One day in late June 2013 my husband and I visit gugu. Gugu is my father-in-law’s older sister and I like her immediately. She is an elderly woman in her late 70s who lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law, her grandson and a few chicken and geese in the countryside of Northeast China’s Jilin province.
Although their house has been newly built only recently, it lacks the modern facilities of running water. The toilet, an outhouse, is in the garden, about 50 m from the house. In the evening, gugu puts a bucket on the terrace just outside the kitchen, former will be our toilet for the night.
My husband and I share the kang, the heated bed and center of family activities in Northeast China’s cold winters, with gugu. We go to bed right after dawn at around 8 in the evening. Gugu gets up with the sun at 4 in the morning. I sleep two more hours until it’s time to eat breakfast.
Later, I take photos in the kitchen while gugu prepares lunch. We’ll be eating a chicken that has just been plucked by gufu, gugu’s husband. Gugu asks me:
“Do you have chicken eggs in Austria?”
I: “We do.”
I watch the geese waddle through the garden. When gugu sees this, she asks: “And geese? Do you have geese?”
I: “We do.”
A little later when she’s preparing rice, she asks me: “How about rice? Do you have rice back at home?”
I: “We do, but only imported one. We don’t grow rice in Austria, so we import it from Italy or somewhere else.”
She: “And do you eat rice in Austria?”
I: “We do, but it’s not our staple food. Our staple foods are things made from wheat and potatoes.”
She: “I see. Rice is our staple food here in the north. People in the south* also eat things made from wheat as their staple food.”
*With south she means places such as Beijing and Xian, which for people from Northeastern China are in the south but would count as North China on a map.
Have you ever stayed in China’s countryside? What was it like? I’d love to read your stories.