Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Hey Des...Maybe We Can Stay With A Minority Family In The Rice Terraces..."

"Yeah, right!" I though to myself, as Steve mentioned this in passing. I also thought, "Where are we going to find a minority family who wants to host us for a few nights?"

Aside from the Hans, China is home to over fifty different groups of minzu (nationalities). These peoples, while spread throughout China, do have members who congregate in certain regions, and live amongst themselves in distinct villages. In the surrounding area of Longsheng, there are a few minorities who call the Longji rice paddies their neighborhood. In Ping'An, and its neighboring village of Zhongliu, the Zhuang and Yao are the predominant groups. Each is easily distinguished, since the people, in particular the women, dress in their traditional clothing.

So as we pulled into Ping'An and entered the village, having no reservations or accommodations, we rolled and carried all of our luggage up the hillside on the stone path to what seemed to be the first lodging establishment. Faced with more steps, or a decision to check it out, the latter won out and we stepped in for a look.

This was our second best decision of the day (second only to deciding to head to Ping'An in the first place).

This guest house, which provided clean rooms at reasonable rates, was also home to a family of Zhuang. In essence, we did stay with a minority family!

And it was wonderful! This beautiful family included a young husband and wife and their adorable baby boy who are the operators of this lodge, the wife's mother and father who work in the fields and also dabble in the newfound tourism, her grandmother who makes and sells straw shoes outside the lodge, and her grandfather (at least we think it's her grandfather!) who also works in the paddies and transports merchandise up the mountain with the help of his donkey as there are no motorized vehicles in Ping'An...In fact, there are no roads at all in this village. A stone pathway is the road.

This family took care of all our needs, from making sure the room was acceptable to cooking our meals. While there were several rooms available, we had the place to ourselves. And so we had our own cook as well! When we were ready to eat, the wife and husband sprung into action. Based on our order, they would gather the ingredients, veggies from the garden out back, a free-range chicken (that's another story!), and while nai nai took care of the baby, they would cook up some of the best food yet we have had in China.

One night, we happened to be eating a little later than usual, so after the other family members returned from the fields and showered off, they all gathered in the dining area to eat dinner together. In an act of true hospitality, they asked us to join them at their table to share in their meal. Suddenly, it struck me that these nameless, faceless people who we had seen in pictures in our National Geographic guide to China (faceless because they were always at a distance and usually shaded by their hats), or who we had observed working in the paddies as we toured Ping'An, looked no different than any other person after a work day. Ready to sit and relax and eat with their family. These people has now jumped out of the book and we were there with them, hearing stories, discussing politics, and eating some of the rare treats you can't find on any Chinese restaurant's menu.

Upon our departure, we expressed our hope to see them again. Their smiles, willingness to help us with our plans, and overwhelming hospitality made this part of our journey a very personal one. As we not only experienced a place, we had the honor to experience meeting the people who have called this beautiful home for many generations.



At 5:41 AM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

The only thing I would add to Desi's wonderful post is that some of our most important moments here in China have been those that we really haven't been able to photograph or talk openly about.

Notice how there isn't a picture of the Liao family (the folks who we stayed with in Ping'An). Why get in the way of a real bonding experience by snapping pictures that might detract from the genuineness of the moment?

A big gap in our blogging has occurred right here in our own Beijing neighborhood of Saoziying. Our aim has been to become part of the community, and not merely to be here as observers. Once again, bringing the camera along would just seem to get in the way of our integration. As of now, Hui Min and the rest of the people we hang out with every day have not made an appearance here, despite their importance to us.

And then there are those issues that run the risk of offending political sensibilities here in China. They are real...and necessarily unspoken.



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