Visiting the In-Laws: Beisujiagoucun 北苏家沟村 in Lulong County, Hebei Province, China

So we’re packing our things the day before the trip. Our inventory is an interesting one. We have bags of dried hawthorn, mango and dates, two whole roast ducks for Dad and two bumper economy packs of powdered lotus root for Suzie’s Mum. Simply add hot water to make either a sweet drink or a porridge, whatever takes your fancy.

click to enlarge

We’ll be up at five thirty in the morning to avoid the traffic on the fifth ring road. A sense of foreboding hangs over me like a cloud as it’s another national break. Last holiday we took a taxi to the park but had to turn back after only twenty minutes. Oh and also one hour to actually get off the expressway such was the level of congestion. Some Chinese friends also going in that direction this weekend warned us that this was still too late and that they would be setting off at four thirty!

This is the first time to go to Suzie’s folk’s place. “It’s out in the countryside” is the only information I’ve been able to glean so far, that and the address; Beisujiagoucun 北苏家沟村 in Lulong County (beɪ/sju/ʤɑ/gaʊ/sʌn or bay-sue-jar-gow (like cow) –  son). Pasting it into Google maps I find it’s a small village way past Tangshan, far removed from any major roads.
“You can find it when we get there. That’s your job,” says Suzie casually “I haven’t been there in ten years so I can’t remember anything. I think it may have a shop!”

Next day in the Godforsaken early hours I pray that my brain can rapidly wake up to deal with the roads.
“What is this holiday anyway?” I lamely ask as we open the front door. I should really know this by now.
“It’s Labour Day!”
“So what’s it about?” More lameness.
“It’s for workers to have time off and respect people who work in the countryside like my parents. That’s why they use the word ‘labour’; to labour in the fields. My parents have a field you know.”
“They have a field?”
“Yes of course they do,” laughs Suzie “What do you think they do in the countryside? I also have a field!”
My wife has a field! Well you learn something every day!

The early start pays off and we’re out of Beijing after an hour and a half. However on the G1 Gaosugonglu (expressway) things immediately slow down to a snail’s pace. An endless number of bumper to bumper prangs bring the flow to a virtual standstill, no doubt due to the early start and loss of concentration. There are also four and five car shunts as well as trucks and buses that have made side to side contact as they try and jump lanes.

After a long and tiresome morning we finally arrive at Lulong County and exit the expressway. An instant change in road quality is an indicator that we’ve landed into unfamiliar territory. Potholes and cracks send the small city car we’ve borrowed juddering and banging as its poor suspension takes a severe beating. The narrow roads snake past ramshackle hamlets, farmlands and through clouds of sepia dust forcing us to close the windows. Ageing machinery towers rusting and abandoned vividly against the clear blue sky. Empty buildings are left to decay with no reason for demolition. Farm animals wander around aimlessly across the road and empty railroad tracks.

Finally we arrive at Beisujiagoucun. I must admit I’ve never been to anywhere like this before. A single downward sloping thoroughfare with barely enough space for the car connects to six or seven side-roads and around fifty small homes. Our slow crawl down the street means that the locals all stop what they’re doing, gawping at the foreigner inches away from the window.

Suzie’s folks live in a three room one storey house. It has a central kitchen area with a bedroom on one side and living room on the other. They have an outside toilet and a couple of sheds and you can climb onto the roof with a metal ladder permanently wired to the side of the building. From there you get a three hundred and sixty degree panoramic view of the whole area. The sense of space is overwhelming, magnified by a legion of pylons suspending crackling electricity lines above the furrowed land off into the distance. Directly below, one of their neighbours spends the whole afternoon meticulously repairing a steel bucket.

Shu Lan (Mum) lays on a huge spread of food. There are a lot of friends and relatives and everyone dives in with gusto. How Shu Lan manages to make so much food from one gas burner I dont know, but she continues to cook the whole time while everyone is eating, adding more dishes to the table. One of the ducks gets broken up and served along with spare ribs, shredded crispy pork and ‘country style’ chicken. There is dofu and spinach soup along with countless other vegetable dishes. Phew! 

Suzie and I go for a walk after dinner. Mile upon mile of dry terracotta soil stretch as far as the horizon. There is hardly any water around here and it’s been in drought for years. Corn is the most common crop since it’s hard to get anything else to grow. Groups of people are working on the land; specks in the distance disappearing in the strong afternoon sun. Oh, and she cant remember where her field is!

There are numerous mounds of earth spread haphazardly throughout the area, some really close to the village. “They are the graves. When people die they get buried in their field. They work on their field all their lives so it’s where they belong. Their family will continue farming around them.”

80 replies

      • Pretty good trip here Andy , think Japan is a very civilised country , quite introspective and one gets a certain feeling that we westerners are still the barbarians . Having a great time – hosted tonight by another lovely Japanese couple — former international cycle tourists.

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      • Fair question Andy — called ” warm showers ” a cycling fraternity of long distance tourers that offer back hosting to like minded cyclists.
        Been a great way to get an inside perspective on culture etc.

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  1. This was awesome on so many levels, Andy. The writing, the photos, the personal feel of it all…. It is definitely one which I will return to read again. The part about them working the fields and then being placed to rest there is lovely. Clare

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  2. This is a place I am familiar of because where I come from it is similar.
    The pictures reminded me of that life and where I was raised and grown up.
    Life was hard and simple, and yet there is such a simplicity in its own beauty in it.
    I remembered that at home when one bulb in the living room was the only source of our light at home and the same bulb of which we plugged out to be put in the bathroom so that we got light in there to take a shower. LOL
    Funny and odd to the Western, but to me it is simply one of the normal thing in the village.
    Now, I am in the mid of Europe with a life so rich and modern, different to the one where I came from and almost twenty years …
    Thank for sharing this blog! Gosh … now I am homesick.

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  3. Hiya Andy – after throwing caution to the wind I decided to come back. 🙂
    I have to say that this is a very interesting read. In fact, when I think about it, it’s my favourite subject! I married a Trinidadian and I think that part of the reason for this is my fascination with how people fit into different cultures. Did you ever read a book called Shogun (or maybe see it on TV)? This book epitomises the kind of journey that I love to read about and love to experience. It sounds like you are going through something similar, Andy.
    I love the way you write! You should consider writing books (yes – I know). 😀
    You’re going to have to find where Suzie’s field is in time for her funeral by the sounds of it. Just saying.

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    • Ha ha Hiya Robert. Well glad you came back for a second look. Sounds like culture is also where its at for you. I so agree with you mate > My life changed massively when me and Suzie got hooked up, I mean on interest levels. I do remember Shogun from years back > we’re giving our ages away here you know lol. Have you been back to Trinidad much? Maybe I’ll find something about it on your site. As for the field, I think she is more likely to want to be buried outside Zara!

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      • We go back to Trinidad at least once a year – mainly for family and mainly for Mom. I’m not sure about the future though because Mom passed away at the by-gum-but-she’s-had-a-long-life (yes – I’m a Yorkshire lad) age of 91. It’ll be interesting to see if that dampens my wife’s interest in being there. We have a massive family there though – hundreds and hundreds of them!
        Shogun. Yeah. Age. Yeah. 52 this year – 18 of it married. Longest lasting phase of my life so far (if that’s what it is). 😉

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      • Hey Robert > Your ahead of me by two and a bit years. Nice to be chatting to someone who can remember the Sparks (yeeeey) and Buggles (oh the pain). 91 is a top class innings mate. By the sounds of it you’ll be back in no time with so many relatives there. I am already in China so it means going back to the UK > so damned expensive. Congrats on the 18 mate!

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      • Ha ha > It was the Buggles that really killed me. Well that and so many more around that time. I admit being more of a hippy/thrash metal punk sort of dude around that time? Yourself mate?

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      • Mainstream stuff – TOTP and BBC R1 up until I was about 19 and then I left home and started to get into goths (The Mission, Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, Bauhaus, Tones on Tail etc.) flat-tops (The Cramps. The Smiths, Spear of Destiny) rockers (geesh – can’t remember any of the bands – I can see their faces … oh, wait – early Japan, The Wonderstuff, erm … hmm, The Cult, The Pogues (yeah, I know – but in concert …) and that’s all I remember of that) then I started to get into stuff like Inspiral Carpets (pre fame), Happy Mondays, James, The Stone Roses and then .. not really sure where I went from there. Just started to listed to BBC R1 again and … it’s a bit of a revelation really – the kids these days seem really positive about their music – certainly in the mainstream. The lyrics are all positive and up on life and being happy and stuff like that. It really lifts me to listen to some of the new music now. Takes me back to my early teens with Slade and Sweet and T-Rex and all that good stuff – lots of energy and life. Bit hippyish in its own way!
        Just realised – I’ve been waiting for decades for someone to ask me about music – thanks for that, Andy! 😀

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      • Hiya Robert > My Problem is actually getting hold of anything new that’s worth while. I scan LastFM every now and again but when I went back to the UK last time I was so out of touch > and there was I a few years back largin’ it up at the front of the main stage at Glasto to the Prodigy and now look at me blaaaagh > for me it was the punk classics like the Stranglers and Undertones > ‘You got my number. Why dont you use it!aaaaaah amazing! I was really into my Stonehenge days in the 80’s with Hawkwind etc….I have every single track I used to listen to backed up. New stuff > love Lebanese pop music ha ha > Nice one back at ya on this thread

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      • You might want to try Biffy Clyro or ‘Stressed Out’ by 21 Pilots (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXRviuL6vMY) or … oh, wait, how about some of the stuff on the current rock chart at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/chart/rocksingles. There’s some stuff there that’ll be very familiar to you!
        Lebanese Pop?! That’s a new one on me! Gonna have to check it out though. 🙂
        It’s amazing how nice it feels to be listening to freshly created stuff though. I mean – have you listened to Beyoncé’s new single? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It’s got this really twisted vibe to it, Andy that just … it just sits really nicely with me. Can’t explain why.

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      • Hiya Robert > copied and pasted that link but couldnt find anything with it. Searched for Beyonce’s latest single on Wiki but still not sure what it is ‘All Night’ or ‘Lemonade’? Bear in mind that your talking to a man who has never heard any Beyonce or Lady Gaga LOL

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      • Lady who? 🙂
        It seems that the owner of that video has set it so that it can only be played in YouTube so the link won’t work. If you just go on Google and search for Hold Up Beyonce and you should see it. If you have a choice it’s the one with lyrics.

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      • Hiya Robert > finally got there. Trying to see if there’s anything familiar hmmm there’s a part where she goes faster ‘top tier five star’ seems really familiar but I cant put my finger on it. Maybe Brian Ferry or REM. Who knows lol

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      • Hahaha – you’ll have to go further back than that, my friend – it’s “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” originally made popular by Andy Williams in 1963, but you might (and I do) will remember it from the version by The Beat in the 1980s.
        But forget that – you really need to check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tVWt2RDsoM
        This is a band called Bring Me The Horizon and the track is called Follow You. I defy you to try getting through this without the hairs on the back of your neck sticking up!
        Hope you’re having a great day, Andy.

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      • Cheers for the link Robert > I like the big open monumental rock rifts. That will always get me. Now the Beat is a band can deffo remember and the Specials. Nice one on that. Nice to be chatting to someone who can remember TOTPs. We called it miming hour in our house. Legs and Co cwoooor!!!!

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      • Preferred Hot Gossip myself, but there you go. 🙂
        You know – we really need to keep up with the new music, Andy. It’s where all the energy and life is! I stopped keeping up when I joined this Sex Cult, way back when, and I … well, I miss it!

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      • ahhhhh yes Hot Gossip came later didnt they? We also watched Summer Time Special LOL. Its tough finding new music over in China. A friend gave me a list of new stuff but I couldnt download it from anywhere. For me its all guesswork on Last FM.

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      • Hey Robert > Yes they mostly are. I use a VPN to get by. On the flipside torrent sites arent blocked at all whereas they nearly all are in the UK and States. I love my VPN > no nasty viruses anymore. It’s worth its weight in gold. Just remembered Pan’s People. Were you ever into Joy Division?

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      • Pans People!! Yeah! Can’t picture their faces for some reason though. 🙂
        So if you use VPN then wouldn’t the rest of everybody in China do the same?
        Tangentially into Joy Division, but massively into New Order! 🙂 Favourite JD song?

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      • Oh you have to shell out for a VPN so only the foreigners use them. Chinese folk dont use Google and FB etc……JD: So many: Transmission or Shadow Play. Yours? Procession = best New Order for me. Have you seen the JD documentary about how they started up in Manchester? Great vid

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      • Ah – gotcha. It must be kind of difficult for your average Chinese bloke to get going with stuff like that. We’re pretty fortunate really I guess.
        I never really digged JD much so all I really got into was LWTUA. But New Order – oh, it was just everything really. I collected all the 12″ singles and albums. I guess my favourite of all was Blur Monday though. Tjisnis making me think of all that Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Heaven 17, Chakk and even ABC – all bands from where I grew up (Sheffield if you need to ask). Then there’s Depeche Mode and … I could go on. We used to have a great little nightclub called The Limit that I used to haunt – the Lind where the dance floor is always sticky. I even used to work there for a spell. Good times. Then they closed down and it was across to The Leadmill, which is still going as far as I know. Did you have a favourite nightclub around your end?

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      • Hiya Robert. No actually most people have smart phones and computers in the big cities. Zhongguancun is a huge area that sells computers etc. Its just that Chinese fold aren’t really interested in the same things we are. Most people have only heard of Brad Pitt and Angelina, Tom Hanks and that’s it. Most dont know who David Cameron is LOL. Duran Duran are king mate! Rio is the greatest! No argument ha ha. My clubbing days ended a long time ago and even my interest in Festivals was diminishing when I left the UK. Like doing the same thing over and over. Suzie Wong’s is the most well known club. I went to a few though in order to get a drink you have to get a waiter and order. He gives you a ticket. You go to a counter and pay then go back to the waiter and give him the ticket then wait while he gets you your single bottle of beer. Its excruciating LOL. Are you voting Britexit then?

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      • But of a left turn in the conversation but no – my thoughts on Europe are not covered in the voting. I think we should stay in Europe and pay more to support the little guys. We should be like a big brother not some kind of selfish git always looking to take more, more, more. How about you?

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      • Ha ha Yes a leftie for sure. Its a tough call so I’ll sit on the fence on this one but for sure there will be no Britexit. The media will take double care of that one just like the Scottish vote for independence. Happy to talk about Duran Duran > far more entertaining

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      • Only just starting to get back into music and only new music. I went to one last year but only a local one. The headliner was Rob Grant (from Red Dwarf) doing a DJ set. He was pretty good actually.
        We’re not old at all – what do you.mean?!

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      • Yes Andy you and your wife would have a great time here. There’s adventure around every corner and the way of life here would produce such great stories from you, I can just picture it! I do hope you make it here some day. I think you will adapt very well as you see the humour in what others would consider nasty. Please keep the stories flowing!

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      • The tourist thing gets in your face only in certain places. But mostly you get to live and experience just like a local , that’s the comment I get from most people vising here. The food is memorable and Kuala Lumpur is a very cosmopolitan city. I would have to say Malaysia is a country of contrasts, you can get all the big city entertainment and just a few miles out of the city you are in a village that time forgot. Many people make Malaysia their second home because of the variety it has to offer. White sand beaches, highland retreats, forest reserves and villages on stilts. Some of the wonders you will see.

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    • Hiya Rashminotes > I did go back to the UK for 2 years but it was so expensive I got immediately stressed over bills etc. Also my wife couldnt find a job anywhere so we came back to China. Much more relaxed here 🙂 Have an excellent weekend mate.

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      • I can imagine – well actually I’m not sure I can imagine the full extent of what driving in China is like… Sounds very ‘intense’. I’ve had a fabulous weekend creating ‘happy’ memories with my 2 adorable granddaughters – paddling pools and lots of water fun.. What a difference a bit of sunshine makes in the UK.. Hope you had an amazing weekend too (without the stress of anymore driving adventures!). Have a brilliant week.. x

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      • Hiya Wendy > Glad you had a good weekend. Havent had a family time like that in a long time. Have a brilliant week there in the UK > (ps Dont really have much time to check my reader at the moment so give us a shout if I miss any of your posts no worries.)

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  4. Sounds like you have a very nice mother-in-law Andy. All the food you described got my appetite up. I was born in a little village in Austria where my grandmother cooked on a wood fired stove and could also put out huge feasts for many people. No refrigerator either. Yes, the simplicity of village life is beautiful. So much less stressful than life in the cities with all the supposed conveniences.

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      • Mom is home now and nurses are coming in every day to check on her. She is just very tired which is understandable. Has to eat my cooking which she doesn’t like because I am cooking vegan – no meat no dairy. Frankly, I can’t wait to leave this negative atmosphere which is aside from her health. It’s dragging me down. Thanks for asking, my friend.

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  5. Smiling

    Must b beautiful. no Neighbour ? : p

    Far from crowds
    Far from noises
    No fake smiles
    No fake people
    Nothing much artificial

    In the lap of nature
    Woods
    Fields
    Forest
    Fresh air
    Winds
    Wind chyme’s!

    Have a sweet day friend.

    –Jyotee

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a new one on me as well. Strange farming around a family member all year > well strange from my perspective only. Cheers for dropping by and have an excellent week

      Like

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