While we were in the Philippines, Jason had time to go around Xishuangbanna for a month by himself, meet people and study tea right at the source. The other day, he took us to the village of his newfound friend who graciously welcomed us to their home. Mr. Luo and his family have been producing tea for decades in the Bei Yin mountain. The tea trees there are so tall you have to climb way up high to pick the leaves, far from the rows of low bushes we usually see.
While sitting on the two-seater garden swing, blogging this morning, I was suddenly invited by Mr. Luo to hop on his motorcycle and get breakfast. His wife who usually prepares the food left earlier to help pick up the wedding guests. We rode up and up winding roads till we reached the house where the whole village was having breakfast and women were chopping up chili and other ingredients for lunch enough to feed hundreds.
We returned with take-away bags for the late-risers after which, Joshua and I borrowed mountain bikes. I half-rode, half-pushed the bike while Joshua led most of the way with little fear and without the mental baggage I had.
Ten years ago, I biked every weekend with the MOB – the Mountain Bikers of Beijing. My brother and I drove three hours from TEDA to hook up with a mostly foreign group who explored the mountains surrounding Beijing. Although I was already the worst and slowest rider back then, I was never as hesitant downhill as I was today, perhaps due to the safety-conscious, maternal, survival instinct that kicks in after having children. I tried to recall the power and care-free confidence of singlehood but I was content to lag way behind my seven-year old son. The torch of courage has been passed on. Well, I also put on a lot of weight.
Joshua and Jimmy have the time of their life catching fish with nets and their bare hands. Two ponds were nearly drained of water so catching the slippery critters was easy except some still darted away too quickly. With their clothes covered in mud the way childhood ought to be enjoyed to the max, the kids get cleaned up in the stream where the workers proceeded to wash the fish and remove the guts.
Mr. Luo explained that every family in the village contributes manpower to the wedding which last three days. We join them for one lunch and one dinner. I doubt if I could last more than that as I escaped the smoke and toasts. All the wine was homemade, served in recycle mineral water bottles that we mistook as real water containers until I tried washing my hands with it and the women behind our table shouted, jiu, jiu! (alcohol, alcohol!)
On our third morning in the mountain village, Mr. Luo kills a pig in our honor. I wish I could have convinced my husband that there was no need for this. The spectacle of killing a pig was almost unbearable and I’m ashamed I still managed to take some pictures with my phone. I saw her eyes pleading as the pig was tied up and brought to the table. Now, bacon is up there in my list of favorites with chocolate and cheese but I don’t know how I’m going to eat the next meal. Although this won’t make me into a vegan like Clement and Fanny because I love meat too much, it’s enough to temporarily stop me in my omnivorous tracks.
It’s good homeschooling/worldschooling biology material for Joshua and Jimmy, but I do have to request Jason that the next time anyone offers this sort of “honor” to please respectfully decline. It’s one those experiences that once is definitely enough. I don’t mind buying a rasher of bacon or ground pork from the grocery but this takes it to a different level. Shall I be a complicit murderer all my life? I just don’t need to see the eyes of what I eat before they’re killed. What a ghastly sentence! To make me feel better or worse or more confused, I research about slaughterhouses.
Then it dawned on me that a day before, I saw the eyes of the fish right before they were cooked over fire minutes after they were caught and I didn’t flinch or grimace. It seemed a more natural progression — the idyllic scene of camp fire next to a burbling brook. Does the life of a fish matter less than a pig? What about dog meat which was served up in one of the dinners we went to in urban China. I didn’t see it alive but people react with disgust when I tell them I tasted it. At the end of the day, we will consume what we consume and glimpses of death will flit in and out of our consciousness, unrecognizable, unacknowledged unless a compelling detail disturbs us for a moment or two.
The freshly grilled pork is divine reminding me of my favorite Philippine liempo, only the sauce is spicy. We say goodbye to Mr. Luo and his family, amazed and warmed by their generosity while we have a hard time convincing Joshua and Jimmy to leave.