Hog Farmer’s Bypass



Once, when I lived in a second tier city in China, there was a toll road at the end of the city. There, a new multi-lane expressway led to the next major city, about forty-five minutes away. The toll was 16 RMB, each way, to visit the next city via the new highway.

Many however grumbled and complained that the new toll was too expensive, highway robbery as it were. Enter the hog farmer. Bounding the entrance to the toll plaza was a small hog farm. A narrow road circled around the back of the hog farm and exited just beyond the toll plaza.

Before long word was out that one could avoid the expensive highway toll by taking the road behind the hog farm. Our driver took this small road. It was a narrow, slippery, muddy and very smelly track around the farm. In the middle of this muddy road sat a worker holding a tree branch across the road. He was charging 1 RMB to take the road.

After while, business was booming. There was a line of cars trekking around the hog farm while the entrance to the toll booth had sparse traffic.


The interesting thing about this story is the creativity of the everyday Chinese person and the complex social arrangements in Chinese society.  The hog farmer was brilliant in his ability to exploit an opportunity.  But most impressive was his ability to pull this off literally in the face of every government official. There is no doubt the toll beeth cashiers could see the cars disappear behind the hog farm and then emerge on the highway a minute later.  Clearly, the hog farmer had applied the  correct anould of social salve to have his farm’s traffic become invisible.

This operation was still running when I left years later.



Another Hog Story


Just a quick vignette.  We were driving down the road one day along a rural back road. In front of us a little blue truck turned left. The little blue motorcycle driven  trucks are ubiquitous in China.

What was astounding was that there was a huge hog standing in the back of the truck. His forearms were on top of the cab of the truck supporting his upright positions. The hog’s ears were flying in the wind and the most human-like look of glee was on the hog’s face.

“Did you see how happy that pig was?” I asked my companion? After a moment she replied, “Do you know what happens to hogs delivered to villages this time of year?”



If you want to read more short posts about China and teaching in China, click HERE

Chinese Crowd Behavior


Chinese group behavior can be fickle. In the case of confrontations, serious injuries or other unusual happenings, they will form a circle around the focus of attention. Similarly, local police will also form a circle around a confrontation, except they will almost all be smoking. I call this behavior “Chinese First Aid”.

I was standing on the third floor landing of a wholesale market on day when another foreigner called me over to see something. Looking over a building half a block away we saw a crowd circled. At first, I thought I saw someone administering CPR. I could see a head. shoulders, and arms pistoning up and down. The crowd shifted a little and I saw that it was a man punching an unmoving woman on the ground. The crowd did nothing.

I do not know how long the beating had been going on. but it ended about fifteen seconds after we first witnessed it. The man stood and walked away. After about fifteen paces. he stop and turned back. “Maybe he has some regrets and wants to help this woman.” I thought. She was still unmoving. He marched back to the woman, pick up his hat, put it on and strode off. The crowd neve spoke or moved.

In the case of fatalities, all the Chinese with whom I have shared viewing a traffic fatality studiously avoided uttering even a single word about it. It is incredibly odd, bloody bodies splayed across the road and not a single Chinese person on a bus that c r a w l  e  d past the accident scene remarked on it. Meanwhile every foreigner on the bus was aghast and buzzing about it.

It seems to me that this is a shared characteristic among nearly all Asians, to suppress unpleasant or traumatic events. A case in point is the infamous Unit 731 located in Harbin, A unit that conducted horrific human experimentation on mostly kidnapped Chinese nationals.  After WWII, parts of the facility were repurposed into a school. This is China’s Auschwitz! It would be hard to imagine Auschwitz being used as a school. But, I certainly do not judge them for it, culture and circumstances play an important part in how a people deal with such a situation.

As I mentioned in another post, it would be wise not to linger where crowds are gathered lest you turn the attention to yourself.  Remember the movie line, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Street Markets



I love Chinese street markets. There are plenty of modern supermarkets and shopping malls if you want to take the bar-coded and shrink-wrapped route. But something about a genuine street market has its own appeal.  Street markets are slowly dying off due to more modern alternatives.

Pretty much every area had its own street market – a one stop food shopping bazaar.  The food was quite fresh. Fish were sold live from aerated tanks on the ground. The farmers trucked in their fruit and vegetables each day.

We had an Uyghur family who had built an outdoor brick oven and baked the best round, crusted flatbread. Another fellow would carve off pieces of meat from a freshly butchered dog, if you were soi inclined. Dog meat, (gou rou) is a popular dish in Northeast due to the influx of nearby Koreans – although Chinese and Koreans alike enjoy the dish.

A street market is a good place to practice your beginning Chinese. One thing though, don’t negotiate prices with farmers. Farmers have a tough life. They might only clear a few thousand RMB for all their labors. So, please don’t ask them to take less. If you think the price is too high, just walk away.

Now, once in a while a vendor might take advantage of your foreign status and poor language skills. I had a vendor who would always charge me four RMB per half kilo for plums when  my wife was there and seven RMB when she wasn’t. Just an an experiment one day, I brought a stack of one RMB bills and bought four RMB worth of plums. She said nothing, just held out her palm and waited for me to place the money in it. I just laid down one bill after another. Four, seven. ten, fifteen, nineteen, stop.  She never said “enough”, just happily accepted all that I put down. I scooped up my money from her hand, left her and her plums behind, never to return. It’s rare, but it happens.

Sometimes you might encounter a scam. One day, my wife and I went to the market. I found a nut salesman with a crowd gathered around him all abuzz over his wares. I asked him how much for one half kilo, (one Jin). He quoted me a price that was low, but not ridiculously low.

My wife stopped by as he handed me the nuts. Only now the price had went up tenfold. I protested but my wife said to pay him and keep walking. Once clear of the crowd she told me this was a trick. The “crowd” was really other farmers and if you did not pay them the new price, (which they claim to have clearly stated) then they would loudly berate you and follow you through the market shouting insults.


In retrospect, the clues were there. The “crowd” was not dressed like the residents of the area, they dressed like farmers. The crowd gathered around the nuts were buzzing, showing approval, clawing through the nuts and making a scene. But not one of them was holding a bag filled with nuts nor did anyone buy any. Live and learn.

Not every market experience will be pleasant. But, it only happened once in nearly a decade.