cold mountain (27)

a dark stream always babbles

Out in small villages, there are daubed mud houses with thatch for roofs and bricks of fermented soybeans hung to dry from the eaves with straw-twists. They look like an historical set, when just twenty minutes down the highway is a megamart, a Starbucks, and the concrete-and-glass silos of the apartment complexes, launching their inhabitants toward a more modern population density. Nowhere in this peninsular, bound land is untrod ground; “remote” is a state of mind, not a physical inconvenience. Still you see the grandmothers from those villages come to set up small shop on the sidewalks of the cities: hand-peeled garlic, a fistful of chestnuts, spring mugwort, sometimes a few bags of a homemade pickle. They eke it out day by day by the sides of the black streams carrying the conversation of the new world: mid-size sedans and mechanized rice-harvesters, children who eat toast for breakfast, mothers who don’t know how to salt a cabbage and won’t learn, because they have to go to work, men who grew up eating meat five times a week and are twice as tall as their fathers. The distance between generations is vast, like looking over an uninhabited continent, knowing only that on the other side is a house, and your name an echo in it.

Chinese original and English translation, pp. 54-55, here.

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