Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back from Rural Homestay

Back in Kaili for the night. Returned today from our 4 nights in Xijiang village. The rural homestay was awesome, and many of my students wished they could've stayed longer! Arrived last Friday in Xijiang after a very scenic (but nauseating!) bus ride from Kaili. The views were truly breathtaking but the road was incredibly steep and windy! Couldn't possibly keep my eyes open the whole time. Reminded me of the time I was in Sichuan province a couple years ago-driving to the Kham Tibetan region. The roads just coil around mountain sides and while the destination is in sight, it seems like it'll take hours to get there!

Were greeted by the Chief's daughter and some other village homestay families at the bottom of the village. Immediately it became obvious that this scenic spot has not gone unnoticed. Construction seemed never-ending near the beginning part of the village. Newer stone-walkways were being created, the bridge was under construction, and several new shops selling traditional Miao clothing were in the works.

Thankfully, our homes were located away from constant buzz and hums of machinery. The Chief's daughter (whose name I regretfully did not learn!) led us up to the Chief's house. The walk was not an easy one at that- took about 20 or so minutes of steep hiking to get there, and that particular house isn't even located at the top of the mountain! The students and I were quite impressed that this young woman could hike in heels!

Once we reached the Chief's home, we were blown away by the view. The house had a relatively new cabin-like interior, and the windows faced an endless,expansive view of rice fields and other villager's homes. We all retreated straight to the windows to take pictures and breathe fresh, clean air.

Conditions in the homes are all fairly basic. I slept on a wooden plank that was softened by a heavy down comforter. We were given mosquito coils to use if needed but the bugs acutally didn't seem too bad (although on one particular night I passed on a trip to the bathroom when I saw a spider the size of an ashtray dangling above the squat toilet!-I saw ash tray because I'm in an internet bar right now and they're everywhere! Gotta love indoor smoking)
While most of the meals served were more or less the same, they were all quite tasty. Carrots, potatoes, "greens", rice, and lots of pork. No beef in the village.

Spent the days doing various activities, some of which included farming, housework, and excursions to villages in the surrounding area. We were pretty excited about the day spent farming,until we discovered that our plowing and work was not going to amount to anything! Turns out the specific field we worked on remains empty year-round, and merely serves as a sort of "demo site" for students and foreigners to practice on! Bummer. Almost seemed a waste to put our hard work to no use, considering the amount of farm work that needed to be done throughout the village! Regardless, it was a useful exercise to introduce the students to different farming techniques.

One of my favorite experiences was heading towards the top of the mountain to pick fresh fruit and vegetables. A few of us hiked towards the top, equipped with baskets and bags. With the guidance of our homestay sisters, we located a spot to pick pears, lettuce and tomatoes. Can't beat munching on pears with a beautiful view of the countryside!

Skipping some activities, but the final night is also worth mentioning. We had a big farewell party where several Miao prepared a banquet and a performance for us. The dinner was arranged on a series of several long tables attached together, so that about 40 or so of us could sit together. The food was great, and the rice wine was plentiful! (They weren't kidding when we were told that the Miao like to drink. It is part of their custom to offer guests- constantly- rice wine.) After dinner, the Miao performed traditonal songs and dances, and the Americans and Chinese did a couple performances as well. My students chose to do an a capella rendition of Sweet Dreams by Annie Lennox. Hilarious! Some of the boys beatboxed, other harmonzied,etc. Quite a time!

Could write more, but this is long enough for now. Tomorrow we head to Libo, a really small town 5 hours south of where we are now. Supposed to be a beautiful area. Eventually by the end of the trip I hope to post pictures that the students have taken! Tomorrow's the last night with the Chinese students. Thursday morning we head to Yangshuo for a few nights and the Chinese students return home to Guiyang. Only 8 days left in China! Bali in 10? Wow.
Below: another picture (not taken by me) of what Xijiang village looks like

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