Garreth Byrne visited the home village of one of his student, Elena, in Guizhou province.
We sat down, and cooked dishes were brought from the kitchen. My fish was served on an individual dish. Elena proudly interpreted as I answered the questions her father put to me about farming life in Ireland. I explained the way of hill farming I had encountered in Letrim.
Common gazing rights, dyeing of animals for recognition, the use of sheepdog for corralling flocks and the transport after snowfall of bales of hay by tractor up the slopes to prevent starvation.
Other examples of extensive farming such as cattle grazing on pasture seem foreign to my Chinese host who had been born into a system of tightly huddled farming strips with every square meter of land accounted for.
I had a strange sensation during this conversation, trying to explain the complexities of another world to a hardworking man who had known nothing except hard work, in a difficult climate, during revolutionary times. I imagined that throughout the centuries the generations in his locality had endured cycles of grim frugality, disease and modest abundance, with few prospects for radical social advancement.
Yet here was I, a foreign teacher, possible the first to visit his humble village, talking man to man about international farming matters through the patient mediation of the farmer’s daughter, the first in her lineage to have an opportunity to train as a teacher.