Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Guizhou- The road less traveled in China (chapter 4 of 9)

Day 1 part b - Southeastern Guizhou

After visiting Ta Tang Miao hamlet, our driver stopped by a restaurant in Yonglei town for Tyng and I to have lunch.  The restaurant had quite a presentable exterior but the interior appeared to be old and unkempt. The kitchen was the last place to visit for we needed a meal to fill our stomach. Anyway, we enjoyed the meal as we were famished.

Right : I fear to know the faith of the dog in the cage

On our way to Zairong village in Rongjiang county to visit the Pingyong Miao, we passed by another 2 towns - Danjiang and Tashi. We had little time for a walk at the markets and I came across some Miao accessories. I was unsure if there were made of silver but I bought them anyway.  Some of the smaller pieces ended up on the t-shirt range which I designed and made few years ago.

Left : Silver accessories for Miao costume

Little helpers
collecting logs
for burning
Our next itinerary was to visit Pingyong Miao people. A Miao subgroup mainly lives in the villages around Rongjiang who are good in making indigo dyed batik with beeswax. It was almost 6pm when our driver reached at the roadside to Zairong, a Pingyong Miao village we were visiting. The village was located at the valley where we descended steep slopes, passing through terraces on and going around the mountain trails before we reached the first home. We tracked on a moderately fast speed for nearly 15 minutes. So, when we spotted someone in the first house, we walked straight to it. A young girl was sitting at the veranda drawing her batik with wax. We had came to the right house! Another lady and a young man from the house came to greet us too. When we expressed our interest in their batik works, they brought out some of their finished works.

All the works were done on cotton head cloths measuring a 1 foot width and 12 feet length with motifs of bird, fish, butterfly,  figures, symbols of dragon and even an mythical animal named bird dragon. These works were done by the two sisters-in-law in the same family. The works were drawn with free flow and mastery of sheer skill. Yuan Ren Zhi, the daughter-in-law in the Loong family was a confident and skilled artist. She sketched her works by scraping the fabric with her finger tips before applying the wax, whereas, the young batik artist would trace the fabric with the stencils before applying the wax.

Left : 1st from left - Yuan Ren Zhi. Above: Tyng busy making selection

We picked four pieces of the work for a good deal. Three pieces of them were sold soon after we displayed them in our little booth after the trip. Tyng was smart to keep the 4th piece before it is taken up which ended none for me. It was nice to buy at first hand and meet the artisans. I regretted for not getting more then.

Our harvest -Guizhou Pingyong Miao head cloths

A boy from Pingyong
riding a wooden tricycle
The sun was setting. We had over spent the time given by our driver, Xiao Wu. We hurriedly left the Loong family without further exploring the village. We ran most of the way up to the road so as to race against the disappearing sunlight. I was still fit then and had no trouble of osteoarthritis. In fact, I was fitter than my sister who is 6 years my junior. Tyng probably had not been exercising enough.

It was more than 90 minutes drive to Rongjiang town in the dark where we were putting up for the night. Driving after dark was dangerous around the rural area as there was complete darkness on the road. Even the lighting in the little town was all dim. Most of the premises had not lightened up enough lights. I don't know why. Could it be due to insufficient electricity supply, cost saving or just the way of life. I recalled when I was young, living in a kampung (village) house in Penang, Malaysia, we never had enough bright lights as to save costs. Our big kitchen had only one light bulb. The shower room attached to the kitchen had no light at all  and  we had to depend on  the mere dim lighting that came from the kitchen. And that continued for very long time till it was replaced with fluorescent light. But the toilet remained that way until the last day of our stay there.  Somewhat eerie, isn't it?

Published rate of hotel rooms
We checked into Rongjiang Hotel after a bargain on the rate. The published rate for a deluxe twin room was 218 Yuan, we paid 100 Yuan. During peak season, this is not possible. The room was pleasant and spacious. There was free Internet at the lobby available to the guests for a limited use of time.

I thought in rural areas, people usually go to bed early, but at 9pm, the streets were still abuzz and eateries were still wide opened with guests. Tyng & me had a simple dinner at one of the little shops nearby the hotel. We spent a little time observing the people around and bought 2 corns to enjoy in our hotel room.

It was a long and eventful day. After sending emails to our loved ones, we soon found ourselves in slumberland!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Guizhou- The road less traveled in China (chapter 3 of 9)

Day 1 part a - Southeastern Guizhou

After a good night rest, my sister Tyng and I welcomed the day with excitement. The cold morning shower had kept my teeth chattering for awhile. It was sooo cold that I couldn't straighten my body after coming out from the shower room. Nevertheless, I felt refreshed and ready for the day's adventure.  We walked to the CITS after breakfast to meet Billy and our driver.

Our driver Xiao Wu, a Dong minority in mid twenties was already awaiting us in a nice black car. He looked no different from any Han Chinese in his modern clothing. Xiao Wu was a quite man but we tried to make him talk with our many questions about his people and Guizhou. As he was not a trained tour guide, he couldn't provide us much info about the minorities and villages we visited.

Young Gejia making batik

Our first stop was to the bank to exchange more Reminbi. Don't expect to use the credit cards or US$ in this region. Thereafter, to a Gejia's home and showroom in Kaili since our route didn't include visit to Gejias' villages located in the northwest of Kaili. The Gejia is a Hmong subgroup in China which was officially defined as part of the Miao people. However the Gejia do not accept to be classified as Miao, and have requested the authorities to recognize them as a separate minority. At first, the owner of the place showed us some general works displayed on the main hall. But when he realised our passions for the textiles, he brought out from another room some intricate works to show us. This was my first ever experience of seeing such intricate batik work.

Batik of the Gejia
This is probably a shoulder piece of the formal costume
Batik of the Gejia
This pair of intricate batiks were embroidered with fine spider web stitches
It was fortunate for us to be able to have a conversation with this Gejia man on the works of his people .We bought few beautiful pieces of the Gejia batiks and hugged onto them like new treasure found.

Upper Langde Village
Our cars sped off towards the Southeast of Kaili. In less than an hour, we arrived the upper hamlet of Langde which is 29km from Kaili. Our driver waited for us in the car and left us to explore on our own. Tyng & I could feel each other's excitement as we both eagerly strode into the village. 

Upper Langde village has a history of 640 years and was built in the Yuan(1271-1368) and Ming(1368-1644) Dynasties. The more than 600 over villagers all bear the surnames of Wu and Chen. The Miao people here are classified as "Long skirt Miao" owing to their special ethnic costumes. It was like back in time to see the ladies here in their daily wears to festivals costumes. The Miao ladies tied their long hair into big buns that sat right on top their heads and decorated with artificial roses and hair clips. The paths were paved with pebbles. So as the LuSheng ground was paved with the 12 sun beams designed at the centre of the ground. I could never imagine this village had been burned down and left with only 15 men and women after a massacre by the army of the Ch'ing Dynasty.

Lang De Miao people had fought with the Ch'ing's army for 18 years

The Miao people wear heavy traditional costumes and accessories during festivals and special occasions. We were excited when we came to a home with many people and some of the ladies were in full costumes.  We stopped and asked politely if we could take pictures with the ladies. A lady with amiable gesture came and granted our request. She brought out some silver accessories to show us. After a quick bargain, she sold us some beautiful Miao silver jewelries and hurried down to the hall. Then only we found out that they were having a funeral! We felt terrible for intruding the family at this time although the ladies didn't appear to be sad. I guessed someone elderly of the home had passed away. We apologized and quickly left the home. From a distance, some men were busy sacrificing a pig for the funeral.

A village stay in Langde hamlet is possible but it is best to make arrangements with an agent as registration with the local 'Gong Ann Jiu" (police station) is a must. For dormitory on the wooden block, it is only 10 yuan per bed. Enjoy a free cultural show of dances from ladies or the LuSheng dances by the men if there happen to be a group tour visit during your stay or time there. We didn't have the pleasure of any free show nor were we willing to pay 400 Yuan for it.

Next, we visited Ta Tang Miao Linh Hamlet which was just a short drive from the previous village. This is a short skirt Miao village. We put on our warmest smile and asked a family permission to visit their home. The young mum was busy bathing her young baby under the sun as the weather was cold. After a short chat, we expressed the interest to view of her traditional costume.  20 Yuan was what the husband requested for photos with his beautiful young wife. I later understand it was quite troublesome as the silver accessories were all locked up and she had to get the key from someone who safeguarded it for her. We waited for about 15 minutes before she came down from the stairs in her awesome outfits. I believed she had not put on all the accessories which could be overdone. Although she had added on the long black trousers which was not the original style with just with the short pleated skirt, we were contented with the opportunity to take some photos with her. 

Short Skirt Ta Dang Miao
Top: Glimpse from the top
Bottom: Warehouses

Each family had at least a warehouse to store their harvests and perhaps hays for the animal stocks. The stilt warehouses were being built at the foot of the village while the houses were built along the slopes. Unlike the warehouse, the Miao house here was built on the ground, some in single storey but most with double-storeys.

We didn't spend much time in Ta Tang hamlet as we had a few more itineraries to go before the day ended. I was a little regretful of not having a guide as I really wanted to learn more about these places, people and history. As from my guide books, I could only have little or no info about these places. Well, we learn from experiences.