Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rice Terraces and Rats

While Tim was up north checking out Kung Fu, I headed south to Yangshou. When I arrived, I decided I wanted to be someplace quieter, and took off for the small village of Xingping. Here I met Marnie, another solo woman traveler, and we decided to go to even smaller, hike-in only villages off the road. After four bus journeys we arrived in Pingan, which is famous for its amazing, steeply engineered rice terraces and home to several of China's minority groups.

China's minority groups are big business. Tourists, particularly Chinese tourists, like to see the minorities singing, dancing, or doing other 'traditional' things, while dressed in traditional clothing, even though it is now more often then not made in Chinese factories and worn on top of blue jeans. They also love to shop at tacky 'minority craft' souvenir shops, mostly owned by Han Chinese and featuring mass produced factory goods. Sometimes it gets the flavor of a human zoo! I will admit that I also enjoy seeing different groups of people who live differently than I do (whether minority or not), although I usually seek a more authentic experience than what China tourism often offers. But then, China's tacky tourist sites are an authenticly Chinese experience all their own!

After staying one night in Pingan, Marnie and I planned to walk three hours to Dazia. As we started off in a thick fog that limited visibility to about 20 feet, we met a group coming from Dazia who warned us to take a guide. They said they would not have made it without one. We hesitated for a bit, before deciding to go for it on our own.

On the trail we soon caught up with two beautiful Yao women in hand embroidered clothing carrying baskets on their backs. The women lived in a small village on the way to Dazai and insisted on hiking with us. At one point in the journey, they stopped and uncovered a hidden scythe and began chopping wood for that evenings fire with it. One of the women then let down her nearly ankle length hair and recoiled it around her head. The Yao women wear their hair coiled up somewhat like a Sikhs turban with a large bun in the front. The bun is visible but the rest they cover with a black cloth. They use not only their own hair, but also long lengths of hair they get from God knows where to thicken their hairdos. After restyling their hair, the women shouldered the loads of wood and we started all off again.

One of the ladies styles her hair...

While the other chops tree branches

It was amazing how much we could understand each other despite the language barrier. By the time we reached thier village, Marnie and I decided we wanted to stay there with them, if they offered. The women did offer, and also fed us three delicius meals of rice, fish, and vegetables from the garden that day and the following morning. They toured us around the village and brought us to see the children getting out of school. As they do all over China before being dismissed, the children line up in a military style. We saw the pigs, ponies, cows, and ducks that the families keep under and around the houses. We watched as they recoiled their hair yet again, met their mother, husbands, and children. It was grandma's room that Marnie and I were going to sleep in. That evening, one of the women brought out her loom and worked on a beautifully woven jacket like the one that she was wearing. All together it was a very wonderful experience and a great view into the Yao culture...


Until that night when the rats took over the house!

Maybe I am a real wimp, but that night was hell. I shivered as I brushed a rat turd out of the bed, having a small inkling of what was to come. There was nowhere else to go, so I laid down fully clothed, pillow covered, to the overpowering scent of urea wafting up from the animals below. The cow was bellowing and the pig was squealing. The lights went out and about 15 minutes later I began to hear the rats running around, across the cloth draped ceiling and down the walls. They were chewing too, and making tapping sounds. The room must have had scores of them. I wonder if they breed them in here to eat later!

I tried to turn the light back on, but it did not work. I turned on the headlamp and laid it on the pillow next to me and tried not to sleep, fearful that a rat would run across my face. Marnie did the opposite-she put in earplugs and tried to ignore it. The headlamp disturbed the cow, who must have been able to see the light through the walls, and he began to bellow again. Despite our predicament, we could not help but laugh.

The next morning we had a good breakfast, after which I could not get out fast enough, and when we reached Pingan a few minutes after the two hourly bus left I insisted on walking down the road and trying to flag someone down. Distance! Although I had a wonderful time with the ladies and had decided that it had been worth the hell night, I still wanted distance between the rats and I, as quick as possible!

We got lucky and within minutes a plush Lexus with a leather interior had pulled over to let us in and the driver, Tang, who spoke excellent English, offered to take us all the way to Guilin. He was a factory owner/chopstick exporter traveling with a Japanese client and a Chinese/Japanese speaking man who smoked 8.00$ a pack cigarettes. For Chinese men, the cost of their cigarettes defines them, what tier of society they belong in, the social class of their friends. For Chinese women, smoking is taboo, the sign of a loose women.

I asked Tang to ask the man who smoked why Chinese men smoke so much. His answer was very eloquent "Chinese men must work very hard, all the time. We must smoke so that we don't live as long." He followed this up with a little less eloquence and a little more crude humor "Chinese men can do only two things. They can work, and they can smoke... well actually Chinese men can do three things!" We all laughed as we left the rats further and further behind us.


Like in Kedernath, India some people like to announce their wealth by being carried around the rice terraces in doli chairs. This photo taken on the path leading to Pingan.

Corn hangs to dry throughout China

The two ladies moving up the trail ahead of us as we left Pingan.

In this fog, the visibility across the terraces was quite low.

Gold barked bamboo in the fog.

Walking through the foggy terraces loaded down with wood for the nights cooking and heating.

One of the ladies in front of her home. The houses are huge barn like structures. The first floor is where the animals and toilet are located.

A man we met walking through the village.

The children lined up, military style, before being dismissed from school.

Fresh vegetables for our dinner!

Feeding baby with chopsticks.

Dad with baby

Working the loom under grandma's watchful eye.

Grandma is a bit shy about photos but she let me take this one. She is a widow, and thus wears black. The married women all wear the bright pink embroidered clothing that they make themselves.

The family's ancestor shrine. There are many clocks, all stopped at various times, perhaps at the time of death of various ancestors. The largest is next to grandpas photo. A matching clock still ticks opposite. We believe this might be grandmas clock.

A breakfast of steaming rice

Some views of the terraces as the fog lifted on our way out

Marnie, the two ladies, and I saying goodbye. They walked back to Pingan with us so we would not get lost.

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