I apologize that there aren’t many photos this time around. We’re dealing with a slow internet connection. Hopefully we can rectify this in a few weeks.
I should begin by saying that I’m very reluctant to consider our visit to Sizhai, another Dong village in the Rongjiang area, “tourism”. But I will call it that if only to point out the tremendous potential of visits like ours for villages in Guizhou. While Sizhai doesn’t have the good fortune to possess the tallest or widest or oldest something-or-other that people will want to come and photograph themselves with, it does boast an incredibly vibrant and resilient culture and at least one resident committed to preserving it. That resident, whose English name is Matt, happens to be a student of one of the Peace Corps volunteers with whom we were traveling.
As I related in the previous post, the morning in Xindi was disappointing. But once we were in Matt’s capable and enthusiastic hands, we realized what we had missed out on earlier. While many of China’s rural traditions are being lost as the nation modernizes, the preservation of cultural heritage often hinges on young people like Matt. He is a capable lusheng player (a traditional wooden flute) and he sings traditional songs with supreme confidence. Most important to our visit, he clearly enjoyed sharing his life with curoius visitors.
Sizhai is quite isolated or at least it was until the superhighway cutting through the region was completed a few months ago. Matt’s first language is Dong, and he didn’t begin learning Mandarin until middle school. If fact, when he arrived at university, his classmates had difficulty understanding his thick rural accent. Siazhai only sees occasional foreign visitors, primarily during festivals, so our visit attracted a bit of notice and his family spared no expense to honor our arrival. Most memorable was the milky white goat slaughtered for our dinner. It was lead screaming to the drum tower adjacent to the family home where it was pinned to a bench to await its fate. A butcher hired for the occasion whipped out a cleaver, and when enough straw was gathered to soak up the blood, he made a quick slice through the goat’s throat as all of us looked on, CeCe the vegetarian included. Its death wasn’t as quick as one would hope, but I’m glad I can finally say that I’ve participated, however casually, in the death of my dinner.
Once it had been fully bled, a few armfuls of straw and a propane torch were located and the unlucky creature was chared, scraped and soundly flamed to remove its fur. It was an ungainly process and I wonder how the removal was accomplished pre-propane. Butchering happened elsewhere to CeCe’s relief.
Between the slaughter and dinner Matt helped us explore his family’s modest house, full of traditional items, all novel and interesting to us Westerners: a flint lock rifle used to hunt the animals that he admitted are long gone; the wooden lusheng flute that Matt played with delightful abandon; the fish pickling in barrels; the rice alcohol in earthenware jugs in the store room next to the loom; the giant bags of rice on the second floor along with squash, peppers, and garlic, all recently harvested or purchased; and many beautiful hand-woven baskets of various sizes and purposes.