Forge and anvil, hammer and tongs, the old blacksmith appears out of another century. (Jock Lauterer photo)
Forge and anvil, hammer and tongs, the old blacksmith appears out of another century. (Jock Lauterer photo)

The distance between old China and new China is as thin as one of one of Mama Ying’s almost porous, transparent crepes.

Just around the corner from the Western style mall with Starbucks, KFC and Pizza Hut, you will stumble down some alley and encounter an 80-year-old blacksmith plying his craft — forge and anvil, hammer and tongs — state of the art 15th century.

Just when you think you’ve in the middle of nowhere, around the bend in the road will appear a gleaming new steel and glass Land Rover/Jaguar dealership.

Or, like today you could take to the misty mountain switchbacks on the way to an ancient village one thousand years old, accompanied on the car radio playing Chinese hip-hop music.

The view of the village descending the switchbacks. (Jock Lauterer photo)
The view of the village descending the switchbacks. (Jock Lauterer photo)

I am constantly reminded of China’s ironic juxtapositions at every turn. A trendy 24-year-year-old reporter from the local paper, along for the ride, tells me, a little lorlornly, “I am a ‘left-over woman,’” (The Chinese term for an unmarried woman of a certain age).

Conceding that matchmaking is still very much still the custom here, she says, “Mama will find me a nice man, but I don’t like that way.” And with a trace of defiance, she declares, “ I want to find my own true love.”

At the 1,000-year-old village of Huang Tan Dong, nestled snugly along the banks of the steep valley’s rushing mountain stream, they have Wifi. But the 50-some residents cook on wood-burning stoves.

A woodburning stove serves them well. (Jock Lauterer photo)
A woodburning stove serves them well. (Jock Lauterer photo)
Clear stream water graces the ancient mountain village. (Jock Lauterer photo)
Clear stream water graces the ancient mountain village. (Jock Lauterer photo)
On her way to wash clothes, she invites us to her home. (Jock Lauterer photo)
On her way to wash clothes, she invites us to her home. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Villagers greet us with genuine affection, inviting us in to visit, with no expectation of recompense. I am touched by this authenticity and wonder if I would be so generous if some curious Chinese visitors were wandering through my neighborhood back in Chapel Hill.

Village men enjoy a local version of Mah-jong. (Jock Lauterer photo)
Village men enjoy a local version of Mah-jong. (Jock Lauterer photo)
If you could smell this photograph, your mouth would be watering. (Jock Lauterer photo)
If you could smell this photograph, your mouth would be watering. (Jock Lauterer photo)

At lunch, cooked on giant wood-fired stoves with oversized woks, I am treated to chicken paws, hog ears and mutton soup.

I could be dining in the 17th century. Except… across the table, two of my hosts bend over a smart phone playing a video game, while the “left-over woman” busily We-Chats her friends back in town.

The digital world, never far away — even in this ancient village. (Jock Lauterer photo)
The digital world, never far away — even in this ancient village. (Jock Lauterer photo)
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