Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Journaling Travels with Our Senses

I enjoyed the contrast of “historical” vs. “insightful.” I’ve attached a travel blog that I think combines the two into what I would call “sensory.”
~Elizabeth Givens

Xing Ping

We gather at the bus depot down the street from school at 8 am and all pile into a small blue bus headed to Xing Ping, a town up the river. The drive out is through classic Chinese countryside. Water buffalo and red Brahmin oxen plow fields alongside harvesters. A time to plant and a time to reap are side by side. Women with bare feet pound the mud in other fields.

Little clusters of houses dot the side of the road, combinations of old yellow brick, wood and metal windows and newer red brick. Homes are works in process, rarely finished. Grapes grow in gardens along with beans, pumpkin, corn, and groves of citrus trees are heavy with green pomelo and oranges.

At Xing Ping we walk to the only flat field in miles for a morning of water games. English is the language of instruction, of fun, and of learning. A shallow river runs alongside and we share the field with several water buffalo and their calves. A lazy truce separates us.

When the water games end we splinter into small groups and walk into town. The main street is lined with houses and shops dating back a hundred years. Deliberately kept historical, Xing Ping is a tourist dream, but there are few tourists on a Monday morning. A group of teen boys are clustered at one end of the street with large sketch pads, capturing the details of the ancient buildings.

The buildings have wooden fronts, unpainted, and weathered. Doors are open to small shops of carpentry, bicycles, treadle sewing machines. Through the open doors comes a hum of voices, largely the elderly men and women who don’t bother to leave the village and who are too old to work the fields. On either side of the open doors are the tattered red banners left from Spring Festival, guardians for the year of the rat.

We grab lunch at a little café – a hot spicy beef dish alongside a mild chicken. English patters across the table. A leisurely walk brings us to the river where some of the students and teachers have decided to swim.

About three a group of us head back up the little village road, through town, and to the other end where we wait for a bus. The students know which bus to catch so we simply tag along. When we board, it is another small bus with about 25 seats, but easily 50 people are inside. I grab a plastic stool on one side. A young mother with little girl sits on another stool directly in front of me. Her long dark hair is pulled into a thick braid that I long to touch. My husband, sitting to her side, makes small talk with the child, finally winning a smile.

The bus stops often on the way back to our town, picking up more passengers, and occasionally dropping one off. No one seems concerned with the crowding, the helter-skelter speed of the bus, the loud horn blaring when an oncoming truck tries to hog the road.

We pass the same fields and planters and harvesters. The cattle and water buffalo are heading home, led by strings through their noses. Many passengers nod off to sleep. The day is waning in south China.

At the depot we bid our students goodbye. Hand shakes and thank you’s all around for picking up the tab on the bus fare -- all of 60 cents for each student.

We’ve been to Xing Ping, and it was good.

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