China’s cities are full of stark contrasts and contradictions, and that’s what makes them so fascinating.
In a completely redeveloped, middle/ upper class, mallified part of Xiamen is the goat lady. She drives a motorized cart with two live goats in the back down from the northern part of the island into the prime shopping district of Ruijing a couple of times per week. Whenever she shows up, she attracts crowds who line up to buy her milk.
She doesn’t bring the goats with her just for the marketing effect. No, when someone orders some milk she gets it for them fresh. Very fresh. She takes her funnel and places it into a plastic bottle, walks around behind the goats, grabs a tit, and squeezes. The milk is then measured out, poured into a plastic bag, tied, and handed to the customer that ordered it.
The goat lady’s milk production operation couldn’t be more basic, it couldn’t be more grassroots. There is no pasteurization, no sterilization, no nothing: just raw milk from a raw utter. And this is what the people here like about it.
With the string of milk and other food quality scandals that have been rippling through China over the past five or so years, a large portion of the population has lost confidence in their food supply.
This is perhaps the polite way to put it.
The full reality is that people here are shit scared of the food that makes it to the shelves of their supermarkets, as they can never know what edible is going to be reclassified as a poison next.
This has caused a stark distrust of modern, mechanized food production, and has made the traditional methods vastly more preferable in contrast. It is now incredibly common for the urban populations of China to go out into the countryside to buy meat and produce from small farms. Those who are from nearby villages, often only get groceries when home visiting their families. They just don’t trust what is being sold in the urban supermarkets, and this is probably for a good reason.
So in Xiamen, a very modernized, international city, the people flock to the goat lady and pay whatever price she asks. At 12 RMB for a small bag, her goat milk does not come cheap. But she is selling a superior product, they feel, than what they can otherwise obtain in the stores.
This is perhaps the dominant irony of our times.
You can see this all over the world: people stepping over the edge into a globalized or internationalized social and commercial sphere, and then recoiling once they realize that the newer, modern methods are not necessarily any better, cheaper, or as healthy. When it comes to food production, many people who can are returning to family farms, they are going back to the farmer’s markets. Farmers who bring their goats into town to milk in the streets are now providing a premium product.
It is these contradictions in China that makes the country so interesting right now. This is a place where so many dualities exist side by side in stark opposition to each other. The urban and the rural, rich and poor, ancient and modern, domestic and international, are all piled on top of each other here. You can be looking at one of the most opulent and modern shopping malls in the world then turn around and see a street of locals using archaic technologies from another age. Right there, before the commercial monuments of the New China, right next to a parking lot full of BMWs, Mercedes, and Porches, in a neighborhood that’s been completely modernized was a women milking a goat.
These are the types of contrasts that are the hallmark of this phase of China, but they won’t last much longer. The new will wash out the old, the modern will usurp the traditional, and the urban will wipe out the rural. There will come a day, probably very soon, where these modernized parts of Chinese cities will complete their transition, and all the goat ladies will be shooed away and all signs of the world that was will be long gone.
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