Even the villages in China have a population of a couple million people; these are the small towns. To find something as quaint as the outport settlements of my native home (Newfoundland), which can contain as few as a handful of houses, was a sight few travellers to China get a chance to experience.
But outside the suburbs of X’ian (population 8.4 million at time of writing) is the tiniest village settled along a single stretch of road with about a hundred or so people. This is the home of Ms. Wong and her family. They live in a cave.
Cave houses in Xi’an were once commonplace and in this region it is not unlikely to have a grandma, aunt or uncle who still has a cave or calls one home. But as the country modernizes, these dwellings are becoming a way of the past.
People come from other parts of China, where cave dwellings are not part of the culture past or present, to experience that way of life. We came from Canada to do the same, and it was one of the most unique travel experiences of our lives.
The front courtyard of Ms. Wong’s cave has a couple new ‘comfort’ features for new western guests – a water tap, a toilet (think construction worker’s porta potty), hanging electric bulbs and a super comfy mattress and blankets, but outside that the cave is as you would have found it years ago.
The little farmyard has goats and chickens whose eggs made an incredible breakfast. The small gardens grew the veggies that were our dinner. Ms. Wong made her own bread from scratch. In fact, she made her own yeast for her own bread, and then her own jam from the fruit of the trees in the courtyard. Everything was fresh and incredibly delicious.
We sat on wooden stools in the open air courtyard and ate dinner. Our bedroom had a wash basin with a thermos of boiling water, which served as our bath. The stars (the first time we’d seen them in China likely due to city pollution) were bright and plentiful. In the morning, the sun shone across the lush countryside. It was beautiful.
Ms. Wong didn’t speak our language and we didn’t speak hers but we communicated through sign language and laughed and smiled and shared time anyhow. We hugged her when we left…lol…it was awkward and heartfelt.
Thinking of it makes me smile.
Ms. Wong’s cave will be destroyed within a couple years to make way for a new highway. She will be reimbursed by the government but she will have to move. The proceeds from her rentals go to funding a new home, wherever that may be.
Wherever she ends up, I hope it makes her as happy as her home in the caves outside X’ian made me. Thank you Ms. Wong.