Beijing and beyond
Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
74Trip End Jun 27, 2008
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The Train to Beijing took 24 hours non stop! First class of course. This was only due to the fact we had been told the six sleeper we had booked ourselves into (587yuan) was not a good idea. So in light of this information chose to move to the next room up the 4 sleeper. This was full and we could only get separate cabins so we reluctantly chose to travel first class (1161yuan)
However you wouldn't have thought it was 24 hours. We had loads of ideas about what we would do to fill the time. Play games, update the blog, write in the diary, plan more trips...etc.. We played a few games ate some lovely Chinese food, but mainly stared out the window at the fantastic scenery that was passing by at a lovely calming pace. Oh and then we slept for about 13 hours! It was very comfy.
We arrived in Beijing at 16:00 23rd July.
After crossing the bridge next to the train station we found refuge in KFC as Beijing was instantly overwhelming. We ventured out to find a taxi to get us to our contacts house who would help us reach the farm.*
-* Before we had left Hong Kong we decided to enroll with an organisation called WWOOF, (Willing to Work On Organic Farms) this is a voluntary organisation where your labour is paid for with lodgings and food. We decided that we would like to do this for 1 month.
Interesting, outside the train station the language barrier really came in to play at this point. Our lack of understanding for Mandarin, even with a phrase book, and the taxi drivers lack of English we were not destined to get very far. However, always remember the kindness of strangers. As it was apparent to people around us (Chinese people love to observe) that we were not locals a young girl who could speak English offered to help us and as a result we were quickly on our way.
On arriving at Caroline's house (our contact through WWOOF) we were given food. Luckily we had eaten earlier but did not refuse as this is a big compliment from the Chinese, being offered food is them welcoming you into their home. If they give you a family name such as Auntie or Uncle this is also a great honor, which we did. Pat is now the Uncle of a Chinese boy!
The food she served was lovely, however, her 20 month old son, who had no understanding of cleanliness was sporting a lovely pair of crotchless shorts. The lack of crotch was to aid the passing of bodily fluids. Nappies are an expensive commodity, and who had been left under our supervision while dinner was prepared, had managed to wee on the floor, empty a pot that was full of rice used to hold joss-sticks on to the floor and rub his hands in every unhygienic place imaginable. He was then allowed to put his hands into the food throw it all over and even offer it to us. Hhmmmmmm nice. Needless to say we made our excuses of fullness. After a restless night we woke to steamed bread , which is about the size of a clenched fist and is quite squidgy with no real flavour, and semolina/rice water a bit like porridge but tastes like watery rice! She also gave us plastic bags which after a while we discovered had milk in them. Quite tricky to open and pour without spilling the contents a bit like opening a packet of crisps full of milk?
After breakfast Caroline took us to the farm. This was a lovely place to be. Surrounded by farmland we were in a very rural part of China, quite a way from anything we knew. Fantastic away from tourists and the noise of busy city life.
On arriving we were quickly shown around and questions were asked of the farmer through Caroline as our interpretor due to the farm not having an English speaking person on it.
Then to work.... Our first job was to clean our house, this was to be where we would reside after our days toil in the fields. It was a partly built concrete building with some doors and windows, no electricity, running water, toilet or mattress! but we called it home. We swept out the concrete dust, cobwebs and moved large pieces of wood piled in the room, mopped the floor, wiped god knows what off of the door frame and windows and began to set up camp. Our bed was to consist of a raised concrete slab which we were given a feather duvet to lay on the top and wooden matting to lay on the top of that. The farmer gave us a mosquito net which Nic managed to precariously attach to some rusty nails and a wooden coat stand. The farmers father-in-law was from the school of do it yourself electricians and tested whether the wires he had brought through the window to hook up our light bulb and fan were live by licking his finger and tapping it quickly on the end!!!!!!!!
Lunch - the farmers wife had cooked a large amount of rice, green beens with hefty lumps of garlic, some larger green beens, plum tomatoes with egg and green leafy stuff in tomato juice and some other green beens that you had to split to eat. Very nice. We consulted our Mandarin phrase book eager to learn and communicate with our hosts, however our Yorkshire twang left the farmer and his family looking a little bemused. We quickly showed them the book which also had Chinese writing in it and smiles were restored to their faces. We had said that our bellies were very happy, we then thanked them for their hospitality, they seemed pleased.
The farmer sent us off to sleep, but we decided to do our laundry instead. On seeing us do this the farmer and his dad in law rallied round to make us a washing line, it was just like having "Bob, the man who can make anything" around.
Next job - off to the fields. Imagine Pats delight when we reached the field only to find it was a corn field.....the very thing Pat could no longer stand after his projectile squirting in Istanbul some two weeks earlier! We set to work weeding between the corn and stripping the dead bottom leaves. Easy work we thought and set to it with relish. After a short while we discovered we were not alone as our faces became entangled in BIG pointy jabby teethed spiders webs and saw other things that had lots of legs and looked like it could devour you in a single bite (slight over exageration but they were scary).
Our working day was to start at 7am - 11am 1hour off, lunch at 12pm - 3pm then back to work until 7pm showered and then dinner.
7pm and Dinner - imagine our delight when the same food we had had at lunch was presented to us again for dinner. Maybe we shouldn't have said that the food was delicious? It was leftovers and as they are poor can ill afford to be throwing perfectly good food away. It was at this point that Nic's stomach began to indicate it wasn't happy so off to the loo Nic went and needless to say did not sleep that night. As there was no toilet, refuge was found in a plastic bag and a plastic wastepaper bin. (survival training Nic had remembered from her festival days when buckets prevailed over porterloos in the dead of night)
6:30am the next morning and guess what .....last nights dinner AGAIN? oh with the addition of duck eggs loaded with salt...trying to eat a duck egg with chopsticks is no easy task let us tell you. Again Nic's stomach began to shout, so off to the toilet dodging the toads in the kitchen/outhouse as she goes!
7:30 Off to work and today it's pulling grass from the pathway - much better no BUGS!
Unfortunately Nic' tummy was no better so the decision was made to leave.
A few phone calls on the emergency mobile took us to the centre of Beijing and refuge in a very upmarket youth hostel for 10 pounds a night. Bonus. We stayed here for two days then moved to Hu Tong Inn another hostel that had more of a community feel, where we met Mariska and Rene a Dutch couple who we were to spend the next week with........