Category: Photography

And here is the second and final installment of the pictures taken this summer. These links include the Buddhist Mask Dancing Festival and the horse race that took place the day after in the temple that is down the mud trail from Ba Mei

Links for your viewing pleasure: Buddhist Mask Festival 雪顿节 Horse Race 赛马节

Her are the links to the pictures from this summer’s trip in the Tibetan part of western Sichuan…

 Tagong 塔公 Ganze 甘孜 Dege 德格 BaMei 八美镇

More to come later.

July 31: Chengdu (成都) to Ya’an (雅安) to Tianquan (天全).

Met Jeremy in Chengdu at the XinNanMen bus station in hopes of getting as far away from Chengdu today as possible. We bought tickets to Ya’an, which was the furthest bus that would go from this station at this time since all the buses for Kangding had already left for the day. Once we got to Ya’an we wanted to get further since there was still light left in the day, we bought tickets to Tianquan, this looked like a good idea. We stayed at a hotel across from the bus station in Tianquan. We walked around town and settled on a restaurant. Both Jeremy and I enjoy learning about local “culture” and our first choice of moonshine wasn’t so bad but the second small pitcher tasted like paint thinner. After dinner we followed our ears to what we thought would be the local disco but when we entered the building we found that it was just a dance hall, there was no one under the age of 35 and they lacked any kind of spirits, but we bought some water and watched for a few minutes. After getting asked to dance by some older women we decided to leave and get to sleep since we were unsure how far we could get the next day.

August 1: Tianquan (天全) to Kangding (康定).
Tianquan was difficult to get out of because all their buses went to small villages in the area and to Ya’an, but not to Kangding. We had to walk out of town to the highway to try and flag down a ride. While we tried to catch a bus going to Kangding none of them would stop. We ended up going to a bridge on the west side of town and with the help of the local three wheeled bike drivers, who were collecting commission, we were able to flag down a small van going to Kangding. After arriving in Kangding we went to the bus station and asked about tickets to Tagong, but they could only say that foreigners weren’t able to buy tickets. Outside the bus station we were harassed by local van drivers about where we wanted to go and as soon as we started speaking to one more swarmed over and began speaking in Tibetan about where we wanted to go. Eventually we both got tired and just decided to stay the night in Kangding, which sits at the bottom of a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. Jeremy led me up a mountain to the Zhilam Hostel, which he had stayed at before. This is a great hostel but get directions before going since it will be very hard to find without them. I had joked earlier and told Jeremy to take me to the best pizza place when arrived in Kangding…Zhilam Hostel has a great yak pizza and the yak burger is also amazing. The hostel is clean and the people working there are incredibly friendly and very knowledgeable about the area. There I met an American who signs his emails “Losang,” who runs the “Land of Snows” and “Kekexili” blogs, he was full of information and extremely helpful with all the questions we had. He also informed us that the prefecture governor had said that as of today all places in Ganzi were open to foreigners.  We walked down into town and close to the main square, which is very small, we walked into a tea house. This teahouse had a Tibetan green barley beer that we ordered to try and get a taste of the local culture. After taking a few sips we decided that we needed the other type of alcohol that had also been offered to us, qing ke alcohol, mainly as a chaser to get rid of the taste of the Tibetan beer. After a small pitcher of the unlabeled alcohol we returned to the hostel to try to get some sleep for another day of traveling.

2: Tagong (塔公) to Bamei (八美镇)
We returned to the bus station early in the morning trying to get tickets to Tagong, but were again refused because we were foreigners, I guess the workers hadn’t gotten the memo about foreigners being able to travel freely in the area. We walked across the street and got some breakfast before jumping into the fray of the unofficial transportation bureau outside the bus station. We found an acceptable price but had to wait for the driver to find two more people before he was willing to leave. We waited at the bus station for awhile but then we got into the car and drove up and down the streets to another unofficial bus station where we found one more passenger but the driver still wanted to find one more to fill the car. After a few minutes passed we went back to the real bus station and the man that had joined us got out of the car and walked away to find another ride, now we need to find TWO people going to the same place… the driver would come back and we would return to driving around the streets. We finally found a woman going to the same place and after what may have been between thirty minutes to an hour both she and the two of us were getting very impatient and told the driver that if he didn’t go we were leaving. He asked us to split the four person’s fare but we all refused threatening to find someone actually leaving. Our driver would finally give in and we were off to Tagong. The landscape between the two places was gorgeous, except for the incredibly ugly writing on the side of the one of the mountains that said, “The Love Song of Kangding,” in Tibetan, Chinese, and English, this was really an eyesore. Close to the Kangding airport there were several nomad camps with their herds of yak grazing on the grasslands.

We arrived in Tagong, which isn’t much more than one street with a few hostels, a temple, and some restaurants. We entered Sally’s hostel because Jeremy wanted some coffee and I had a yak breakfast sandwich. There were many people walking around the temple in town as part of the pilgrimage.  After finishing our lunches we wanted to walk around and take some pictures so we took some time to enjoy Tagong. I walked around the temple clockwise, as Tibetan culture calls for all religious things to be walked around in this manner. When I arrived around the backside of the temple I saw monks jumping around in the field and thought I would have a look as to why they were jumping around.

I walked over cautiously because I wanted to be respectful and didn’t know if I could walk over but they told me that I could take pictures and eventually asked me to sit with them and talk. We started speaking in Chinese but then one came over who spoke a fair amount of English. We spoke about Buddhism, Obama and the Dali Lama, and other general things. They also told me that their jumping around was because they were practicing for the festival that was coming up the following week, from what I remember it takes place between the 11th and 13th days of the lunar calendar. During our talk I was able to find out a lot about the monks’ and apprentices’ lives. The rule is that if you are under 18 years old you cannot consent to becoming a monk and the apprentices study Buddhism for long hours everyday. The age range that they said they had in the monastery was from 12 to 90 years old with about 100 men living there at this particular temple. Sitting in the fields with the monks let me sit back and really take in what was around me instead of walking around with the camera attached to my nose. They have some of the most beautiful skies and green covered hills, after living in cities with populations over one million for so long I had almost forgotten what clean air smelled like and that skies are actually blue not grey, it really was beautiful.

From Tagong we moved on to Bamei, Jeremy had really wanted to see this town more closely since his previous trip out into western Sichuan. Like most specs of civilization in this part it was a one street town with a few hotels, restaurants, and the unofficial bus station, where they are all too interested in where you want to go. Every hotel in the city, there is about three of them, charges 120 kuai a night for a room with double beds, and they will not bargain on this. Jeremy said that there was a temple close by that I may enjoy, but first we wanted to get something to eat. Like most small restaurants in this area there is no menu or the sign out front has what they serve but with no prices. The Mandarin out this far starts to deteriorate into a local dialect, but is more like a separate language. Luckily I had picked up some of the local dialect from two Sichuanese locals who were dating my coworkers, which helped a little when it came to food. After finishing our meal we asked the restaurant boss where the temple was and what it was called. A driver would actually come into the restaurant as we are asking for information trying a make some money by driving us out there. We would hire the guy to drive us out there for 80 kuai round trip for the both of us. We would find out that this was just kind of the going rate for all outsiders. As we are going down the road the driver told us about the rain that had made the road to the temple and to Danba AWEFUL. This road was in horrible condition because it was dirt and a major route going north to south. We arrived at HuiYuan Temple (惠远寺) and began to walk around and noticed a gambling event going on, it looked like craps but instead of using numbers they were using six different animals. I need to clarify that this was not inside the temple but within the residential area that surrounded the temple. Our driver not too long after arriving told us that he would be waiting for us close to the front gate and not too far from the Chinese zodiac craps game. We walked around the area and saw many prayer wheels and the new temple that was being built behind the old one. We walked around for about an hour until it really started to threaten rain and we walked back to where we found our driver laughing it up while sharing a beer with some other drivers. On the way back to Bamei our driver told us that that today was the first day of a three-day festival. The following day would be monks doing a mask dance and the day after would be the horse race. Our driver dropped us off at another temple that was right on the outskirts of town and we walked around there taking pictures. Jeremy ran into some oh so wonderful people from Shanghai. Luckily I wasn’t there for most of the conversation, but from the things I did hear, this kid from center of Chinese westernization was so enlightening. He thought that it was really cool that we were traveling like locals in Sichuan even though we didn’t speak Chinese…(妈的种族主义者呆比). He told us that the mask dancing would start around 06:00 since his vast experience in Buddhist studies led him to believe that their festivals would start early due to their trained discipline, he also said that “Buddhist believed in Buddhism for no reason,” oh Chinese educational system you have done wonders with this part of your future. When we returned to Bamei we went to go eat at the only real restaurant in town, most of them were just little whole in the walls with grease lining the walls.

3: Bamei (八美镇).

We got up and left the hotel around 08:00, we ignored the advice of our local Shanghaiese travel guide mainly because we had asked someone at the temple about the start time and they had told us that it would begin around 09:00…but we may have forgotten to tell the oh so wise kid from Shanghai, who was running around with a cape on. We found one driver that wanted 40 kuai per person to drive 11 km down the road, that was also the price was to go to the next town down the road. Since we were having some trouble getting a good price at the “bus station” we walked about half a kilometer down the road hoping to be in a better position to catch someone already going there. After a short while we found someone going to the festival that was willing to charge us only 20 per person. We picked up a few more passengers on the way and arrived shortly thereafter. We entered the temple courtyard where people had already started setting up their benches and there were already people walking around with cameras. Soon the courtyard was filled with Tibetans, a few Han, and even fewer foreigners. Once the music started the Han picture takers jumped into the middle of the performance to try and get good shots, and reluctantly Jeremy and I both followed suit because we wanted pictures sans Han people. After a few minutes the Tibetan monks had set up under a tent to play music for the performance, one monk emerged from the temple wearing a large white mask. He prostrated three times and then began laying out several pieces of cloth. Behind him several young monk’s apprentices were gathering including one very young one, much younger than the others. The laying out of cloth was a set up of a kind of game. The apprentices had to steal the cloth without being seen by the monk in the mask. If the monk with the mask saw them stealing the cloth he would throw flour at them. While this resulted in a standoff between the monk and the youngest apprentice for the last piece of cloth. The monk coated the young apprentice and in the furry of coating him he changed aim and started coating the Han photographers, I laughed and quickly put distance between the monk with the flour and myself.  The monk was successful in scaring off  all the photographers since we all had expensive equipment and it is hard to take pictures through a lens covered in flour. The day was filled with different dances preformed by monks and apprentices dressed in varieties of elaborate masks and costumes. There was a break around noon for about and hour and a half, which was some much-needed time to rest my trigger finger. We bought some steamed buns with vegetables and meat inside, without hot peppers and vinegar steamed buns are just not good to eat. After finishing my mediocre lunch I went back into the temple and sat down on a vacant bench that I had noticed some of the apprentices sitting on. The dances resumed after the lunch break and included the firing of two blank rounds from a gun and a few more loud explosions. Around four or five in the afternoon Jeremy and I both had had enough shooting since we were getting the same shots we had earlier in the day, so we went to go find a driver to take us back. We could only get the price down to 50 yuan for the both of us, but overheard the driver tell some other people on the road that he would only charge them five, though I was not completely sure of where they were going. Tibetan seems to not be a purely separate language from Chinese in western Sichuan seeing as I could on the rare occasions make out a few words even with my Chinese listening being as bad as it is. The day was pleasant with on and off light showers, and the locals got a kick out of me wearing shorts, they found both the size of my legs and the amount of hair on them to be interesting.

4: Bamei (八美镇) to Daofu(道孚).

While Bamei in itself wasn’t particularly interesting we stayed for two days because they were having a festival and in particular the horse race which is what we had both really wanted to see, and Jeremy had even been to Litang last year  but for the last three years the Litang horse festival hasn’t taken place. I was still very tired from the day before, I might be too tense when taking pictures, and this will have to be something I work on. We got to the temple a little late because of a late start but thankfully not too late. Once we arrived at the temple we just started following the crowds over to an open field within the residential area that surrounded the temple. The monks were saying prayers around a fire surrounded by the horses that would be running that day. After the prayers were over the Tibetan men exploded into yells that reminded me of old western movies when the native Americans would yell, and they began leading their horses around the fire more and more quickly while offering paper prayers into the air. All the horses were taken out the main gate through which we entered earlier and down the road to the beginning of the race path. All the observers went in the opposite direction to prep their perches. I followed a group of men around and through fields, one having a new colt running up and down the field. We were taking a roundabout way to a dirt road where I was told by a monk to run down the road if I wanted to go, not knowing any better I took off down this mud road following and being followed by others running to get to our places so that we could see the racers come by. We came upon a hill over a fence where some people were already standing on top. After climbing over the fence I saw where we had just run was going to be the racetrack. Since I didn’t have a lens longer than 200mm I thought I would try and get closer by going to the opposite side of the road and standing behind a fence. We waiting a long time to see anything and while I waited a young apprentice came over and told me that the place I was standing was too dangerous, even though I was behind two rammed earth fences… He told me that I must be up on the hill for my own safety. I still waited for a long time and finally saw the tiny horses mostly carrying young adolescent bareback riders, even though there were a few adult riders in the back riding very slowly. Tibetan horses are very small and maybe half the size of the large western horses that we are used to back in the US. All my shots of the race weren’t very good because I couldn’t get close enough. After about five minutes or so we actually saw the race and everyone started back for the front gate. On my way back some young girls asked if I was cold wearing shorts, I wasn’t cold in the slightest but I did notice I was the only one wearing shorts that day.

While my pictures of the race weren’t very good I do think that I got some good shots of the post race. The post race activities included dressing the horses in cloth that had the pictures of Buddha and stuffing money into their reins for the top winners. The closing ceremonies consisted of a lot of pushing to get a good view of the winners receiving their prizes. The top four received motorcycles and money. To keep the crowd at bay monks were again given flour and threw it at the crowd when they were hesitant to back up, this would result in surges of pushing; however I didn’t mind this pushing like I mind the pushing in Shanghai, I felt no animosity and sense of entitlement among the Tibetans. After the ceremonies were almost over Jeremy and I went back to Bamei in hopes that we could get to Daofu that day and get one step closer to the Sichuan-Tibetan border. The festival happens every year 6/3-5 on the lunar calendar (6月3到5号农历).

We eventually found a driver willing to take us and we were off. Once we arrived in Daofu the first thing we did was to search for a hotel. We tried two, including the Hotel California, but found a place across the street that was run by Tibetans. All the other hotels wanted 120 a night for mediocre accommodations but the hotel run by the Tibetans was about the same and they only wanted 80 yuan a night, they also said that they don’t over charge foreigners like the Han…this made me like them quite a bit. The most expensive places in China are all run by Han people, I’ve seen numerous cases of this. Today I started to really notice that many of the cars had pictures of lamas, not the animal, stuffed into the sun visors of their cars or sitting in the windshield. I can only assume, because I never asked, that they believe that this will protect them while they are on the dangerous roads that are the major national (dirt) roads throughout western Sichuan.


5: Daofu (道孚) to Luhuo (炉霍) Ganzi(甘孜).

Another later start than planned, I think we don’t set alarms as an excuse to not get up when we planned the night before. Got in a bus going to Ganzi but we stopped over in Luhuo because some of the people we were traveling with from Daofu only wanted to go as far as Luhuo. We were stopped for a long time while the driver tried to get others to go in order to maximize his profits on one trip.  After everyone had taken their bathroom break in what Jeremy considered one of the worst toilets in China, we were still waiting and the two of us along with a man from Guangdong became quiet unhappy. We did finally get out of Luhuo but arrived in Ganze too late to get out to Baiyu, which was our plan for the day. We made arrangements with a driver to go straight to Baiyu early in the morning, around 06:30 was our meeting time. After arranging our ride we took a walk towards a beautiful mountain and on our way down the road I saw a Chinese boy in military camo but since he was sitting on a PINK bicycle I really did think of him as much until he made strong eye contact with me and picked up a walkie talkie. However, I continued on expecting something else to happen. I turned the corner and saw a bridge that got myself even closer, so I started to walk across. As I began walking across this bridge a PLA soldier ran up to me from the other side of the bridge and stops, salutes, and greets me with a “Hello, Comrade”  (同志好) he also requested to see my passport. I granted him his request, even though I felt uncomfortable about him calling me “comrade.” Whenever someone looks at my passport now I get a little bit of a laugh because it always looks like a monkey trying to work a computer, I currently have two PRC visas and seven PRC resident permits, but I did help him to find the current one in order to expedite the situation. The soldier found no problem with my documents and let me through. However, I would soon run into another checkpoint at the opposite end of the bridge. At the end of the bridge I was stopped by one police officer and one PLA soldier, they again asked for my documents, but this time they asked to see my pictures. Now, when someone from the government in China asks to see your pictures there is something close that they don’t want showing up on the front page of the New York Times. My pictures were fine, I hadn’t taken the pictures that were forbidden for reasons unknown to myself at the time. I was also instructed to not take pictures south and southeast of the bridge but the southwest was fine. The areas where I was told not the take pictures were covered in Tibetan prayer flags hanging from trees, I wouldn’t know the significance of the this place until a few days later. After our little walk across the bridge we returned to town and checked into the Golden Yak Hotel, which is one of only five hotels in Ganzi that foreigners may stay at. We had heard that there was a problem with the water there but they assured us that from 19:00 to 24:00 they would have hot water and in the morning they would again have hot water. The service at this hotel is horrendous and I would never recommend this hotel to anyone (except the man responsible for the Great Firewall, but I don’t like him).  After checking in and dropping off our stuff we went for a walk up the street, directly north from the hotel. We would come upon a large monastery that sits on top of the hill overlooking Ganzi. We walked around but separated and went in different directions. I went to the left and came upon an older monk and we talked about Obama and the Dali Lama, they had just recently met and had official talks where Obama kissed the PRC’s ass. I asked the old monk if I could go into the main shrine and look around and he agreed to be my escort. We changed shoes and he took me around showing me all the different buddhas they had inside. He also showed me the chair that is reserved for the Dali Lama when he comes back and informed me that five different Dali Lamas have sat in that chair. I was also allowed, I asked first, to take pictures but most of them didn’t come out well since I didn’t want to hold up the old monk by putting a flash on. After thanking the old monk for showing me around I saw Jeremy walking up further into the residential area for the monks and I followed. We walked around until the path ended and were admiring the scenery when a monk that may have been in his early to mid-thirties came out with a young apprentice. He walked up and began talking to us. As most conversations with the monks went it was always about how they liked Obama, Tibet may be the last place on Earth where Americans are still liked…but this conversation quickly went from someone they liked to a group of people they didn’t like, the Chinese Government. He told us about how monks and nuns were beaten with sticks, some were killed, and a general treatment on par with cattle. It was interesting to hear and seems like they have been liberated from one form of oppression to another.

It started to get late and the time for pictures was fading fast, I was also getting hungry. We went back towards the hotel in search for food. I had suggested that we go to the place that said “Tibetan Restaurant,” mainly because I thought they might just have Tibetan food. We ordered some Lhasa sweet tea, bowls of yak soup, yak dumplings and weak liquor in a can. Only the soup was any good and it was really good. After dinner we returned to the hotel, which still had no water, because we had an early morning the next day.

6: Ganzi(甘孜) to Baiyu (白玉).

Woke up to still no water for showers, and the wrong side of the bed to wake up on is the one without a shower. We found our driver but he wasn’t ready to leave yet but told us to go have breakfast first. After eating we returned and he STILL wasn’t ready to go until 07:30 and we headed off with eight people in a van with seven seats, Jeremy’s seat was a small plastic stool with a monk’s knees for a back, he was not very comfortable. We passed through a checkpoint where the driver told the monk to lie low, I still don’t understand why they were checking for monks at the checkpoints, but foreigners were ok to go… We passed another checkpoint and the driver dropped a Tibetan girl, Jeremy and myself off on the side of the road and told us that he would be back soon but had to drop three others off. This idea of “soon” (马上) is very confusing since sometimes “soon” is 5 minutes or when our driver told us that we would be leaving “soon” but it was an hour later. Luckily we only waited abut thirty minutes and the driver reappeared, but I didn’t mind it so much since we were standing next to a road that was surrounded by beautiful grasslands. After getting back in the van we were asked about stopping to get lunch since we still had another three hours to Baiyu. We would arrive in Baiyu and after only spending a few hours we decided to leave the next morning. We did go into a restaurant and when asked about what they had to eat they pointed to the oven. The oven contained a yak meat pie, which was twenty yuan, and we split that which at that time was plenty.

7: Baiyu (白玉) to Dege (德格).

We left Baiyu in the early morning and chose to head for Dege. In the car with us was a Miao lady, who was very demanding, and two women with a baby who had come to us the night before begging for money during our dinner. The little bit of scenery I did see on this leg of the trip was gorgeous. We were driving down the highway when a small village popped up on the left, we were heading north, and carved into the side of a giant rock was the words “Tibet” (西藏) in Chinese. We stopped and took some pictures seeing as this might be the closet I’ll ever get to Tibet, I could have swim across the river and been there. At the time of writing the area known as Tibet was open to foreigners IF you first got an entry permit, this is different than the PRC visa, and had a government approved tour guide, these tours usually result in temple temple temple lake temple shops…lots of shops which I don’t want to pay for. We did get stopped at a checkpoint on this leg and had to get out and give them our information, this really is a very small inconvenience. We arrived in Dege and I gave the driver 150 yuan, it was 120 yuan, and he tried to hand me only ten back and I told him that this was wrong, we argued about this for about two minutes until he stopped and did the math… We checked into a hotel on the way out of town and dropped off our bags. Dege is famous for its print house. The print house really is a must see when in Dege if you can catch them printing the sutras. They are printed by using a paddle that has the sutra carved into it and is wiped down with ink, paper placed on the paddle, and a roller rolled over the paper to press it against the paddle all by hand. They are able to make copies with the speed of a well-oiled machine. I started to think today that I might be able to say “Welcome” in Tibetan since we are hearing it from everyone; Tibetans are a very friendly people.

8: Ganzi (德格) to Manigange (马尼干戈).

Left for Manigange around 1130, got into a four-wheel drive vehicle, that is the way to travel on these roads, the road from Dege to Ganze is much nicer than the southern highway. Stopped by XinLuHai (新路海) and took some nice pictures. Got into Manigange and had lunch, they were having a “tiao sheng” festival. Lots of rowdiness on the streets with knives, wanted to get out quick because nothing was going on, some joker said he would take us back to the lake for 1000 kuai. Tried to negotiate but there was a break down in communication, got offered 500 and I laughed in the old man’s face. No cars were around willing to give a good price so we started walking out of town in the direction of Ganze. We walked about a mile out if town when I started losing hope. Jeremy was determined not to go back because he was irritated at the car rates for 12 km. I started walking back into town since there wouldn’t be another building for a few miles and my packs were getting heavy. Not long after we started heading back the same guy that had offered to take us 12 km for 1000, offered us a ride for…1000 kuai to Ganze. After a short while longer another guy covered in scars, including one that ran down the length of the left side of his face and carried a short sword (about 1.5ft) next to his car seat, offered us a ride for 30 kuai each. Reached Ganze. Found out that there are only five hotels in the city that foreigners may stay at and they are all 150 kuai a night. Went back to the Golden Yak Hotel but the younger oh so happy receptionist told another girl that for us they had no rooms. Checked into the Golden Sun Hotel (金太阳宾馆), they were incredibly nice, though not as clean as the Golden Yak. Took a walk back towards Dege up the hill and saw a wonderful sunset, took some more landscape pictures. Went back to get some more of the yak soup we had had a few days before. After we had the soup Jeremy wanted to hang his clothes up since they hadn’t dried from washing them the night before. Talked to a local English teacher and found out about why we couldn’t take pictures across the river. About two weeks ago nuns and monks were beaten with sticks and all the flags were serving as a memorial to that event. Ganze lost internet until about three days ago for residences and are still without internet in commercial places. She spoke about how unhappy the Tibetan people were and how they were afraid to speak out about anything. This makes me rethink about complaining that I can’t get Facebook when the reasons that I can’t get it is because others have suffered so much at the claws of the “river crabs.” I noticed tonight I only had one blister, which is a rarity for me. Currently trying to find a way to write some sensitive things on my blog without it being harmonized by the powers that be in the particular country I live in.

9: Ganzi (甘孜) to Luhuo(炉霍) to Wengda (翁达).

We caught a van from Ganzi to Luhuo early in the morning, earlier than the police had stared their shifts. Once the police had started their shifts they started enforcing parking regulations and because our driver was on the street in a no parking zone the police started to let the air out of his tires, the driver caught them quickly before he lost much air and we took off for Luhuo. Immediately we tried to find a ride to Maerkang but were unsuccessful since at that time of the day most of the vans going that way were going to Seda. We found a ride going to Wengda but he took too long to find other people that we left the van and started walking down the road in hopes of finding a vna that was already moving. The driver we left drove by us on the road and asked if we still needed a ride and we told him that we did, but he had increased the price and we declined. Not too much longer two Han men picked us up outside Luhuo and when asked how much to Wengda they told us that they didn’t want money, this was great. However, one condition of our free ride was that we had to ride to the construction site where they were building a tunnel through the mountain the man riding in the front seat was helping to oversee. We stayed in Wengda hoping that we could catch vans coming from either Luhuo or SeDa going to Maerkang. We stayed at a hotel run by a Tibetan woman that cost ten yuan a night and no shower or bathroom in the building. While I was sitting in the room a little head popped in, it was the head of a fourteen-year-old Tibetan boy who wanted to speak with foreigners. We talked about basketball, Michael Jordan, and Michael Jackson. When Jeremy returned from his walk we sat downstairs and the boy asked us to come inside to get warm by the fire in the kitchen, this was really nice since spring only comes between 13:00 and 16:00 everyday, the rest of the time it feel like late fall during the summer up on the plateau.

10: Wengda(翁达) to Maerkang (马尔康) to Wenchuan (汶川) to Chengdu (成都).

Got up around 05:30 this morning and waited until I heard moving vehicles to leave the semi-warm room that barely offered heat, it was only 10 yuan per bed per night. Pressed on to Maerkang in some man’s car, his little boy was in the car too. The ride cost us 150 yuan per person but it was pretty comfortable, well not for the little boy who vomited about four times. Caught a ride in Maerkang after dealing with several people who didn’t know where the buses went, they worked at the bus station and they couldn’t speak proper Chinese either. Jeremy and I passed a motion that Maerkang was the most worthless place in China. Finally found a ride to Wenchuan for 150 yuan a person, after being told both Wenchuan and Chengdu would be 1000 yuan for the both of us. Our driver however was less than amiable, he tried to change the price once be found out there was a tollbooth. We had pre-negotiated the price and were not about to let his little fit that he went into change the price half way there, he also had to use the bathroom like a pregnant lady in her third trimester. We told him to take us to the bus station in hopes there would be another bus going to Chengdu since it was five o’clock. As we walked to the bus station I asked two women where it was and they told me that they didn’t have any more buses to Chengdu for the day, but they said that we should join them since they were also going to Chengdu and that if we worked together it would be cheaper. We followed them back to the road where our less than pleasant driver dropped us off and again we began the tumultuous trial of trying to get a ride. While it didn’t take long to find a ride it seemed longer because neither of us had had a shower, a real toilet, or food in twenty-four hours. When we did find a ride it was with two very nice young people driving a spacious Volkswagen, and they didn’t want any money for the ride. As we were putting our bags in the back I got stung on the back of the head by a bee, unprovoked. We went a ways down the road when we hit the traffic jams of all traffic jams. At first we both thought this was just another normal Chinese traffic jam where two cars were at an impasse and neither wanted to move, this is common even on a two lane street so understandably this was our first thought. After about an hour some bikers rode by and explained that there was an accident and some children were hurt. This quickly changed my mood from annoyance to real concern. The worst part of the four-hour wait was the lack of urgency the police and ambulance had in getting to the scene. Thank God I’ve never been in a serious accident while in China, knock on wood. However the police did feel that it was a good time to enforce parking laws and told the driver of our car that he would be fined and must return to Wenchuan to pick up his license after confiscating it, this meant we had to find a new ride. Not too far up the road we found an almost empty bus and asked the driver if we could catch a ride with them, he said yes for forty kuai. We finally start moving, at a snail’s pace around nine o’clock. We had been fortunate enough to get our hands on two bags of chips and two bottles of Coke, Jeremy had to go to two stores to find this since the first one was sold out. We arrived in Chengdu around 01:00. We hadn’t made hostel reservations but went to my usual hostel in Chengdu, Dragontown Hostel. The guy working the desk asked if we had made reservations since they were booked, luckily two people hadn’t shown that day and they had beds for us. It was now going on 30 hours since we had eaten anything substantial and around 02:00 got BBQ street food, 烧烤, close to the hostel.

11: Chengdu (成都) to Mianyang (绵阳).

Got up this morning and went to the train station. I was able to get a ticket that put me back in Mianyang at 12:08, it will be good to be home again. This trip was an eye-opening experience full of trials, mostly in the way of transportation, but very enjoyable, now it is time for a vacation away from my vacation.

Pictures: Tagong 塔公 BaMei 八美镇 Ganze 甘孜 Dege 德格

Horse Race 赛马节 Buddhist Mask Festival 雪顿节

Last week I went to Chengdu and since I had taken pictures of the pandas earlier in the day I decided that I wanted to take a nap and then would be ready for another set of shooting and I should since I wanted to make the most of my money, I’m kinda cheap. So around 1930 I went to the Sichuan Opera and had to buy a seat even though I never once sat down once the hour long show began, I asked if I had to buy a ticket if I wasn’t going to use the seat. I got a lot of great shots but I only posted some of the 550 I have from the night: Sichuan Opera 川剧

Last week I went to the Panda Breeding Center during one of the only sunny days that central Sichuan has had in the last few weeks. Here are some of the pictures that I took: Panda Breeding Center 成都大熊猫繁育研究基地

I went this past weekend to Chengdu and mid-trip decided to pop down to Leshan to see the GIANT Buddha that was carved into the mountain. Here are the best of the pictures I took: Giant Buddha 乐山大佛

Winter Trip 2011 (This is from an email I sent out earlier to some family back the the States)

After asking multiple friends where they are going and if they would be interested in going somewhere. My original idea was to go somewhere with warm beaches like the Philippines. However, everyone I knew was either already traveling or had such a few days off that they preferred to stay in the city and relax. I started realizing that after about a month and a half of time off from teaching I needed to move and could no longer stay in the oh so cold Nanjing.

Late January I called a former co-worker named Jeremy because we both like to travel to the same kind of places within China, way off the beaten path. Jeremy told me that he was still traveling after the Lunar New Year and was heading up to see one of the Chinese recognized minorities, the Maonan people (毛南族). While we both have cameras he is far better at photography than I am and I have learned a lot from asking him questions about cameras and have traveled to multiple places with him that I would never have gone because of his curiosity. With Jeremy I have traveled to places like Xinjiang, Guizhou, and Yunnan. All places were filled with Chinese minorities and cultures that were brilliant to photograph.

On February 6th I left Nanjing and headed to Shanghai, because the air tickets from the east coast to Liuzhou, Guangxi, not far from Vietnam, were much cheaper from Shanghai and they don’t fly from Nanjing to Liuzhou very often. In Shanghai I met up with a classmate from my Master’s program at Concordia who I had planned to stay with so that I didn’t have to get a hotel for my over night stay since my flight was early on the 7th. Now being in Shanghai gives one rare opportunities that are hard to find anywhere else in China and I sought to take advantage since I rarely ever go to Shanghai because well…it’s Shanghai and anyone who has ever been there will know what I mean. Anyway, for dinner I told my classmate that I would really like to go to the Boxing Cat Brewery because they are a microbrewery, with an amazing porter, and have fried chicken and biscuits. The food and the beer was amazing and was as close to real western food available in China.

Around 06:30 on the 7th I got up and both Brian and I headed out of his apartment. Now Brian wasn’t going to the airport or seeing me off to the subway station, he was going back to the Bowing Cat to watch the Super Bowl live on TV. I got on the subway that thankfully goes to every major place in the city including both airports on the same subway line. My flight took off after having us wait on the plane without pulling away from the terminal for forty minutes. When I landed in Liuzhou I understood why there was only one flight from Shanghai into Liuzhou and out of Liuzhou back to Shanghai a day. I thought that I was in the 30’s or 40’s since there ALL flights parked on the tarmac and everyone had to walk into the single building that looked more like a bus station than a modern airport. Jeremy and his brother-in-law picked me up from the airport. We went out the taxis and asked them how much to the city center where Jeremy’s parents-in-law live. Every taxi driver said that it was 70 yuan and they would not use the meter. Jeremy’s brother-in-law knew this was to much and eventually bargained them down to 40 yuan.

We immediately went to the bus station and got tickets to a town called Huanjiang(环江), there is a reason that you have never heard of it. After a two and a half bus ride we got off one bus to immediately get onto another for another two and half hour ride to a town called Xianan(下南) which is situated in the middle of the area where the Maonan are known to live. At first look this town was a total disappointment and I thought we would just run into a boring Han-like minority with more brick houses. We got into Xianan early in the evening and spent the next hour looking for a hotel in this one street town that wasn’t much bigger than a football field. We found a guest house in the middle of town that ran for 30 yuan ($4.55) a night. These were the best accommodations in town and the toilet didn’t flush so one had to use either the shower head or a the large bucket next to the squat toilet to rid the bathroom of the matter that I prefer not to mention because it’s smell is all too familiar to me know after leaving the modern world where we have flush toilets.

On the morning of the 8th we got up and took a walk around now because this town is so small there is a real lack of places to eat unless you have a kitchen. For breakfast I bought some spicy intestines like chips, it sounds worse than it was. We walked down a dirt road but saw where they were starting to bring the paved road towards the village. With the exception of the sounds of motorbikes the entire area is pretty quiet and pollution free. By the time we reached the second village on the road I had finished my spicy intestines and was still hungry. While coming up on the village around lunchtime an old man and complete stranger who spoke no Mandarin and only the local dialect, but after a few hand gestures we figured out that he wanted to invite us in for some lunch which at first I was very excited about since the intestines hadn’t filled my stomach. However upon arriving at this house I was reminded how afraid I was of getting a deadly stomach parasite. But at this point we were committed and couldn’t leave without really offending the old man. He made a number of dishes that were all put into a boiling broth in the middle of the table. The best food on the table was the tofu balls filled with onions, these were really good, once dipped into the spicy sauce that was also provided. As always baijiu (white rotten rice liquor) was served and I was forced to drink it to not offend our host, but I thought of it as a disinfectant for any dirty that I may have ingested during lunch. After eating spicy food I usually need to blow my nose and this time was no different and after finishing with my tissue I asked where the trashcan was and the response I received from the old man’s grandson, who spoke some Mandarin, was that anywhere I wanted to put the used tissue and after looking at the garbage on the ground I fully understood that this village didn’t have trashcans. Shortly after we excused ourselves to move on to the next village and to keep from drinking too much, which would have happened if we were to stay.

We continued our walk through the nice, although bland, countryside for another five hours, six in total. On our way back we stopped in a village that was blowing up some fireworks. At first I thought nothing of it because it was only six days after the New Year and the entire country uses fireworks to celebrate this holiday for a week straight. However, Jeremy’s curiosity lead him to walk into the village where we found that they were celebrating a wedding which once they saw us we were quickly invited in to celebrate with them. When I walked in the entire party, which consisted of around fifty people, everyone all at once started screaming and welcoming Jeremy and I. At this dinner the tofu balls returned along with a number of other vegetables and meats, and of course no Chinese meal is complete without that god-awful cursed white liquor known as baijiu. Now because we arrived after they had already been celebrating certain members of the party decided that we needed to catch up. One man in particular helped myself and Jeremy to catch up by taking a full glass of baijiu and drinking it all in one gulp, this happened several times. After a few “ganbei” (drink the entire glass) the same man instructed me that I should yell in a very low masculine voice before taking the three ounce shot of liquor, my courage to yell in front of a large group of complete strangers had not yet to be well lubricated so I still felt embarrassed and declined to do it. Once we had taken a few drinks semi-reluctantly, although not that reluctantly, the picture taking began. We finally met the two young people that were married that day, they were at least a few years younger than I. Sitting next to me was a guy about the same age as I am and he spoke a little English and a great deal of Mandarin but in this area due to its proximity to Guangdong many people’s second language isn’t Mandarin but Cantonese. I came to find this out when several very drunk younger men wanted to talk with me but their Mandarin wasn’t very good. Altogether between Jeremy and myself there may have been twenty different groups of pictures taken with us. As the evening was winding down the guy sitting next to me asked where we were staying tonight and offered to let us stay in their village but I was worried about our bags in Xia Nan village. Then he asked how we were getting home and I told him that we had planned to walk, but he wouldn’t have this because he was convinced that walking back in the dark wasn’t safe. He told us that he would get a car to take us back and asked if we wanted him and his classmates to take us around and see some interesting things. He accompanied us back to our hotel and we made plans for him to pick us up the next day to see and learn more about the Maonan culture.

“Tang,” the guy sitting next to me during the wedding celebration, arrived at 09:00 on the 9th to pick us up. He was accompanied by two others, one girl and one guy, we went to get some breakfast which consisted of a pretty standard bun filled with meat. As we waited for Tang to find a motorcycle cab to take us around for the day the other two took us to see the local middle school. Once Tang came back we went to Tang’s village, the same village from the night before, and walked around while through a combined effort in both English and Mandarin we were told some of the history of the Maonan people. We ate lunch at Tang’s parents’ house (the free meal count is up to four at this point). After lunch we crossed THE road in the area, there is only one road in this area that goes through all the villages, and went to a cave but couldn’t go too far in since we were without flashlights even though we all tried to use our cell phones but failed to get enough light to see more than two feet in front of us. Once we left the cave we walked around the harvested fields close to Tang’s village.

Now it was time to go see the Maonan graveyard that Tang seemed to be very proud of. We arrived in a valley with both grave mounds fronted by large stones telling in brief the stories of those lying in the ground but on the perimeter were graves of those with less money and only could afford small rocks to mark their grave mounds. We found as we climbed up the side of a hill, which took on the shape of a phoenix, the graves became older and seemed to hold more important people, some of which were one man with both of his wives buried next to him. From what I gathered was that most of the these graves were from the Qing Dynasty (late 1600’s-1911) and one may have been as old as 300 years old. The graves had been placed here not because of chance or the proximity to any village but for the good fengshuai found here by the geomancers (those who study the energy of the earth, a common practice in Daoism).

Next Tang and his friends then took us to another cave have way up a mountain. The path up to this cave was over grown and hadn’t had much traffic in years, but I was informed that boys come up to this cave to play sometimes. This particular cave was of great importance to the Maonan in the area due to the fact that it had a duel purpose. During the Qing Dynasty this cave was their school so that while studying they wouldn’t have to worry about the rain, and for centuries before that the Maonan would retreat to this cave for protection during times of war. The cave has two entrances both preceded by a steep climb to the mouth of the cave. Even if you could get close enough to start a fire it would be hard to smoke people out because of the second entrance along with the high ceilings. From my very amateur assessment of the cave I believe this to be a very sound defensive spot for a few hundred people with the capacity to keep food longer than usual due to the low temperature of the ground. We explored about every inch of the first floor of that cave but while we had flash lights we lacked headlights and did not feel comfortable trying to scale a worn cave wall while holding a flash light in our mouths. It was getting late at this point and both Jeremy and I wanted to get out of the small “town” of Xianan. Tang took us back to Xianan to help us look for a bus to go to a stop over town called Chuan Shan in route to Dong Xing where we had planned to go.  However, it was too late and all the buses had quit running, or so we were told. Tang and his friend’s hospitality extended still when they offered to get their village’s car and take us to Chuan Shan village.

Once in Chuan Shan Tang made sure we found a place to sleep and got us the “best” room in the village that was less than ten US dollars a night. Unfortunately sometimes because we are foreigners things aren’t as easy as they should be…The owner of the guest house, because they lacked any hotels, informed us that first we must tell the police that we were in town and where we were staying. When we arrived at the police station a cop came out and started to interrogated us without writing anything down and he also asked us the same questions over and over again…again without writing anything down and acting like we were a huge burden, needless to say I did not care for this man. After the hour in the police station, most of which was spent wondering how dates translated and refused to ask the two foreigners that spoke enough of both of the languages that we could easily translate dates, Tang again helped us find some food…this was actually quite the task since it was seven in the evening at this point and most restaurants had shut down. When finally found someone who enjoyed making money and quickly cooked up some rice noodles for us.

These rice noodles have an interesting story behind them. Qin Shi Huang in his effort to expand his empire before he died in 210 B.C.E. took his army down to the Guangxi area. In those days an army would not bring food with it but instead forage for food wherever it went. In this part of China rice grows fairly well but wheat does not. So rice was the staple crop in this area, but because the army of the first emperor of China was from much further north and their stomachs were not used to eating rice the rice gave them stomachaches. So to solve this problem the emperor had the rice ground into a powder and had noodles made out of them. While I know this sounds like they are still eating rice there is something that changes in the process between rice and rice noodles as Jeremy can attest to because his stomach does not like rice noodles.

On the 10th the original plan was to head to Dong Xing and see a different Chinese minority. We had to which buses mid way and waited not too long at a bus stop with some locals. This day I wasn’t too excited about because it was raining a little and was worried that it would soon down pour. Once the bus came we hoped on and thankful it wasn’t too full because there are many unpleasant things that can happen in a crowded rural Chinese bus. During our trip Jeremy asked me if I wanted to go to the terminal stop rather than getting off the bus and switching again in order to go to Dong Xing. I told Jeremy that I didn’t care because I knew nothing about this part of the country and since there were no travel guides or blogs I’m not sure Jeremy knew much more than I did. The terminal stop was Xun Le  (驯乐村) a Miao people (苗族) area.  Once again when I saw this town I thought that there is nothing in this town and we will be leaving soon with a few days lost. We found THE hotel in town and got some hot pot, a dinner style where raw food is brought to your table with a boiling pot on a hot plate and you cook your own food. After eating we asked around where a village called Chang Bei (but everyone pronounced Chang Bai) we heard that it was anywhere from thirty kilometers to eight kilometers away. We started walking in hopes of finding a car or motorcycle that would take us there or being able to walk the hopeful eight kilometers. One man stopped and asked us if we would hire him and he told us fifty yuan each one way…we quickly refused. We walked for an hour and a half up hill until we came to a split in the road. We took a rest and waited for someone to come by so that we could ask directions. After we received directions along with a little laugh in the thought of us walking there we decided to go another way and just see what we could see. We continued to walk up hill until we had walked through two villages, mostly made of brick. Just outside this second village we started to hear some music which we both recognized as an instrument that had a special place in festivals around this time of year. We came upon a man who asked where we were going and then told us that in fact there was a festival going on but because it was six in the evening they were ending and everyone was going home, proved by women dressed in traditional Miao clothing walking away from the village where they music had stopped.

As the festival had ended Jeremy and I started our decent that had taken us three hours to ascend. On our decent Jeremy and I discussed our plans for the next day. Because we knew that there was a good chance of rain I had voiced my want to not walk three hours uphill in the rain to arrive at a village that may cancel the festival because it was outside. After our two-hour decent mostly in the dark we arrived back in Xun Le and searched for dinner, for which I had worked up quite the appetite after five hours of walking. We found a restaurant open with a group of local officials eating and drinking to their hearts content and very excited to meet the white man from the US. Once the longer than necessary discussion about what the boss was willing to cook up at that point in time ended we began to eat a beef and onion dish that tasted pretty good and a cabbage dish that was horrible. Everything was going well until the police showed up, one of the officials had ratted us out. The police were nice enough though and they wrote down the answers we gave them to their questions.

On the 11th I woke to the sound of rain and felt very disappointed. However, by the time the both of us had gotten up and moving for the day the rain had subsided but of course the dirt road that lead to the village for the festival had become very muddy overnight. I told Jeremy that I really wanted to try and hire a car to drive us up there or at least part of the way. We asked one person to drive us there and he wasn’t sure where the village was and told us 200 yuan to get there…that was just absurd. Jeremy asked me if I was totally against walking and I told him that I wasn’t because I really wanted to see an authentically done Chinese minority festival since all the ones I had seen before were done just for the tourist industry and felt very fake even if they did provide good pictures. We started walking but hadn’t even walked fifty yards when a man stopped us and asked us where we were going, this man’s face look familiar but I couldn’t place where I knew it from. Jeremy helped me remember that this was the male police from the night before. The police officer told us that he would help us find a car to hire but after talking to a driver for a few minutes he told us that he would just drive us up there himself.

The police officer got the big marked police jeep and two other officers, one in uniform, to take us up there because the other police officers were also interested in this festival since they had never seen it and didn’t even know about it. Now, I like to minimize the attention I draw to myself, which is hard being white, but the marked car and police officer made me worried that we would upset the locals by bringing the police into their village. Luckily the police officer who was driving knew the way and asked us if we wanted to go straight there or go to another village and walk down, we chose to walk down from another village…this leads to another adventure. We arrive in the other village a bit further down the road from the village we want to go to and after a few pictures the police point in the general direction of the village called Wei Jiao, our target village and leave us.

After leaving the police officers Jeremy and I started to take off into the rice fields where we were SUPPOSED to find a path to lead us to the village. As we start off we feel pretty confident that we can find it and arrive in about an hour…oh how wrong we were. For the next three hours, the same amount of time it would have take to just walk there, we spent running to dead end trails and jumping up and down rice paddies. We finally found the road and knew how to get to the village from the road since the cops had pointed it out earlier to us. At this point in time by backside and legs are incredible tired only to find that while we had climbed down the mountain to find the road we had to re-climb the mountain to reach the village. After this climb where everyone we passed was smiling and trying to help by giving us directions to the village we reached the village and heard the awful sound of the lu sheng, the musical instrument that I had mentioned before. Needless to say people were surprised to see us but they were very welcoming.

When we arrived the Miao women were dancing in a circle and some men were walking around their circle playing the lu sheng. The entire dance can be seen in five minutes but it continues for six hours. I took lots of pictures and have yet to really go through them but I think I will have some good ones. For about an hour we took pictures then Jeremy felt really hungry and went in search of food. In this size of a village they don’t have stores or really any kind of business so just as Jeremy is hinting that he wanted to go somewhere to get something to eat a Miao man comes up to us and gestures, because he doesn’t speak Mandarin, that he wants us to go and eat with him at his house. We follow him to a wood and mud house much larger than my apartment. We all sit down around a fire inside the house where they have various pig parts smoking and was the only heat source in the house. They pulled some of the smoked pork off the smoker and started to fry it up on a big pot over the fire. They also pulled out hot sauce and some vegetables and as in Miao tradition they pulled out the homemade moonshine made form rice but taste better than any alcohol that you buy in China. We had a few glasses because the same old man who invited us insisted that we drinking since it is part of Miao hospitality to make sure that all guest are drunk or near drunk, they are a really fun group of people. Jeremy and I both ate to our hearts content and then a Miao women a bit younger than I sat down to eat and had us drink some with her, this is surprising if you have been around Chinese culture because usually women will not drink much with the men because they are seen as having loose morals if they do. At this point to make sure I could walk down the mountain I needed to eat some more rice and was informed that I shouldn’t use my chopsticks to get more rice but use my hands to get the rice out of the community bowl of rice because this was just rural culture. At first being apprehensive to the idea of sticking my dirty hands which I had used to brace myself on several occasions while jumping through the rice paddies where the cows were grazing I did not want to offend our hosts and stuck my hands in the rice bowl to serve myself. While we were eating I asked a few questions to a boy in his twenties who could speak Mandarin a few things about Miao culture. I learned how to say “drinking alcohol” which is “hou bi” in the local Miao language. The old man at this point in the dinner was very drunk and starting telling us that he couldn’t speak Mandarin but insisted on reciting all the words he knew in Mandarin…I taped a very funny video of this spectacle. With only a hour left of the festival for that day I told Jeremy that we should probably get our final shots of the dance and this would also save us from drinking anymore, or so I thought…

While not being of sound mind taking pictures becomes much more difficult as I was to find out that day. While we were taking our last pictures and slowly fewer and fewer people were playing instruments and dancing. The young boys started to pick up the lu sheng and mimic the men that had been playing earlier. The drunk man who so warm heartedly invited us to eat with him now came out with a sprite bottle filled with an unknown substance. In his hand was a bowl that had the remains of what looked like a meal of rice and other things. First he offered Jeremy this extension of hospitality that Jeremy drank then proceeded to tell me how bad it tasted, then it was my turn to part take in this questionable drink of which I was told to drink two bowls very reluctantly. As I continued to take pictures of the women dress in there traditional dress another man came up to me with a small cup of something that looked more familiar and I took it out of fear of offending our hosts. Soon after the last drink Jeremy suggested that we return to our hotel before we were unable to walk back. This walk was much more enjoyable understandably due to our frame of mind.

We walked back in the dark laughing most of the way. Just outside of the village where our hotel was I heard a thump and turned around to find Jeremy sitting in a muddy puddle I returned to him and noticed that his phone was in his hand and he had a blank stare as if he didn’t know what was going on, the next day I would find out just how true this was. We returned to the hotel where there was a group eating in the “dining room” and they came out to greet us but where shocked when they saw what I had yet to see. Jeremy’s face was covered in blood that mostly streamed from the bridge of his nose. Originally unknown to me when he fell he had hit his face on a rock. The hotel owners asked us if we would like to eat and knowing that we needed to eat I said yes and that we would be back after we got cleaned up.

We returned to the room and dropped off our stuff and I helped Jeremy get the blood out of his beard. We returned to dining room and sat down with a Zhuang (another recognized minority) man and another man where they offered us more to drink. Jeremy asked me if I thought his nose had been broken. I assured Jeremy that his nose was straight and that he had hit his nose pretty high. He was much less worried about the blood that was still flowing because the face when cut bleeds a lot even though it looks much worse than it was. While I continued to eat and cheers with the Zhuang man who was kind of full of himself and wouldn’t stop talking Jeremy wanted to call his wife Lisa and stepped outside to do so. After awhile I started to get worried that Jeremy had wandered off and maybe gotten lost, but soon after this thought came into my mind he returned. He informed me that the hotel’s boss took him to the hospital. The boss then returned to the table with some medicine and informed us that it was “spicy” before applying it. When he put it on Jeremy’s face Jeremy was able to attest to the spiciness of the medicine. After a few more drinks post spicy medicine both Jeremy and I were tired to hearing the Zhuang man go on and on about things we couldn’t understand.

On the 12th we got up a little later than normal because the prior day’s events had made us thoroughly tired. Around 11:30 we left our hotel in Xun Le to look for a bus going back to Liuzhou since we needed to be heading to Bin Yang the next day for another festival that we were unsure about what we would be celebrating. After a six or seven hour trip we arrived in Liuzhou and went to Jeremy’s parents’-in-law home to have a good home cooked meal consisting of intestines and more tofu balls. Once the meal was finished we headed to a coffee shop so that Jeremy could get some coffee and I liked the idea of Wi-Fi since I was carrying my iTouch with me. While Jeremy drank some kind of coffee I had “Eight Treasures” tea, this tea is like a black tea but with something added to it to make it sweet. Well I soon found out what those eight treasures were as I had to go “talk to a man about a horse” several times. Later Jeremy’s wife would inform the both of us that this tea is used to rid the body of toxins…I think it did the trick.

Early on the 13th we went to meet up with a few members of a local band that also happened to be friends with Lisa, Jeremy’s wife. They had hired a car for the day since the festival in Bin Yang was two hours away from Liuzhou. We arrived in BinYang and at the first look this place worried me because there was NOTHING around except for a few factories. Seeing the discouragement in my face Jeremy assured me that when you ask, “Where are we?” it may just be a good sign. After a few phone calls to try and get directions we arrived at one of the band member’s uncle’s house and was served a lovely lunch. The lunch consisted of some field vegetables and dog toes…yep you don’t need to read it again I said dog toes, I mostly stuck to the rice and convinced myself that I was full.

Once lunch finished the band member’s aunt took us out into the back alleys towards the temple to see what was going on at around 13:00. Bin Yang has several very nice old back alleys that provided for some picture taking of pig heads, cats (for eating), bamboo rats (again for eating), and really nice architecture. On our way to the temple we stopped and picked up safety gear for the evening activities. At first I refused the safety glasses but on second thought I thought about a country that doesn’t have smoke detectors selling safety glasses and thought I must really need these. Coming from the backside of the temple we could hear that something was defiantly going on. When we arrived in the temple square it was hard to see because of the smoke except multiple people swinging exploding fireworks above their heads. People also took this chance to make offerings to Buddha by using a giant fire and the easily accessible incense. A week before this both and ancient temple and the tallest building in a major city burned down due to different celebrations.

After not too long of a time I was hit on my shoulder by one of the guys who had brought us to the town and he told me that it was time to leave the area through a gesture rather than words because the sound from the fireworks was deafening. I followed the Chinese guy out of the crowd but then turned around and saw that Jeremy was no where to be seen. Someone from our group sent Jeremy a message that we were next to the pig’s head and that he should meet us there, in those old back streets there were pigs’ heads on at least every corner…Jeremy returned the message by saying that he was at the post office and that he would wait there for us. This was of course a better meeting place than a pigs head.

After collecting Jeremy we headed back to our friend’s uncle’s place for a short rest. On our way back we saw a group of people eating which I thought would make for a good picture and I snapped a few which also drew attention to ourselves. One girl stood up and wanted to take our picture, this will be a reoccurring event throughout the day even though we were with a band that had played in multiple cities throughout China. The girl invited us to eat with them but knowing that we were planning to eat in about an hour I refused.

Shortly after we returned to the uncle’s house we left again to go to a large restaurant filled with business leaders from the community. On the table was hot pot that included MORE dog and some sour rice noodles, I ate a great deal of the rice noodles. Now because this is China and it was all men at the table the alcohol came out, but I really didn’t want to drink much because I was unaware of what would happen that night and out of fear of having something stolen out of my camera bag since we were warned about thieves working the festival. One of the Chinese guys we were at the dinner with said that he didn’t want to stay long and both Jeremy and I were fine with this so soon after the rice noodles were gone we departed for the uncle’s house again for a rest and to wait for the evening festivities to begin.

While at the house people were walking up and down the street throwing little white balls that exploded with white smoke and a small bang when a little pressure was added. The Chinese guys we were with bought several bags of them and handed some to me. When in Rome…when a group of people passed in front of the house and groups of people threw their small white fireworks at me I returned fire. Everyone of all ages ran around the city during the afternoon throwing these things at each other like I remembering doing with “Dixie pops” when I was small.

Around 18:00 we walked up the street to the intersection close to the uncle’s house. Once the buses and cars carrying police officers and SWAT was escorted through the crowds under fire from the little white exploding balls. The dragons that had been made especially for this festival began to ran down the road to the main intersection surrounded by people swinging exploding fireworks above their heads, people with large torches, and men with two meter sticks in charge of not letting people too close to the dragons. We followed the dragons as they came under siege from numerous people with lit fireworks trying to destroy the dragons. Fireworks flying everywhere around the dragons and into the crowds the intersection began to fill with the smoke from the fireworks as the dragons “battled” against the people and for their “lives.” The men carrying the dragons wore only yellow pants and a conical rice picker hat; compared to my hat, safety glasses, double facemasks, earplugs, and winter coat. I wondered what had to possess anyone to allow people to throw exploding fireworks at them with the exception of lots of pride and alcohol.

We would try to take pictures of this insanity for the next two and half hours before we agreed that it was time for a break. Since we were trapped between two dragons when this decision came we had to search for a way out of the war zone. Once we got far enough away from the dragons that we could see more than a few feet clearly we took out the earplugs and wiped off our glasses and cameras that were both covered with firework dust. After ten minutes or so we headed back in for another forty-five minute session before we had to head back for our scheduled meeting time for our departure. I took a few more pictures but the smoke had become so bad that I wasn’t able to get much.

We soon made our way through the festival heading back to the uncle’s house in what we thought was preparation to leave. When we got back to the house we again cleaned off our cameras and took off our safety gear. Shortly there after we heard the sound of fireworks getting louder outside the house and were surprised to find that when we opened the door ANOTHER dragon. This would delay our departure that I was more than ready for. I put my earplugs back in and was invited upstairs to see the fight from another angle. I didn’t take my DSLR this time but I did take my small point and shoot Nikon so that I could get video of the onslaught. It took the citizens of the town another forty-five minutes to slay the dragon, which finally allowed us to start to make our way to the car so that we could return. On our way back one our friends got some BBQed field mouse that I declined but Jeremy took a full stick of. Jeremy described it as being covered in a sauce that disguised any other flavor and full of bones that made it hard to eat, soon there after our driver came back with the car.

We made the two and half hour trip back to Liuzhou and got a few hours sleep before we had to get up and make our way to the airport for our eleven o’clock flight back to Shanghai. I have written this trip done so that not only I can remember it but also so that I can share it with others despite my poor grammar. I took away from this one-week three-stop trip that China has a lot more to offer than just the Great Wall and shopping in Shanghai. Almost everyone I meet on this trip was incredibly hospitable even though many times we couldn’t speak the same language.

Pictures from the trip:  Xianan village 下南村   Xunle village 驯乐村   Binyang 宾阳