This is going to be one of those more personal Notes From Xi’an, as during the May holiday I was back in my wife’s village for a few days and, over and above it being our first year wedding anniversary, it was a particularly pleasant and significant trip. When we were back at Ling’s home just before Spring Festival it became very clear to me that Ling’s parents, having supported both her and her younger brother through college and university, had not benefited from the “luxury” of having a child working out in one of the Southern cities sending money home: a reality for many female siblings coming from the countryside. Not to mention the actual money her parents would have saved if they hadn’t put Ling (the daughter) through University.
What was clear was that the re-development of the Chinese village – which has gone on in the last 5-10 years and which has meant the turning of small and simple family homes into gleaming white-tiled, two-storey rural homesteads – had passed Ling’s parents by. As we were leaving last time, I turned to look back at the village nestled in amongst the fields and recognized just how conspicuous the recent changes visible in other parts of the village were by their absence in Ling’s home. It did seem like it was time to get the family around the kitchen table and to discuss what the next move might be.
When we came back over the ridge to the village this time, Ling initially could not even locate her childhood home. A second floor had been built, a new roof with new beams and new tiles was in place, there were newly tiled exterior walls and interior floors, as well as gleaming new windows running the length of the upper rooms, and – for the first time – an inside bathroom and toilet. I even got to help drill out the concrete in the front yard that would allow pipes to be laid, which in turn would supply running water to the house for the first time. We were all there gathered together in the kitchen when the first stream of water came through. Happy days, indeed.
It is still quite amazing to think about China’s development in these terms, even though I have known this scenario first-hand for a few years now: and even though, I would have my own criticisms of many aspects of this development. But, the fact that in the last few years families have gone from washing at a well by a field, going to the toilet in a hole in the ground by a pig pen, sitting on stools or hard wooden furniture surrounded by damp, plain concrete walls and floors, to the above, is quite amazing. Added to that is the fact, that next time not only will I be able to surf the inernet while looking out over the fields, but there is going to be a shop in the little village selling Apple accessories. Just as we were leaving one of Ling’s old middle-school friend’s was off to Xi’an to stock up. I know it, I see it, but it is still amazing.
It was also interesting to acknowledge a couple of different views on these changes. Ling’s mum thought so much of it was just a waste and unnecessary, and simply worried that everything was going to increase their electricity bill (we had to get her to plug the fridge back in). While a young sixteen-year-old lad – who I had got to know 3 years ago but hadn’t seen much of since – emphasized how bad he thought the developments had been. Surprised by his view, I enquired further about his reasons for thinking that. He told me that what he meant was that it was very sad that development was so slow in that part of China.
The comments above have just reminded me of a Bob Dylan track: “Talkin’ World War III Blues”. In it Dylan makes reference to people being part right and part wrong. Here are the last three verses:
I was feelin’ kinda lonesome and blue,
I needed somebody to talk to.
So I called up the operator of time
Just to hear a voice of some kind.
“When you hear the beep
It will be three o’clock,”
She said that for over an hour
And I hung it up.
Well the doctor interrupted me just about then
Sayin’ “Hey I’ve been havin’ the same old dreams
But mine was a little different you see
I dreamt that the only person left after the war was me
I didn’t see you around”.
Well, now time passed and now it seems
Everybody’s having them dreams
Everybody sees themselves walkin’ around with no one else
Half of the people can be part right all of the time
Some of the people can be all right part of the time
But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time
I think Abraham Lincoln said that
“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”
I said that.