Sunday, October 20, 2019

The "Ancient" City of Zhenyuan, China: October 18-19, 2019

Zhenyuan, in the eastern part of Guizhou province is a Miao city. We stayed in the old town area which meant that we had to leave our bus in a parking lot and board a Zhenyuan tourist bus that dropped us at the hotel. The streets are narrow, parking doesn't really exist, so traffic is limited.

We visited the Zhong Yuan Temple for a view of the city which is only 1.2 square miles in size. It's a very walkable city.

The city is concentrated between mountains and along the river. Every square inch of buildable land is built out.

Zhong Yuan Temple

Pagoda on Pedestrian bridge and a temple on the top of the mountain 
The city is charming by day, but dazzling at night when the entire city is lit. It was a beautiful, electric light cityscape.

This alleyway was near the hotel we stayed in. The lanterns are red creating a totally red atmosphere kind of like being in a darkroom. Two models were there with a photographer/videographer making "art" they told me. I was there before them with my tripod hoping to capture movement of people as they walked through the alley. The models using their cellphones took photos of me so I motioned for them to walk toward me. This is a compilation of three slow photos. I converted it to black and white because it was really too red.

The next morning we were up early to walk to a temple located on the top of a mountain. Unfortunately there was a new gate, locked, at the bottom of the mountain. The gate didn't open until after sunrise. After an early breakfast, Dan and I walked around the city looking for nice fog photos.

On the far side of the river we were greeted with a Tai Chi master first teaching a student and then performing his morning exercise. The master's performance lasted about 35 minutes. There was music. It was beautiful; he was beautiful. I've never before seen Tai Chi at this level of expertise. Just watching him and listening to his music, my stress level dropped.

Signs in front of the "Coffee Bar"
After hours of morning photography I decided to stop at the Coffee Bar for a cup of real coffee. We waited for the bar to open at 10:00 am. When a young woman raised the metal doors, I asked for a cup of coffee. She showed me a menu with all selections in Chinese characters. I said coffee. She didn't seem to understand. Finally, I gave up. While there are lots of signs for coffee and even "coffee" shops, the word coffee doesn't seem to be a universal word. The signs seem more like something put up because it's trendy and not because there is coffee. We even stayed in a hotel that had a "coffee" shop, but didn't serve coffee.

Our final overnight was in Guiyang the provincial capitol of Guizhou province. It was supposed to take about two hours by bus to get there. Unfortunately, our bus began to overheat and kept needing to rest and cool down. Instead of two hours, it took us about seven hours. Fortunately, it was our last night and we didn't miss any photo opportunities.

Early the next morning (Oct 20), we all went to the airport for our flights out of Guiyang.

It was a good photo trip even with all the rain and clouds along the way. The food was wonderful. Our tour leader, William Yu, his local assistants, and the other photographers were all very easy to be with. A success.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Langde Miao Village, China: October 18, 2019

While I've enjoyed all the village visits, for me Langde Miao Village was the most interesting. The village has a population of about 500 people from 10 families. They are all members of the Miao ethnic group. Everyone was so friendly to us as we wandered their village.

As I walked up and down narrow steps and pathways between houses, a woman walking with purpose quickly passed me. She had a small folding camp stool tied on her back. I followed.

At a wooden boardwalk/deck surrounding a pond, she unfolded the camp stool and with a scowl sat down.

At first she was alone, but gradually more women of a certain age trickled in. Each woman had her own spot and group of friends. There were more women behind me all waiting, and they didn't mind the distraction of me taking their photo while they waited.

Although she periodically continued to scowl, she was a kick. I so wish we had a common language.

Men waited separately on the other side of the pond. Eventually, a guy came by and gave each of these elders a ticket. Our guide said that they get points tickets for showing up and also for being part of the performances. The tickets can be redeemed for cash. This was the first village we visited where it seemed like every resident got a share of the door.

I was so absorbed with photographing these people that I forgot to return to the entrance for the welcome ceremony and only saw the later performance in the main square.

The polyphonic musical instrument called the Lusheng
The performances are twice daily. There are four groups of entertainers which allows days off so residents can do chores and work in their gardens.

At the end of the musical/dance performances, the elders joined in a spiral and paraded around the performance square.

The embroidery on the women's costumes was truly fine and exquisite. Outside of the lunch restaurant, I watched a woman embroider a complicated dragon design. She explained that it would be a sleeve detail. She was hunched over, wearing glasses. For the photograph she stood tall and removed her glasses.


Show and lunch finished; we drove on to the Ancient City of Zhenyuan in the eastern part of Guizhou province. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Shiqiao Miao Village and the Gejia Village of Matang, China: October 17, 2019

Our first stop was at the ethnic Miao village of Shiqiao where the emphasis is on traditional methods of making paper. Today was red day so the process was extremely eye catching if you happen to see color. The Paper Mulberry has been used for paper making in China since 100 AD.

Shredding the inner bark of an indigenous Paper Mulberry 
The inner bark of the Paper Mulberry tree is shredded (along with other plants and roots), pulped and dumped into large vats where it is collected on screened molds one sheet at a time.

The wet sheets are stuck to a heated drying surface.

When sufficiently dry, corners are turned down a sheet at a time before removing and placing each on the stack of finished handmade paper. While this is handmade paper, the process was almost industrial in the method and speed of production.

We visited one of the workshop showrooms where exquisite handmade papers were folded and stacked like bolts of fabric on shelves.

It was raining when we arrived and it was raining when we moved on. Nearby a blacksmith working under a roof wasn't bothered by the downpour.

Our afternoon stop took us to Gejia Village of Matang. The Geija is an ethnic group in Guizhou. They are part of the Miao but both are recognized and have separate status. We were twice welcomed with a mandatory cup of rice wine. It was raining in this village, too, so the welcome performance was inside their small community room.

The Gejia believe they are the direct descendants of Houyi, a legendary hero, who shot the nine scorching suns in order to save his people. That legend continues in the women's intricate costumes and jewelry with each symbol having meaning. Their dress code honors the warfare of their ancestors. The sun and Houyi's arrow are represented in their headdresses.

While the men don't dress in elaborate costumes, they do provide the musical accompaniment and dance. The object in one of the dances was for the man to try and step on his partner's toes.

Left to right costume: unmarried woman, married woman, old woman
The explanation of each part of the costume was very detailed. Unfortunately, I recall only part (maybe the rice wine is to blame). The pieces dangling from the lowest medallion of the necklace signify the 18 traditional weapons. Skirts have three borders: youngest generation, middle generation, and ancestor generations.

We walked around the village for a short while photographing and looking in on batik classes.

Batik Master
Portraits of famous leaders and paintings in one of the rooms in the workshop