Weekend at the Baizhang Village
Hosted by Mr Zhou, the 64 years old bamboo master
It was an exhilarating weekend living at the rural areas of modern villages in china. We went to the village with zero idea of what we are expecting but it definitely did not leave us short of a great experience. Mr Zhou’s home was huge and had modern home technology to give us a comfortable weekend stay. On the first level, together with the courtyard, was where he once did all his bamboo crafting and many of his fantastic works still remain. He had been crafting for over 40 years and he also mentioned how the bamboo apprenticeship takes over 7 years before you are cleared by your teacher to start your independent bamboo crafting shop. It was also cool to see how he kept up with the times and used bamboo to formed QR codes for his shop’s payment, yet most of his furniture and items are still bamboo-made like our beds, parts of ceilings and roofs.
On the first day, we went up to the base of a bamboo forest and learnt basics of cutting a bamboo and how to spot a suitable bamboo tree for cutting. Despite being at 64 years old, his skills and passion definitely made him look much energetic than us as he skillfully chopped down the trees while we struggled to bring down one. We then carry them down, 2 per tree, it was a good 20-30kg and we could only imagine how tough it was for Mr Zhou alone to do that in his time. He taught us some slightly advanced skills of stripping and slicing the bamboo trees into bamboo sticks or “noodles” as they resemble them. With his thick and curvy blade, he could still split the bamboo into strips of thickness roughly 2 millimeters! He did not even need to look as he does it which awed us all.
On the second day, we tried to make our own lunch where Mrs Zhou prepared the rice and ingredients for us. It was called 桶饭 as the bamboo resembles a container and we stuff our rice and ingredients like diced meat and peas into it before she steamed them with charcoal fire. The smell and taste was heavenly. It was like fried rice but had a more natural flavor to it. We continued on to a weaving lesson by Mr Zhou where he wanted each of us to make a basket on our own. It was indeed amazing to see how each of us slowly began from just strips to ultimately having our each own mini crafted bamboo basket.
We also went to their town, the urban part of the village where they built more buildings dedicated for Tmall, individual designer companies or restaurants. The laidback lifestyle here is really different from Singapore and you can see each group of family and friends gathering at their own stalls to eat and chitchat. They do not try to chase people for business and only approach you if you seem interested, unlike the promoters from cities who aggressively approach you.
On the last day, it was a short day as we spent the remaining time touching up our baskets before having a last group photo and leaving back to Zhejiang University! Overall, it was a very new experience as the village did not turn out to be as undeveloped as I thought. On the contrary, it was a nicely built place with lots of potential and according to our professor, there are many villages like that in China turning into small hot spots!