Saturday, November 25, 2006

Orange Picking

Yesterday, we took the beginner class to the countryside to go tangerine picking. This wasn't really the classic American 'U-Pick' that my mom put my siblings and I to slave labor for when I was little. A friend of the school had an tangerine farm, but couldn't afford the labor to pick them before they rotted. So we figured this could be a fun service project for the students and staff.

As I side note, I would like to take the opportunity to express my fondness of the fruit here. It's really amazing. This place is like a citrus wonderland. The tangerines are the freshest, tastiest, most easy to peel oranges I've ever had. (Not to mention, they're only $0.15 a pound! When I buy fruit here, I've found I need to buy at least two pounds at a time because I'll usually finish one pound the first day.) I understand why they're referred to as Mandarin oranges now. My other new friend is the Kumquat, which is like an orange the size of a huge grape. The peel is quite thin, so to eat them you just pop the whole thing in your mouth. The peel is strong tasting, sweet, and sour, and the inside tastes like an orange. Afterwards, your mouth feels clean and incredibly fresh due to the intenseness of the peel.

The village was about an hour's bike ride away, so headed off first to rent some bikes. As we finally hopped on our bikes, it started raining. Undaunted, we put on some cheap poncho's (they were pretty much just a trash bag with rubber bands on the sleeves), and headed off.

Five minutes into the soggy journey, I was pretty cold, wet and miserable. Well, miserable feeling, but still having a great time. After a half hour into the ride, when it was raining so hard we could barely see, we pulled over to some shelter. When the rain let up a little, I expected the students to offer to turn back, but they hopped back on their bikes and pressed on.

When we got to the village, we met the family we were to be helping, and one of the girls took us out to the grove. As we walked through the village, the girl pointed out to us that about half of the buildings were over 250 years old! When we got to the trees we would pick, we were all given scissors to cut the stems and a bag to put the fruit in.

It was still raining when we began, so it wasn't exactly pleasant standing in three inches of mud cutting cold, wet oranges. Cutting each one disturbed the entire trees' branches, which poured even more water onto us. After only about twenty minutes, I had filled four bags and I was told that we were leaving. When we got back to the village, amidst the confusion of everyone speaking Chinese, I was finally informed that you can't pick oranges in the rain because they'll all rot quickly if they're not stored dry. So it turned out that they couldn't keep any of the oranges we picked, but they didn't want to tell us we couldn't help after coming all that way. We then just paid for all the oranges we picked, and had to carry them home on our bikes. This meant that each of us had to carry about 5-10 pounds of oranges for an hour on our bikes!

The whole thing felt a bit anti-climatic to me to be honest. I felt bad that we went all that ways and couldn't really help. The whole situation was masked behind the wall of being spoken in Chinese, but it seemed like when we got there we found out that we weren't necessarily doing them a favor by picking the oranges, but it was just a fun thing to do. Although it was fun getting to pick the oranges, I was kind of let down that we weren't really helping anyone out.

We then somehow strapped over 50 pounds of oranges to about 10 bikes, and made our way home. The rain had finally stopped, but I was still completely soaked. The students took a lot of the oranges home, but as I got into a warm shower back at the school, I wondered what in the world we were going to do with 30 pounds of oranges.

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