Chinese National Day 2011: A Step Back in Time

[Dong women toast us]

October 1, the Chinese National Day Holiday, is one of the busiest travel days in the country, and it is also the day we traveled back in time. We arrived at Guiyang’s train station mid-morning along with the population of an entire US city.  After swearing off traveling on this holiday last year, we found ourselves on a crowded train heading toward the ethnic minority hub of Kaili, just southeast of Guiyang.  Our group was eight strong, so we filled up one seating section of the train making the ride easy and comfortable.  We were heading to the Dong minority region of Guizhou to see drum towers, hear cool music, and see the mysterious villages we’ve heard so much about. This is one of the spots we’d been planning to visit since we found out we were going to China.

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China is ________.


[Jia Ding Miao burial cave near Gaopo]

We have been in China a year now, almost to the day, and still one of the most mystifying things is our inability to qualify, classify, or in any way explain this place.  It is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle and then promptly put in a blender.  This post will in no way attempt to explain this phenomenon only illustrate the truth by which it is manifested in our daily life. Nearly anything you say about China is true, but then, so is the opposite.

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Light at the End of the Tunnel

[10,000 Peaks – Karst Limestone Forest – Xingyi, Guizhou]

We’re back up and running here at the blog after a bit of a delay. Today, the irises are blooming and the birds are chirping with a light mist in the air.  With another holiday, Tomb Sweeping Day, on the horizon we hurriedly re-schedule classes, pack our backpacks, and load the bus to Xingyi.  This time we know what to expect, we know the rest stops and where to get fantastic dumplings, but a lot has happened since we first made this trip two weeks ago.

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Soundscape #1: Funeral

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For the last 28 hours or so, we’ve had a funeral going on downstairs. We live on one of the upper floors of our building, but we’ve been able to hear and “participate” vicariously with every gong and chant. I remember funerals from my childhood. There was always a wake. There were covered dishes. There was a lot of standing and talking. Funerals were mini family reunions.

Here, it’s just a bit more all encompassing. Incense. Chanting. Fireworks to rid the area of evil spirits. Banners. Gongs. Cymbals. Drums. Mahjong. Coal fires. Men standing. Women wringing their hands. White head wraps, and at least for this funeral, they’ve had our first snow of the year. We’re not sure who the woman was, but she’s getting quite the send off. 28 hours and counting. It’s 11:40PM, and it’s looking like another all-nighter for the family and friends in the tent downstairs.

A Look Inside the Walls

[A Traditional Minority Dance performed by our students at their annual “Welcome Party”]

Music began to play softly then “Nena” began reading Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I woman.”  As the piece ended, another student announced the arrival of Ms. Truth to their CCTV show, “Famous American Writers.”  The interviewer asked about her peculiar name, her life as a slave, and for words of advice she could give the audience.  To which, the freshman English student playing Sojourner Truth provided calculated, thoughtful answers. Then we heard, “thank you for joining us, that’s all for today.”  With that it was over, and I had to wipe a couple of tears from my eyes.

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Country Roads

After a week of 36 hour power outages and no water all over campus, we were seeking a little R&R.  We got up early on Saturday morning to ride into the bus station and caught a 10 am bus to Qinghe.  This town existed to us only in a note left for us by the previous PCV’s here, thanks, C&R!  We couldn’t even find it on the map.

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Festival Days in Anshun

[Huangguoshu Pubu, the largest waterfall in Asia]

With a week off of classes after an exciting National Day in Zhenshan, we felt the need to see more of Guizhou.  We joined friends for dinner with their college dean at a local Huaxi restaurant then set about making a plan for the remaining days of our holiday.

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National Day

[Beka posing with our new friends…that’s our barge in the background]

This past Friday, China celebrated 61 years as the People’s Republic of China which meant HOLIDAY for all those working in the government, schools, and big companies.  It’s amazing when you think about a population of 1.4 billion people all traveling at once.  With these startling figures in the back of our minds, we did venture out to celebrate national day in the best way we know how.  Get lost in China!

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