"Take me as a grain of rice, husked and one among billions."
Well, part III begins. I have travelled to Guilin, well known through all of China for her scenery and magnificent vistas. The area deserves her reputation and China has eulogized her through the centuries in poetry, art, and song. "Guilin's beauty is the best under heaven" an adage says, and I am slow to argue, and slower still to forget.
I saw many things in and around Guilin, and will divide her stories in two. Reed Flute Cave was in Guilin. My short venture on a bamboo raft was as well, and so too were long bus rides up tall mountains through treacherous passes, and calming boat trips down soothing rivers. The city itself is pretty, with the river darting through and dividing, parks and paths and the famous hills surrounding, but it was beyond the city I spent my time and loved the moments and the air I breathed.
One morning I woke and hopped aboard a bus to visit the famed Dragon's Backbone rice terrace in LongSheng on LongJi mountain. It is one of the areas I most wanted to see in China. The terraces stretch far out on every mountain, manicured and perfect high in the hills, tops of mountains down to valley bases, steps and steppes for giantsto journey to their temples high above. I visited small minority villages, danced and sang in their celebrations, walked through their homes, corn and rice strung out on wooden floorboards or stone paths, or hanging in bunches like bouquets from the ceiling to dry in the sun. In one house an old man bent over the small family stove tucked in to a corner on the floor, smoke settling and sifting among the odor of the beams and dry wicker baskets, and that very smoke was all part of it, and could never be replaced.
As it is easier for me, I will do as I have done before and tell you only what I have already told myself.
Monday, August 10th, the year of our Lord two thousand nine.
"Today I hopped on a bus and did a day trip down to Longji to see the LongSheng rice terraces. They are the largest in the world, formed 700 years ago. The drive out was fantastic. We headed out of Guilin a few hours east in to pure country and farming villages. Men and women carrying bamboo sticks over their shoulders with buckets tied to each end walked the small roads, small palms dotted the rice paddies, swamped in water, and local farmers waded through working their harvest. The air and sky is much clearer out there and you could see the tall mountains surrounding endless farmland. It was glorious. Our bus rose and rose the narrow mountain road, a river carving down as we carved up. Chinese children played and swam in the river seeking refuge from the sun and humidity. Men waded through with nets or spears in search of food, ducking their heads beneath the river surface for long moments. The mountain too was beautiful and we had to switch to a smaller bus able to make it up the last steep and windy section and maneuver the sharp corners. At top we then had to hike the rest of the mountain, perfectly landscaped with old wooden homes built on stilts the villagers lived in. Chickens and ducks roamed about, free range food, and half-way up we stopped for lunch. I ordered the bamboo rice and bamboo chicken. It is well-known in the area. They take a hallowed out bamboo reed and stuff it with Chicken and sauce and spices and vegetables, then throw it on a fire and let it smoke over coals. They do the same with
the rice. The rice was good, but the chicken was delicious, tender and each bite a flavor of its own. I'll say it is the best meal I've yet had in Asia. I finished hiking the mountain and on top I had an aerial view of all the terraces, perfectly sloping and terraced down the mountain, interrupted only by scattered homes or small villages. It all looked like a well-manicured mountain ski resort town, small and green with summer. The whole walk up and down was filled with panoramic views of picturesque mountains and rice terraces and rustic homes.
On the way back we stopped at the Yao village, a small village of a Chinese ethnic group. They are outsiders, even the Chinese people have only been able to visit within the last ten years. The road to Longji was only completed in 2002. The Yao village is on the river at the base of the mountain. It is a matriarchal society with the women the definite head of the household. The men tend to stay in cooking and caring for the children. What the village is known for is the long hair of the women. The longest hair is 201 cm. I am about 186-187 cm (6'2''). They only ever once cut their hair, and only a portion of it once they marry.
You can tell the status of the women by their
hair. Single women always wear a wrap around their head, their husband needing to be the first person to see their hair. There was a ceremony at the village. It began with all the single women performing dances and songs. Then they grabbed four men, I the only volunteer. We each picked out a girl for our bride and they dressed us up and then we all held hands in a circle and danced about. After that our brides sang to us, then we sang solos to our brides.
Then we stood back to back and exchanged gifts. Then two of us went to the front of
stage and mashed their sticky, gooey rice cakes with long poles and we did toasts with our brides and were marr
ied and then carried our new wife on our back off stage, though in play the other girls chased me around from
side to side of the stage with my new wife on my back. It is custom in the village if they like you and want you stay
they pinch your bum. The harder they pinch, the more they like you.
To your bride, a man gently touches his foot to hers. All through dancing and the entire ceremony women were
grabbing my butt and pushing and banging in to me. It was a riot and now I am married, and of course those women already married did let down their hair for us all to see."