Xunle village is in the middle of a Miao area in northern Guangxi. While these photos were not taken in the actual village of Xunle, Xunle is the largest village in the area. The village that these pictures are from was a three-hour walk up into the mountains from Xunle. We were lucky enough to stumble upon a village during a three-day Lusheng festival. While we only attended the second day I think this was enough to get the pictures and feel of the festival considering they did the same dance to almost the same music for the entire five hours we were there.

Here is the excerpt from lengthy write-up on this part of the trip:

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.

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