Sunday, October 23, 2011

常熟 Changshu Fieldtrip

This weekend the entire Flagship Program took a trip to 常熟 Changshu, a smaller city in the south of China. The purpose of the trip was to get to see the "new countryside" and interview people for our group project. My group was 农业 or farming, and what I thought we would encounter was pretty much nothing like what we actually did. Firstly, the "countryside" turned out to be a pretty well developed city, with industry and foreign investment in addition to large scale farming operations (thankfully nothing like the factory farms in the states, but I'm sure they wouldn't show that to us even if  it was there). 

 Where our clothes are made
The middle-aged group of women took the pieces of clothing that had been made and pieced them together

 The oldest group of women took the reject articles of clothing and re-spooled the thread

The younger girls go from machine to machine taking the just 'printed' pieces, cutting off the extra thread, and stacking them.

Just in case there's any confusion

We began our journey at 7:30 on Saturday (by far the earliest I have woken up in this country), got on a bus, and drove for three hours to our destination. While I thought that we would be broken up into our groups and taken to different locations (there was a foreign investment group, and industry group, a family ways group, and a farming group), we ended up all going to all of the locations, with those of us not in the group wandering about while the others interviewed people. Our first stop was a clothing factory, where we saw the some of the machines and people that make our clothing. 

Canada, even in China

After the clothing factory we traveled on to a farm. It was a rather large farm and the owner said that they grew many, many different types of crops. Our first encounter was with 当地人 the local elderly people who worked watering the plants with pesticides for some extra cash. It was funny because at first they said it was water, but then we noticed that they added a character before water, 养水, which means "growth water". When we inquired further we found out that it was in fact pesticides. Keep in mind, this farm claims to be organic. I suppose it's one of the differences between the US and China (despite the loop holes): in China, organic means using cow poop as fertilizer and practicing crop rotation, in addition to pesticides and possibly synthetic fertilizer. We tried to talk to the elderly people to find out how long they had been working there and if they made a living wage, but their accents were very thick and they didn't seem to understand our mandarin. Talking to the owner/manager was when we got most of our information. I'm not sure how much of it was accurate information, but I suppose that's what the internet is for.

 The poop plant, and yes, that brown water is sewage. Yum.

 Rock, with the occasional Styrofoam as a stopgap.
 The joys of wandering away from the group.

Our hotel room was lovely, good thing too because we were exhausted
After the farm we visited a propaganda facility and ate lunch, then went on to a water treatment plant for the last stop of the day. Despite the smell, this stop was my favorite, because I got to sneak off from the group and wander around, finding dilapidated machinery that I think made some pretty neat pictures. Afterwards we traveled to a model countryside neighborhood, looking around at people's houses (the family ways group did their interviewing) and attracting a crowd of Chinese people (there were  30 foreigners, after all). After everyone had had enough of the smell, we headed to our hotel to relax for the night.
 "Harmony, Happiness"
 This woman was burning red wood to heat her water!
 No, that Chinese person is not real

The next morning we all met up at 8 am, checked out, and made our way to the next attraction. We went to a model "new countryside", which reminded me and several others strongly of Disney Land. We parked at a hotel and were picked up by five of those tour carts which carted us around to our destinations. We passed several large pink houses that reminded me of the guest houses at Disney Land, and then arrived at the model area. We had a tour guide and several helpers herd us around through several small museums (in which they allowed us to interact with the displays and wax figures) and past several nice looking patches of farm, then allowing us a half an hour of "play time" (we actually ended up in a playground, fun!). Overall, this entire part seemed extremely superficial, and made me wonder what they were hiding in the real countryside for them to need to set up a fake, perfect one (Chinese propaganda hoorah!). We took some good pictures, but I really would have preferred to go to the real countryside and talk to real people and get in the mud (my hiking boots got no use at all). Oh well, maybe next time. For now, pictures!!

 Playing in the bamboo!

 We took a turn on the old fashioned foot powered water-mill
Of course I found a way to climb on it. This picture pretty much sums up what I do in China: find something to climb on circus-like.
Lots of love,

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