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Small Town Saturday Night

Posted by on July 28, 2012

Howl at the moon; shoot out the lights. The folksy folks of small town China reminded me of the community I grew up in.

After chugging along 12 hours of train track southbound from Beijing, I arrived at my destination: small town Henan province.


I know. It’s not the first thing on most people’s China to-do list, but I had a very special to-do: a 99-year old woman who I’ll introduce you to next time. For now, we go back to that Saturday I arrived and the experiences I had with the locals.

Check it out…

I arrived at the Ruzhou train station groggy after a difficult night’s sleep on the train. It was one of those mornings when you witness the first light of day, but know you ought to be asleep instead. Sort of like, “Aw man, the day’s started, and I’m not ready.”

Oh well, ready or not.

I hopped off my train car and awkwardly wheeled my suitcase over the dirt and track to get to the station platform:

Hanging a left out to the town, I gratefully met my hosts.

Now, a former student of mine, June, set this all up. And it was her family that met me at the tracks. They would also house, feed, and show me around from the time I got off the train to the ride back to the station two days later.

June’s brother-in-law, his daughter (June’s niece), and June’s brother all greeted my arrival. I didn’t know how I’d recognize them. But of course, they had no problem recognizing me.

It was around 8am on a bright, sunny morning:

Ruzhou actually boasts a significant population of ~100,000, but in this 2nd World country this means something different. Buildings and vehicles were in tough shape; traffic was sporadic and disheveled. There was an arid feel to the city.

Interestingly, it featured such wide streets, yet they drove these little miniatures:

It was time for breakfast. So my greeters took me for breakfast. Here was June’s brother-in-law and his beautiful baby girl at our table:

After eating, we met some other family outside an apartment building and piled into a van to drive to next town over: Ruyang.

Here in small-town China, center lines are treated as suggestions.

This town was quite a bit smaller. Maybe the population of Bemidji, but again: done 2nd World, China style. There, June’s sister and husband–the one who picked me up–owned a restaurant. This was pretty cool, cause I got to gorge on a bunch of local foods made the way mom used to make. :)

The cooks in the white, Judy’s sis in the middle, Mom 2nd from the left. (The kids didn’t work.)

And for you geography fans:

I kind of wondered about being a burden on them, but June assured me they were eager to have a visitor. I wasn’t too surprised by this as I’ve been treated so generously many places I’ve visited. The Chinese really adore Western people. Plus, June said I’d be their first American visitor. Perhaps I was the first American to set foot in this small town! Ruyang makes Bemidji look as diverse as the United Nations. So, I guess this made me the delegate for all Caucasians.

They brought me inside and offered me the goods. Time to gorge.

Children of the family and I digging into the mounds of fish, veggies, egg, noodles, and some seaweed stuff.

That’s the thing about China eatin’. They give you a bunch of platefulls of various foods that you think you’ll never even dent. But half hour later, it’s all gone! Cause it’s good. The crunchy, the salty, the sweet, tender and juicy and greasy, the light and flakey. Chinese food is awesome.

Let’s look at the trouble-makers who prepared the meal:

This restaurant likes their cooks unbuttoned.

And I liked them to add that smokey flavor:

‘Chinese Kitchen’ needs to be on reality TV

Things picked up as evening approached and the kitchen started rockin’ and rollin’:

Check it out:

Small Town Saturday Night was upon us. A group of five dudes lumbered through the restaurant front door, carrying themselves without a care in the world. They requested food like they owned the place—-not in an arrogant way, but with a warm familiarity. Oddly, the vibe brought me back to my days in high school, where growing up in small town Blackduck, MN, I remembered the same total ease and comfort with which I moved through the halls. Like these guys—-like any small town, I think—-there’s no need to be self-conscious about acting the right way among a roomful of strangers.

Now living in a larger city, the familiarity with most folks around me simply isn’t there. So there’s at least a necessary to create a mode of indifference to the many people in urban life. It seems like you got to put up some walls in a city.

I find it so darned interesting that I recognized this difference while here in rural China! After all, I lived 18 years in tiny Blackduck. But for whatever reason, being in this context helped me realize this charm. And it all started with these jokers:

They reminded my of my mother’s uncles, actually.

A familial familiarity

Later on, I walked the dark streets of Ruyang. Some of the locals approached and looked at me. Some would say “hello” and giggle. To them, I’m a sight; but to me, I’m the observer. It’s a two-way street when you visit a different world. I approached an outdoor eatery, the kind I’d seen all over this country and what is known everywhere simply as ‘barbeque’:

Along the right, cooks with raw food and a propane grill set up shop; people then pick out the meats and veggies they want cooked.

Other than this crowd, it was quiet and clear this night. I could howl at the moon as I missed the small-town life back in Minnesota.

The next day was a fresh look at a Small Town Sunday Morning:

And just for fun, here’s a shot of my hometown to compare:

Blackduck, Minnesota

Next week we get much more rural–and historic–as I take you as far as the Ruyang community bus goes.

enjoy the rural,


One Response to Small Town Saturday Night

  1. Noah

    Just wanted to say I am really enjoying the blog, its an excellent read!