June 8, 2013, by Tony Hong

Ni hao Miao People!

By Klara Habartova,

Second Year Student, BA Contemporary Chinese Studies, The University of Nottingham UK.

你们好 Miao people!

As a little prize for successfully (hopefully) passing my exams, I decided to go for another short trip. There was a place I wanted to visit since I came to China, but I just hadn’t had the best opportunity to do so. But this changed and when I finished my last exam on the 22nd of May. I went straight away to the train station to catch the train heading to Kaili (凯里), the capital city of the Miao ethnic minority in Guizhou province.

After 30 hours spent on the train, I finally arrived. Kaili is a small city, with less than 500 000 people. On first sight, there was nothing special about this city. The mining industry nearby caused the city to be a bit dirty and dusty, but the air was still breathable.

When I went to visit a local market located just behind the coach station, I could see how different this city was compared with those I visited before. The architecture is very specific – usually white buildings with wooden ornaments, all aspects are symmetrical and regular. Almost no metal can be seen here. All the materials and products here are come from just a natural basis.

But the Miao traditions, such as dresses and hair designs are only held among the older generation and rarely can they be seen during normal daily life. This was why I got really excited for the next day, when I planned to leave for Xijiang (西江) and Langde (郎德), two villages within 2 hours by coach from Kaili. They are known as the two strongest and most traditional places occupied by Miao people.

When I arrived to the first mentioned village, I could see the welcoming ceremony for arriving tourists at 11:30am. A spectacular show, beautiful costumes and a bowl of local rice wine as a must taste was waiting for every single newcomer. As the only laowai (foreigner) there, I attracted their attention and instead of one bowl, I was ‘forced’ (in a kind way) to drink 7 bowls. At that moment, I was grateful for my strong Czech roots.

After the ceremony, the bus took us to the central area of Xijiang. Beautiful wooden houses, stone paths, everything surrounded by green forests and never ending rice fields – the view was really breath taking. Local people were extremely nice, but were putting too much effort to sell you everything that can be sold.

It was obvious that the Government tries their best to keep this area in its original spirit – building and repairing houses in their traditional style, keeping the place clean, etc. But at the end of the day, the result was a bit confusing. Many hotels have been built here to attract tourists. Food and goods are completely overpriced. The night view looked more like Las Vegas than like a village with 5000 people. It looks like commercialism is going to swallow up all the natural beauty and tradition. So I definitely recommend you to visit this place asap, before it gets completely destroyed by tourism.

My next station was Langde, a little village with only 500 villagers in 10 families. When entered and saw the first few houses, I felt this was exactly what I was looking for. The architecture was very similar to that ones I saw in Xijiang, but with the difference that all the buildings were original and managed by local people. To find accommodation here was quite easy as again as local people were kind and extremely helpful. At the beginning, a little problem was the communication as the Miao people have their own language, which has no written form, so my Mandarin dictionary was completely useless over there. Anyway, the family I stayed with spoke mandarin quite well, so I could practise mine and I found out a lot of facts about the life of the local people.

This village is really small. One needs less than 2 hours to see everything. I stayed couple of days, walking around, hiking hills, enjoying all the things I miss in Ningbo, from the fresh air to the beautiful nature. I spent hours and hours a day talking to local people and got more and more impressed how simple and beautiful life can be when people can find a way to enjoy it. Men are usually working in the fields. Ladies of all ages spend all day making beautiful handicrafts and handmade jewellery, trying to sell them to tourist passing through the village or on markets in Kaili for a ridiculously low price. Anywhere else in Europe, they would get at least ten times more for those beautiful works.

This place is very touching, it shows how people really live, without any comedy played for tourists. Even though I was lucky enough to see the welcoming ceremony here too (a bus of French tourists arrived), tasted the local rice wine, heard beautiful singing, saw beautiful dancing. After all of this, people went back home, continuing with their daily work and hoping in a better tomorrow.

With the promise of a return to my host family, I left, back to Ningbo with the best feelings in my life. It’s just impossible to describe with words how amazing it is, you have to experience it on your own.

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