Did you know that I am very interested in milk?
Most people who have spent more than two minutes with me tend to become aware of that, at which point they decide that two minutes was already more than enough, thank you.
I am still in Hulunbuir, having had a very eventful couple of weeks, starting with a big academic conference on what is called 民族心理学, or “ethnic psychology.” It’s somewhere between ethnic studies and development studies, and this was quite a big event.
So I gave my presentation, and that was fun enough, but that was just the beginning. The next day, we all hit the road in a caravan of 16 SUVs for a two day trip through and across the grassland, arriving the next evening in a place called Shiwei, waaaaaaay up on the Russian border. There we were treated to some fun and dancing with some elderly Russian women who have clearly handled tour groups before, plus a very well organized bonfire. The next day we all packed up and came home, arriving back in Hailar in the early evening.
Now what was amazing about this trip (beyond the fact that I was invited) was just how big Hulunbuir is. I have done the east-west trip many times, but this was my first time to go far north – and I mean far. Just the grassland is as big as South Korea. And it is an incredibly gorgeous landscape.
Beyond that, it is incredibly rich in pastoral resources. Much of my current work involves the history of how these resources got to market.
One of the stories is how the cows become beef. I have done a round of trips to small, local slaughterhouses, and while they are not what I would call happy places, they were not nearly as horrific as I initially feared. Among much else, I did learn that they really do not like to be photographed. No sir, not one bit.
Milk is another story, and a rather more pleasant one. I have been visiting dairies, interviewing old workers and managers, and over the last few days – reading 60 years of newspapers about milk.
And what have I discovered? First, I have discovered that milk was incredibly important, especially in the 1950s. Much of China’s development was Soviet modeled, and the Soviets were crazy about the stuff. I’m giving a paper on this very topic next week in Xining 西宁.
The other thing I have learned? The dairy products here are just delicious. I have been drinking milk and yoghurt like I’m in post-apocalyptic Britain, and am still not tired of it.
There’s one dairy in particular called 青溪绿源 that’s way better than most, and nicely enough their one retail store just around the corner from me. We started talking about markets and production, and these guys know that they can never compete with the mega-producers like Mengniu and Ili. Instead, they focus on high quality organic milk that is only sold locally.
And also, they make an extremely nice cafe latte, which given my memory of the old Nestle powdered coffee days, is something I never thought I would live to see.