Rubble Rousing in a Changing China

Slowly, I rode. Letting the bicycle take me where it saw fit. On the outskirts of the city, I turned up a weary dirt path. In the distance, I could see big new construction under way. In its immediate shadow, I saw homes half demolished. Others, waiting their turn. The gears of the bicycle clicked. A grandmother was sitting in the cool shade of her farmhouse doorway, feeding her grandchild. She watched me drift by, transfixed, but didn’t move a muscle.

The underwear hung alone, windblown. Spared walls on either side provided an anchor for the line.

After I took the photo, the owner of the underwear was standing behind me. In the most deep, delicate voice he said hello and motioned for me to come into his home. For tea. Without a second’s hesitation, I followed.

Suddenly, I went from being the odd foreign guy riding his bike through a destroyed chinese countryside village, to sitting on a couch in a living room and having tea with a farmer and his family.

At first, we sat in a soft silence. I took in the room. He prepared the tea. With my first sip came the inevitable ‘tea leaves stuck in the mouth’ moment. I couldn’t gather the strength to spit them out on the table or floor, so I chewed on them like gum.

He spoke in Chinese. I spoke in English. Neither one of us could understand the other. Through hand gestures, body language and a little intuition, I understood his name to be Zhang. And that five of them live in the house. At one point he pulled out a folder of papers. He handed me a newspaper clipping and I recognized the character in the main photograph of the story. ‘Destroy.’

His house is next.

I took his number. and gave him mine.

We made plans for dinner this Friday. I think.

May 18, 2011