Our day began at 04:00. It was dark and cold; destination the little village where the Ai (Chinese nanny) is from, four hours into the mountains. Mission: slaughter a pig and two goats to take home, butcher, and freeze for winter and spring. We got lost; it was no surprise as the countryside had changed and roads are changing and shifting as China grows and grows and grows. The road we were supposed too take was under construction; it did not look passable at first glance. It had only been six months since the last visit. We lost a couple of hours and so we were not there for the slaughter which was supposed to be my job. I will have to do it in March/April. No problem.
The village sits at the top of a little mountainside where they cultivate shitake mushrooms in the lower fields, in vast long thatch huts. Most live hand-to-mouth, a farmer’s existence, picking tea in season, getting work where it comes, bee keeping, and making these special noodles that only come from this region: Tu Mian (Earth Noodles). The noodles are six feet long and hang to dry everywhere. This is the time of year for making them. We took home 40 kilos. Normally, a middleman comes and buys it all up — cheap. He then puts them in these fancy boxes and sells them to retailers for a hefty profit. Once again, the maker is screwed. It seems a perfect opportunity for a fair trade template. Anyone?
The Ai is the only person in her village and all the surrounding area to have worked for foreigners. She got great face by having us there. When we arrived in the lower village, they all knew who we were and why we were there. I felt like a Panda bear in a zoo; gawkers everywhere and cameras clicking, children running after the car screaming and smiling. When we finally arrived the pig was cut in half, headless and shaved. The two goats, a nanny and her kid were white and emptied. I wondered how we were going to get all this down to the car a half mile away over treacherous walls and ramparts with steep drops on either side. I was winded just walking up the hill empty-handed. It was a trip with each goat in a basket secured with ropes balanced on a pole over my shoulders coolie style. I wish I had gotten a picture. The sides of pig were no easier. I cannot imagine the rainy season and getting into the village.
We were fed a delicious lunch of the pig’s liver sliced thinly with ginger and garlic chives. I have not had power food in a long time. I could feel the life and energy of the animal; it was that fresh. We were given a small bowl of rice some sautéed cabbage and a tomato and tofu stew with egg in it, and some fresh greens. The kitchen set up is a great tiled counter with a wok inset. It is an oven/furnace fed by a fire. The great-grandmother, 96 and stone deaf sat behind the thing and kept it stoked feeding sticks and wood into the fire. It is a great setup. It also keeps the kitchen warm.
We returned home well after dark, the car full: pig, goat, noodles, honey, tea, drying sweet potato chips, the Ai, and a live rooster. I worked until midnight breaking down the carcasses into family portions for the freezer, and making sausages. I slept well.