Many of our COAT volunteers have been coming to China for a significant number of years. This visit is my 5th visit in 7 years. I first visited JiaoZuo in 2009, and I left my heart behind when I said goodbye ... I knew I would be back. This is the first post in a series while in China this time.
JiaoZuo is situated in the north west of the Henan Province, approximately 70km north of ZhengZhou (the capital city of the Henan Province). It takes about an hour and a half to travel by bus from the ZhengZhou XinZheng International Airport. The airport has undergone a huge redevelopment in the last twelve months and we were pleasantly surprised at how clean and tidy everything was this time. The long distance bus ticket office was easy to locate and the bus waiting area much nicer than previous visits. You can also catch the subway directly to the train station and take a fast train to JiaoZuo now (approximately 40 mins).
The trip from ZhengZhou to JiaoZuo gives you an opportunity to see rural China without a filter. Farmers tend their fields by hand and work around the headstones of ancestors. We also cross over the Yellow River (Huáng Hé) on the way. It is the second longest river in China and the seventh longest in the world. The Yellow River is called the "Mother River of China" and "the Cradle of Chinese Civilization." Thousands of archaeological sites from the Neolithic period (c. 12,000 to 2,000 B.C.) indicate that settled agriculture began in China below the southern bend of the Yellow River. The Yellow River is also called “China’s Sorrow” because it is extremely prone to flooding. Between 602 B.C. and 1938, it flooded 1,593 times, and changed course 26 times. The hardships caused by the flooding have had a significant influence on Chinese history. In 1955, the government of the Peoples Republic of China developed a plan to control flooding and generate electrical power. Trees have been planted and tributaries in the watershed of the Yellow River have been dammed in an effort to control the river’s flow, and more than a dozen hydroelectric power plants have opened since 1960. Over the last seven years, I have seen this once magnificent river dry up more and more. It causes hardship to the farmers in this region as water becomes more difficult to find.
Small villages are frequent along the expressway. They vary in size and obvious economic influence. Some are very traditional, one story, single room dwellings and others are more modern with homes that are several stories high. Mostly they have an external village wall.
Rubbish litters the expressway, great piles of it. From general living waste to huge piles of landfill from demolished village sites, it is everywhere you look.
As you continue into JiaoZuo in September (the beginning of Autumn), you begin to see the corn ... everywhere. Drying on the sides of the road, on the road, in front of shops ... wherever there is a spare space. Amongst it, you will find the elderly with their grandchildren and great grandchildren. They husk the corn, turn it, strip the kernels from the cobs, collect the cobs, grind the kernels. It takes a long time, but it gets them through the winter and they also store some to sell when the price is better (not at harvest time). At times, several lanes of the highway are taken up with corn.
When you return to JiaoZuo each time, landmarks become more familiar, you begin to feel like you are coming home.
JiaoZuo is a relatively small city with a population of approximately 3.5 million people. Foreigners are not common in this area and there are on average around 12-16 foreigners at any given time. The city has spread out over the last seven years. The previous orphanage used to be on the fringes of the city, but now there are many kilometres of development and apartments beyond this point.
Often our arrival is in the middle of the night as the direct flight from Australia lands in ZhengZhou around midnight. This time, we arrived mid morning and went straight upstairs - the smiles from our Eaglets bring us home every time.