So I took a train ten hours overnight to Xian to work on a farm for two weeks.
For those who don't know, Xian is one of the historical capitals of China, with plenty of old architecture and, more famously, the Terracotta Soldiers.
Wang Zhengrong and her non-English-speaking husband picked me up at the station and took me to the farm in a suburb of the city.
Apparently I had been mistaken: it was not a mushroom farm, but a "farm" to supply the mushroom seeds to farmers. I still don't know how the process works, but the work consisted of mixing up a soil mixture and stuffing it into individual plastic bags and bottles.
When I arrived, Zhengrong introduced me to the other workers, six people near my age who spoke about five words of English each and whose three syllable Chinese names I immediately forgot. (I later had someone write them all down to help me remember).
Life on the farm reminded me a little of my time spent in Guatemala eleven years ago: this meant washing my clothes by hand with a small plastic basin; using the no-flush "squat" toilets in the outhouse (essentially only a hole in the ground), and showering under a trickling shower head attached to a garden hose.
In the morning we usually ate a baozi (steamed dumpling) before working for a few hours. Not hard work and only occasionally even very physical. The process consisted in mixing the soil, letting it sit overnight, then mixing it by feeding shovel loads into a machine. Next we packed it into small plastic bags or sometimes bottles, then stored them in a storage space adjacent to the shower, which was essentially an oven fed by a large coal and wood burning furnace. After they had cooked, we took them out and stored them in a air-conditioned room at 22 degrees Celsius. Then we packed them into boxes and delivered them to these large warehouse places. I missed the details of the process with my limited Chinese, but hopefully this gives a general idea of how I spent my time here.