A had texted me a few days before, inviting me out to ST’s parents’ farm. (ST is one of her instructors). Of course I said yes – I’d been wondering what I’d do on my day off. She picked me up a little after 9 and then we went to pick up some more teachers: S from Canada (see Mongolian Lunch) and R from Australia, and his (Chinese) wife. (R was the guest speaker I mentioned in Week Eleven). A had borrowed a friend’s car that was more rugged than her regular car. I would soon discover why.
The drive out to the farm took about 40 minutes. We had a lively conversation as the scenery became increasingly rural. Finally, we turned off the main road and drove through a small village. We kept going and eventually turned onto a dirt road. It was quite narrow and bumpy – we pulled over several times to let vehicles coming from the other direction pass by. And then we went down into a gully, through a short tunnel with a sharp left turn immediately after – and were trapped because a huge truck was coming to go through the tunnel and it was in the middle of the road in preparation for making the tight turn. We couldn’t scoot over due to mud and a significant drop off. The truck backed up and over so that we could squeeze by.
We then made another turn a bit further on, and the road was even narrower, and super bumpy. It reminded me of Jamaica – but much worse! The scenery had changed significantly at this point. There were lots of those small mountains that are so familiar from Chinese paintings. I tried to take photos but the car was bouncing up and down so much that many were blurry.
Next, we went up a very steep hill with a hairpin turn, and then down the other side, which was also steep. At last we saw rows of trees and a building in the distance. We had finally arrived!
We got out and greeted the other guests. ST gave everyone clementines while we chatted outside and then took us inside the house, where his father was busy cooking. He gave out more clementines before leading us back outside and around back to where the chickens and turkeys live. On the way, he and his mom gave us some small sticks of wood so that we could smell how aromatic it was. He told us that the wood wasn’t for making furniture – it’s used as incense and for medicinal purposes.
As we approached the birds, his mom went ahead and got a big scoop of birdfood and called them. Suddenly there was a mad rush as dozens of chickens and several turkeys raced over for food. ST’s mom offered the scoop of food to several people so they could feed the birds. I declined. I had a childhood incident with the flamingoes at Ardastra Gardens in Nassau and didn’t want another one.
Once everyone finished playing with the birds, we set out on a tour of the property. ST said it would be about 40 minutes. I was glad that I’d worn my leather walking shoes, which can be cleaned off pretty easily, and gave support in the uneven terrain. One of the women was wearing four inch heels (!) but she gamely went along, while S complained that he should’ve worn different shoes, and a young guy kept stopping to wipe his shoes on the clumps of grass. (They were both wearing athletic shoes).
Other than the rocky path, and some mud puddles, the hike was enjoyable. The two farm dogs accompanied us, though they kept running off to chase something in the brush. We saw a bunch of pellets which were certainly scat. ST told us there were wild goats in the mountains and they often came down to the farm to graze.
Upon our return to the house, ST’s mother gave us all cups of tea made from the leaves of the trees from the farm. It tasted herbal. She had large diagram showing the tree and how the different parts can be used. We asked what kinds of trees they were, but none of the Chinese people knew the English name.
We then were invited upstairs into what appeared to be a large living/dining room. It had a TV, sofa, coffee table, chairs, and a large round table at the far side, which was set for dinner. ST brought more clementines for everyone, and also some slices of fresh wild papaya. We chatted for a while and then were invited to be seated at the table for lunch. A large bowl of turkey soup as already in place and was quickly joined by a whole crispy turkey (including head and long neck). It was juicy and the crispy skin was delicious. We were each given a plastic glove and told to just tear off a piece of meat. This was easier said than done however, since the bird was piping hot. Someone brought a knife and managed to cut up some of the turkey so that we could all get a piece.
Then, the parade of food began. I lost count of how many dishes were served, most featuring different parts of the turkey, or the same part cooked in a different way. There were some veggies, but it was primarily turkey, raised by ST’s parents. They also brought out an enormous egg custard and also a dish featuring the famous Thousand Year Eggs. I tried the former, but not the latter.
After the meal, some people went outside for another walk, while the rest of us stayed to talk. I did have to use the toilet, so went downstairs to use it. When I came out, ST’s mom filled a large bowl with water for me and dropped something into it, indicating that I should rinse my hands. The water smelled herbal.
Shortly after that, the walkers came back and it was time to leave. Of course there was a lot of talking as we made our way downstairs and said our goodbyes. ST was handing out small bottles, saying that it was from the trees. The lightbulb flashed in my head. I asked him if was oil. He answered that it was and that they distill it themselves. OMG! I told him that I sell essential oils! He called his mom over and told her, though she explained that they don’t produce enough to market it – it’s just enough to share with family and friends. I had to know the name of the tree! Fortunately, one of the guests was able to find it on his smartphone: camphor. Aha! That explained the familiar smell.
ST told us their story. His parents had owed a factory, but they sold it and moved to the countryside to farm. They’d had to clear the land, build the road onto their land, plant the trees, and then wait years for the trees to mature. OMG! I realized that his parents are homesteaders. Their house might be rustic, even by Chinese standards, but they are doing something that few people would choose to do.
They are amazing!
And they invited us to come back in Spring, when everything will be blooming.
I can’t wait!