Often the highlight of my day is when the wall dips down a valley into a fortified village where the two become one.
As you trundle down the mountain slope into the village you hit a time warp, as you are Trans- located into yesteryear, into a bygone error. Time has stood still as you slowly wonder down the small windy cobbled streets, folk pop their heads out from their homes, dressed in blue “Moa suits,” caps and round, thick-rimmed state issue dark glasses. Donkeys labour up the streets towing heavily laden carts of fire wood or soil to fix the roads.
There is the constant drone of load speakers in the back ground, indoctrinating the villagers about fire warnings as well as other info. Then there is the unmistakeable sound of the three-wheeler trucks as they put-put up the road, bellowing smoke fully laden with produce on the way to bigger town markets. These trucks are the life blood of rural China, they go everywhere and anywhere. Funnily, I have never seen one broken down along the road; they are always chugging along indestructible.
Fondly known in Chinese as “3 boom- boom.”
Every town has the classic gatherings of old folk, retired in their 70’s sitting in huddles in the sun chatting about yesteryear or totally engrossed in a game of Chinese’s chess. Gaming is massive in rural Chinese villages. We will often come across a shop with a side room packed with folk around tables, playing Mahjong for money – which is totally taboo and could end up in you being arrested and the punishment is time spent in self-reflection and in the process, a promise to kick the habit.
This is the China I live for, these interactions are what makes everyday a memorable one, to be able to experience life in another era.
Unfortunately compared to the last time I ran the wall 12 years ago I have to my horror seen a massive decline in these little hamlets. A lot of them are in a state of disrepair, beautiful old buildings collapsing and lying in ruin as the people have vacated them and moved to “new build farming villages.”
All one sees now is a handful of old folk that have refused to move and are left behind, tilling the soil in their small patch, eking out an existence. They are the only inhabitants left in these ghost villages. The youth also don’t want to live in these rural hamlets and have all moved off to the bigger cities in search of a better life rather the hard, rural labour on the family farming land, leaving the older folks behind who know of no other life, they only know the farming way.
I feel if they were forced to move from this way of life, a city high-rise would be the end for them