

Chasing Waterfalls

Friday, October 15th, 2010

We had some visitors from Malaysia, so I went along for the sightseeing opportunity to the famous waterfalls in the area. In Los Angeles, when we have visitors, we often take them to Disneyland and/or Universal Studios. I always enjoy ‘wowing’ them with the special effects and parades and colorful buildings. However, in this part of the world, people travel far and pay money to see the wonders of nature, like this amazing waterfall. I’ve been to Yosemite Park, but I’ve never seen a waterfall this high (or this majestic)!

Tongling Falls

On the way to see the waterfall, we went through cave after cave of stalactites, flowing streams, and mini-waterfalls. I remember this one cave we entered where a soft mist hung in the air created by the waterfall just beyond the rocks above us. It was like walking through a magical world.

flowing stream

This is another place we visited. It was quite a hike to reach the actual waterfall area, but it was way worth it! There were several rafts available to take us as close as possible to the falls. Talk about the wonder of nature! It was amazing to hear the roar of the water, to feel its weight bearing down on the river, and yet, to be floating on it ever so gently — and so close to this mighty force!

Detian Falls

My companions and I had a lot of fun taking pictures and from all kinds of angles. I think I understand now why people would travel far and pay money to see nature’s wonders. It’s one thing to be impressed by man-made technology and ingenuity, but it’s another thing altogether to resonate with the same beauty and power He put in our very souls.

rowing along the falls


Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Today was a full day of reading, writing, and research. Besides a couple of phone calls and a visit, it was a quiet day. I had to tear myself away from taking notes so I can get out of the apartment for some fresh air. Also, I don’t know that I’ll be getting any more mild autumn evenings for too long, so I decided to visit the park where most of the toddlers hang out and play. It is quite a lively place, or as the Chinese put it, 热 闹 (re nao)! My camera was not cooperating with me, so my pictures are not as clear as I want them to be!

There are all kinds of games there, most of them put together every night by people looking to make a buck or two. This one is a water game where the toddlers scoop plastic balls with a net or a shovel. For more water fun, they also put live tadpoles or little water eels for them to catch. I had to look a little more closely to make sure they were real.

water game

This goes to show it doesn’t take much to please a kid. This is a big mat with lots and lots of sand on it. They put plastic toys, like trucks, cars, pail and shovel, and all kinds of kid-friendly items (made in China, of course) and let the kids have a go at them. There are several of these stations in the park. The parents sit around in little stools chatting while the kids play in the sand … good social time for both parents and children!

sand games

I was planning to walk around some more but I felt the wind getting stronger and I heard someone say that it would be raining soon. This one station was pretty much empty by the time I unlocked my bike and ready to ride away.

getting late ....

By the time I rounded the corner to my apartment, it started pouring. I got in just in the nick of time!

Harvest Season

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

After a whole day of writing today, I was glad to get out of the apartment with a friend in the late afternoon. The nearest village was about a 7-minute bike ride. After parking our bikes, we took a walk and saw people harvesting rice. I am not really sure the procedure of how it’s done, but I’ll find out soon enough. In about a week or so, perhaps this weekend, I was invited to help out with harvesting in one of the villages. I’m so looking forward to it!

Did I mention that this place is surrounded by mountains? It’s a beautiful sight on such a lovely afternoon! This is what one of the fields looks like after the rice has been harvested:

rice harvest

I got a little close to one of the houses and got a picture of their stacks of rice harvest. It looks like a good season.

rice bundles

I am not quite sure what these women are doing with the rice, but I imagine that they are separating the wheat from the chaff. They have a neat contraption to help them, but even after the rice stalks come out of the machine, they still had to manually sift through them.

wheat from chaff

We walked past the house of field owners. There lay two beds of the harvested rice. I think they put them under the sun for a reason. I don’t know why, but I intend to find out.

under the sun

When we came back a few minutes later and I saw them putting them in sacks. I presume they will be selling them. Certainly a lot of questions to ask when I get out working the farm next week!

rice sack