Living in a Chinese village is very different from living in my American village of Hoboken, NJ.
First, there are 50,000 souls crammed into my American village of one-square mile. This means you don’t see the same people every day. Some days you don’t even see anyone you know, but you see people everyday, on every inch of sidewalk, everywhere.
In the Chinese village of Wangzhiguo, there are maybe 300 souls, most of them young kung fu students, living in this cul-de-sac not on any map. The area is about two city blocks long by one city block wide, at most. This means that you see the same people everyday, and they see you. If you get tired of seeing them, you can climb to the opposite hill, where you can see the village as a silent cluster of gray buildings in the distance (in the center below): Until recently, most of the people in China lived in tiny villages like this one. Now, for the first time in China’s history, more people live in the big cities, where the jobs are, than in the villages where they were born, or where their families have lived since the earth began cooling.
Secondly, there are LOTS of cars in my American village, taking up every inch of curbside parking, and lots of buses that run up and down the streets, and fire trucks that like to come screaming out of their firehouses late at night, and delivery trucks and mail trucks and police cruisers and ambulances and garbage trucks and helicopters and taxis all over the place, all the time.
In this Chinese village, there are a few cars and minivans and a few slow-moving vehicles such as . . .and this:and this:There are fast-moving vehicles too, such as this:that ferry tourists from the temple up to the village and back down again.
Thirdly, in my American village, there are laundromats and dry cleaners on every block. If your apartment is big enough, you might even have your own washer and dryer. Or your building might have machines for you to use. Doing laundry is easy. Press a button and everything is clean. Press another button and everything is dry.
Not in the Chinese village.
Washing machines are rare. My village home had one, but it was only used for big loads of hotel bed linens.
And clothes dryers?
This is a clothes dryer:It was right outside the front door of my hotel. What you see here was my first load of laundry. I felt very self-conscious. I didn’t want people to see my underwear so I tucked it behind my kung fu outfit.
I checked it once.
I checked it twice.
Then I walked away.
I really hated hanging my underwear out for all to see. But I had no choice. Twice a day (after each workout) I hand-washed my clothes in my bathroom sink and hung it out to dry, underwear and all. At least it was in this quiet alley, where only the dozen or so students from the kung fu school next door marched past: But sometimes this dryer was not available. It was drying the clothes of my landlady and her grandchildren. What did I do then?
Well, there were other dryers around the village:Can you believe I hung my clothes to dry where the old guys sit to play chess in the afternoons? Note the table and chairs for chess. Note the location of the underwear, BEHIND the larger garments. But wait a minute, if you’re coming from the OTHER direction, they’re no longer behind anything! Yikes!!!
What the heck.
Then one day, when my favorite (and most discreet) dryers were unavailable, I did the unthinkable — I marched out to the sunniest spot in the village where villagers hang their laundry every day.
And I hung my clothes, underwear and all, on the main drag, right beside the dried-up river and in front of the shops where all 300 young kung fu boys run past every morning and every afternoon:And that’s when I knew I’d become a real villager because I DIDN’T CARE. Well, actually, I did care, but I COULDN’T let myself think about it. I JUST NEEDED TO DRY MY CLOTHES! IT WAS SO EMBARRASSING!!!