Land of the Lotus Eaters (A Note from the Road)

Today for lunch in Liuzhou we had pork lung and pear soup, lotus root, eggplant in a delicious sauce, fish, duck, and tofu with beef and peppers, rice, and tea made from a fruit that tasted like raisin. It was 15 dollars for 6 of us and one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Shooting went well at the AIDS clinic. The hospital looks like an old asylum, built a long time ago alongside the big river that runs through Liuzhou. We interviewed HIV+ AIDS counselors, the doctor who runs the small AIDS ward, and filmed counseling sessions with patients. We also did a pro forma interview with the head of the hospital, who was accompanied by a local party official. The official coached him a little and indicated his approval of the hospital chief’s answers, but mainly he just sat there and watched, making his stupid presence felt.

The party bungled AIDS and is trying now to make it better; they are trying to gather real data as opposed to the manipulated data that makes it up the central government, single party chain. And now the Chinese government provides ARVs to all HIV+ Chinese. One obstacle encountered by groups like the one we are with (AIDS Care China) is that it’s very difficult for them to raise money or register as an NGO; the party, our translator explained, discourages too much in the way of “civil society.”

Loch right now is shooting a “home visit” to an HIV+ family, accompanied by two female counselors and our translator. They wanted to keep the group small, and the Westerners to a minimum, so Kevin and I were left behind. Loch is bringing a gift of cooking oil and some other household necessities. These are very poor people.

China is filled with them. It’s huge, sprawling, teeming, chaotic, often bizarre. Many of the cities here in Guanxi province are new, as are the roads. Most people are friendly. You get the feeling everywhere that China is the future.I’m not so sure the future looks too bright.

But, here we are.

-from my Blackberry, in Liuzhou.

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