Colette Hosmer's Blog

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“My Trip to Porcelain Town”  –  Fujian Province, CHINA

Colette Hosmer's, "Canned Duck," Porcelain

Colette Hosmer's, "Canned Duck," Porcelain

It’s a five-hour bus ride one way through the mountains to Porcelain Town. My friend, Li Wen, and I caught the bus at 8:30 a.m. – 36 yuan, $4.49 each. An hour later, having pulled away from Xiamen and it’s “special economic zones”, we found ourselves in the countryside, passing by villages, lovely old traditional houses, terraced vegetable plots – farmers working in fields.

The bus is packed. People are sitting in isles on little plastic stools….those without stools squat. One old guy yelled for a long time because he got off at a stop to use the toilet and someone took his seat. The old man, tiny and thin with a scarred and mangled ear, ended up squatting in the isle next to us for two hours until we reached his destination.

A television is screaming at no one in particular from it’s high mounting in front of the bus – a loud, bad kung fu fighting movie with slap stick humor. Lining the roadside are beautiful stone buildings with sloped, tiled roofs. Vegetable plots climb right up to the concrete highway. The road is an endless ribbon of concrete slab with no guardrails or shoulder — the foot-high edge sometimes drops perilously to the river below. Vegetables are growing in Jurassic-like red earth and sometimes in scrappy ditches. Small open meat stalls and vegetable sellers inch right up to the dusty dirty road. Busses and motorbikes honk by.

The girl, sitting directly in front of me threw-up for the second time. Li Wen says every bus trip someone “spits”. Man and water buffalo, lean forward as they slice through the muddy earth. Many, lovely Buddhist temples spot hillsides – farmers endlessly hoeing. Li Wen asked me if I’d ever “worked in the fields”. I said, sort of, because in the past I sometimes had my own gardens. We agreed that it was nice occasionally but not if you have to do it for your whole life.

We pass through the town of Nan An. A big river winds through cheaply constructed white tile buildings with blue glass. Large vegetable fields lay surrounded by city buildings. I am doing my best to ignore dreadful movie sounds. Girls screaming, crying, whining, screeching, feigning anger – all accompanied by karate-chop sound effects.

Pre-car stone walkways arch over small rivers. Beautiful, handmade haystacks dot the landscape near lovely, traditional compounds with their courtyards and peasant tenants. The poorest people, of course, live in these run down but elegant traditional homes. “If they had money”, Li Wen says,” they would live in the apartment buildings”.

Each village has it’s own charcoal making shop — each of these tiny mills is completely black – ground, building, people – all black. Little black holes sucking up the light – not letting any escape. Now we are passing through a relatively clean town…at least the trash is in designated piles…all the usual plastic – makes for colorful garbage. Clean fields though, and gorgeous ancient stone kilns.

I love this.

Ingenious bamboo scarecrows utilize bright plastic bags – which, when tied to the ends of poles, catch the wind, inflate and swirl.

Girl “spits” again. I have watched the contents of her stomach change as it streaks past on my window.

The first time Li Wen traveled in a vehicle he was 18 years old. He went in a bus, five hours from his village, to take a school test. He told me he was very sick, “spit many times”. He was in a bus full of other village kids who were probably also taking their first ride. I can only just imagine it. In many places you see ancient stone steps cutting straight up the sides of mountains.

Stopped again. Women board bus with baskets of snacks, drinks, and egg rolls for sale. Smells good, but we are saving our appetites for lunch in Porcelain town.

Big fan-like Feng Shui graves take up large areas of land – a quarter of the hilltop is carved out for some of them. Li Wen tells me the government says no more, but the farmers “don’t follow” and do it anyway. Rain pools on the inside of my window ledge and splashes on me — thoughts of earlier vomit.

We begin to pass large, rectangular buildings, constructed of straw mat walls with no windows and small doors. Li Wen tells me they grow mushrooms inside. We hit town. Seems large – crowded with those uninspired communist buildings. The mode of transportation is motorbike and bicycle taxi, but things are more civilized here than in other towns I’ve visited – only one passenger per bike “or police will catch you”, and each passenger must wear a helmet. The town consists of mostly porcelain shops. Can’t imagine how any one of them manages many sales per day. Li Wen says that many foreigners come here but it’s hard to imagine by the stop-in-their-tracks stares I’m getting.

Found out that the last bus back to Xiamen leaves in 20 minutes. Only choice is to stay overnight. We had lunch, visited the porcelain factory, made a deal, found a store where we bought lotion and hair gel for me, and then registered at the hotel, the front door of which is flanked by stone elephants with red ribbon bows tied to their heads.

“The Dehua CiDu Hotel is located in the Dai Yun Mountains, in the middle of the Fujian Province. “It is in the centre of the center, downtown of Dehua, the famous ceramic city in China.”

“Dear guests”, the brochure continues, “it will be a great honour for our hotel, if you choose to live here. Our well-trained staff will do our best and also wish you enjoy the comfortable and happy time here. The Cidu (Ceramic town) hotel will be your sincere friend forever!”

Our rooms, $15.00 each, have great bed pillows, duvet covers and two classically hard Chinese beds. All rooms are smoking rooms, and include bathroom with tiny tub, jet stream shower and two each; shampoo, bath foam, shower caps, combs, and toothbrushes, with toothpaste. Also slippers, shoeshine kits, green tea and an electric teapot. After locating our rooms (nothing to unpack), I suggested that we go to the bar and have a drink before dinner.

The bar was dominated by the keeper’s kid – sticking stickers in a book and watching a very loud Chinese-dubbed SpongeBob SquarePants video. The bar had bottles of whiskey and brandy, but the barkeep had to call upstairs to ask if he could sell us any. A lady promptly came down with an open bottle and poured one small juice glass ¾ full for 30 yuan, $3.70. Li Wen and I shared that and I ordered a coffee as well, and got the usual instant Nescafe with dry creamer clumping on the surface.

March 12

I fell asleep in my strangely empty room about 10:30 and woke promptly at 1:30 when loud men, and at least one woman, got off the elevator and invaded the room right next to mine. The next several hours were filled with loud TV, girl squealing, loud faux mad talk, drunk men’s voices and occasional banging sounds. Every time someone lit a cigarette, which was often, the smoke wafted into my room somehow. It was awful. It finally got quiet but I woke up tired.

I gave up on the shower with spraying jets because the water arched limply as it exited the holes, and I couldn’t figure it out how to make any of it come out of the shower head.

We went down to breakfast (or up) to the 6th floor. The room was completely full – loud, several smokers, a large buffet served a typical Chinese breakfast including darkly stained, salty boiled eggs, soups, rice porridge, pickled vegetables and many unrecognizable dishes. Cold seaweed for breakfast does not appeal to me, so I stuck to the cake-like things, old boiled eggs, and a bowl of instant Nescafe.

The staff wears uniforms. Their purple coats look nice against the yellow tablecloths and red lanterns. Each woman’s hair is smartly tied-back. The young man in authority, with his black suit and tie, needs a haircut and has sticky-up hair on the back of his head where he slept on it. Suddenly the room clears and we are alone. Reminds me of typical Chinese endings — a party, dinner, banquet — suddenly and abruptly over. Sometimes with an announcement like, “Party has ended. Go home now.”

We depart the bus station – headed back to Xiamen. The loud, crazy movie begins to blare with the first revolution of the bus tires. We wind our way out of Porcelain Town as rain begins to fall.

Decades after the construction of these white-tiled buildings, they look dirty and stained. Porcelain Town appears prosperous but there are very few new buildings – unlike the mad construction that you see in other cities. The whole town seems to have been built all in one short space of time. And there is nothing much traditional until you reach the very outskirts. This is my third bus movie and I can already tell that they all tell the same story. Young men, pretty girl, kung fu fighting – weak becomes strong and overcomes evil.

Six story rectangular apartment buildings on the outskirts of town are mixed with dreary communist buildings which give way to old brick buildings which melt into very poor, but much more beautiful traditional compounds with tiled sloped roofs. There are no “yards” to speak of – just vegetable patches. Even the edges of these petroleum-smeared roads grow vegetables. Even crappy fill, in front of dirty storefronts, grow vegetables. Now the edge of the city gives way to prettier, cleaner and greener garden plots and rice paddies.

If anyone has to “spit” in this bus we’re out of luck. Can’t open the windows.

Li Wen is studying his English, using his Chinese/English dictionary that he always carries around in a plastic bag. He occasionally asks me to pronounce a word for him. We sometimes pass a sad attempt at roadside landscaping. Some Cadre’s idea…now neglected, and whatever tree or plant that survived on it’s own, is caged inside of grungy white tile planters. You come to hate the look of those dirty white tiles. They replaced centuries of meaningful culture, and deep layers of history across China with one uniform look and one collective thought.

All land in China belongs to the government. So farmers live on borrowed land, so to speak. If the government wants to build road or develop an area, the farmer gets agricultural value and the developer gets rich – along with many officials and cadres along the way. The government says they are working to fix this. An often heard slogan nowadays: Take less from the countryside, give more to the countryside”. Another is: “Building a New Socialist Countryside.”

New Movie: “Hands Up!

This one is set during the Japanese War. A Chinese peasant hides himself in the coal bin of a train that is crawling with Japanese soldiers. He pops out to kill and torture all of them – many of which wear little wire rimmed glasses, and virtually all have Hitler mustaches. The particularly stupid ones are fat and walk like clowns exaggerating clown walking.

The Japanese soldiers either laugh evilly or say “huh??” A lot.

Peasant takes over whole train…kills all Japanese soldiers, blows up train, makes Japanese bomber plane crash in the bargain. Two little Chinese boys throughout movie make Japanese look foolish over and over again. They pee in their canteens and put frogs in same. Also, there are lots of situations where the Japanese get their private parts smashed or rammed into. Donkey farts in stupid soldier’s face not once, but four times. Wasn’t funny the first time to me, but people in bus laugh at each one.

Occasionally, Li Wen’s family kills a pig at Spring Festival. I asked him to tell me about it in detail.

They take the pig to a special place that the whole village uses. “A very beautiful place with big trees. People kill animals there since ancient times. They bring the pig to this place. Someone kills it with a long knife in neck, and they drain the blood into a bucket to take home to eat. They sprinkle the blood on special yellow paper and leave the papers under the trees. They burn incense and light firecrackers. They pray (wish for protection) and they pray to respect to the Ghost. The Ghost blesses you.”

“The Ghost of what?” I say.

“The Ghost of nothing – everything – ancestors.”

They make a fire at this place for respect. Then they carry the pig back to the farm. After they scald the pig and scrape the hair off with a knife, they “take internal off”. They cook one piece of liver, and tail (with butt end attached – he drew a picture), and eat those portions, and then they invite people to share and eat lots of fresh meat. He says, Spring Festival lasts for one month so you need lots of meat. They “cook some meat in very hot wok and then much salt it to keep.” And on “shining day” they hang meat outside to dry.

At Tomb festival, when all the family goes to the tomb to show respect to the ancestors, they do much the same – kill a chicken or duck and leave blood on yellow paper. They finish up the celebration with more fireworks and incense.


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