Sunday, 25 May 2008

Kylie in China!

Well, it's actually spelt Kaili for starters. But the mere mention of the little Minogue lady makes Kathy come out in diso fever all over. There is no known vaccination. I have to suffer. Or dance.
Guizou provence is a little more off the beaten track. We wanted to get away from the mass tourist thing. Actually, this is pretty much impossible but Kaili is as close as we've got so far. In our first day we were invited to visit Sue's (one of the Miao minority) home village and over the course of the next 3 days we never payed for an evening meal. Pretty good going.
Sue was a case of trusting against the flow of Chinese entrepreneurialism - and what a long word that is! At the Great Wall at Jinshanling we had been stung by the 'get off the bus too early to be told there is 'NO BUS' to the wall routine.' "No bus, no bus," all the taxi drivers kept chanting. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere ,unfortunately ,and after the hardest bargaining we could muster we took the taxi. He played soft flute covers of the theme tune to 'The Deer Hunter', and 'Annie's Song,' amongst other classics of that genre. The wall was full of hawkers at every corner chanting, ' hello! coke. hello! t-shirt. hello! water.' In true British manner we remained polite but internally ruffled by such invasions of our stroll and panoramic view.

So when Sue offered to take us round her home village we were sceptical but somehow trusting of her nature. She was softer, quieter and less intrusive. Genuine. We hoped.
In the space between, we went out to find some supper. We stumbled on a hot-pot restaurant and were invited over to a table of very rowdy ladies. They turned out to be the 'English Class' on a night out with ther Chinese English teacher. She was sozzled and could barely string a sentence together. They were all drinking sweetened rice wine, poured out of beer bottles and very quickly began ladelling it down our throats too. Dinner arrived in the form of a whole duck in a soup, to which we added greens and other veg and which sat bubbling over a hot flame in the middle of the table. Some of the English class had their children with them too. One very sweet nine year old girl practised her English out on me. "Do you like hamburger?" "Do you like duck?" "Do you like ice-cream?" Suddenly the English teacher disappeared to the toilet after her last slug of rice wine. The little girl followed to appear a few minutes later pronouncing the following sentence in perfect English. "English teacher - sick!" Understandably, taxi time was not long around the corner. When we went to pay, the lovely ladies had already payed the bill for us. Things in Kaili were looking good for the future.
The next morning we met Sue (this not being her Chinese but a Western name she had adopted - as is the custom for many Chinese). After a 3 hour bus ride we arrived in her home village of Shidong. It was market day and the place was alive with chickens, pigs, embroidery, silver jewellery(the Miao people are famous for their embroidery and silver) and loads of people. Definitely beats Tescos on a Saturday!
Sue then kindly took us for lunch with her family. We ate paddy fish soup (as in the fish that swim in the paddy fields), rice and homemade rice wine. It was strong. Her brother was a teacher and was kind enough to invite us to the local primary school for a short visit. Outside the gates we were mobbed by the children chanting 'hello, hello!' Kathy disappeared into the swarm and I was left with lots of little boys testing my arm muscles and seeing how vigorously they could shake my arm. Sue had not been back to the school for many years and was happy to find her old teacher (and favourite teacher). She proudly told him how she had taught herself English and was now working as a tour guide. She gave him her card as proof. Sue's family were very poor and could not afford to send her to school at first. In China you need to be able to pay for your own jotters and pencils. She had begged him until an Aunt heard her wishes and funded her to go to school. Guizou provence has much poverty and a good education and willing pupil (and these days an ability to speak a smattering of English) can be a real ticket out of poverty. It was a special day.

The next day we ventured out into the country again to visit other villages. The countryside was spectacular. Rolling hills, paddy fields clinging to steep embankments and many types of colourful butterflies. It was a hot day and a local farmer washing the water buffalo in the river tempted us to wander further upstream looking for the same relief from the heat. The river was cold and fragrant with the smell of rice wine (to which we were becoming accustomed). It felt amazing.

In the village we were treated to the staged singing and dancing of the Miao locals, as the tourists sat around and enjoyed the performance. Suddenly, Kathy was whisked away by an old lady with a vice like grip for the final circle dance. Towards the end of the dance many women with baskets laden with trinkets and goodies encircled the square and prepared for the final kill.

When the dance finished and the village square cleared Kathy was nowhere to be seen. After a mild panic I found her swamped by at least 15 ladies all clamping various silver bracelets on her arm and shouting, "how muchy, how muchy? I give you good price!" We managed to escape by buying only four bracelets. Phew, but it was close.

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