We all took part in the (Bai and Yi minority) Torch Festival yesterday evening - bonfires and torches everywhere, a short firework display and people running around gleefully smearing ashes on strangers' faces! It was a really relaxed and fun event. We loved it.
JD got a lot of attention (foreign faces stand out), proudly holding his burning torch, and got more and more blackened as the evening progressed. Afterwards we got a lift home for well-earned showers.
KuiXiang (literally, "Strong Taste") is the second school on my training tour of remote Middle Schools. It's quite a large one - 2000 students and 100 teachers. Half of the English teachers are new graduates, fresh from Teaching Colleges. Their spoken English is better than the more established teachers, and they have a real enthusiasm for teaching and improving themselves (which sadly fades with time).
This visit will stay with me for the surreal moment at lunch, when I was asked by one of the teachers, “Are you Jesus?”. I assumed I had misheard, but she spelled it out for me “Yes, Jesus, J-E-S-U-S”. I replied that no, I was "Paul". “Oh. Well I am Jesus!” she continued. Fortunately, another teacher spotted my bewildered expression and explained that she meant she was a Christian!
It turned out that three of the new teachers profess to be Christians - converts of their foreign “teacher” at College! I wonder how long their new faith will last, amidst the overwhelming religious apathy of China? Having said that, I was told that most of the Miao ethnic group in town are also Christian, having been converted by missionaries in the late 1800s! So, who knows? As you can see from the photo, I was persuaded to don traditional Miao clothes myself for a photo - a taste of things to come, with ethnic groups comprising 85% of JiangCheng’s population, the place where I will be based from this time next week.
Before heading back to Kunming we spent a leisurely morning looking around ShiLin's Old Town (razed by bulldozers) and looking out for interesting places, such as the shop above selling hand-made funerary wares - a rare sight in a country where everything seems factory-produced these days. Then in the wet market, we saw these two diminutive "Hani minority" women selling various foods form their village. We bought some free range eggs (only to be told moments later by another nearby vendor that the eggs are the same "battery hen eggs" as everyone else's! Seems you pay a premium for the photo!
ON the way back to Kunming, we visited PanSiWan cemetery where Jiajia's Gran is buried. It was JD's first visit to a cemetery - cue a whole raft of deep questions on the remaining journey home!
For the last month, JD's Kindergarten class have been practising a complicated Ethnic Minority dance involving students and parents. With Jiajia being away fairly frequently, I got volunteered to participate and attend the dozen or so practices so far. JD got his dancing clothes through the other day, but they were far too big [see left] so Ma-in-law got her needles out and resized them all [see right]. My clothes were so small I couldn't get them on, so they have gone back to be changed. The performance is early June, apparently.
We returned back to Kunming today from our trip to TongHai. We've been eating way too much food, thanks largely to YangPing's generosity. A Dai minority meal, a Hui (Muslim) minority meal, this meat and vegetable stew [see photo left] in a special copperware pot and a "3 dishes speciality" meal at a famous restaurant en route home [see photo right] - the three dishes being chicken, fish and goat. Also, Yang Ping's maid cooked us a lovely meal at her villa, and not just us, but 10 of her shopping mall employees too. So we've all returned a little bit fatter and a little less fitter.
One place we didn't try in TongHai, though, was this fast food joint selling "HAMBUGERS". Without the "r", it didn't seem that appealing!
Ava's friend Catherine and her family joined us in JingHong late last night and we set off today to GanLanBa, a group of three Dai minority villages about 45 mins drive away. The last time I was here was four years ago when my parents were visiting me. They visit me again next month, too!
Dai architecture is particularly famous for strange roofs and the peacock decorations on their houses. We enjoyed a selection of Dai dishes in a traditional Dai house before exploring the villages some more and then heading back to Jinghong.
Cathy's uncle gave us an eclectic tour of the JingHong area today. We started at a strawberry-picking farm. Jiajia (Ava) claimed the best formed strawberry, Peter the largest and I the most [see photo, top right].
The next stop was a traditional Dai minority hospital to see some of their strange medicines and healing methods. No sooner had Cathy's uncle complained of a sore back than he was on his front with needles sticking out of him. He claimed it worked wonders. I couldn't say the same myself, after being persuaded to have a massage from the same doctor to try and fix my neck problems. It was a painful experience and left me sorer and stiffer for days to come!
After lunch in a traditional Dai house, we visited a pottery to see how they make their bowls and vases.
We saw a factory making enormous polished log tables from tree trunks on the way back to the hotel, tired!
Ava and I headed off for our holiday today - a 45 minute flight south to XiShuangBanna, a sub‐tropical part of our Province, near the Thai border. We both have friends in the area and quickly met up with Cathy (my Chinese teacher, centre in photo), her English friend Peter (taking the photo) and Ava's old schoolmate Lao Bie (who picked us up from the airport and took us out for a banquet of Dai minority food in the evening).
Our arrival in Simao coincided with the last day of a Festival in the main square celebrating the cultures of various local minority groups. Our band of foreigners got as many stares and photos taken as the minority groups did, though they certainly looked a lot more impressive than us in our jeans and T-shirts! We visited each replica ethnic house (think bamboo, rope, grasses) and bought some of the various wares for sale in each.
"1-2-1" road runs by my flat, named after some past Red Army victory on the 1st of December (12-1) I think ...it might have been the 12th of January (1-12) come to think of it! Anyhow, one of the buses that runs along the road is the 121, so it seemed apt to jump on it today and see where it goes! Feeling dizzy on a bus seat isn't much different from feeling dizzy on my sofa, right? Turns out it actually passes within 5 minutes walk of Ava's flat (which is useful to know) and terminates at the new NorthWest Long-distance Bus Station (which is convenient if I ever need to take a bus from there). I spotted this rather resplendent lady there [see photo] in a marvellous ethnic costume. Just look at that hat! She was as interested in me as I was in her and I forgot to ask which minority group she is from - I'm hoping the LEAF family might help there, with their encyclopaedic tribal knowledge!
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