Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

We were 16 bicyclists, a leader and two in...

We were 16 bicyclists, a leader and two interpreters -- waiting for a ferry boat in southeast China. A dozen big trucks and more than a hundred other people also waited. It was 1981 and we were on an 11-day bike tour “behind the fence” after a stop in boisterous Hong Kong. As we waited, we “visited” with the others.

One of our young California men asked a woman if her two baskets of leeks were a heavy load. She smiled. He stepped between the baskets, put the bamboo pole across his shoulder and lifted. The baskets didn’t move! People laughed. He tried again. No luck. Then strong Steve hurried to show him how. The baskets didn’t budge! Instead of laughing, we stared in awe, at the smiling, frail looking Chinese woman who had carried those loaded baskets from some far away field. When the ferry docked I held my breath as she put the pole in place, leaned forward and, with rapid shuffling steps, boarded the ferry with her load! This was her job. She did it six days every week and was paid the standard $55 a month!

In streets and roads we saw people pulling or carrying heavy loads: a man with a similar pole arrangement ~carried two heavy pigs to market, each tightly encased in a basket. “How did they get the pigs into the baskets?” I asked. The interpreter answered, “The same way they formerly dealt with prostitutes. They got them drunk, wove the basket around them and tossed them into the Pearl River.” That helped end prostitution!

Big changes in China began in 1949, following the revolution and the end of private ownership. Fences were taken out, roads were removed, irrigation ditches~ dug to carry water to new farming areas. Few roads remain~ed and repair was done by hand with pick, shovel and sledge. Water buffaloes with wide spread horns cooled themselves in the drainage ditches between road and cultivated land. We cycled past miles of unending green fields dotted with crews of men and women seven days a week.

I’d often stop, lean on my bicycle and watch their primitive farming operations. People worked bent from the hips, planting, weeding and harvesting food. Rows were close together and people worked with long-handled hoes or with their bare hands. They earned the same standard wage paid to cooks, factory workers, doctors, waiters and even the director of a commune of 70,000 people!

An interpreter and six of us visited a “show place” home that had no plumbing, phone or radio. It had a speaker that blared a message and occasional music; it could not be turned up, down or off. Our barefoot hostess earned $55 per month at home by putting fuses in firecrackers. She and her husband sleep in the kitchen behind a ragged, stained curtain. Her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren live there and sleep upstairs.

I asked about the large portrait of an elderly man. It was her father who is “cared for in some other place.” We heard that phrase often and saw few people older than my 67 years.

One man was herding ducks, keeping more than a hundred in a tight bunch. They grazed on roadsides and drank in the nearby drainage ditch. He carried a long bamboo pole with a rag tied on it’s tip and would wet the rag often. When a duck started to stray, he’d slap it in the face with the wet rag to make it behave like the others.

These gentle Chinese people seldom got out of line. Like the ducks, they have learned to toe the mark. Perhaps some “herder” taught them to behave -- with a symbolic wet rag slap in the face or a woven basket?

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