Tuesday, October 06, 2009


"In Wuyuan," my middle school conversationalist informs me as I slurp fried rice noodles for dinner, "many people say that the sky is blue and the water is clear."

This information may once have been true, but is surely at least 50 years out of date. Nowadays, as any fule kno, nowhere in eastern China is the sky blue or the water clear.

The day's main event was a flying visit to Jiangwan. The houses in the all other villages on the road were low, old, dark and pre-modern, but in Jiangwan, everything is tall, new, and freshly-painted. Everything is in straight lines and the people are dressed smartly. The reason for this is announced on a banner at the far end of the village: "Welcome the tourists both at home and abroad to come to visit Jiangwan, the ancestral home of the President Jiang Zemin".

There is a tarted-up high street that you can walk down, if you want (though this will cost you 50 yuan), and buy Jiang Zemin themed keyrings. About 25 girly guides are hanging around the entrance, waiting to show people round. This morning there were no paying customers. Perhaps when JZM goes up to the big Jiangwan in the sky they'll do better business. I doubt it though. Jiang is never going to be a folk hero like Mao, for all his Three Represents.

It's a pretty valley with rice crops in various stages of planting, growing and harvesting. All around are sharp, sheer wooded mountains; in the fields, t-shirts and hats on sticks scare away the birds. Huge water-buffalo wallow in streams.

A man ploughs his field with buffalo, shouting commands as he turns his single furrow. What does the buffalo think? Does he understand the point of ploughing? Why does he consent to walk up and down all day? Does he think that human beings have some pretty strange ways of having a good time?

There are praying mantises and bats, dead on the road, and little bright green snakes. I wonder: if there are this many dead snakes, how many live ones must there be out there? Later, I see a biggish one, grey brown, limping off the road at the sight of me, if snakes can be said to limp.

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