The Pursuit of Thrift in the Southern Regions
In the southern regions, including Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui Provinces, the tradition of being thrifty is still valued today. The edifices of Huizhou merchants in southern Anhui look quite humble from the outside, but a journey inside one such edifice will take one through five or six rows of houses. The sky wells between each connected building are courtyards filled with herbs or other plants. Even droplets of water dripping from the eaves are gathered in buckets for raising goldfish, growing lotuses and watering flowers. Making the most of everything is a timeless virtue.
In Huizhou, there is a unique local stew made of white turnips and pig’s tailbone, which, after many hours simmering in a clay pot, makes a hearty and warming dish. Using a massive crock the height of a human resting over glowing coals, the locals prepare the nutritious soup to combat the natural humidity of the local climate. All the turnips are peeled beforehand so that the delicate fragrance and tender taste of the soup are not ruined by any bitterness.
Nevertheless, a problem arises when confronted with a basketful of turnip peels to dispose of every day. Should you just throw them away?
The locals believe that the essence of turnips lies in their peels. So, they pickle the sun-dried peels and turn them into a crunchy golden snack. Order a pot of tea in the city and you will be offered side dishes of smoked green beans, dried bean curd, turnip peels, and sunflower seeds free of any additives— a manifestation of the attention to detail and generosity of the locals.
In the southern regions, even sesame residue after oil extraction are sold in pieces as large as bowls to people who grow flowers. The elderly in this area are almost all “flower addicts.” They fill their balconies with jasmines, begonias, peonies, and Chinese roses. The gorgeous peonies thrive in the fertile soil, and the Chinese roses refuse to wither until winter is well due, with their long flowering period making them dependent on oil fertilizers.
Sesame oil shop owners will teach you with patience how much of an oil cake you need for each flower. Compared to fish intestines, the oil is a superior fertilizer. It is clean and does not have a lingering odor even when the flowers are brought indoors.
In fact, these areas are not naturally prosperous— southern Jiangsu is densely populated and has limited land, and southern Anhui and northwest Zhejiang are riddled with mountains. The key to their affluence may actually lie in the people’s thrift, with output from the land and water being fully and efficiently utilized.
(From Fortunately We Still Have Plum Cakes, Huazhong University of Science and Technology Press.）