Friday, May 16, 2008

Miao Sister's Festival

A simple lack of anything creative compels me to be honest here- I just don't know where to start or what to write this evening. I have a lot to share and talk about; I simply lack motivation and inspiration. As fog engulfs the city and a steady flow of rain pelts against the window, my desire to curl up under a blanket and watch a movie grows stronger with each drop. But alas, the sense that I need to write compels a bit more. So while this lasts- I should get to the point.

The point is- I have been on two amazing trips and travelled to a number of beautiful places throughout China in the last month. I have encountered people and seen places very different from my experience in Shanghai. I have had my fair share of adventure, taken a vast number of photos, and now it's time to share some of my experience with you.

Though my most recent journey along the Silk Road is more prominent in my mind, I must honor chronological order and start with the trip I took to Kaili and Shidong. Only one month ago, I along with 18 other people, embarked on a trip to Shidong in Southern China. The primary purpose of our travel was to experience the local Miao minority people and observe one of their yearly festivals known as the Sister Festival.

We flew into Guiyang and transferred to our hotel in Kaili. Though Kaili is a two hour drive from Shidong, it was the closest place to stay with a modern, moderately decent hotel. So each day we boarded our bus and started our two hour drive through the mountains into the town of Shidong. As daunting as a daily two hour bus ride may sound, the scenery was absolutely beautiful.

As the bus wound its way along the mountain road, each bend gave way to one beautiful vista after another. Villages peered mysteriously through the rice terrace stacked hills as farmers and their water buffalo worked knee deep in rice fields. This was the China I had been looking for; the China I had seen in pictures, imagined in my mind, and longed to experience.

The first day we were in Shidong we ate at a local family farmhouse (the only restaurant in the town), visited and watched a silversmith, and went to the local market. For me, wandering around the village and going to the local market was great. For such a small town, the market was an impressive size. People from all over- travel to this market to buy and sell anything from food and livestock, to their famed Miao embroidery, silver, and clothing.

On our drive back to Kaili we stopped at a local school. As a group we donated money to buy needed supplies for local school children. We were going to the school to deliver the supplies and meet some of the children face to face. I can say in all honesty that this was the absolute highlight of the entire trip for me. What we encountered when we arrived at the school was overwhelming and humbling. Over 300 children from the school were there to greet us. They lined the walkway clapping their hands and playing drums. After ushering us in, they proceeded to gift us with traditional necklaces, a dance, and a song. We spent about two hours- walking through the village, interacting with the children as well as some curious villagers, and giving some of the supplies we purchased.

The following day we went to a local Miao village close to Shidong where the festival was being held. The Sister Festival is a traditional festival for young people to find their love. There is a lot of dancing, singing, and eating. Each Miao woman wears her traditional, often richly embroidered costume, along with their famed silver jewelry, accents and/or headdress'. Girls sing and dance by the river and boys show off their horse riding skills. In the evening the boys sing to the object of their affection. If the girl feels the same way- she will give the boy a traditional ball of multi- colored sticky rice with a trinket inside. Each gift represents something different. One thing can mean "I am breaking up with you", while another means "I love you", and yet another meaning "I like you as a friend". Unlike the common Starbucks break-up here in Shanghai, the youth of the Miao minority have found a more creative and gentle way- a ball of rice with a trinket in it.

My travels through this area have given me a greater appreciation for China and its people. The beauty of the region was breathtaking and the richness of the culture- deep. I have chosen a portion of my photographs from this journey to share with you. While they cannot fully capture the beauty of this region and its people- I hope it gives you a glimpse. Simply go to the photo album link to the right and find the one creatively titled "Miao Sister's Festival".

Enjoy! -Jen

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