Every year, WildChina arranges a trip for a group of Princeton University students to do a Summer of Service in China through Princeton in Asia. Following their experiences in the field, the students head to Hunan province where they spend the rest of the summer teaching English at the Normal College of Jishou University. WildChina Princeton in Asia fellow and tour leader Max Stein, retells the journey through Southern China.
If the Princeton students had been worried about the level of cultural immersion on their trip, these fears were soon put to rest. No sooner had they arrived in Kaili, then they were thrust into the excitement of China’s Duanwu Jie (Dragon Boat Festival), where the streets were alive with the shimmering celebration of the Miao people. After dinner that evening, we jumped right into the action joining in the hopping and skipping of the traditional Miao dances.
Following their first evening, the students stepped into true immersion when they hiked to their home stay in Wugao village. While living among the Miao people, the young adventurers helped in the daily chores of the town. They dug potatoes, collected food for livestock, and played with the local children. We even had the opportunity to visit a silversmith to watch him smelt one of the intricate Miao necklaces. One of the finest moments of cultural exchange may have happened on the second night, when students attempted to sing the songs of the villagers. Many of the rolling melodies and high notes require a lifetime of practice and while the notes may not have come through, peals of laughter did from both students and locals alike.
The next day, we headed south to the Dong people’s village of Zhaoxing. The Dong minority is the second-largest ethnic group in Guizhou. All Dong villages contain a drum tower which in the past was used to alert the people to attackers, but now functions primarily as a town meeting place.
From there our journey continued when we moved to Dali village, where the students were welcomed with the warm smiles of inquisitive locals. Dinner here was a real treat, spicy pickled fish. While this specialty was too hot for some, those who enjoyed spice found it fantastic. Afterwards as the sun set, students had a chance to explore the village along the stone paths that wound up and around the terraced rice fields.
In Guangxi, students learned how essential rice is to life in this part of China. Not only are the white grains a crucial staple for the locals but they are also an important commodity for sale to the cities. Much of the rice that is consumed across China’s urban centers is produced in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
As we walked along the stepped edges of the muddy Longsheng Rice Terraces, our guides explained that the Longji Titian (Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces) have been around for almost 700 years. Rising more than 800 meters from the valley floor the scale of agricultural production was truly staggering.
Sadly, too soon it was time for us all to leave the countryside. As we drove away students looked over their shoulders at the Karst cliffs, awed by the landscape they were leaving behind. Although the scenery had been beautiful, one student confided in me that it was the interactions with the locals that would stay with him forever.
Are you interested in learning more about the Miao minorities? Or maybe seeing the Miao people’s fall festivals? Send as an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help you begin planning your next trip.