Butcher Hogs in China and Crops in the San Luis Valley

When I lived in China, there was a sound that I heard almost every day. At first it was terrifying, but over time it was one of the background noises of my life, along with the guy collecting rags (he had a song) and the guy peddling charcoal (he had a song). This sound wasn’t music. It was the sound of a hog being butchered.

Pigs in China (back then, probably not now except in the countryside) just walked around like everyone, everything, else. Chickens, water buffalo, goats, children, university professors, students, us. They foraged in the food trash around the market at Shi Pai and on the outskirts of a farmer’s field. Until that last moment (which must have come as a huge surprise) they lived a pretty good life.

The sound of a hog being butchered is pretty nerve rattling. The hog screams bloody murder as the knife is jabbed into its jugular vein. The blood from the butchering is a delicacy and I had to eat/drink my share. I never thought about whether this was “humane,” it was simply how things were.

On the Eve of Chinese New Year, a hog is butchered as fire crackers are shot off. Nothing could be more auspicious. I spent my one Chinese New Years Eve in a bedroom beside the courtyard where this was going on, the sound of hundreds of explosions and a hog screaming for his life. I know now that I should have watched this happen, but at the time I was so sleep deprived and so sick from the boat trip over to Hainan Island, that I actually thought that my hosts were rude.

Chinese pork was delicious, far better than anything I’ve eaten in the US. I suppose from all the walking around, foraging and hanging out in town those pigs did.

I really like pigs, and so did a lot of the Chinese I knew. Some people with whom I spent an afternoon in Haikou City had a pet pot-bellied pig who was a member of the family. My grandfather had a sow who was a pet. She followed him everywhere. He always sold the piglets, but the sow stayed with him for years — until she ate something at the dump that killed her and her little ones.

Out here there are pigs and as my town — my valley — uses Facebook as the main medium for selling things, piglets and bigger pigs are now up for sale.

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I wish I had a farming background. What do I know? I know how to go to an art museum (whoopee). I don’t know how to feed a baby goat or a lamb with a bottle. I don’t know how to care for new born pigs or plant potatoes. It’s struck me since I first moved here that people (some) assume I think I’m better than they are just because I’m a city person. That’s so far from the truth. I moved here on purpose; this was a choice I made. Sometime in the first few months I lived here I made a sincere comment about the Potato Festival and the people I was talking to (I said the Potato Festival was great) thought I was being facetious. They could not have been further from the truth.

I love the Potato Festival. The potato festival is a harvest festival. There are potatoes and farm machinery; kids get to enter potato decorating contests. There’s home made ice cream and a train made out of oil drums pulled by a tractor. Come on. Only an idiot wouldn’t see how wonderful that is, in the park up the street, under the blazing blue September sky, the San Juans in the background? Kids are having fun. Farmers are taking it easy. Amish are selling baked goods and speaking the Bernese dialect of Switzer-Deutsche. It is WONDER-full.

Right now, just outside of town in a newly plowed field is a sinister looking machine for breaking up dirt clods (I think) and eliminating weeds (I think). Last year that field had been planted by now. I’m watching to see what goes into it. At the Home and Garden Show (10 booths) I saw a tire for a sprinkler. It never occurred to me that these massive sprinklers need tires even though I see tires on them whenever I pass them. $200 a pop, between 8 and 10 tires on a sprinkler arm.

Yesterday I waited at a red light and watched a truck loaded with potatoes make the left turn. The driver was a Navajo in a red shirt, wearing a cowboy hat with a ribbon around the brim with a feather hanging from it. He looked at me as I looked at him, and I could only hope he saw the admiration in my eyes.

9 thoughts on “Butcher Hogs in China and Crops in the San Luis Valley

  1. I was several times offered the opportunity to breed puppies and I said no. I’m not a breeder. I don’t know enough. I would be terrified i’d do something wrong and kill the puppies or the mother. Nope, not for me.

    As for farming? No, I don’t think so. I can’t be a total hypocrite since I eat meat, but the slaughtering is never going to be my thing. On the other hand, i could have a flock of sheep that got sheared regularly. I could deal with shearing.

  2. I grow potatoes and all the rest of the vegetables in the garden. I also can in jars. I have had chickens and have had to chop their heads off. Not fun but when there is nobody else around to do it, you find the strength. Killing anything is hard, but it’s what we do as North Americans.

    • The whole world does it. In China, with chickens, it seemed evenly divided between chopping off the heads of chickens or wringing their necks. My grandma was a neck wringer, but my aunt Jo was a chopper-head-off person. My neighbor cans in jars and makes jam and jelly, which I don’t. I’m grateful she does. 🙂 I decided my role is to be the person she gets to share with. I feel pretty useless in my current life, honestly. I think that’s a common side effect of retirement and I will move on, but that’s where I am now.

      • No! You are not useless. Don’t even think that! You are as smart as a whip. I am in the same boat as far as retirement is concerned.. Only, I am older than you. I will be doing a lot less stuff this year unless I pick up soon. Hugs from an old friend.

  3. Memoriesofatime? As a Cub Scout in Chicago, I was on a field trip to the Chicago Stockyards. I have never forgotten the squeals. Except, of course, when I have Baby Backs…Or pulled pork sandwiches. There has to be other ways for food preparation.,

    • This is a beautiful poem and it brought tears to my eyes. I love it. It really bring home the wanking, self-important, isolation and bullshit of urban life. I wish I knew the things the people around me know, but someone had to teach writing for 30 years and stuff. 🙂

      • I was lucky. I grew up in the country.
        If you like that one, I think there are a lot of other Australian bush ballads you probably like as well. There’s one in particular that I remember from my childhood that I think would strike a similar chord but I can’t remember all of it and I can’t find it. It’s not on the internet!!

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