Saturday, February 28, 2009


Hiking in the terraced mountains surrounding Zhaoxing
Shades of blue. The more you dunk the cloth in the indigo solution the darker it gets. People also have different recipes and methods of preparing the indigo for a change in hue.

This local gunsmith makes guns from scratch. From a block of wood to the functional finished product. The Autonomous Dong Tribe are allowed to make and own simple one shot firearms for hunting purposes.

Drum tower

The Dong have a local variety of boardgame, different than Go, that is played with stones and bits of wood. This board is carved into a bench at a drum tower in Zhaoxing. I don't understand the game but it seems from the picture like the old man is winning!

Friday, February 27, 2009


Terraced gardens outside of Zhaoxing, a Dong village in Guizhou.
The Dong tribe lives in close proximity but has a completely different language than the Miao. The Dong also produce much of what they need locally. This Dong man uses strips of bamboo to weave a horseshoe shaped satchel used for carrying things to and from the fields. The crescent shaped basket at his right is for carrying a locally smithed hook knife. The circular bamboo trays are for drying and sifting. The tubs behind him are full of natural indigo dye used to color the local clothing. Zhaoxing, Guizhou

Above a front door in Zhaoxing, Guizhou

These were some lively troublemakers, I mean sweet old ladies we met in Zhaoxing. If you go to Zhaoxing say hello to these two friends. They had a good sense of humor and made us feel welcome.

The Dong tribe is numerous in Ghuizhou and Guangxi Province. This is one of many drum towers in Zhaoxing, a Dong village in Southeast Guizhou. The drum tower serves as a central meeting area and is usually filled with people relaxing around a fire, playing cards, or a local board game that uses stones whose diagonal board is carved into the benches. To the right of the motorcycle you can see the dark indigo fabric produced in the village. The Dong tribe has a well deserved reputation for being wonderful singers. The drum towers are also centers for singing and playing lusheng.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bei dai (baby carrier)

Our host Jiaojiang at the National Gun Club in Basha rents out rooms in his timberframe and is an excellent cook. He is a local guide and said he could use some of our camping gear so we traded for this traditional papoose.
This one is a traditional Dong Bei Dai (baby carrier). Tie the kid on and keep on working. All the Miaos that we met were super industrious - building rock walls and cedar lodges, working the fields, raising animals, making textiles. I feel like they've found a lucky balance between the old and new. They have modern things like cell phones and motorcycles too but they still attend to their own primary needs like food, shelter, and clothing.

Shave and a haircut

To demonstrate the sharpness of the locally made hook knives they gave this guy a haircut in the traditional 'hugun' style leaving the hair on top long to tie in a knot. Basha, Guizhou

The Black Miao of Basha Village

Much of Miao culture has remained intact because they live in a mountainous region that is hard to get to. Most of the roads here weren't even built until the 1960's. The bus ride through the mountains was enough to make even a road dog like Kalila lose her lunch. Luckily Alice packed some ginger candy. This little girl from Basha village was up early in the fog and ready to play.
Stilthouses with cedar bark shingles overlooking the forested mountains of southeast Guizhou.

Miao woman spooling cotton. Cotton is grown locally, spun by hand, woven and dyed and then made into garments. Basha, Guizhou

Hei Miao of Basha

We stopped to 'liao tianr' (chat) with a group of women that were spinning cotton and embroidering. When we asked to snap a photo this woman insisted on doing her hair up in the local style. Alice asked if she ever cut her hair. She said she cuts it but the secret to her long hair is washing it in rice water
Mamas and distracted babies.

Traditional Miao fabric looks like some kind of space-age material the way it shines. The secret to the sheen is that after the fabric has been dunked several times in indigo dye they apply a few layers of eggwhites. Next they soak the cloth in yam juice and ox glue. Last, they beat the fabric with a wooden mallet to make it smooth and shiny. The semi water resistant fabric takes upwards of two months to make.

Kalila and a Miao toddler playing in a homemade rickshaw.

Guns and Lushengs

Most citizens in China are forbidden to own guns but the Autonomous Hei Miao are an exception as they hunt for subsistence. Locals hunt wild boar, golden pheasant, and bamboo rat among other things although they admitted that game is not as pleantiful now as in the past.
The Hei Miao continue to make almost everything they need, from food, to clothes, to guns. Handmade gun and lusheng. Basha, Guizhou

The Hei Miao play lusheng music in big groups of more than a dozen people. There are lushengs of all sizes all tuned to harmonize with one another. Some of the bigger bass lushengs might have only 3 or 4 working reeds while smaller ones like the one above have 8 tones or more.

Basha Village

The traditional houses in Basha were smaller stilthouses. Many of them still used cedar bark shingles. We found out why you would want a stilthouse around here when a local guy brought a venomous black snake he had caught by to see if anyone was interested in eating it.
The Miao in Basha are the Hei Miao (Black Miao). This guy is leaning against a huge rack used for drying glutinous rice.

A Miao teenager tends to a fire in the village of Basha just south of Congjiang, Guizhou.

Li Lao Shi

Terraced mountain plots. Xijiang, Guizhou
This is our gracious host Li Lao Shi and his grandson Li Chen Xi. Young Li and Kalila are both wearing traditional Miao baby hats. We stayed with the Li family in Xijiang for about a week. As we were leaving Li Lao Shi gifted us a local hook knife that they use for everything from cutting firewood to harvesting veggies. 'Li de hen.' Very sharp.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Miao women produce some incredible weaving and embroidery. Particular time and care is put into making a baby carrier (bei dai). This is Li Chen Xi's mother embroidering a bei dai for her sister whose expecting in June.
A Miao silversmith with a traditional 'hugun' topknot hair style.
Freshly dyed, hand spun cotton hanging up to dry.

These men are pounding glutinous rice to make a popular New Year's snack called Nian Gao.

Mu Fang (Timberframe Houses)

Much of mountainous Guizhou is covered in cedar forests. Cedar wood (sa su in Chinese) is used to build these hand hewn timberframes. Instead of using nails, screws, or fasteners, carpenters here notch the wood to interlock. Hand tools like hatchets, hook knives, and chisels are used despite the fact that the Miao have access to power tools.
Miao 'mu-jiang' (carpenter).

In rural Guizhou people still prefer their traditional cedar homes to brick or cinder block. From Li Lao Shi's house we watched as a family tore down their small concrete home. They had saved enough to build a proper mu fang.

Hua (flower) Miao

We noticed that throughout Guizhou each village had its own style. The women from Xijiang's Flower Miao do their hair up with a flower.

The Lusheng, a reed instrument made of bamboo, is played by the various tribes throughout Guizhou. At all hours of the day and night you can hear lushengs blasting from one part of the village or another. From far off they can sound something like bagpipes although they have a distinctive drone unlike anything else.

Pow Wow

This Miao dancer picked Kalila up when she ran in and joined their circle dance.

Xijiang Miaozu

Miao families in Xijiang have plots of land in the surrounding hills where they grow a variety of foods. This man was taking his cow up the hill to graze.
Although I'm usually a tea drinker there was no getting around the obligatory shots of homemade rice wine that are central to Miao hospitality.

Miao child in full regalia. Childrens' hats are decked out in silver. The Miao are incredible silversmiths. Silver is thought to 'dui shenti hao' (be good for your health) as well as dispell negativity.

Xijiang, Guizhou

When we arrived in Xijiang we were greeted by these youngsters that were curious about Kalila. We asked them where a good place to stay is and they led us up the hill to their uncle Li Lao Shi, a retired school teacher that has opened up his home as a guest house. Xijiang is one of the largest Miao villages in the Province of Guizhou. The Miao (called Hmong in Vietnam) are the hill tribes of Southern China. There are various clans of Miao. Xijiang is home to the Hua (flower) Miao.
Terraced mountains and timberframe houses.

Our Miao host family also had a one and a half year old, Li Chen Xi. He and Kalila were fast friends. By the end of a week young Li had already taught her some Miao dialect. 'Na na na' (eat food!). 'Bufumu' is 'thank you.'


Sanya, at the southern tip of Hainan, is a popular destination for its beaches and hot springs. There are quite a few travellers from Russia that come to Sanya for a break from the long winters. Hainan has a reputation for being the 'Hawaii of the Orient.' It was great to be able to swim in the Ocean and get a sunburn in January.
'Cafe' in Russian Cyrillic script.

This wandering minstrel played us his rendition of 'Yesterday' and 'Edelweiss.'

Monday, February 23, 2009

7 Fairies Mountain

Although much of the lower elevations in Hainan have been converted to growing crops, there's still plenty of relatively untouched forest in the highlands. 7 Fairies Mountain outside of Baoting was an excellent day hike.

At the base of one of the seven rock pinnacles that the mountain is named after.