chapter  26
5 Pages

Sweating Cheese and Thinking Otherwise

The cheese, sitting on a plate in the middle of the round table in the senior staff dining hall, starts to sweat. It’s that time after lunch when the campus clears, all but mad dogs and English teachers sliding away from the heat behind mosquito-curtained beds. For several hours, until the afternoon heat recedes, screeching cicadas are the only creatures active across the shimmering campus. Hunan at this time of year is red and hot: stifling, humid summer days stretching on into thick, sweaty, mosquito-humming nights. The iron-rich red earth burns rustily in the heat, yet still nurtures two crops of rice through this long summer. Water buffaloes, knee deep in mud, turn the thick soil over, mixing in pungent nightsoil that has been scooped up from behind the student dormitories and carried across the campus in buckets swinging on poles slung form thin shoulders. The rice here is fresh, succulent, local, though scattered with teeth-threatening stones gathered up from farm courtyards where the husks are laid out to dry.