Friday, September 23, 2011

Country Roads

For this post, I'm going to tell you a bit about the province and area that I live in. I live in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. To be more precise though, I don't live in the city proper, I live just outside the city in a newer district. This is the view from my balcony in the morning.

This is the weather when it's particularly nice. For the first couple weeks I have been here, the sky was very hazy with pollution and then it rained for about two weeks. You honestly have no idea how much the rain sucks when you have to sun/air dry your clothes. The climate when it doesn't rain for several weeks is kind of like Nebraska or Iowa. You might ask, what's behind those walls
There's a lot of this around here. Zhengzhou is very rural and around this time in the fall you also see this

The local farmers dry out and shuck their corn in the roads. Along the busier roads they keep to the medians but this is a common sight in rural China. The farmers shuck the corn by hand and then load it up for the market. So to answer your suspicions, I am indeed knee deep in corn and hypothetical farmer's daughters.

The university I work at used to be in downtown Zhengzhou, which is a 40 minute drive by bus away now. The campus was moved as an effort by the government to make "university towns" but I assume this is actually the work of some education official's plot to destroy "fun" and subsidize boredom. There isn't much nearby and you have to do all your shopping at the school store or when we go into town on the weekends. It takes so long to get into town not because of distance but because of the population issues, which will be addressed later.

Henan itself is the heartland of China. This is very much Mao's country, which for you Americans out there would make this a very red state. I actually polled my students in an exercise involving the financial crisis and state funding. They overwhelming chose the military to receive the most funding, pensions and unemployment to receive the least by ranking them last so I'm pretty much in Alabama. Henan itself has a similar reputation as the "heartland" states in America but the people here are friendly and I've encountered no racism or overt nationalism. Henan is also the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Xi'an, Luoyang, and Kaifeng are all in this province and this province is one of the major areas from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Henan itself is the third most populous province in China. Henan is 8th in population density but the first five on that list are municipalities, meaning cities so large they are treated like provinces. By GDP it is ranked 5th but this statistic is deceptive. GDP per capita is ranked at 20th meaning that not everyone here has gotten a piece of the pie. This will all come back when I talk about Zhengzhou city proper. Henan also has the 2nd highest gender imbalance of males to females, about 142 to 100, so it's not the best place to pick up chicks.

When a lot of people think of China today, they think of Shanghai or Beijing. Sprawling metropolis full of people and neon lights. As my Chinese friends will tell me though, Henan is the real China where people have lived as they have for years, before the boom hit China and internationalization overtook the affluent municipalities. Even with the new money the nation has made and the scramble for modernization, China is still very much the nation of farmers it was when Mao unified the nation under his banner  a week and a day from today, 62 years ago.


  1. Heh. "knee deep in corn and farmer's daughters."

    Do you have a bike? How far are you from town?

  2. I do not have a bike but it would probably take me an hour to get to town. You really don't want to ride a bike either because you have to compete with cars that constantly break basic US traffic laws. A common thing here is to pass in on coming traffic everywhere for instance. If you're born and raised here, you know how to watch for cars, scooters, and everything else but I haven't gotten used to it yet.