A STRANGER TO THE POOREST BUT ALWAYS TREATED--- AS A FRIEND.
I'M SHARING ANOTHER MEMORABLE MOMENT FROM MY GREAT WALL JOURNEY. A VERY-TRUSTING CHINESE WOMAN WHO LIVED NEAR THE GREAT WALL---WELCOMED ME LIKE AN OLD FRIEND. IT
WAS CLEAR THIS TINY FEMALE WAS PITIFULLY-POOR YET SHE READILY-INVITED ME INSIDE HER ONE ROOM HOUSE TO EAT A BOWL OF RICE AND DRINK A CUP OF HOT TEA.
EXPERIENCE CONTINUES TO KEEP ME HUMBLE.
Try taking a long journey-- on foot--without a detailed map and lots of water. I promise-- you don’t get very-far. Each day of my Great Wall Adventure, I was driven by two powerful forces: One-- to continue
my relentless search for The Wall each time it “disappeared” and Two--to continue my relentless search for more boiled-drinking water as each day’s supply--- dwindled.
Whenever I saw evidence of life near The Wall, I took the opportunity to re-fill my thermos. Lucky for me--everyone living in rural China-- survives by boiling their drinking water. Regardless of their primitive living conditions, Chinese
learned, centuries ago, that water---so-necessary for life---must be boiled to kill impurities.
Chinese in the most remote parts of Northern China had never seen
a foreigner so their initial response-- when they saw me walking toward them--was to run. Once Arthur, my government-appointed assistant, smiled and calmed their fears with his beautifully-spoken Chinese--they immediately greeted me with relieved acceptance
and intense curiosity.
One day, when I wandered into a tiny village in search of water, my appearance surprised a tiny Chinese woman, a very old man, and a young
child standing outside a very-old clay/concrete house--- grinding wheat into flour. I remember the day was very-cold and damp yet, the little boy, probably 3 or 4 years old, was barefoot and dressed in a too-small cotton shirt. The old man had holes
in his badly-worn canvas shoes and wasn’t wearing socks while the very slender young woman wore only a shabby cotton top and pants with the same, government-issued canvas shoes. The older gentleman appeared to be the woman’s grandfather and
I could only assume she was the Mother of the young child. Sadly, like most I’d met in China’s remote areas, this threesome had many missing teeth. But--they never stopped smiling or trying to help me during my short visit.
It was the first time I’d accepted an invitation to have “dinner” inside a typical Mao-era farm house. The house consisted of one very-small room with a dirt
floor, one window, and a small but tall-- concrete platform-- known as a KANG. The Kang served as the family’s bed, its source of heat, and also-- the family’s dinner table.
Each night, a family member opened a metal door at the bottom of the Kang, stacked it with enough wood to provide heat for the entire night then--- struck a match. Not only did the Kang stay toasty and warm for sleeping but several
vents at the Kang’s base allowed heat to escape into the rest of the room.
Too-many in China’s countryside never have enough food. So--- for
this family to share their limited food supply with me was indeed an expression of love. I was served one bowl of rice with wooden chopsticks and one cup of tea. I admit--- my sensitive stomach almost retched at the sight of the bowl’s many cracks and
the unexpected “things” floating in the tea but--I managed to swallow a few bites of rice and take a few sips of tea so as not-to-offend my host. She tried so hard to make me feel special and make me happy.
When I asked Arthur to find out why there were multiple sheep, two cows, more than eight goats, and three horses also crowded into every corner of the tiny house, he replied: “Animals are precious to
China’s poor. Their animals must survive the winter because animals are their main source of food, hard work, and income. For centuries, rural family members have shared the Kang as a place for eating, sleeping, playing, and visiting while, traditionally--
during cold, brutal winters-- sharing their warm homes with their animals.
Of course I needed to know more details but--I waited until Arthur and I were back-on-the-Wall
before I pried him for answers. I learned, every morning-- the grandfather shoveled the Animal Waste from the house--- then carried the many shovels-full of “fertilizer” to feed his vegetable garden. He also carried buckets of water
from the nearby creek to wash-down the floor so it would be “clean” for EACH day. Imagine doing this nasty chore every day during the freezing-cold winter. I was surprised to learn the grandfather was 97 years old and continued to work fulltime--
like a young farm hand.
Yes, for All Chinese who are poor and face difficult times-- all the time-- Age is nothing-more than a number.