It’s taken me a long time to finish this piece on my trip in China. At long last I’ve decided I’m going to stop making it so hard, just tell it like it comes out of my head and show you through the pictures I took. I hope this post will insight some discussion.
Beijing, the capital of China, was a shiny new place with glass exteriors and steel structures, and I’ll spend time on that later… because what I’d like to tell you about is my food experiences in Guilin. This is where I saw China as I had always imagined it. A bustling, busy, mass of bourgeoisie society where nothing was orderly and yet everything and everyone was moving towards the same collective goals.
But more specifically, I’ll tell you about a market I visited. This single 25 minute experience where I spent walking through this market was an entirely new experience with food – so far removed from my reality it was even though everyday I work in food and where it comes from.
First off, it made me realize just how romantic our locavore-elite-community is about our farmers – they are the heroes of Southern Ontario’s food system. And yet in many other parts of the world, farmers are peasants, made to do work that just needs to be done. Eating off the land is just what you do and someone’s got to do it. You grow some watermelons, you put them in the back of your truck and you pick a street corner. If you do well, you come back the next day. If you don’t, you choose another corner.
Secondly, I thought about garlic, and specifically, made-in-China-garlic. Any Toronto foodie worth their salt knows not to buy garlic made in China – those lifeless, eerily perfect bleached white heads that you find in a six pack for a dollar at the grocery store that taste like nothing. Well I gotta tell you – it may be made in China, but the Chinese ain’t eating that garlic. Their garlic was speckled with dirt, papery and purple and stinky as heck.
Which made me wonder exactly who is mandating the Made in China items that can be found so cheaply in our big-box stores? Chinese made-goods aren’t actually 100% Chinese, are they? We are quick to forget that they are designed in cooperation with and for other countries who simple want things cheaper and faster.
Thirdly, it made me think about how ridiculously careful we are with how we handle our food. I’d like you to take note of the way food is laid out in the images. Toronto Healthy Inspectors be damned – animals were slaughtered live and slabs of meat sat just waiting to be picked. And what of that? Is it gross and unsanitary? Or are North Americans so coddled? After all, vegetables grow in dirt and pigs roll in mud.
And here’s some background – Guilin is a city of 1.34 million, and is surrounded by karst formations. The mighty Li River runs through the city. The images here are from a market in Guilin, just steps away from the lovely hostel we stayed in. It was a maddening place – full of people of all ages and sizes, mostly all locals, just doing their daily shopping. The images, while fascinating to me, were ordinary, random moments I was able to capture that give you just a glimpse of what it felt like to me. The whole market must have stretched a kilometre long down a narrow alleyway. It was loud and bright. Jam and I were the most odd pair in the place – two Canadians – a big-eyed, bare-legged Chinese girl with a huge smile on her face and camera around her neck, and a four-eyed Egyptian fellow with more facial hair than an Asian man could shake a stick at.
Lastly, do take notice of the bicycle carriers. How amazing are they?
Enjoy this little trip to the far east through photographs.
I loved this man’s little scale…