Xijang

November 4

Our first view of Xijang was from across the valley.  Wooden homes darkened with age and punctuated by new wood capped the hill surrounded by garden patches and rice paddies.  Touches of autumn added colour.  We were anxious to see more.

First things first.  It had been a long drive and we needed to use the facilities.   Mr "Driver" (so nicknamed because we never learned how to say his name well enough to repeat it) weaved the line of us up through some back steps and pathways.

The smell was not good, but it was one of the cleaner country squat-toilets we had seen.   While inside we heard a commotion.  Around the corner of the building we were able to discover the source of the noise and some of the smell.  Two weaner pigs, one black one pink, were just about to be fed.

The first part of main street was neat, tidy and had a newness about it.  Obviously a tourist town.  For us a little disappointing -- at first.

 

A lot of work had gone into making Xijang tourist attractive.  Like the detailed work on the street's pavement. 

New construction is marked by the golden tones of wood and the brightness of the bricks (carried into town on horse back).

The farther we got into town, the less touristy it was. 

Near the centre of the main street was a square on two levels.  A little market had been set up.  It wasn't busy, so there was time to visit.  

There is a Miao legend:  Long ago Miao people did not have corn or rice seeds and could only survive by hunting. A man named Gaolao traded his best livestock to a god in exchange for some seeds.  An unfortunate incident caused the seeds to be burnt and the god would not give him any more. Gaolao sent his dog to roll around in the god's fields and when he returned, Gaolao picked nine seeds out of his hair. He kept the seeds safe and when the right time came, he sowed them carefully.  Year after year he cared for his crop and shared with all Miao people until everyone had enough to eat.

From this same legend comes the reason Miao people do not eat dog since without the dog, they would not have corn and rice. 

We saw plenty of corn hung to dry, sheltered from rain by eaves.

After asking directions, Mr. "Driver" led us further up into the village, over narrow ancient cobblestone and dirt paths, winding between tiers of wooden houses which incorporate barn, living quarters and storage.   We came to a dead end ... that was fine ... we were enjoying this walk of discovery. 

Shortly after passing a man with his bird, we saw a young boy plucking his. 

We reached the destination Mr. "Driver" was seeking; a wooden house with a new deck protruding out to the valley view.   The owners offer accommodation (pictures of rooms below).  The hostess invited us into her home for a meal.  Tall people should duck.  Stephen standing at around 185cm (6'1") gave his head a mighty knock one one of the cross beams.

 
 

The room was small and simple and felt very much like the home it is.   In the centre of the room is a stove with a table top built upon it extending out on all sides.  On one side a sofa, around the other sides small stools only about 20 cm (8 inches) high.  In the centre of the table-stove a pot of broth and greens bubbled, around which dishes laden with pork, sausage, eggs and dishes we did not recognize were placed.  Everything was delicious.  To one side a large deep wooden bowl held steaming rice which our hostess ladled out with a wooden spoon into hand sized bowls.  We added different ingredients from the dishes on the table-stove.  Mr. "Driver" sat and ate with us (which was very nice because often guides/drivers will not) and although we could not understand each others language, the conversation around the table seemed relaxed and joyful. 

A lady dropped by in traditional costume.  She exchanged some words with Mr. "Driver".   Terry, from his vantage point on the sofa, could see that our hostess was also dressing in traditional costume.  Through the doorway we could see more ladies of the village also dressed in beautiful embroidered skirts and jackets trimmed in silver, with silver necklaces and headdresses.

 

Our hostess came back into the room, poured some rice wine into a cup, held it with both hands and began to sing.  The other lady joined her in song.  We had heard of this ceremony.  According to Miao custom, serving rice wine to their guests is a way of showing respect and, as a guest, drinking without touching the bowl with your hands is showing respect in return.  Since Terry is the head of our household, he received the first and second bowls before the others were served.  But that was not the only two bowls he was given.  Mr. "Driver" declined and upon being urged, he got up politely and explained (we assume he explained about being the designated driver). 

More and more people were gathering outside.  We finished our meal and feeling a little giddy ... was it just the whole experience or was it the rice wine? ... went outside where the English teacher explained that for a small fee, we could watch the dance demonstration in the square.   Although we four were the only Caucasian tourists in town, there were six Asian visitors ... enough for the villagers to gather. 

The main reason why Miao people, mostly women, wear silver is because it is beautiful.  It also is a sign of wealth and is believed to ward off evil spirits.  Miao hats are made of hundreds of piece (crafted by men), sometimes topped by tall silver horn-like extensions.  At the tips of the horns, ladies attach light feathers to accentuate the loftiness of the head piece.   

 
 

The simplest head adornment is a flower, as worn by our beautiful hostess.  They also wear elaborately decorated silver hair combs.   Everyday life is a little simpler with often the flower worn or a small silver comb.  Once a lady has reach the age of thirty, she will adopt a terry-towel head covering.

 
 

Some of the town's people had gathered in the small square.  To the children we were a curiosity.    That's when we met "Dave".  Ange nicknamed him "Dave" ... why? ... she doesn't know but any other name we thought of faded and the name "Dave" stuck.  He was a character.  His eyebrows were penciled in and he had a red dot on his forehead.  Even before the music began, Dave danced for us.   He had a smile and joy which were infectious. Sherrie gave him one of the golden balloons and as usual the other kids beamed in.   She gave out more to the younger children until her pockets were empty.    

     
 

There was excitement in the square and the performance of traditional songs and dances began with a (for us, "another") rice wine drinking ceremony. 

Some ladies, like our hostess, changed costumes and performed in a number of different dances.  The men danced too.  Music was supplied by townsmen playing the traditional lusheng (reed pipe) and drums and ladies sang traditional songs.   Near the end of the performance, Terry was asked if he would dance or sing a song ...

he passed the opportunity to Stephen ... who in turn passed the honour onto Angela, who having danced professionally, took up the challenge to entertain the enthralled onlookers.  

 

It was time for us to go.   We did so reluctantly. 

The English teacher was kind enough to act as our interpreter so that we could properly thank our host and hostess for their hospitality and kindness.   We would very much like to stay in contact with these wonderful people of Xijang for we would be most honoured to call them friends.

 

On the way back to Kaili, we passed some wind bridges and crept through busy little villages ... this is rush hour in rural China.  We grinned with the realization that today was one we would all remember for a lifetime.

 Once back in Kaili, we walked the streets and finished off the evening with a drink in the lounge of our new hotel.  

 
 
 


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