The Last One (Part 2)

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November 30th 2015
Published: November 30th 2015
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Somewhere near the top, in drizzle and fog, I give away gifts of oranges and candies, and am eventually invited in Yang Zhongrui’s house.

Smoked pork (la rou) is drying above fireplace which is basically just a hole in the ground. Long logs are loaded in the fire. We are making ourselves warm and we are cooking in the same time. Fireplace is the center of life. I am invited to lunch, but before this they offer local specialty - oil tea, you cha, or lu da, as they would call it in this dialect of Miao language.

They add pork’s fat, then some kind of roasted rice. Then some kind of rice noodles. Chayue is a vegetable that has been drying in black basket on the wall – it is their version of the tea. They smash it... Then they are adding water – then peanuts... Cooking everything in a wok, using big wooden ladle. There are as many ingredients as homes and tastes, yet you've just been told a basic recipe.

There are as many cups on wooden tray as there are guests, and in a traditional way we would all drink four cups each. Four cups mean good luck in each season.

Oil tea always reminds me of soup, but it is really just a good dish to eat (or drink – but they usually say they are eating it. The really famous place for oil tea is Gongcheng area, but this one is also good).

We practice other Miao words. House is vua, vok is kaj. Cards are pje, chopsticks are duj – boy is dilega, a girl mejlega. Husband is doga, wife funjo.

It is possible that there are different versions of Miao languages in area, and local dialect is mixed with Hunan dialect. The whole Guangxi region is a treasure trove of languages. Some people still remember and practice oral transmission of history, stories, many times through singing.

Younger generations have just made an enormous jump from singing their history or confessing love through songs, to blogging on the net, communicating through Wechat, and paying for things using Alipay. What an enormous jump to make!

When I came back to the town in the afternoon, many people already know about my day's trail. Motorcyclist were like postmen, bringers of news about my directions. »Oh, you have been eating at my uncle's place first!« »You've said hi to my schoolmate!« »Yang Zhongrui is a friend of my fathers!« I thought I'd be too tired for conversations, drowned in the dialects and Chinese as a small cat, yearning to get some sleep. But eventually I have no time to rest. From the harbor of family in the mountains I land into the harbor of city family, their relatives. I'm adopted by family Liu; my conversation is mostly with Liu Chunmei, who speaks some English. She is a student in Guilin and comes home two times a year, for holidays. Her father's name is Liu Dingwu, and his father's name Liu Daoxing.

80 years old Liu Daoxing takes a long time to think before he sings a traditional Miao song for me; this is his gift to me.

This songs used to sound somehow self-contained and sad to me – which is really just impression of someone who does not understand the words – yet this time old man's coarse voice is accompanied by giggling of small granddaughter, who jumps in and out of his lap and runs away from my camera.

This time the song sounds... as if the long river of the past would be glad of the clattering hope of the future. Suddenly Shungquans sentence – new cannot come until the old has been gone – becomes something more universally applicable, reaching into wider horizons of life and death. How many old things will have to go, before something new can appear? Grand granddaughter will, as all this young people here, go to school outside of Chetian, and to her the stories about old culture – the stories that I was looking for - will be just as foreign as they were to me. Her generation will be the builders of China which I cannot imagine – the more I am here, the less I dare to predict it. I know how many people want to reach the development and leisure, but there are prices to be payed and there are circumstances to overcome.

Liu Daoxin, the grandfather, has moved to Chetian from smaller XiaoDi together with his parents – maybe to overcome some of this circumstances.

In his days, friends would introduce an interested boy to a girl. (Another source tells me there was a matchmaker involved.)

Young people with the same surname should not get married – they could be relatives.

Young boys used to come to pick up the bride with palanquin, and they've had to bring many gifts – clothes, silver, pigs... (»Nowadays they would pick up the bride with a car,« added Chunmei in her ever realistic voice.)

Another version: girlfriends would, while crying, escort the bride while she goes to future husband’s house where ceremony - and party - will be held.

If you saw young married couple on the street, you should not step between them, but around them, otherwise you’d bring them bad luck.

Chunmei reads from brother's school book: «Look, they write about Miao here! They say that this chair, underneath the shrine, is reserved for the oldest man in house, - a guest should never sit here!«

»So what do you think your grandfather would say if I sit there? «

»Ah, it is not important to him, I think he does not even know about this rule. «

I ask Chunmei: «What would your grandfather say, was life better in old times or now?«

Even before she asks him and confirms, her face becomes full of invincible and unobjectionable laughter: «Of course noooow!« She also explains that it is hard for the boys who'd like to stay here on farms, because girls want to go out, to get even better life. "But that's how it goes," she shrugs.

»You've mentioned your family's silver? «

Miao are famous for silverware. Silver is inherited through women side of the family. Mother (or grandmother) will distribute it among daughters, and all children will get equal weight. (She says: »I don't really care about this, what do I get, or what my sister gets, but I guess it would not be fair if silvery of one person would be lighter than the others, right? «)

When grandmother brings the jewelry, I am delighted. Besides bracelets, earrings – which are called nijedakajkaj – rings, a beautiful hair clip... there's an unusual jewelry which would be hanged on a chest. It's a butterfly of blue color and five »chains«, hanging from it. On the chains ends: one, »spoon« for »scraping« tongue, - and on it, to bring good luck, an engraved magpie – two, picker for cleaning ears, three, something that's probably a nail polisher, and two more unrecognizable objects...

»How old is this?«, I ask.

»I think it belonged to mother of my mother's grandmother, but it might be older. «

200 years, more?

I say: »You have any idea how much it is worth?«

We look at each other in perfect understanding: «A lot.« Then she adds: «We will never sell it, it's family fortune.«

We dress up in clothes that were also brought to us by her grandmother. She laughs: «Now I'm dressed up to get married!« (Which is probably not completely true; her clothes would be »better« than this. Yet she would surely wear this jewelry on her wedding.)

Her friend is laughing at us, and we are joking with her: «You're thinking about going to your boyfriend and marrying him, ha?!«

Chunmei says: «Yi ri bu jian ru ge san qiu,« and I already have my notebook in my hands: «What, what?«

If I don't see you for one day, it feels like three autumns.

We are joking about boys and girls and love, but in that moment I am thinking about China. How I will miss this roads with unknown goals. How I will miss this preparations on being able to notice any small details. How I will miss this effort to react on changes in atmospheres between people. How I will miss the feeling that I am not guarded by rules but by in utmost suddenness made extreme friendships or "adoptions". I will miss this capability of entertaining each other with bad dialogs and wish to say much, and smiles - the importance of smile and the importance of doing things instead of talking.

Chetian: the night falls. Some parts of the city are cut away from others by a curtain of dark. Not every corner has electricity. On tables which serve as stalls, the freshly killed cows are cleared away. Living cows come to pasture – on some of the garbage. Traffic stops as a slowly closed tap. Sounds take a beauty sleep. In another corner some people are setting fire to the garbage.

And then, at seven, there's drum (and cymbals).

It's a sign for beginning.


30th November 2015

If I don't see you for one day, it feels like three autumns.
Wonderful blog of conversations about life with the Miao, Peter. A real insight that is in many ways invaluable to record. Let us hope progress does not encourage the young to forego Miao culture.
1st December 2015

Xie xie
Thanks again, Dave. Yeah, I've been trying to do this as much as I could - the older I get, the idea of keeping memories becomes more important. I was writing about this stories in my first book about South China, and there's going to be a bit about in my next one - planning to publish an E book, brief guide around Guangxi ----------- BTW, just curious, which places in Guangxi you've been to, and when? -:)
1st December 2015

Dancing in Guangxi
We were there in the winter of 2005/2006 I recall. Part of my introduction to China for Denise (just the two of us) as part of a Beijing, Hebei, Shanxi, Guangxi & Shandong trip that our Chinese friends berated me for taking Denise to bandit country! Guangxi included Guilin, Yangshuo, Ping An and attending a funeral & drinking with the Zhuang while Denise hung out with the Yao. Amazing times.
5th December 2015

Bandit country -
Northern China would still have this view on Guangxi (as much as I can tell). Whatever. South is great! -:) Yep, Ping'an, mostly Zhuang village - but some long hair Yao ladies would come to visit also. Wonderful land, wonderful views. You did not write about this yet, hmm?
5th December 2015

Bandit country
The Bandit Country comments were in relation to traveling alone in Shanxi Provence in the middle of winter. Probably bitter memories of one of my friends who was exiled there at age 14 for re-education during the Cultural Revolution and lived in caves. Gotta say it was bitterly cold...but when there are no time to travel! I've blogged Yungang Grottoes, Hanging Monastery and Pingyao from that Provence. I'll blog my time with the Zhuang one day as it was an unique experience.

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