To really experience life in China, you need to travel to the country and spend a night or two there. Country people may lack the sophistication of city dwellers, be less aware of the outside world and a little rough around the edges BUT they are generally very friendly, hospitable, easy going and genuinely nice people.
Below are some photos and thoughts of a recent weekend trip to the country staying the night with family.
Near the city of Panshi which is 120km south east of Chang Chun (capital of Jilin Province) and has a population of a bit over half a million.
There is nothing remarkable about Panshi or the surrounding country and I would not recommend you go there sight seeing. It is how ever an excellent place to experience genuine down to earth country life.
The main crop in this area is corn which you can see EVERYWHERE in summer.
Like pretty much every small city and town, you get there by bus. The trip from Changchun’s south bus station to Panshi takes around 1 hour by fast bus and 3 hours by slow bus that stops at every possible stop.
Using a bus station is a cultural experience itself where you have sights such as labourers in worn army fatigues sleeping on the waiting room floor and toilets with no doors or even walls.
Life in the Country
Despite tremendous improvements in the standard of living for country people over the last 10 or so years, life can still be pretty hard. For example:
-A good income in the country here would be 2000rmb compared to 6000rmb or higher in a city like Changchun
-Most (basically all) homes have no internet access
-Most homes use out door toilets that are a wooden shack over a hole in the ground
-Very few if any large screen TVs
-Poor TV reception with only a few channels that work and pay TV is non existent
Vegetable Gardens – Most families will turn a large part of their back or front yard into a vegetable garden. This gives them plenty of fresh healthy food that city dwellers have no access to and reduces expenses.
Kang or Bed – In north and north east China where temperatures in winter drop below -20C people sleep on a raised clay, brick or concrete platform called a kang (炕). The platform has cavities and uses fire to heat it in winter. Normally half a bedroom consists of a kang that is used for sleeping, relaxing and eating in winter. Often the whole family will sleep together on one kang and if you are a guest overnight, you’ll be sleeping there with them.
There are no mattresses and people sleep on top of padded quilts or blankets so if you are used to soft beds, sleeping on a kang could be very difficult.
Chickens & Corn Husks – Like vegetable gardens, most homes will have a brood of chickens for their eggs and meat. Feed is cheap, the eggs are healthy and excess eggs are used for bartering. If you go for a drive through the country, you will see many homes store corn husks. They make excellent feed for live stock in winter.
Home Brew or Moonshine – It is not very common but a number of families in the area employ local contractors to make white wine (whisky) or bai jiu 白酒. It is not unusual to make over 100 liters which is stored in massive clay urns and used for private consumption (hello long winter nights) and for sale/barter.