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Postscript supplied by Erik

Shara also sent a paper letter from China while she was enroute to
her village. I received it today, the day before I pick her up from
the airport. She asked me to type it for her followers.  I hope my
fingers are up to the task...  Return address is

Shara Johnson
On a Bus
Northern China

I'm in the minivan on a "super-highway" that follows the Great Wall
outside of Yulin City (taking a day trip before we go to village this
afternoon.)  First I want to correct a number I gave you in the last
email - population of Yulin City is 3 million not 300,000 - was a bit
rushed when I wrote, only had a few minutes.  And I wanted to try to
tell you a few things like what the reforestation project here in
China is all about.  The meeting we had with the govt officials, they
explained to us.  This is an effort to halt the increasing desertification of this
area.  The area has been completely stripped of natural resources by
people living here for hundreds of years.  So the soil is very poor
for agriculture now.  There are no trees left (have used the wood for
fires, building, etc) + lots of erosion.  So it's rather barren.  The
villagers are actually quite happy about this because they are happy
to have better farmland - they can still be peasant farmers in their
new location, but some of them may choose to move to the city.
Anrong - our principal investigator who is from our research village,
3 hours from Yulin City, had never been to the city until he got
accepted to a university + his father took him to the city to buy a
train ticket to get to the school.  So people didn't really leave
their village much.  The first plantings in this reforestation effort
took place in the 1950s and now we've seen those areas and they're
becoming nice + green again + becoming healthy land.  We met a man
who has been researching + implementing the methods of planting new
growth for the last 30 years + he was very sweet + dedicated to the
science of the project. The villagers are moving into the valley because it has a stream and they’ll have access to water right in their yards + will be closer to the highway (they think this makes them more modern even though they seldom go to the townships). And the loss of cultural traditions +
continuity that the villagers will experience in the move is actually
not well perceived by the villagers themselves.  It is really Anrong
who has identified this inevitability + part of the point
of this research documentation is to share it with the villagers to show them
their own richness + help them value it themselves.  Anrong is sad to
see the disruption of the cultural folklore traditions, having the
benefit of academic philosophies, but apparently the rest of the village
is not as cognizant of this loss - they are just happy for the new
“modern” homes the government is helping them build.  However, I guess we shall see for ourselves soon.  But
that's how its been explained to us now.  When we asked questions to
the gov't officials they always answered in general terms.  Few
specific answers are given to specifically worded question.  And the
answers did not fail to include somewhere how happy the people always
are after they are relocated.  The people are happy, the people are
happy... One distinctly feels the propagandist culture.  So it will
be interesting to hear from the villagers.  I don't know if we'll have
the opportunity to speak with people who have already been relocated
+ ask them of their satisfaction/happiness with their new homes.
Anyway - there is a brief explanation you will find helpful + also is
counter to the sinister explanations we had imagined.  They plant the
seeds for the shrub cover by airplane + hand plant the trees.  It
really is a desert here, + this actually may be a good policy to try
+ reclaim from the sand some life again.  Culturally, this area is
unique for its intermixing of Mongolian cultures.

The folk singers of last night were amazing.  I can't explain
how emotionally powerful it was - even these short pieces performed
for us.  The soprano singer had won 1st place in a nat'l competition.
A song the man sang made the P.I,  JiangLu, cry.  It was about 2
lovers in the desert who cannot meet + are destined only to see each
other from across a valley - each on an opposite hill + their tears
fall into the sand.  But I have always made fun of Chinese operatic
performances to some degree, b/c it's so exaggerated + strange to
western musical sounds + facial expressions are so dramatic.  But to
have them 2 feet away from me + knowing what they're singing about
is an epiphany.  And the northern singers sing with unbelievable
strength + volume.  Holy, holy cow.  This strong type of singing came about because of the northern terrain.  People began singing to each other in the field, + the topography here is convoluted + hilly, so people had to hear each
other across far distances, so they developed an incredibly powerful
singing style.  Truly, I found it astounding.

By the way, the drinking of the shots the night before was only
possible for me due to this yogurt drink we also had.  When they gave
us this yogurt drink I was scared of it, thought it would be gross.
But the P.I.s went on about how good it was.  So I tried it + they
tell the truth.  Anyway, I would drink it right after each shot as a
chaser + because it's so thick + "meaty" it was a very good chaser. I
know you're wondering how I would do all those shots when I never do
them at home.  I remember my dad telling of the same thing - the
drinking/toasting - when he was in China with the U.S. EPA officials the
time he was guest of the Chinese gov't.  Fortunately we were not fed
scorpions + toads and live fish like he was!  But we were given several local specialties + the food has been outstanding + bountiful.

So the contrast is interesting between how we have [eaten + been
treated + honored] and our hotel accommodations, which are so awful.
[note from typist... her handwriting from here on gets very bad...]
Our toilet leaks all over the bathroom floor, the wall under the sink
is just exposed, corroded pipes, corrosion everywhere.  Carpet, once
pink is gray, cigarette burns in my mattress which the bed sheet is
not quite big enough to cover completely.  The towels are more like
sheets of rice paper + we have to ask 6 times to get new (clean)
towels + when they come, we got two damp hand towels.  When we went
out walking, all the mothers wanted us to take photos of their
children + they'd tell them to smile + say "hello".
OK - we're on rough road now.... [typist edited out instructions to
send to her china list and love kitty]

back to China I


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