Editor's note: Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. is sending updates to The Times while he's in China. This update is from McDermott's Chief of Staff Tom Dabertin.
We are traveling today from Beijing to Shahe City. The trip by bus takes about 5 hours. We will return to Beijing later in the week. By the way, while I am known as being anything but adventurous when it comes to food, I can unequivocally state that China Big Macs taste just like those in the US- I ate two last night!
It's also becoming quite evident the role that government plays in the lives of Chinese citizens. There is no dissention; I probably would be in a lot of trouble over the years. The government definitely controls and influences daily life. Then again, with 1.4 billion people, some control might be necessary. Oddly, you don't need a license to own a dog in Beijing (you see them walking their pets in parks, etc. with fancy clothes and collars), you have to get a government license to have a child.
To visit China is to see firsthand why gas prices are so high. The immensity of vehicle traffic is mind-boggling. It also draws attention to the fact that the US has missed a huge market when it comes to cars. I've seen a few Fords and Chevys, and one or two Buicks, and even a few Canadian manufactured buses, but Japanese and German cars rule the day.
Once you get outside Beijing, you get a completely different view of China; that of its agricultural operations, which the world's most populous country must survive on. Actually, my first impression was while we were still in Beijing when our guide commented that "Life farming is very rough." She also stated that "Farmers were the real heroes of China," since they are the ones charged in providing for everyone else.
While my colleagues slept, I looked out the window and saw some truly amazing sites and scenes that will stay with me a lifetime. While there were miles of fields along a very modern highway, and what appeared to be a high speed elevated rail under construction the not too far distance, the fields were largely being tended to by hand! There were people raking, and turning over fields by the shovel-full. Little if any modern farming equipment was to be seen, except for a periodic three-wheeled motorcycle/cart and an even scarcer tractor, about the size of a riding mower found in many American suburban neighborhoods. Yet there hundreds if not thousands of people toiling in the fields. The easiest way to spot a field with activity was to first look for piles of bicycles, the method of transit for farm workers. I should note that the harshness of this mid-March day might be lost on those of you enjoying record warmth back in "The Region," as some of the fields were partially occluded by snow. To keep warm, hundreds of small fires can be seen, burning off the vestiges of last years' harvests and keeping farmers warm. In fact, it appears that the ashes are used for fertilizer in soil that looks a lot like sand.
The farming villages looked dank, dark and totally unattractive, resembling a commune of collective living arrangement. You really couldn't see into these villages with great clarity, as they are surrounded by concrete walls, but from the vantage point of the road, they looked anything but inviting. Hundreds of them, each with squatty, gray concrete and red brick buildings and dirt roads. Nothing modern, except the faces of young children surrounded by very harsh conditions. What a contrast to Beijing and perhaps to China overall to say the least! Perhaps even more perplexing is that while Beijing seems built on top of itself with everything very cramped because of its enormous population, so too are the farm villages, even though there is plenty of open land.
Tom Dabertin, Chief of Staff for Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr.