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Guest Speakers in Bangdong


Hi! I’m Sofia. I’m writing this on the 20-hour night bus ride from Lincang, the biggest city close to Bangdong Village, to Kunming. We have finished the first homestay of our trip, and eagerly anticipate the second. My homestay family was an older couple and their adult son, and they were so nice! Though none of them spoke English at all, after the first day or two we could communicate very well. I especially liked watching a show from 1986 at night with them, because we exchanged comments about the show and I asked questions about it. I also really enjoyed our shadow day, where I followed my host grandmother to the tea fields and picked tea with her for 2.5 hours, though she continued to pick as usual when I went to Chinese class.

In Bangdong, we had the opportunity to speak with several locals about their lives, Bangdong’s history, and tea (Bangdong’s only crop). The first of these speakers was Matt (or as we called him, Ma lao shi). Though not a local, Matt has been to Bangdong before as a Dragons instructor, and is now six months into a research fellowship. He is well-known around the village, and even speaks the local dialect. Matt gave us a tour of the village and posed the question “is safety a luxury?” He described a few injuries that have occurred as  a result of village life, and explained how some buildings (including the former primary school) have roofs made from asbestos. It was an interesting question to think about.

A few days later, we spoke with Kang Shifu (Mr. Kang), who runs one of the three convenience stores in town. He told us about Bangdong’s history, including how the people used to grow fruit until the price of tea went up from 2 RMB to around 5000 RMB. Kang shifu also described how Bangdong has experienced huge development in the past ten years, especially since Xi Jinping has been encouraging the urban population to live in more rural areas. For example, the Chinese government loaned every family in Bangdong sixty thousand RMB to improve their homes and install sinks and other Western facilities. Bangdong expects to develop even more in the near future, because a highway is being built that will shorten the 20-hour bus ride that we are all on as I write this to approximately 4 hours. I find it very cool that we could see Bangdong before the highway is built, so we can see how the villagers’ lives will change once it has been built.

Finally, on our second-to-last full day, we spoke with the village mayor, Zhu Hong. He gave us a brief history of Chinese tea, starting with the Qin Dynasty all the way to the present. The main type of tea that is produced in Bangdong and the surrounding area is called Pu’er tea, which is actually why the area itself is now called Pu’er. Around 2006, the demand for Pu’er tea shot up, so the price went way up until it crashed, but during that period, the area (formerly called Simao) changed its name to Pu’er because of the tea’s fame.  When we visited a market in Pu’er and interviewed some stall owners in Chinese, we asked them why Pu’er tea was called Pu’er if it wasn’t named after the area, but they didn’t know. We also asked them (and Zhu Hong spoke about this as well) why the entire Xigui village was moved across the Mekong river. They answered that a dam had been built that made Xigui’s soil too dry to grow tea, so the government helped the residents move across the river into Xin (New) Xigui.

After tea was discussed, Zhu Hong told us about his incredible life story. At 14, he left Bangdong with only 100 RMB (about 16 USD) and went all the way to Guangzhou. In the next 17 years, he did various jobs, went to Myanmar came back to China, owned a bar, and finally returned to Bangdong and was elected mayor. He is doing very good things for the village and is currently trying to improve the waste management problem—as of now, people throw their trash down the steep sides of the mountain Bangdong is on, or burn it. He even has a solution: one person/group of people would be in charge of waste management, and everyone in the village would have to pay a certain amount of money to maintain a machine that would effectively dispose of their waste. Convenience stores would have to pay slightly more, as they have more waste from unpurchased products. This system, if everyone cooperates, could possibly solve Bangdong’s waste management problem in 10-15 years.

Matt, Kang Shifu, and Zhu Hong were all very interesting speakers to talk to, and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Bangdong. I look forward to meeting my Kunming host family later today!