Episode Twenty Seven

May 2014 – August 2014

After a hard semester of teaching at the university and a very successful semester for our kids classes, we took a trip to Guizhou province. It is famous for its indigenous, minority population and rugged terrain. Of all the places I visited in China, the minority areas are by far my favorite. I think it is because the local population has kept their cultural traditions alive and the areas have more natural beauty. Also, this is the time of the ancient Hungry Ghost Festival.

We were lucky to be invited to attend a traditional Miao bullfight (see below). It was in a very remote place with dozens of Miao clans coming together, plus yours truly.

Because of the Karst geology, Guangxi has many caves. This one is one of the more famous giant caves.

We went to a remote island in far northern Guangxi. It is famous for pomelo fruit. The town has flooded numerous times in the past. Taking a ferry across the river was interesting.

Another reason I look for the KFC knockoffs is they have delicious food. They cook it fresh, fried it crispy and offer cold drinks, because the younger generation likes Western food. Check out the KDS

This sign on the window of our hotel is self-explanatory.

But I’m not so sure about this one.

We spent several days wandering around in the Dong Minority region of Guizhou. We stayed with a young couple who had just opened their “family hotel”. The Dong have a very interesting traditional building style.

The town we stayed in was supposed to have a musical performance, but it rained and they called it off. But I got the distinct impression they didn’t want to perform for a small crowd since it was off season. I think this is one of the best photographs I ever took in China. This lady was one of the performers, who practiced their routine, and then she went back to work at her restaurant in costume.

The local people make make natural indigo for traditional tie-dye. I was fascinated to watch how they used huge wooden mallets to smash the indigo plants. Then they had a series of buckets set up for the process. I bought several pieces from a local woman.

Freshly dyed indigo fabric was hanging out to dry everywhere.

Traditional embroidery is another specialty for the indigenous people of the region. It seemed to me that women were always busy working.

Some of the men of the area looked like they “did business” a lot by sitting around smoking, drinking and playing cards.

We visited the remote Miao areas. This village is famous as the only one where the locals can own firearms, and so they are known as the gun Miao.

Hong surrounded by bandits (they charged to take their photo)

The older generation in China takes care of the kids. But it helps to have an older sister around to manage the little ones.

Many in the younger generation can’t wait to get away and only come home for holidays.

There are many clans of Miao, and other groups of minority people with each having their own distinctive style of dress. Often their head coverings are the easiest way to distinguish the various groups.

And hairstyles are distinctive for some groups, like these young ladies making and selling handicrafts.

We spent a couple nights in a Miao family home (see story below). Wandering around the village, was fascinating. Whenever I travelled to out of the way places, I never saw any non-Chinese people. Most tourists who come to China have to stick to the big cities because of the language barrier. I do my best to simply be pleasant and stay easygoing. In this village they had a small museum to a local hero Yang DaLu who held off an entire Qing Dynasty army. In the end the Imperial troops had to set fire to the entire mountain. The Miao people leave their windows open in spring for swallows to come back and nest within the home – it is a sign of great good fortune.

The family home where we stayed. My brother-in-law, the photographer/hiker stayed there and discovered the man of the house had the same family name as my wife’s mom – so practically relatives

The old wooden buildings were very interesting. Many times, minority groups maintain their historical territory in mountainous regions, or places with mineral resources.

This nice older lady was selling fresh fruit by the side of the road. My wife asked her if I could take her photo. She said, why I am not beautiful. I said I thought she had an amazing smile.

The highlight of our trip to Guizhou was when the man we stayed with told us about a traditional Miao bull fight. it was part of their celebration of the Lunar New Year. This place was very remote (see story below). Everyone either rode a motorcycle or parked the car and walked.

How the heck did he get here? What do you mean there’s no cold drinks, hamburgers or pizza :-)?

And when one bull has had enough, he runs away – fast. One bull ran down the river and around the bend.

And the fashionable younger generation came too. It is after all a holiday tradition.


From the Devil’s Advocate General’s Office

I have been feeling a refreshing sense of satisfaction with life. Of course there are thorny issues and crap, but looking back at the last few decades I am happy with who I am, and who I am became this way because of what happened on the way and what lessons I learned. Maybe it is my spiritual side singing out, but a mist of tranquility has swept across my mind several times in the past week or so. I know it has nothing to do with work – teaching is the same – mid-terms graded, many teachers half-assing their jobs and the kids’ classes are as hectic as ever. Maybe it is simply the new air purifier we bought. It is a high-end machine from Sharp, and I am convinced my lungs must be cycling more oxygen into my blood, and I feel a tinge more energetic and optimistic – brain happier maybe from purer air making me sleep better.

Last week one of the students stabbed a classmate/roommate causing a big stir amongst my fellow teachers. They, I hope, are well-intentioned in their concerns, but they handled it badly in the context of Chinese society. Instead of framing it as an act of violence, not a terrible wound – from what I hear; many of the teachers have labeled it a mental health issue because, in my opinion, they want to have something bigger to talk about. I talked with several of my students and they said their fellow students do not think it is that big a thing, and the college is trying to deal with it Chinese style, which is appropriate. There are two teachers from San Francisco, who were counselors, with degrees in Psychology, and they immediately set up a meeting in which they explained their views of Chinese attitudes towards mental health – even though they have only been here six months. So I ignore most of that and just keep on keeping on.

from the east side


hungry ghosts

This weekend is the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival when Heaven and Hell open and the spirits wander. It is bad luck to travel at this time, or to be out after dark, so we will not start trip until Sunday. I find the ancient festivals to be the most interesting, and I will honor the traditions. The Buddhist, Taoist and Chinese native folk beliefs all have influenced this holiday. Chinese holidays take place on full moons and new moons. So this one coincides with a so-called “super-moon” when the moon is closer and so brighter, and this will make the spirit influence stronger, or so they say. There is also a meteor shower coming, and I look forward to trying to see some falling stars out in the countryside.

From the slippery global geopolitical slopes of East Asia,

30 Things not to do during Hungry Ghosts Festival

1. Hang out late

2. Spit in the street or tree

3. Stare at the candlelight or burning fire

4. Step on or Kick offering items / incense along the Roadside

5. Cover up your forehead at night; always pin or put up your hair as high as possible

6. Stare at “them” if you really saw one; look or walk away calmly

7. Make funny jokes or comments on any display altar / offering items along the street

8. Look underneath the altar table when there is a prayer session

9. Shift your eyeballs from left to right or right to left repeatedly if you sensed something; always look straight and walk toward your destination calmly

10. Sniff and follow any pleasant or sweet smell ahead of you

11. Sit on the first few front rows of any public Chinese Operas (these seats are reserved for ghosts)

12. Open your umbrella at night, especially red color type

13. Wear red color costume with high heels and walk alone at night

14. Pick up any unique items found on the street or road

15. Stand under a tree in the middle of the night

16. Wait at The bus stop after Midnight especially already passed the bus service operating hours

17. Whistle alone at night; you may found someone singing along with you

18. Hang your clothes out in the middle of the night

19. Walk in the dark and near the walls; something you night not want to see may be visible in your peripheral vision

20. Answer or respond when someone calls you, especially from behind

21. Turn your head when someone pats your shoulders in the middle of the street

22. Use any dark or black manicure

23. Comb your hair in front of the mirror in the middle of the night

24. Shout or scream in the middle of the night, stay as quiet as possible if you felt sudden coldness

25. Get emotional and cry in the middle of the night

26. Leave your bleeding wounds in the open air; always cover up the area with plasters or other bandage materials

27. Be a curious person or hero, if you hear some “strange” sound or noise, especially soft crying tone; always act blur.

28. Swim in the pool or lake in the middle of the night; something maybe waiting to pull your legs

29. Play at the playground in the middle of the night; especially the swings

30. Take up the challenge to enter cemetery area or abandoned houses


We visited several ethnic minority groups. One of them – the Dong – have a singing language; another – the Miao – who are the same people as the Hmong who are mountain people from Vietnam, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia. Another group is called the Shui (same word as water in Chinese), and they have an ancient written language that may have been one of the ancestors of Chinese characters.

We just got back from our trip to Guizhou. it is directly north of Guangxi and we drove there. We spent 5 or 6 days on the road – I lost track which is a good sign of relaxation. We visited Dong minority villages and stayed in one family hotel – which had wifi – haha. It was run by some young people.

We visited the village of the only group who are allowed to have guns in China. The boys asked for money after I took their picture – what could I do they had black powder guns.

We stayed overnight in a remote Miao village in a traditional Miao family home, with four generations living there. The Miao have a rule that visiting couples can’t share a room so they have two small rooms with a partition nearly to the ceiling. It was a great experience, but a little rough for sleeping. Due to my detestation of crowing roosters, I use my iPad and a White Noise generating app to blank out the noise.

The Miao women are amazing embroidery artists, and I bought two pieces from the grandmother of the family where we stayed. The older villagers do not speak Chinese but rely on local dialect, so our hosts told us the stories of several embroidery pieces. The village has a small museum dedicated to local handicrafts, and another museum dedicated to the local hero Yang DaLu whose warriors fought off legions of Qing dynasty troops before they were subdued.

The father of the family worked in the fields and ran the little side business. He told us about a traditional Miao celebration which included bullfighting. Actually it was more like bull wrestling. The site was far up in a mountain known as Thunder God Mountain – how’s that for a name. Needless to say we were the only outsiders as Miao from various clans came to celebrate their new rice festival. The bulls were mighty and the crowd very colorful and happy. The animals spilled a little blood, but mostly when the weaker contender had enough he ran like hell. One of them ran all the way up the mountain. It is nowhere near as violent as Spanish or Mexican bullfights.

The remote developing areas of China are difficult to get to. Guizhou is a poor province and is developing quickly but many of the roads are being torn up. China does have some very good toll roads. One strange thing is the toll is based not only on distance, but things like length of tunnels (longer=higher cost). Also when you get a toll card at the booth, they encode your license number – not sure what that is about.

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