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A Story on Rice Planting and Learning About Life in Yangshuo, China
With a country as big as #China, there are many hidden cultural gems waiting to be discovered. And the city of #Yangshuo is the gem I was looking for. For this trip I was fortunate enough to be welcomed by a local couple and experience the way of life in this part of China.
“Is this your first time planting rice?” said our host Mr Pan, a farmer from the rural outskirts of Yangshuo, Guilin. The grey-haired farmer, in his sixties, found it hard to comprehend how anyone could not have planted rice before. We giggled amusingly, slipped off our sandals and dug our feet into the wet, soggy and very soft earth. The soil wrapped its way around our toes and reached above our ankles. It took a while for us to get used to it – but soon enough we were frolicking in the soil, amidst the crawling snails and leaping frogs.
“First you pick a stalk and stuff it deep into the mud. It’s easy!” Mr Pan and his wife each grabbed a handful of rice seedlings and demonstrated to us where and how deep each seedling should go. They had no idea why anyone would come and learn how to plant rice from them, but they were happy anyhow to have us here as their guests. With our backs bent, we burrowed the seedlings into the mud, and listened as Pan told us one story after another about his life growing up in this village.
We were in the outskirts of Yangshuo – not just to plant rice, but to immerse ourselves in the native culture, to get to know the locals and experience their lives for ourselves. As curious travelers, we enjoy deep cultural immersions and experiencing a country on a different level. China Odyssey Tours definitely understood what we were looking for, and arranged this fun experience which gave us insights into local life in rural China.
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As curious travelers, we enjoy deep cultural immersions and experiencing a country on a different level.
Earlier that day, we had driven out of the bustling Yangshuo city to the emerald green rice fields sprinkled across its outskirts. Poised along the Li River in Guilin province, Yangshuo city has a poetic setting and eclectic atmosphere, but it is also packed with both foreign and local tourists. We had come to China with the hopes of seeing its backcountry so it was with much relief when our guide Evelyn led us out of the city towards its beautiful, sprawling green fields. Driving by towering karst hills, we watched as the bright emerald green of the rice fields shimmered under the evening sun, and the golden rays reflected upon the waterways.
Relationship Between Rice and Life in China
Just an hour and a half later, we’d arrived at Chaoyang dock, where we met Pan. The friendly farmer first greeted us with a loud ‘hello’!’ in English before swapping for a heavily accented Mandarin that even our guide Evelyn (from Guilin City) struggled to understand. In China, over 250 languages are spoken, with a different dialect/language spoken in each province or town – Pan speaks a countryside dialect, an offspring of the Yangshuo dialect, which is again different from the Guilin dialect. Evelyn said that a mere 20km can make a big difference in their language.
In China, over 250 languages are spoken
Pan led us to his bamboo raft, docked by the bank of Yu Long River, and rowed us across the running stream. These rafts were traditionally used by fishermen in the area, though these days, they are more than often used to shuttle tourists from one end of the river to the next (and unfortunately replaced by PVC rafts).
Up on the other side of the river, Pan led us up a muddy trail to his plot of land where his wife, Mdm He, was waiting for us. Under the sunlight, the rice field almost looked luminous green, backed by oddly-shaped karst giants. Mdm He, a chirpy and energetic old lady, was agilely traipsing through the field despite her age. She held my hand as I almost lost balance in the soggy mud. We started chatting and I learned that she and Pan have three children, all of them except their youngest son work in the city.
Both Mr Pan and his wife were born and bred in a nearby village called Chaoyang. In the past, they would grow rice in two seasons: from April to July and again November to February, and sold them to other villages. Rice is the main staple for the Chinese – with each person consuming 90kg of rice on average per year (just multiply that by the population of China and you get what I mean). These days though, Pan and his wife only harvest rice for one season, enough to feed the entire family of four generations.
Rice is the main staple for the Chinese – with each person consuming 90kg of rice on average per year
“This rice field is not big, but it’s been supporting my family for two generations now. It was given to my parents by the Chinese government during the communism era,” explained Pan.
By sunset, we’d finished planting the seedlings, and filled up an entire plot with fresh green crops. We had spent the evening chatting, laughing and planting – having enjoyed ourselves so much that time had just slipped us by. Pan and He gave us both a pat on the shoulders and praised us for our hard work. To thank us, the chirpy couple warmly invited us to their home to see their family and we were more than grateful for the opportunity.
Walking Into Their Lives
In the twilight, we walked along narrow dirt roads, past more fields and water buffaloes to reach their village, Chaoyang. Pan and his wife welcomed us into their home: a four-storey house that looked almost like a mansion in this small rural village. Pan said, “Our children work in the city but live here. They bought the house for all of us to live under one roof. We are very grateful that our children are filial, because as you can see, growing rice won’t be able to sustain us till retirement.”
When asked if they preferred to move to the city or live in the village where they spent their whole lives, Pan replied, “There is not much money to be made here, and as you can see, the village is not as nice and streets not too clean. But of course we prefer to live in our village, home is always home.”
"But of course we prefer to live in our village, home is always home.”
That evening, Pan and his wife prepared dinner, a simple but sumptuous meal of traditional dishes: fried bamboo shoots, savory pumpkin flower wrapped with minced meat, stuffed bittergourd, and fresh cow’s bloody pudding. Pan even offered us home-made wine that he had brewed himself – it was sweet and potent, and I savored every drop of it. On a small table in their kitchen, we shared the meal with them, their children and grandson – talking, laughing and enjoying our time together. Even for our guide Evelyn, we could see that it was a fun, cultural experience for her.
That night, we left their home with gratitude and eternal memories; we had come as strangers and left as friends.
To Pan and family, thank you for letting us into your lives – even if it was just for one day.