#4 China, January 31, 2002

Hi Everybody,

The tour of the villages around Sanjiang was splendid! They are so picturesque with their dark wood construction set against the mountains and along beautiful rivers. Of course when you actually walk around in the villages there is lots of waste paper and plastic, electrical wires and pig dung. Nevertheless, they are charming, and with the sun shining brightly, the previous day’s miseries were forgotten.

The car was a new small van and I had rapturous thoughts of sitting back warm and cozy. (My hotel was ice cold—I slept in two tee shirts, a sweater, long underwear, jeans, and socks). Well it was not to be. The driver had his window all the way down during the whole day, maybe for FRESH AIR but also, the side windows were so ‘tinted’ that you could hardly see out of them. Remember Marlys and Jim, in India? —same thing only worse.

We visited some Wind and Rain Bridges. These are wooden covered bridges built (without nails) by the Dong in beautiful Chinese style. There were also drum towers in most of the villages that were spectacular. Then of course, we ran across a market, a wedding (lots of firecrackers) a truck stuck under an overhang of a building holding up traffic, people—some in ‘costume’ and we were stopped (had to turn around) by a rockslide that covered the road and had happened that morning.




We also saw incredibly green vegetables growing, rows of tea bushes, haystacks with a poll up the middle, ducks all over the place, and a big chalkboard in a village that Lan said was the record of numbers of babies born re: the one child policy.





We ate a good lunch, which was broth and greens, beef and greens, dried beef and zucchini, fried eggs, and rice. We stopped to watch some men extracting oil from the tea bush oil nuts. This is the oil that the Dong use for cooking. Back to Sanjiang—a very nice day.

The next day I again went with Lan and a driver (different car—no tinted windows!) to Lan’s home village. On the way we visited some more Wind and Rain Bridges (there are 108 in the county) and the Three Dong King Palace built 500 years ago. This included a theater still used today at festival time. People were burning incense to the Three Dong Kings’ statues.

We stopped in a market town and visited a drum tower where there were many lusheng, a folk musical instrument made of bamboo and about eight feet tall.






The player blows in and out like a harmonica and does a little fingering. It has quite a loud, raucous sound.





Another stop was to visit a HUGE banyan tree that is over 1000 years old. It’s beautifully situated on a river and fully commands the village. People burn incense there to wish for a long life.

We arrived at Lan’s village and his parents’ home at lunchtime. Lan had told me that he had telephoned so they knew we were coming and were preparing special food. His parents (Dong) are good-looking people and were very friendly to me.

The house had an outer room with storage and porch function, and an inner room that was for cooking and eating. It had a propane burner as well as a firepit (both were used). We sat on small stools. Around the perimeter of the room were food supplies, cooking utensils, and tools.

Upon arriving Lan got out the unused florescent tube and installed it, which gave much more light than the tiny bulb that they had been using. There was a TV set and a propane burner—about the only modern conveniences.

His mother had prepared sour duck and sour fish. This is a way of preserving meat for later use but it also gives a special ‘sour’ flavor. They put salt and glutinous rice into the raw meat, cover it well and put it in a cave for several months, which causes some fermentation. For lunch we had sour duck, sour fish (both cooked in a wok), pork and greens, fried eggs, greens in broth and glutinous rice. The father also strained and served some rice wine that was a little sweet and very good. They had quite nice porcelain dishes, although they are poor farmers.







After lunch we went to visit Lan’s grandmother. She apparently lives with a daughter (in-law?) and three grandsons. The grandmother was over 80 and totally stooped over, but friendly and alert. The daughter does embroidery of which I bought a piece.

Then all nine of us (Lan’s parents had come, too) had Dong oil tea around the fire pit. First the daughter fried some ‘rice puffs’ in the wok in tea oil, and removed them; next hot water boiling the tea leaves; this mixture strained into little cups with a bamboo strainer, and a spoonful of the ‘puffed rice’ added. We had two of these. It really was a lovely moment—so far away in rural China.

Lan said that he studied English at the University in Guilin for three years. When I commented that his parents must have wanted him to get an education, he said that his father did not ‘agree’ with his going to the University because since they are poor the father thought that it would be too hard to pay for University. So Lan went to Guilin and got two jobs and started school. After the effort seemed successful, he told his parents that he was attending the U, which he did for three years. His job with the Tourist Bureau doesn’t sound like so much to us; nevertheless it is worlds away from his parents situation.

The Dong have their own language but do not have a written language. Their history is handed down through song. When Lan started primary school he could not speak Chinese nor can his parents. Even today his father cannot write his name. So Lan had to learn Mandarin as well as English, eventually. His pronunciation was quite poor, and sometimes he would have to spell a word for me, to be understood but he knows 100% more English than practically everybody else in this area. Talk about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Lan said that up until two years ago, no one in his village had ever seen a foreigner. Since then he has occasionally brought ‘guests’ like me to visit. Nevertheless, I was of intense interest. The young children never got tired of saying “Hello” to me.

It seems to me the Dong somewhat resemble the Indo Chinese—of course the Vietnam border is not far from here. They apparently were native people before the Han Chinese spread out from northern and central China to this area, centuries ago.

From Sanjiang I took a bus to Longshen, in the middle of rice-growing country. Several villages along the way had gigantic rocks set up on end, lining the road through the villages. These rocks were between five and 12 feet tall, and typically 3 to 5 feet wide. They were different kinds and colors, and I doubt they have religious significance, as I didn’t see any incense around them. I think they may be decorative as there was great variety in color, shape, and texture and they were quite beautiful. In one village some men had a big wooden tripod and ropes, and were in the process of erecting one of these rocks.

In Longshen I was walking with my pack to look for the Foreign Trade Hotel, a backpacker’s place, when I spied The Longshen Hotel, looking very spiffy. In checking it out, I discovered that it was brand new, had room heaters and Western toilets! This was just too good to pass up. The (negotiated) rate of $18 was above the Real Backpackers Standard, but heck—I needed a respite from the cold!

Speaking of which, at the last hotel (the best in Sanjiang) I finally figured out two things: one, that one can use the boiling hot water in the big thermos jug and mix it with cold water to make enough tepid water for a bucket shower (which I did after two days without a shower); and two, the way they folded up the heavy comforter suggested that one is to roll up in it, having the comforter under you as well as over. This was much warmer—sort of a pig-in-a-blanket thing. I still slept in long underwear, two tee shirts, a sweater, jeans and socks.

Anyway, Longshen is quite different from Sanjiang, Ronshui and even Nanning. It is very neat, all the roads and curbs are in good repair, and all of the downtown buildings are new, modern, and quite nice, even if not so esthetically pleasing.

I went for a long walk around town which showed me that even off the main streets, the town is quite ‘together’ and yet it’s quite rural and backwoodsie.

As I was walking I heard some Chinese music. When I followed the sound I came into a courtyard where there was a 12 piece orchestra rehearsing. They had some of the same instruments that the Hong Kong Folk Orchestra had and made a similar sound, albeit pretty amateurish in comparison. There were also two singers, male and female. I listened quite awhile—observed their sheet music, which is very different from ours, and applauded to their smiles when they paused.

The communication business is pretty tricky. My book has the major landmarks (railroad station, Foreign Trade Hotel, bus station, etc.) written in English, Chinese characters and in pinyin (the phonetic pronunciation). IF somebody can read Mandarin (not everybody can), I point to the characters and they (may) point the direction. Or I try to say the phonetic pronunciation, but the trouble is you have to pronounce the word with high, medium or low tone, and rising or falling tone. It can change the complete meaning of the word if you get the tones wrong, and I always do as that is just too much to figure out. My phrase book has questions like “what time does the hot water come on?” I can point to the characters but of course when they answer, I understand nothing. They do use numerals for time and money so that sometimes works. Then another problem is they do not have ‘no’ or ‘yes’ in Mandarin. They handle this by repeating the verb for ‘yes’ or putting “bu” in front of the verb for ‘no’. For example, if you asked somebody if they liked noodles, they would respond ‘like’, or ‘bu like’ for I like them or I don’t like them. This makes a problem for Chinese English speakers. When I asked, “Are there no more buses today?” they would answer “yes”, which probably meant that they were agreeing with me—there were no more buses today. At first I thought that they could read the pinyin, but no, that’s just for us to use to try to pronounce the words. And on top of this, these people around here are not used to many foreigners so they can’t understand my poor pronunciation. Come to think of it, I have not seen a Westerner since Liuzhou, which was eight days ago.

It is so cold—my hotel only has heat in my room. In the dining room not only it is about 45 or 50 degrees, they have windows open for FRESH AIR! Boy are we soft! Anyway, now I have a bad cold so I’m mostly hanging out in my room until it gets a little better. Even in my warm room I couldn’t stop shivering. I guess that’s why they call it a cold.

So my plan is to stay here a couple more days until I feel better, and then go to Guilin and, if possible, fly to the Island of Hainan Dao where it’s warm. Trouble is it may be hard to get a hotel as all of China travels before, during and after the New Year celebration, which is Feb. 12th. There may not be Internet facilities there either, so if you don’t hear from me for awhile, you will eventually.


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