From the Readers

Look back on an encounter and understand a country

Updated: May 5, 2023 By Kim Deokwon Print
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[Republic of Korea] Kim Deokwon, Guangxi Normal University

Encounter is a very romantic word in Chinese. It is thus written in the Book of Songs: “On the moor is the creeping grass, and how heavily is it loaded with dew. There was a beautiful woman, Lovely, with clear eyes and fine forehead! We met together accidentally, and so my desire was satisfied.” These words capture the moving moment of an accidental encounter. I had thought this word would only appear in the future when I met my beloved, but a social practice event organized by my school let me feel the beautiful mood of encounter in advance and let me find a key to reading the city of Guilin, Guangxi and China.

Kim Deokwon [Photo provided to]

Departure: Understand the Administrative Division and Experience the Road Conditions in the Mountains

This social practice was to go to Sheling Village in Zhongfeng Township, Ziyuan County. The first time I read the string of names, I didn’t even know where to punctuate. The teacher explained that Guilin is a city, Ziyuan is a county under its jurisdiction. There are some townships in a county, and in a township are dozens of villages. So that’s how it is named!

As we departed from the city by bus, all I could see were mountains of different forms and the winding, tranquil waters of the Lijiang River. Immersed in the beautiful scenery of the mountains and waters, I felt like being in a small boat, drifting into a dreamland. The bus stopped, and the dream broke. I thought we had arrived at the destination, but everyone was staring at each other in doubt on the bus. It turned out that after entering the complicated mountain road area, the driver had got lost! I heard the driver was talking to someone on the phone asking about directions. A calm voice came from the other end of the phone, which put me at ease.

Under his guidance, the vehicle resumed its slow journey through the high mountains. The road looked treacherous, but the surface was very flat. I wondered how dangerous it must have been to build such a flat road on such treacherous mountains! The teacher saw my nervousness and said there’s no need to worry because this road was very familiar to the first secretary of the village who has been sent to Sheling from our school. He has been working in Sheling village for the past two years, and just now it was he who was on the phone guiding the driver.

Guangxi Normal University Wangcheng Campus [Photo provided to]

With his help, we would soon be able to arrive at the destination. The first secretary? Who is that? The teacher kept us guessing and asked us to find the answer by ourselves in the social practice.

Arrival: Experience Ethnic Culture and Understand Rural Revitalization

After driving in a zigzag across the mountains, we finally arrived at our destination. Unlike the previous risky and exciting mountain scenery, the village was peaceful. Ducklings and chickens were strolling outside the fence, a murmuring stream was playing music to them, and there was also the fragrance of firewood in the air. This smell suddenly pulled me back to my childhood, to my old home in South Korea.

My old home is also in the countryside, where there are mountains around us. There were no tall buildings, no theaters, no department stores, and not even a small supermarket. At that moment I saw as if my grandparents were harvesting crops and starting to prepare for the long winter. I had never thought that this small remote Chinese village would first make me recall my childhood.

At that moment, some people dressed in colorful clothes started to sing and dance, tapping on some bamboo-made musical instruments. They laughed, sang and danced, all very lively. I have social phobia and would normally feel uneasy at such a sight. But they were unconcerned, still smiling and inviting me to join them. The dance was not difficult, like a game I played as a child. Some people brought the bamboo up to ankle high and then pulled it to the left and right. The head and the rear of the bamboo were held in people’s hands, and the dancers jumped into the gaps between the bamboo. I also learned the rhythm slowly and danced after them.

I was also impressed by the farmhouse meal. Eight to ten people gathered around a large pot with a few small bowls laying aside. The serving aunt did not care whether the dishes were neatly arranged as long as they did not touch one another. They served the dishes in a seemingly careless but smart manner, laying one layer upon another like Lego. The aunt said enthusiastically, “Eat this asparagus, it’s a kind of vegetable that the first secretary helped us sell to the cities. People in the city like it very much.” The first secretary was mentioned again.

The campus view of Guangxi Normal University [Photo provided to]

I then followed the aunt’s gaze and saw the first secretary, who actually is a teacher dispatched by our School of International Education. He used to be a counselor of our school, not much older than me, and now he has transformed into the first secretary. I asked curiously, “Does our teacher come to the countryside to help you sell vegetables?” The aunt said, “Yes! To revitalize the countryside! He also taught us to sell vegetables through livestreaming commerce!” I was excited to hear the word “livestreaming.” I often watch Chinese livestreaming in the dormitory, and it is very interesting. I never expected our teacher would teach the farmers in the countryside to sell goods on the live streaming platforms. Since the aunt said the asparagus was a big seller, well then, I must have some more!

After dinner, we went to the village council for a meeting. Unlike the meeting in the school lecture hall, the meeting room was very simple, but the contents of the meeting were very rich. And the school secretary surnamed Liu delivered a speech. I could understand her speech. It turns out that the winding mountain road we rode on today is part of the result of China’s rural revitalization efforts. There has been no road in the past, and it was very treacherous. It was very difficult for the villagers to come out and sell their goods to make money. But great differences have occurred today.

After years of efforts, there is finally a road to the village that connects the mountains and outside world. Secretary Liu said, in the beginning when the construction of the road had not yet been finished, our first secretary once had a car accident while commuting from the school to the village, which was very dangerous. It has really been not easy, but fortunately the road situation has become better now. Through this event, I finally began to understand some real political and economic changes in China for the first time.

Return: Look Back on an Encounter and Understand a Country

After the meeting, we started our return journey. There was a chock-a-block on the return trip, where I felt a twinge of regret. After returning to campus, we would go back to our respective lives, and we might never have another opportunity to really get to know the countryside scenery and the countryside people like we did today. I was surprisingly wishing: Please let the traffic jam last for a few more hours.

The building in Guangxi Normal University [Photo provided to]

This encounter has left an unexplainable emotion in my heart. All good things must come to an end, and everything I felt today will eventually dissipate in the future. However, the mountain roads I walked, the smells I smelt, the sounds I heard, the countryside people I met, and the rural things I saw today, all these seemingly ordinary and common but incomparably true and profound life experiences will eventually stay in my mind. Through this social practice, I finally realize that the real way to read a language, a culture, and a country is visiting on the ground instead of learning on paper, walking on the bridge that connects each other’s hearts. I think this is the best way to understand a person, a place and a country.

The story is from "My Beautiful Encounter with China" Essay Competition organized by the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges (CSCSE).

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