China: Never out of touch

A man grazes his cow in Yunnan Province, China.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

WENHAI, CHINA – In this remote hamlet, tucked into the mountains of Yunnan Province in southwestern China, life is pretty much as it has been for centuries.

It still lies a four-hour uphill walk from the modernity of the valley below; residents mostly eat what they themselves grow, and they speak their own language.

In one respect, however, Wenhai’s peasant farmers are as 21st century as anyone anywhere: Mobile phones are ubiquitous. China makes nearly half the world’s mobile phones, and nearly half of its 1.3 billion people use one (and sometimes more) themselves.

I was happy to discover this firsthand the other day, when my trekking guide lost her way in an unusually thick cloud above Wenhai.

She pulled out her mobile phone to call a friend in the village who knew the mountain well; the friend gave her a mobile number for his brother, who happened to be on his way to the place we were headed, and the brother gave her over-the-phone directions to the brow of the hill, where he promised to wait for us.

We didn’t see the sun that overcast day, but we found our way off the mountain.

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