By Lai Ching-Sung (Founder, Ko-Tong Rice Club, Taiwan)
Hong Kong and Taiwan are really very near! This was the first thought that came to my mind when I got off the plane. However I had never imagined that it would be for agriculture that I would visit the glittering Pearl of the Orient for the first time.
Curiosity．Departing from the Rice Field
When I got the invitation to take part in the CSA Seminar, I was very hesitant: should I go or not? I have met many lovely friends from Hong Kong since I started to do farming a few years ago. This indirectly made me realise that behind the image of an international metropolis and the heaven for shopping, in Hong Kong there were many people who were concerned about agriculture and farmers. But what kind of organisation is PCD? Why is it promoting the strenuous and unrewarding ecological agriculture in relatively poor villages in the southwest of China? Perhaps it was out of curiosity that I decided to make use of the break after rice-harvesting time to go around Taiwan with PCD's Wenchang to visit groups that would be taking part in the seminar. In this way I could take the opportunity to learn more about the ideas of the seminar.
From Kaohsiung in the south we traveled north non-stop to Yilan in northeast Taiwan. It was only a few days but I was filled with admiration for the friends from Hong Kong! From the fields under the scorching sun to villagers' houses bustling with mosquitoes and other insects, whether we spent the night in a run-down hostel or in the corner of a farmer's warehouse, everyone was always in good spirits and was always having honest exchanges with each other. I could not help thinking: it's a long time since I've seen someone really that concerned about the life of farmers and the future of rural areas! It was because I was so moved that I decided to take advantage of the slack farming season to go to Hong Kong to take part in the important event!
Initial Encounter．Meeting Again after a Long Time
I was to take part in the planning of the seminar, but one does not get things done simply by being enthusiastic. Moreover I was in an unfamiliar city working with a team of people I had never met. For a farmer who was used to working alone in the field, it was indeed a major challenge. Fortunately Fongie, who was very experienced, had prepared detailed information for me before I departed for Hong Kong. I was therefore able to grasp the basic background of the seminar in a very short time. On the first day of the seminar, from registration, meals and logistics to allocation of lodging, I witnessed the organisers managing the entire process to go smoothly. In addition, in spite of the exhaustion from traveling from afar from Mainland China, the affability and cordiality shown by participants meeting again after a long time told me that I was right to join.
The rich and substantial programme in the following days confirmed my expectations! I had been worried when we were planning the activities. It was a large-scale seminar with over a hundred participants and the seminar was going to last for a number of days. In addition there were many case studies from participants coming from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China. Would it end up becoming a superficial kind of big event? I later found I'd been over-worried. Whether it was visits to local communities in Hong Kong, case studies shared during the three-day seminar or panel discussions the participants could choose to attend in the afternoon, the organising team demonstrated their in-depth understanding of the issues. Thanks to the proper planning of the programme, participants did not end up losing orientation as the themes changed; nor did they become bored or impatient because of long talks!
For myself, apart from getting to know the beautiful city of Hong Kong, the biggest reward I had from this seminar was to meet many good friends from Hong Kong and China. Even though people travel a lot frequently between Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Mainland and the volume of exchange in terms of people, things and information is huge, in the mainstream media from Taiwan one reads only figures of economic growth and sees row upon row of high buildings. If it wasn't for this opportunity I would never have known how many people and how much land had been sacrificed for the rapid economic take-off of our cities! I would also never have found out that so many upright and brave young people dare to spend their youth for just that tiny bit of hope which has not yet died out!
Though Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China are near geographically, they are three societies which have experienced different social progress. In spite of this we were able to find our own bearings and positions so that we could learn from each other. For example, during a panel discussion on farmer's market in Hong Kong, the speaker shared the cruel story of how local agriculture had declined rapidly in just a few decades. The story, filled with tears and sweat is a warning for us in Taiwan! On the other hand, in Mainland China, everywhere there are incidents of land being seized for sale and urban expansion. What is happening seems to be only an enlarged version of the money game played within the political and business setup of Taiwan!
Firm Belief．Beautiful Life
Anyhow karma is the most wonderful magician. In just a few days I developed a lasting relationship with Hong Kong! I am also deeply thankful. If it were not for PCD which has been working intensely on rural and land issues and pursues a beautiful life for human beings honestly, sincerely and boldly, we would not have the opportunity to know and experience all that is beautiful! Just like the ideal life and spirit pursued by the Yamagishi Association in Japan, human beings should have the opportunity to create a simple beautiful life in which everyone does their best and takes only what they need. During the few days in the Kadoorie Centre of the University of Hong Kong, because of the concerted effort of partners we might or might not know, we were able to eat serenely, share honestly and learn studiously. Because of this wonderful journey, one is willing to believe that the ideal life we are searching is possible!
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