date picking

October 4th, 2009

I’d make a useless farmer. Really. Just got back from picking red dates up at the in laws’ orchard. I’d be hopeless as a farmer.

So my wife and I got a couple of plastic bags and an old flour sack (not old enough, doing anything with the sack, like emptying our plastic bags into it, got us a face full of flour), my brother in law showed me how to work his electric scooter, and off we went, carreening crazily along the village roads, along of the top of the fields, then up into the orchards.

This electric scooter is reasonably easy to ride, but, of course, if you’re not used to a particular form of transport you can easily make a fool of yourself. I’m sure I could drive a bus or truck, but there’s a very good reason- probably several very good reasons- why one needs specialised training and a separate licence for such things. Scooters are close enough to bicycles that it’s not hard to figure them out, but the figuring out can involve some, um, amusing incidents. Like me just about driving myself and my wife into the back of a parked bengbengche as I took a corner just a tad too fast, not being terribly used to how the scooter handled. Um, yeah. Well, it wasn’t too difficult to figure out, and we got to the orchard in one piece.

But that thing is heavy! It took quite some effort to get it on its stand, and then off again when it came time to head home. And I think I know the source of a goodly portion of the weight: The battery. Last time I was here an urgent phone call from my brother in law, who was at his construction site, had me and Ma opening the scooter up and hauling the battery out and inside to recharge. Naturally, it was me who did the lifting and carrying, while Ma helped opening and closing things and unplugging and plugging. That battery is heavy.

But the battery provides a fair bit of power. I was surprised with the ease it got us up the hill to the orchard. Sure, we were slowing down as we reached the top, but I’m sure we could’ve made it the last dozen metres to the road at the top had we wanted. Coming back down, though, was much easier. Could’ve used some regenerative breaking, though. Hooking a generator to the rear wheel would’ve helped moderate the speed and cut wear and tear on the brakes while boosting the battery charge. But I just had to rely on old-fashioned friction to stop us flying off the road and landing in somebody’s cornfield. Or becoming a permanent fixture of the rear end of a bengbengche.

But here’s how I’d be such a hopeless farmer: We filled the flour sack about a third full with red dates (pickings were slim), a few kilos worth, but probably at least two thirds was picked by lzh. I don’t know if I’m too lazy, too impatient, or both, but I have a very short tolerance for wading through thickets of thorns and spending at least half the time staring towards the sun trying to see what dates are worth picking even though I can hardly see. And then there’s the dates higher up which required me to bend the tree without breaking it- well hey, cutting the tree down to get the higher fruit really does not make much sense if you think long term. Or even short term. I guess we needed either a ladder or some kind of go-go-gadget-arms tool to get those higher dates.

It gets pretty chilly overnight up here. Even mid-summer nights are considerably cooler than what you’d expect if you were used to downtown Beijing. But already, in early October, it gets cold. There’s been nothing unusual about the weather on this trip out here, but these bracing mornings are a crisp reminder that we ain’t in Beijing. It was not a warm ride up to the orchard. But as the sun got higher and stronger, it could get quite hot picking those dates. Right up until we stepped into the shade again.

And pickings were slim, and not just because I dropped at least a third of what little I picked through my hopeless horticultural incompetence. An awful lot of the dates were withered or rotten or chewed up by bugs. I even found one that had some kind of caterpillar half sticking out of it still.

Anyway, after a couple of hours of me trudging around not even attempting to pretend I was making an effort and lzh desperately trying to get every date still edible, we piled back on the scooter and headed home. Not much of a morning, but hey, it got me out of the house for a couple of hours.

4 Responses to “date picking”

  1. Claire Says:

    Two posts in one day; you’re spoiling us!

    I can never pass up a chance to make (good-natured) fun of you, and I just wanted to let you know that when I think of you two up in a country orchard, searching through rotten dates, covered in flour, I can’t help but giggle.

    Thanks for that.

  2. wangbo Says:

    You’re welcome.

  3. Ji Village News Says:

    Thanks Chris for sharing. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    It reminded date picking in my hometown. It is different, at least during my day (70s to 90s). I doubt it has changed, but I can be wrong.

    Instead of picking from the tree, dates are picked from the ground, because when they are ready, we would pick a long stick and take a swing at them. The resulting rainfall, some are sold or eaten, others are dried for storage. On our date trees in the yard, there can be some nasty, green, wormy, and a bit hairy incests, perhaps 2 centimeters in length. We call it 毛吱喽 in our dialect. I have no idea what its proper name is.

    There is even an idiom in the local dialect from our date-picking method: “有枣无枣打一杆” It basically says: hey, it does not cost much and won’t hurt, so why not try?

    By the way, great wind turbine translation! As good as it gets, as far as this native Chinese speaker can tell!

    Oh, enjoyed reading your “bundle of beans” experience as well. It sure sets my mind in motion, but got to go hit the hay now.

  4. wangbo Says:

    I did consider getting a stick to hit the higher dates out of the tree, but looking at the ground made me think no. The orchard is up at the top of the fields at the base of the mountains, the ground is uneven and mostly sloping, and it’s covered in thick, thorny undergrowth. Date picking up here can be quite painful if you’re not careful about where you walk.

    Wow, tried a quick search for “毛吱喽”, it really doesn’t show up anywhere!