On my way back from class, I usually take a shortcut that leads me through a relatively vast open-air market. To describe this market, which accounts for about 8-10 minutes of the near-20 minute walk, I need only say it is exactly what would appear if you were to bring to life your average person’s internalized image associated with the phrase “Chinese market.” The market wends up a hillside alley, kind of like a rice terrace.. The school where I live is located at the top of the hill. The school where I work is at the bottom. There are cages upon cages of squawking chickens. You will see fish (not the kind you put in a fishbowl) swimming around in little washing bowls. Giant hunks of red, fleshy meat are conspicuously laid out on tables, much to the delight of endless amounts of flies and mosquitoes. There are vendors on either side and very little space to move. All the while, motorcycles and tuk-tuks (the primary form of taxi in the village) power their way through shoppers and passersby. Needless to say, the stench is exactly how you would image it to be. Obviously, it’s a pretty good shortcut.
Yesterday, as I walked to class, I saw a mountain goat tied up to a fence at the edge of the market. Random animals are not uncommon in smaller Chinese cities, especially the ones that are located in less developed regions. The goat seemed pretty happy. It was defecating all over the street, helping to keep the market stench at a status quo of “breathe through your mouth.” I continued onward to class.
Tuesday was my second day. I was scheduled to give my students a diagnostic exam that would test their English ability and give us a barometer to chart their progress. I will only teach these students for three weeks before I move to a more impoverished/rural placement location for the next two years. I was assigned rising fourth graders. I’m usually pretty ambivalent toward kids. I think they’re totally fun to have around for a little while, but when they start crying, I’m out. My kids however, are pretty much awesome. There are about twenty in the class. We have the troublemaker (Zhang Zhenghao (boy)), the quiet genius (Luo Jin (girl)), the kid who you just can’t get mad at, no matter what they do (You You (boy)), among others. Seriously though, his name is You You (Pronounced yo yo). Not like Yo-Yo Ma. Like, first name Yo, last name Yo. He is without question the most appropriately named person I have ever met. I gave him the English name JoJo.
The test went pretty smoothly, however there were some very intriguing mistakes that kept popping up. In a pictures-with-words matching section, almost half the students confused the words and pictures for “Taxi” and “Chicken.” These two words don’t really sound alike. The other elements of the question were Canada (w/ the flag), teacher, and nose. The students almost unanimously got these right. The problem, I deduced, was in the pictures. The picture provided for “Chicken” was a very rough, cartoonish drumstick. The picture for “taxi” was your typical yellow cab. For students in rural-ish China, a chicken is a thing in a cage in the market. It has feathers and a beak. For children in urban China, who study at KFC, a chicken is a delicious, meaty, cartoonish drumstick. As far as “taxi,” there are absolutely no yellow cabs here. Every taxi is a three-wheeled tuk-tuk. There is no light to tell potential passengers whether it’s occupied. You kind of just… look inside. If the words had been in Chinese, they still would have gotten it wrong.
When I walked back through the market an hour later, I saw the goat again. This time, it was tied down on its side. A boy that looked to be about 8 or 9 (the age of my students) was holding its head down and his father was holding its legs. The goat was making a sound that I’ve never heard before. It was the exact audible expression of agony. The goat was about to be slaughtered, right there, in the middle of the street, in front of a very large amount of shoppers. This shocking scene was evidently so commonplace that no one even stopped to look. No one even glanced as they walked by. I continued up the hill.
Today on the way to class, I saw the goat being skinned and washed. When I headed back up the hill after class, the goat was sprawled out across a wooden wagon. It looked like it had been smoked. But, it still maintained very “alive” features. Maybe tomorrow it will go on sale.
It was complete coincidence that I was able to see these four vivid stages of the life and death of the goat. There are a lot of things about living abroad, particularly in China that stick out as “different from home.” You eat with chopsticks. You have a camera in your face almost daily. My lights go off at 11:30pm. You squat when you go number two. Those are all cultural differences that are pretty quickly adapted to. The slaughter of a really big animal in the middle of a busy street is not really one of those things. This was my first “Holy shit!” moment, including the year I spent in Shanghai. This is the kind of thing I can’t adapt to overnight. I am really out there now. In this part of the world, food doesn’t come in a cartoonish uniform shape. It’s literally farm to market, and even that distinction if ambiguous. The crazy thing is, I feel more comfortable eating the drumstick, even though I have no earthly idea where it came from or what it even really is. But, this blog isn’t a commentary on the food industry. I’ll just say, I don’t think I’ll eat goat for the next week or so.
Sidenote: As I write this (at 1130pm), my two Chinese roommates are passionately singing in unison to “Love Story” by Taylor Swift (not really in a joking manner) as they prepare for bed. This, I have learned to adapt to.