The people of Guizhou province are the friendliest, most hospitable and generous individuals I have ever met in China. This observation is even clearer now that I’m back in Beijing, where everyone snarls at one another. Could be southern hospitality like in the States, though I wonder if I’d ever feel comfortable enough to ask a stranger to use their toilet in Texas…Probably not.
I was hiking down a hill toward a small village in Langdong when typical bouts of stomachache set in — bathroom emergency. The first house my friend, Yoyo, and I came across we asked to use the bathroom. Not only did the grandfather agree to let me let my bowels loose in his home (excuse the graphics!), he also provided generous amounts of toilet paper!! This, being in a place where public bathrooms still charge tourists and everyone carries toilet paper on them at all times (except me because I always forget)! I was so grateful I didn’t even mind the snorting hog in the next pen.
On my way out, the grandfather invited me and Yoyo to stay for breakfast with him and his grandson. We courteously refused — we wanted to witness the process of making handmade tofu at another home in the village — but we sat for a little while.
I was invited to “sit a while” by numerous neighborly strangers throughout Guizhou. I experienced a similar kind of welcomeness in Morocco where I was constantly invited to have tea and stay for free in peoples’ homes. Sometimes yes, the hosts had intentions of making money. But in one of China’s poorest provinces, how could I not buy the handmade batik (wax art on cloth) that the nice lady overcharged my American companion for and then for which she offered me a “local” price? Especially after she voluntarily showed us around her ancient stone village?
Though Guizhou is home to many ethnic minority groups, I spent most of my time in Qiandongnan Prefecture where Miao villages are predominant. We saw people, most noticeably women because of their dress, from other minority groups such as Dong and Gejia, but most were Miao (Hmong).
When I told a Beijinger that I spent time in Miao villages, she remarked that Miao women are very beautiful. It’s true. Miao people have different features from Han (the majority–I’m Han). They have big, deep-set eyes and creased eyelids (now available via a simple surgical procedure), and their skin is darker from the powerful southern sun. Their costumes vary from region to region, as well as by age. In Huangping, for example, older women wear plain, bun-shaped hats while younger women wear more colorful ones. Old women just wrap towels around their heads, and instead of flowery garments, they wear undecorated royal blue robes. In Kaili, Leishan, Langde and Xijiang, women wear their hair in buns on the top of their heads, often supported by black yarn to resemble more hair. They decorate their hair with fake flowers and colorful pins and a special comb, but with different details from village to village.
Photo credit: Judy Manton
(2nd photo credit: Judy Manton)
And how ’bout this fine gentleman sporting a Soviet winter hat in the middle of summer?
Stone Village, Anshun
Whole elaborate outfits are only worn for festivals. Women spend lots of time and money — often thousands and thousands of Yuan — embroidering, sewing, pleating and decorating these garments by hand. A small piece of hand-embroidery is worth hundreds, even thousands, of Yuan because it is so meticulous.
The silver they wear around their necks, on their heads and in their ears weigh a lot. But silver is believed to cast away evil spirits, so people always wear it, most often as a bracelet. Naturally, I bought one for myself. I like to think that the silver not only protects me from evil, but also connects me to Guizhou.
It’s a relief to know that there are still people in China who are kind, un-abrasive, patient, and honest. I’ve been in Beijing for 3 days now and already feel anger and frustration in the pit of my stomach because people here can be so cold, which is ironic because it’s steaming outside.
Bad Thing #1:
From the train station, I decided to take a motorized tricycle home–it’s faster. Just as our ride began, we got stuck between a large rock and a stubborn moped who just would not budge. Unable to move in any direction, my tricycle driver began yelling at the large man on the moped, who of course, yelled back. The swearing went on for quite a while before the large man finally moved. We got through the huge intersection before I noticed that man had followed us, still yelling at my tricycle lady.
When he caught up to us, HE PUNCHED MY TRICYCLE DRIVER IN THE FACE and kicked a hole in the side of the compartment attached to the bike! I was furious, and I mean FURIOUS!
I got out of the compartment and started yelling at the man myself, screaming, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? WHAT KIND OF MAN ARE YOU? ARE YOU EVEN HUMAN?!?!!?” (This was all in Chinese of course) in front of a small crowd. Out of pure rage, I even called him a dirty name. HE SWUNG HIS GIGANTIC FIST AT THE WOMAN’S FACE!
Then, the man got off his moped and knocked the tricycle over into the street. Tempted to run over and knock his moped over, I held myself back because I was afraid he would hit me, too. You hit a lady once, you can do it again.
I asked the man, “Why did you have to hit her?!” His response was, “She yelled at me!” and drove away. Wow, I was totally aghast and almost laughed out loud at the sheer ridiculousness.
In America, we call that assault. In China, we call it the norm. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it and it sucked.
Bad Thing #2:
My mom told me this evening, after the infuriating situation above, that my downstairs neighbor died from breast cancer a few days ago.
The other day when I was coming home, I noticed a young family formally dressed dashing into my apartment complex carrying a bouquet of pink flowers. Two things came to my mind already knowing that my neighbor was sick: one, my neighbor passed away and her family was coming to visit their father, the husband of my neighbor, or two, she was well again and they came to give her flowers.
Unfortunately my negative vibes were correct and my neighbor, who my family considers a saving grace because she spared my mom from a similar fate, had passed away. Early last year, my mom bumped into this neighbor (who, by the way, I have never met) on her way home from a chemo session. She warned my mom that women her age should check for lumps in their breasts. So, my mom, superstitious as she is, checked herself as soon as she got upstairs and discovered that she indeed had lumps. Luckily, my mom’s cancer was discovered in its earliest stages, but it was too late for my neighbor. She is someone my family will never forget.
Wherever you are now, neighbor, thank you.
Bad Thing #3:
I don’t think there is actually a third bad thing, except this one tiny mishap that happened this morning, but compared to the tragedies of Bad Things #1 & #2, I’m too embarrassed to even mention it, so I won’t.