Where am I situated right now? Friends may wonder where I have been the last 2 months. At the moment when I am writing this passage, I am still in Ningxia China, sitting along lakeside with lots of lotus leaves and a bright sun overhead. So far away from Switzerland, so close to my home – Hong Kong, only with 3 hours flight. In a week time I will be back to the land of mountains and cheese. And most of all, I will say good-bye to Mandarin Chinese and switch back to German mode again.
It is stupid that in China people can’t use Facebook or Google because of censorship and there’s always limitation of information you can get from the national news. It’s definitely true to say China is like a black box, there is always a mysterious side of things. Government officials, companies, communities, a person, people just like to keep things on their own. Unlike Western culture, Chinese don’t work directly and straight forward. We have a saying goes as “A man takes you wandering in a garden” means things don’t work out right away, but take lots of turns.
Let me first briefly say why I am in China. Here is North West China in Ningxia province. You can hardly find people from southern provinces, like Guangdong, or even from Hong Kong. I’m staying in a town called Qingtongxia, 40 km from Gangchengzi village, where I carried out my field work to interview apple growers. I visit their orchards for farm assessments. Until now, I have visited around 20 orchards to find out what had changed in their farm practices after converting to organic farming. Also, to see what are the social, economic and ecological benefits of growing organic apples, and what do they plan for the future. Another thing is to carry out RISE (Response Induced Sustainability Evaluation) for 10 orchards and at the end, to hold a farmer workshop to feedback the results to those farmers.
I am glad that things turned out quite well at the end, although there were some tough times and frustrated moments. Because of the early April hailstorm, apple blossoms were hit and apple trees can bear only little fruits, 60-80% less than the normal yield. Therefore, many farmers were not at home and out of town for side-jobs, as construction workers or work for some nearby vineyards. So it was hard for me to contact farmers for interview or to visit their orchards. Only their wives or grandsons- or daughters stay at home. For a few times I slept over at their homes because it’s already late when I finished the interview at late night. But most of them are very warm welcoming; getting known I am from afar and generally they are helpful all the time. It’s funny to see one farmer has a big mansion with a rose garden next to his apple orchard. I nearly got lost when I was looking for a toilet. Most farmers have a big pasma or LCD TV at home and quite well living standard. I wonder if they earn more than what we earn in Hong Kong, as most of them own beautiful houses.
The highlight of my stay was to hold a farmer workshop to present the topic what is farm sustainability and findings from my RISE assessments. Talking about time keeping, Chinese farmers ain’t like Swiss. We planned the workshop at 7 pm and there were only a few came. I was so worried back then, but people started showing up one by one, slowly, and finally the workshop started at 9:15am. I tried my best to finish it on time. It was the first time for me to present in Chinese. To be frank I speak English better than Chinese, but I am happy that they told me my mandarin Chinese had improved a lot in a month time. My parents also came for visit and support, I’m glad to let them know what my work is actually about and everything in a Chinese farm village was new for them – people from the big city.
The sun is heating really hard right how overhead me, I guess I have to go and hide inside a library. Last few days in Ningxia, I plan to visit a few closer apple growers and farewell with them, travel to south of Ningxia to the “no-man’s land” and gather myself again. My dad mocked me, saying I live like a Gypsy, a nomadic girl, moving from place to place. I also wonder where and when will I find a place to settle down, where I feel like home.