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Smell the earth: ‘Suddenly you find that you are in a very different world…’


AUGUST 7, 1995

Smell the earth: ‘Suddenly you find that you are in a very different world…’


BEIJING–On the four lane super expressway. that connects Beijing to the city of Tianjin are

exits that take you to rural China, barely half an hour out of Beijing. Suddenly you are in a

different world, where you can smell the earth and marvel at the myriad colors of green, from the rice growing in the paddy field to the lush acres of corn and tree-lined narrow roads that shield you from the hot sun. It’s bucolic in the country-side and the air is so clear that you can see for miles. The few cyclists, an occasional donkey cart a young boy expertly guiding his sheep across the road are all part of the scenery. The cars, buses, three wheelers and trucks carrying produce drive at a leisurely pace. Little villages dot the countryside

and the houses are made of brick, most with small courtyards.

The larger villages have shops owned by the locals with signs like “Little Hong Kong Barber Shop” or “Big Ear Restaurant,” while farmers sit by the roadside selling watermelons, peaches and fresh green vegetables. Perhaps the most unique features are the large pool tables laid out in the sun, where age is no barrier and young men play with boys, while the little ones struggle to master the game. Almost every village has this singular form of recreation, unusual because it is played outdoors.

Chinese hospitality is an experience, that one can never forget. Guests are treated to a meal

where the courses keep coming and 20 different dishes at a single sitting is not unusual.  The vegetables are lightly cooked in delicately flavoured sauces; different styles of beef, pork, chicken and fish are offered each with a new ingredient, a subtle flavour, so very different from the Chinese food eaten in the western world. And the hosts, ever so gracious, explain how each ingredient is vital for one’s skin, heart, digestion and other ailments one might suffer from.

China has become very aware of the environment.  There are signs everywhere that say “Protect your environment” and in the city as well as in the villages one sees hundreds of newly planted trees. All the villages have junk yards where people can sell old scrap, bottles, cans and other kinds of metal.

The City

Beijing throbs with life and with the new economic reforms there are shops everywhere.

Shops that sell food, cloths, electronics and handicrafts and for those who can’t afford a shop, there are street corners where vendors sell everything from exotic herbal medicines to trinkets and toys, from Pepsi to fresh watermelons.  There are even vendors with old weighing machines that charge next to nothing to tell your weight after a 20 course Chinese meal.

And if you were ever in doubt on how fast China is progressing you have just to watch out for some cyclists zipping along talking on their cellular phones.