Sometimes all it takes is an unexpected moment – a snapshot of daily life – that brings a trip into focus.
I witnessed such a moment during recent travels in Baibi village, an isolated Miao community outside of Kaili in Guizhou province. The largest ethnic minority in this rugged southwestern province, the colorfully clad Miao people have a reputation for kindness, hospitality, and gregariousness.
I spent three days in Baibi working on a community service project with a spirited and driven group of high school students from Hong Kong. We built a retaining wall out of concrete around the edge of a rice paddy, paving the way for the creation of a new fishpond – a crucial food source in a place where protein is in short supply.
After the students put the finishing touches on their project and we gathered on the road to depart, an elderly Miao woman approached our group with a giant smile on her face. Using a mixture of Mandarin and her local Miao dialect, she explained to our local guide, Jacky, why she was so content.
Jacky told us that she was happy about the sunny weather and our presence in the village. Jacky, who is half-Miao, then explained that she was about to start singing: “Miao people have to sing to show they are happy!”
Right on cue, she closed her eyes, tilted her head back and broke into a slow croon that might have seemed mournful if not for the smile still spread across her weathered face. Students, teachers, and villagers alike stood motionless as she sang, and when she finished she distributed bags of sunflower seeds as gifts. For all we had heard – and experienced – of the famously friendly Miao culture, nothing brought it home like the infectious elation of this village elder.