This is a place where government propaganda touting the importance of keeping your babies, even if they are girls, is plastered on crumbling walls. Its inhabitants look perpetually exhausted--women bent with age and malnutrition, thin teenage mothers with heavy breasts and fat babies strapped to their backs, men with tanned skin and far more wrinkles than teeth. Only the children are full of energy, running through the streets chasing after wild dogs and roosters, oblivious to the occasional moped or car speeding recklessly through the village.
And surrounding the village, rising up to the sky on all sides, are green peaks speckled with terraced rice paddies.
2 October 2012 5:00 am
I'm lucky I found this pen abandoned in the corner of the room I slept in last night, for although I had the foresight to bring a notebook, I managed to leave without packing a writing utensil. The camera Big Mountain's loaned to me for the trip is already nearly out of battery, so while he and his friend set up tripods and snap away at the sun emerging just above the mountains, I'm sitting here in the relative comfort and warmth of a comically cramped SUV, observing my surroundings through mud-spattered windows and listening to the hum of the car engine that Big Mountain never seems to shut off.
The rice paddies are the most graceful piece of man-made handiwork I have ever had the good fortune of seeing with my own eyes. Without knowing anything about their history, I am stunned by how long it must have taken--how many centuries of back-breaking toil must have been required to build step after step of miniature water-filled field.
The morning is foggy, but the sun is bright, making the fog appear even denser than it is and our pictures appear blurry even though they're not. Big Mountain keeps repeating the phrase, "It's really not ideal," as though its a mantra or an inside joke. And I understand his disappointment--we drove for ten hours (with frequent stops for photo breaks) yesterday through less than ideal road conditions to reach our destination.
We've just returned from another evening of scampering up and down rice paddies and driving curve after curve of semi-paved road in search of great twilight shots.
I have found, however, that eating hot pot with native Chinese people is an all-together different experience. I suppose that our Americanized version of hot pot in Beijing wasn't authentic, but but at this point, I think my life in rural China is authentic enough. I don't need the added reality of pig brain and cow intestine to enhance the flavor of my new life.
Big Mountain is an incredibly perceptive person, which partially explains his success as a photographer.
[This is his photo, taken on one of our stops along the road with the camera he loaned to me for the trip.]
As much as I appreciate the beauty of a spectacular landscape, having a mother whose profession is portrait photography appears to have influenced the kind of pictures I found myself drawn to take on this trip. Each person I passed had a face with a story behind it; maybe it's my mother's influence, and maybe it's also my writer's mind that finds a photograph with a person in it generally more interesting than one without. As I learned more about how to use the camera I was given, my ability to capture faces improved.