After an extremely creepy night of restlessness, an auntie barged in to the community hall at about 6:45 when we were converting our bed back into tables. She started yelling to me in Chinese way too loudly and early for my brain to register any Chinese. All I heard was farm and I just said yes and I think she got it. She busted out her sewing machine and started vigorously sewing and we packed up as fast as we could and left.
We got back to the house at 7AM for breakfast as Deng requested. There we found the intern sitting on the living room couch watching cartoons. About a half hour later Deng’s mother came back with breakfast, and we proceeded to eat and watch cartoons until eight-o-clock. Thus establishing the morning routine we would continue for the rest of the week.
That first morning was rough. We were given small scythes and had to cut away at the overgrown bushes in the water ducts across the street. These, they used to bring water to the fields that were currently bare. It was at least 95 degrees and we were in direct sunlight. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life as I did that first morning. By the time 10:30 rolled around I looked like I had taken a shower, and we were both ready to pass out from the heat and exhaustion. “Oh shit” moment number three was about to happen when Deng came out and told us we were done for the morning. We were going to have lunch then we wouldn’t start to work again until 3PM.
Back at the house the Aunties were finishing up the soy bean project. As it turns out, they were making soy sauce. The day before they had beans drying, (fermenting really), in these round flat baskets.
That morning they took all the beans out and rinsed them and the baskets then put them back into the baskets to dry longer in the sun. After a few more hours of drying they emptied all the beans into a large metal bucket and mixed in rice wine. When the rice wine was mixed in, then they put them in large pots and covered them. There is where I lost track of the process, but I’m assuming they had to ferment in the pots for a long period of time before any further steps could be taken. The guest auntie was teaching Deng’s mother and cousin so that their farm could produce and sell their own soy sauce in the future.
During our morning break we sat and talked with Deng about the farm and the surrounding community.
Most of the local community was made up of native Hokkien people, including Deng and his family. The farm was his fathers until he got too old to do as much work as he used to. Although they weren’t completely organic, Deng was taking steps towards becoming a registered organic farm. The upcoming weekend was the annual Hokkien festival and the aunties in the community were all making traditional outfits for a dance performance. Which explained the auntie on her sewing machine earlier that morning. We had time before lunch and he offered to show us their project, so, we went back to the community center.
There were about 10 aunties all on their sewing machines buzzing about the room, obviously very excited about their outfits and the upcoming weekend (or maybe it was Deng dropping by to visit that made them giddy). They excitedly showed us pieces that they were working on and how it all fit together.
Even though I couldn’t tell what they were talking about, I knew the ladies absolutely loved having Deng there, and he was charming their socks off. He showed us some pictures on the wall from last years festival and community volunteers down at his farm. From the energy in the room and the way they welcomed us and Deng into their little project, I could tell that it is a very close-knit community and Deng and his farm are heavily involved.
Much to my dismay we had rice boxes for lunch, they weren’t as terrible as the ones we used to get at Principal, but I was hoping I’d never have to eat one again. After lunch we weren’t really sure what to do, so we sat with the intern in the living room and watched cartoons until I passed out on the couch.
We resumed work at 3 just as we were told. It wasn’t quite as scorching, and we were rested from our T.V./nap break so we were hopeful for what the afternoon would bring. More manual labor, is what it brought, not that I expected much else being free labor on a farm, but this time it was much more tolerable. This time the four of us went out together, Deng, the intern, Matt and myself. Deng and the intern took the tiller across the street and tilled while Matt and I smoothed out the parts they tilled with hoes. That took us until six when Deng decided that was enough for the day. He told us to shower and move our things into their spare room upstairs, we were going to get our own room inside the house for the rest of the week! After we showered and got re-situated we went our to dinner as a whole family. We went to an all-you-can-eat hot-pot buffet in Hualien city. It was amazing after a hard day of physical labor, I ate until I literally couldn’t move, and then I had dessert. That night was the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. In less than 12 hours our situation changed from “oh shit” to “oh yeah”.
Will I do a few hours of manual labor in the sun every day in exchange for a mattress and all the ice cream I can handle? Oh Yeah!