Guizhou may not attract as much attention as its neighbors Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi, but it certainly deserves to be considered when making plans to travel to southwest China.
Beautiful mountain scenery and a distinctive spicy and sour cuisine are reason enough to visit Guizhou. But as in many other parts of China, the main draw for us is the people.
This was illustrated perfectly today when we traveled with some friends to Wangba Village, one hour outside of the southeast Guizhou city of Kaili.
The residents of Wangba Village are members of the Gejia ethnic group, who are officially a subgroup of the Miao minority, but many will tell you that they are not Miao. There are similarities such as their shared fondness for the lusheng reed instrument and a penchant for rice wine, but the Gejia have their own identity, of which they are rightly proud.
As our van arrived at the bottom of Wangba Village we were greeted by a small group of Gejia women ranging in age from late teens to their forties. Wearing bright embroidered costumes, intricate silver jewelry and unique hats, they were one of the more memorable welcomes we’d had in a while.
Singing a song to welcome us, they poured rice wine into bowls and then poured the bowls into our mouths. Once we had drank the rice wine, they stamped our faces with a small chop, leaving a red character on our foreheads and cheeks.
We headed uphill for twenty minutes before entering lower Wangba Village, which is home to roughly 200 people. The village and its neighboring villages are home to a total of 3,000 people – miniscule by Chinese standards. Along the way, passersby smiled and offered warm nihaos (hellos).
We were led into the courtyard of a Gejia family. The men were working in a nearby town, leaving the women and children at home. The women are skilled at embroidery and weaving and also make batiks using beeswax and indigo.
The simple courtyard offered scenic views of the mountain valley below that were complemented by the clear blue skies and warm sun. Wheat was drying in the sun on tarps on the ground, while ears of corn dried in the eaves of the home above.
A couple of pigs snorted in their pens as an ox yawned in its stable. A small brown dog which looked like many of the other dogs in Wangba looked at us curiously as we spoke with the women.
One woman, an 18 year-old named Feifang, spoke better Mandarin than the rest, many of whom were extremely limited in China’s official language, which was their second language. Polite, genuine and obviously very intelligent, Feifang told us about life in Wangba while the other women were busy stitching, weaving and even making a batik.
As we spoke with Feifang, more and more local children from around Wangba found their way into the courtyard. Shy at first, they warmed up when we showed them the photographs we had taken of them with our digital cameras.
One of the feistier women swept up the wheat, cracking jokes with us in Mandarin and with her friends in the Gejia language. It was time for us to be on our way, but not before one last round of rice wine and song.
After three more gulps of the strong but warming elixir, the women sang a farewell song and brought us to the top of the trailhead that would lead us down to our van below.
After saying our goodbyes to our gracious hosts, we’d been walking for only a few seconds when Feifang burst into song by herself. The words, which none of us understood, floated down to us and lightened our steps as we made our way down the winding trail. We may have only been in Wangba for a couple of hours, but it’s safe to say that they were a couple of hours that none of us will ever forget.