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.

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