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