A day in rural Chengdu was one of the highlights of our 48 days in China. Don’t get me wrong, we loved visiting all the well-known, traditional tourist sites: Great Wall and Tiananmen Square in Beijing, The Bund in Shanghai, the Terracotta Army in Xian, etc. However, whenever we travel, we like to see how real people live their daily lives. This is not always possible due to not knowing where to go, not having a command of the local language and other reasons.
We met Mr. Tray Lee at People’s Park one Saturday. He kindly explained the traditional sugar lollipop making process of a vendor in the park. We struck up a conversation and he mentioned that he had been a tour guide since 1989 and one of the tours he gave was of a few villages outside of Chengdu. It sounded interesting to us, so we agreed to the tour.
Mr. Lee and a driver picked us up at our hotel and we drove for about an hour to our first stop, a traditional market. The market is open on odd numbered days of the month. In addition to a lot of the things you would expect in a market, fruits, vegetables, meat, clothing, etc. there were things you just don’t see every day. Look at the pictures to see what I mean.
I don’t think we saw any other Westerners during our walk around the market. We did get quite a few looks. People were very friendly and curious.
Our next stop was a small farm. We just pulled over on the side of the road and observed a husband and wife planting some crops. The couple looked in their 60s or 70s. They were using traditional tools, no tractors, roto-tillers or anything automated. Mr. Lee asked them, “I suppose your children live in the city?”
“Yes,” the man replied. “They are in the city making money.” Apparently, the couple keeps all that is produced on the land. In China, there is no private ownership of land. It all belongs to the government, but you can get a 70 year lease on property. In the past, the farmers were taxed on their crops. However, Mr. Lee told us that this is no longer the case for small farms like this.
Just a few kilometers up the road we stopped to see the first step in making the straw hats that all the farm workers wear. The hats keep the sun off when sunny and shields from the rain when the rain falls. This was a very special visit for us not only did we see the process of making the strips of braided straw for the hats, but the woman took a liking to Susan and gave Susan her own hand sewn straw hat. It was very touching.
Next we drove a few more kilometers and saw the factory where the hats are made. These days, the straw strips are covered with a plastic braid. This makes the hat more waterproof so they last longer. We also saw where the hats were sewn together. It took about a minute to sew the long strip into a hat.
In between the couple weaving straw strips to the hat factory, we stopped in a village at a blacksmith shop. The blacksmith learned from his father in law. While we were there he was making chisels to be used to break up concrete. The skill is a dying art. You can’t do this in a large city since the burning of coal is prohibited.
Next we drove to a pottery factory. This factory has been making pottery for over 400 years. The throwing wheels are now electric powered, but not too much else has been changed since then. The kilns themselves are called “Dragon Kilns” partially because of the way they snake up the hillside and partially because of the fire inside.
After being thrown, the pots are placed in the kiln, coal is shoveled in and lit, the doors of the kiln are bricked shut and the pots are fired for 15 days. Then they cool for 15 days. Quite a long process.
To top off the day, we drove back to Chengdu for a traditional Sichuan lunch. Fantastic day! We got to see so many things that are not on the standard tourist list of sites. Definitely one of the most memorable parts of our trip to China.
Eggplant and garlic, pork ribs and peppers, pan fried bread, rice soup to drink and rice