Please read the previous entry for explanation of Flat Stanley. Here he continues his adventures in China, with a visit to the countryside. Stanley learns that most city people have money but countryside folk do not. There is a huge difference between the very well-educated who live in Luzhou and the Chinese farmers who live in countryside areas nearby. It’s a hard life for them.
I (Stanley) Visit the Countryside
Connie took me to the countryside for a day visit to Mrs. Chen’s home. It took us 2 hours to get to her house: two bus-rides to a town called Tong Tan (40 minutes), 30 minutes’ walking through the town to the river, 30 minutes to wait for a ferry to take us across the river and then 15 minutes walking along trails to Chen’s home.
Mrs. Chen and her husband are farmers. Farmers in China are very different than farmers in America. They grow all their own food to live on, not so much to sell, so they don’t have a lot of money to live on. They have no farm equipment. They do everything by hand.
Because they don’t have jobs to earn money, Mrs. Chen’s husband doesn’t live at home. He finds construction jobs building buildings in different parts of the country so he can earn money for his wife and daughter.
Their daughter (Zhu li, or we can say Julie) is 12 and goes to a good city school in Luzhou (loo-joe). Luzhou is where Connie lives. Because Julie lives too far away to come and go to school every day, she lives at the school in the school dormitories. She goes home every month for 3 days to visit her mom. School in China is free but not for living there. It costs $1,200 a year for Julie to attend the school. That pays for her dormitory, her food costs, her books and other extras.
This is why Julie’s dad leaves home to find construction work. He can earn $20 a day if he builds buildings. On his farm, he earns nothing. He only comes home for Chinese New Year, in the winter, for about 2 weeks. After that, he returns to other places to build buildings. Building buildings is not steady work. Sometimes, it takes him a few weeks to find a job. He is 62 years old and no one wants to hire older people to work construction. Many companies only want people under 50. This makes it really hard for him to earn a living but he keeps trying.
This is common for many farmers in China. The men go to work construction in big cities and the women stay at home to do all the farming.
It is a hard life but both want their daughter to have a good education. Mrs. Chen and her husband didn’t finish junior high school. They can’t read or write very well. They grew up on a farm and had to stay home to help their parents with the farm work. They know education is very, very important.
Like all Chinese farmers, they want a better life for their children so they are working hard to send Julie to school.
Their dream is for her to go to college and graduate with a profession to do. No one in the family has ever gone to college. Then she can have a steady job in the city and live a better life than her mom and dad. She can also take care of her mom and dad because she will have enough money to do that.
Most Chinese children who grow up thank their parents in this way. They take good care of their mom and dad for all their lives. Julie will do this, too, when she grows up.
Mrs. Chen’s Life
Mrs. Chen fixed us lunch when we arrived. She used a wood-burning oven to cook with. Most Chinese farmers use wood they collect every day to make fires so they can do their stir-fries.
We had stir-fried vegetables from her vegetable plots. We had duck, too. Mrs. Chen has a lot of ducks and chickens. These are for eating, not for selling.
Mrs. Chen also served us her homegrown rice. Farmers harvest rice once a year and have to harvest enough to eat on for the entire year. If they don’t harvest enough, they have to buy the rice from stores. That’s too expensive.
They also grow rapeseed. Rapeseed is used to make vegetable oil to cook with. It is also harvested once a year, which is in May. The plants have tiny, tiny seeds. These are beaten out of the plants with special bamboo tools and the seeds are put into bags. Farmers have their own hand-cranked machines to squeeze the seeds into oil and put into plastic bottles. This is the oil they use for the entire year to cook with.
While we visited, Mrs. Chen was beating the rapeseed plants so the seed pods would open and she could collect the seeds. She was doing this all by herself because her husband was not there. It was really hot outside and the sun was strong but she didn’t stop for a long time. I tried to help her but she just laughed at me. I couldn’t do it very well. And I got tired in a hurry.
I would make a really bad Chinese farmer if I lived with her.
Five days a week, Mrs. Chen goes into the city to sell her vegetables so she can have a little money to give to her daughter. It takes her 2 hours to get to the city, placing all her vegetables in a basket which she carries on her back. It’s a very heavy basket. She has to walk an hour to get to the bus stop. Because of this, her back hurts a lot, she said.
In the city outdoor market, she sits with other farmers and sells her vegetables to the city people. She can make $5.00 a day doing this but it costs $2 for her to take the bus and ferry to and from the city. So really, she only makes $3 a day for all her efforts. She can give this to her daughter for spending money or buy some clothes for her to wear at school.
On Our Visit
On our visit, Julie was home for the weekend. She and her friends were watching TV in the new part of their home. 4 years ago, the Chens borrowed money to build a concrete house. Before, they lived in a sod (dirt) house for 22 years. There were very few windows and it was pretty awful inside. The sod house is now used for farm storage and they live in the concrete house. The conditions are so much better than before. I was happy to see the family could enjoy a better home life than before.
We Walked the Trails
After lunch, Mrs. Chen went back to farm work. Connie and I walked the trails and visited other farmers who were out in their fields. We were led on the trails by Mrs. Chen’s dog, SP (Stairwell Puppy). SP used to live on Connie’s school campus and was abandoned in a stairwell. No one wanted SP because she was a big dog. Most Chinese are afraid of big dogs so Connie sent her to live with Mrs. Chen and her family. SP now is free to roam everywhere by herself. She protects Mrs. Chen and barks if strangers come to the house. She is always happy to see Connie and enjoys following her around.
Little Sister, the Chihuahua, also comes for visits to Mrs. Chen’s home. On our visit, the farmers had never seen such a little dog before. They only know about big farm dogs, not little dogs like Chihuahuas.
“Is that a cat?” one farmer asked.
“No,” Connie said in Chinese. “That is a dog.”
He was amazed that a dog could be so small.
“It’s really cute,” the farmer said, smiling.
All the other farmers agreed. Sister wagged her tail, then gave a bark. She was proving she was a dog, not a cat.
Leaving Mrs. Chen’s Home
We left at 5 p.m. because the ferry stops running at 6 p.m. It comes every 30 minutes so the last ferry across the river leaves at 5:30. If we miss the last ferry, we can’t get across the river to return to Luzhou.
Mrs. Chen gave us lots of vegetables as a gift before we left. We had cabbage, potatoes, and green leafy things to stirfry. Julie and her friends came to wave us off as we stepped onto the ferry.
It was a really nice day. I was happy to visit and learn about life for farmers in China. It is so different than in America. Maybe farmers in America used to work like that 100 years ago but not today. It’s really a hard life, I think.
Closing Off My Visit
Thanks for sending me, Marlee! I had a lot of fun with Connie but I was ready to return to America. Where will you send me next?