Take Fu Ling, for example. Once a week, the people of this southern Chinese village get together to sell their wares in a market. Local produce, as well as household goods, are sold under one roof. For me, the Fu Ling market offered a great look into a way of life that is in slow decline. Given that the average age of salespeople in Fu Ling was north of fifty, I doubt this market will exist in thirty years. But for now, it is still thriving.
Nowadays, it may seem like everyone in China lives in a big city. But that definitely is not true. Many villages are emptying as more and more people migrate in search of a better life, but small-town life still is flourishing in pockets of China.
Katie and I decided travel from Cambodia to Vietnam in style: in an enclosed speed boat down the Mekong River. We climbed aboard and left Phnom Penh early in the afternoon. A few hours into our journey, Katie cracked open a beer. As if on queue, we stopped at the border, where we had to get stamped out of Cambodia. Katie sipped her beer while waiting in line. She commented that it was her first, and probably last, time drinking alcohol at an immigration checkpoint. The officials didn't seem to mind. They simply stamped our passports and we were on our way. Next we got stamped into Vietnam and continued our trip, watching the slow-paced life along the river's shores.
I took the bus to Deloraine the next morning. Greg, his wife Kate and her daughters Kym and Menon, along with Menon's husband Jason and their children were also there. It was quite a large family gathering. Unfortunately, Menon, Jason and the kids had to fly back to the mainland that afternoon, so we didn't get to talk for long. Before he left, Jason showed me some pictures of him and his son, walking on part of the Overland Track. The photos showcased snowy mountains, dark green forests, wide open grasslands and happy people. It was as if he and I had visited different countries entirely.
One day while walking through Manzhouli, I stumbled upon an outdoor bazaar. Like most markets in China, this was a vibrant place, with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for sale. It was also crowded, with hordes of people and vehicles jockeying for position in the street. I love walking through bazaars; they give me a sense of day-to-day existence in faraway places. Cultural differences can put up barriers between me and the local people, but markets also help me connect me with others in this shared journey through life.
Here are a few photos I took in the Mazhouli market.
Are you planning a trip to Beijing? If so, then make sure you include a visit to a hutong in your itinerary. These shared-housing neighborhoods offer a fantastic real-life glimpse at traditional Chinese culture. Unfortunately, many of Beijing's hutongs have been leveled in favor of apartment towers, but a few have received historical status, protecting them from demolition. Here are some pictures I took during a recent visit to the hutongs of Beijing's Lake District.