There we were sitting in front of his house on little stools and chairs. Of course the mini chairs were for the white guests. He was the village leader or head. It had taken us most of the morning to arrive there. Driving through the flat agricultural land outside of Xi’an we witnessed the endless plots of maize/corn and other vegetable crops. Lots of red hot peppers. Once we started our ascent into the Taibai mountains the cultivation pattern changed as I looked out the window of our van. The land became more vertical and plots of land were scattered all over the landscape including on the climbing mountains. The air cooled and the proliferation of walnuts was apparent. Corn was still a significant part of growing. At the time we were traveling, farmers were gathering the dried corn kernels and letting them dry on the shoulder of the road, or any other flat pieces of pavement that they could find. The were gathering them up and putting them in to large bags for transport. In our short visual exploration of the area around the van once it stopped in the village of our destination there was an enormous amount of variety in small garden plots in front of the houses in the concrete court yard which made up the public space and walkway. Eggplant grew next to roses and peppers and harvest walnuts were everywhere. They even appeared in our lunch in a roasted and candied form. Delectable!

So, there we were in front of the village leader with rosy red cheeks. The survey that we had prepared for Chinese farmers of traditional medicinal plants and herbs was in the hands of a master’s student navigating her way through the translated questionnaire. She transcribed his answers onto our surveys After completing a couple of surveys we were whisked away to lunch. On one other occasion did an odd thing happen. We were directed, the village leader, three professors, three students and Katie and I, into a separate room at the back of the restaurant. This room was big enough for the round table and the chairs that went around it. It was unclear why we went into the private room. Five courses of lunch took one and a half hours. Green beans with eggplant, rice, soup, a full chicken, tofu, two plates of beef, pork liver, corn kernel soup, etc… Every course came as a complete surprise. The plates were placed on a revolving platter in the middle of the table. In front of each person was saucer sized plate which everyone ate from. The traditional eating practice was a more communal meal which involved turning the large revolving platter in the middle of the table in order for everyone to get their chance to taste and eat every dish. As each new dish came out there was a very rigid hierarchy in which the village leader and the lead professor would be offered first at which point they would defer to Katie and I. And then the other professors would be offered and then the students would be given their opportunity. This even occurred with Chinese tea pouring. The tea is free flowing. As soon as the students saw anyone’s cup less than full they offered to fill it up.

After lunch some mysterious shifts took place. Katie and I were ushered into the van and were told that they needed to do their research and we would go to another village to complete more surveys by ourselves. This seemed very odd since we spoke no Chinese and were left in the charge of our driver who spoke no English. The driver took us out of the mountains and after a long drive and some incoherent conversation took us to a hotel. This seemed like a great idea. Travel exhaustion had set in. Just as we were settling into our rooms, we received a call from the researchers in the mountains telling us that we were to go back to Xi’an for reasons of safety. And off we went. There seemed no imminent danger on our radar but went along with the plan. After our afternoon in the village and the hours of travel back and forth I was able to get a glimpse of the Chinese countryside, a trial run of our questionnaire and to spend some time getting a sense of agriculture in this one village. It was a successful day.

These are two great articles which continue to shine the light on the causes and implications of the global financial crisis and the financialization of the global capital: David McNallyIbrahim Warde

Happy reading!