Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Guizhou Province - Xijiang, Basha and Zhaoxing

We’ve never been to Guizhou before, it’s pretty much off any tourist trail in this part of China, especially for first timers who bypass it to/from Xi’an/Guilin and vice versa.
But it is defiantly well worth a detour. It’s one of the poorest provinces in China, roads are bad and poorly maintained, villages are far apart and a little isolated. But this makes the end result so much better. Plus there are a lot of minority villages here, which was the whole reason for coming.

Our wonderful hosts saw us off at the kind of bus stop in Hongjiang for the one hour trip to Huaihua, where we caught the train to Kaili, laden with fruit and warm goodbyes we were ready for our next adventure.
Luckily in Huaihua, we had enough time to grab some noodle soup from a small eatery close to the station. As with a lot of cheap places in China, they were using the same thin mass produced and cheap rice noodles. Not so yummy, but the stocks were always good.  As with everywhere in the world, food around train stations is nothing to write home about, but I am a people watcher and these places provide me ample opportunity for me to indulge in this past time.

When we first went to China over 10 years ago I don’t remember the shear quantity of small eateries that there are here today, or maybe I just never paid as much attention to it as I do today. But I’m happy for it.
There is nothing special about Kaili, apart form it is a good base for visiting the minority villages in the area.
It does however have an awesome night market, which thankfully stretched up the street adjacent to our hotel. This was a good place to get some cheap eats and watch the world go by. We ate well that night.

The journey to Xijiang, one of the largest Miao villages in China is pretty amazing. Roads that wind their way up and down and around mountains, giving you excellent views of the countryside below, as long as you don’t suffer from car sickness that is.
The inhabitants of this village or small town have made a very good job of restoring parts of the village, although a simple stroll from the main clean street will bring you to the real Xijiang.

Just wandering around the less developed part brings up many surprises and we met many a lovely person, who were probably wondering why two foreigners were in this part of town when everyone else was down below in the nice clean part.
Surrounding the village are rice fields and rivers, which mean that food is in good, supply here.

Guizhou is not known for its culinary delights, but it does have a sour fish soup called Suantangyu (酸汤鱼).
Quite by chance we managed to try this here at a small eatery on the main street. Quite by accident we had two perfectly innocent fish killed for our enjoyment. The chef even brought them through the front of his small joint to show us, still wriggling in the blue plastic bag before he knocked them on the head and begun chopping them up for the pot.
Suantangyu is basically a hotpot with a sour stock. The fish were already simmering away in the cauldron of fire when it was brought to our table, and we only had to add the other ingredients as and when required. Rice was served separately and made a great vessel for soaking up the delicious stock.

It wasn’t the best meal we had on this trip but it was one of the more interesting ones, the sour notes of the stock were from the tomatoes and were rather a surprise. I’ve never used the good old tom as a souring gent before. Interesting.
Xijiang like other minority villages include in the entrance fee a cultural performance. This one was really like no other except this particular group of Miao have a very bizarre duck dance. Sadly I do not have any video evidence of this, a shame as it was really funny. But with them grabbing people from the audience to make fools of them, we left pretty quickly, as being the only two non Chinese we knew where this was heading. I found a video of a similar thing here. Enjoy.

The road trip to Conjiang was long and dull. We followed the river, but passing through what seemed like an endless building site for 6 hours was not very fun at all.
Basha itself is an interesting village. It’s only 7km’s uphill from Conjiang, but it could be several centuries away.

It’s an amazing place, the people still live and dress as they have always done. They are clinging onto their culture here with full force. Thankfully.

With luck we met up again with a Chinese couple on the bus, who we met in Xijiang briefly. For the life of me I cannot remember their names, but they were pretty cool, except he had this thing that he didn’t like westerners because we called Tibet, Tibet and not Xizang, as it is called in Chinese. But apart from that we were aok. They were to be our translators for the next few days. And boy were we glad to have them.

They basically found us all somewhere to sleep and had arranged dinner for us as well in a simple hostel in the village.
Today another animal bit the dust before our very eyes. This time a chicken. I’m pretty sure it knew it was getting to the end of its time. It must have seen some of his mates or loved ones go into the pot over the last few months, that his all was resigned to it. It was quick and I’m sure it felt no pain as the cook wrung its neck.

I cannot remember what we ate, but there were a lot of dishes all cooked in the local style we were told. The chicken tasted lovely and it had lived a good life to provide us with a good evening. It would have been proud.

Basha is one weird place. As I said it has a feel about it of being centuries old. It is one of the last remaining villages in China where the men are allowed to carry guns. The ancient rifles are carried with pride over the shoulder, although I am really not sure how effective they are these days, as I’m sure they are just for show. But this is China so anything is possible.

The village below is still how I imagined it was 100 years ago, except for the sight of electricity and satellite dishes not much has changed.

The people still wear their traditional clothes, even the men, which is a big surprise, as I’ve found it’s normally only the women who keep to their traditional dress. But not here. 

Most of the men still have their hair long as they used to have in Imperial China. It was good to see that modernization was being kept in check here.

Zhaoxing is by far the most quintessential minority village in China. The largest group are the Dong and they lead a lovely life here in this relaxing town.
The town has a couple of large streams running through it, with wooden houses and shops either side, with bridges to cross and wooden Drum Towers to see it is peace in China. If you can ever imagine such a thing.

Slowly this will change with the opening of a new motorway in the hills above Zhaoxing and several miles away a new train line is being built.
One day soon this small peaceful village will see more tourists, progress and will loose its charm, but for now it is a sheer delight.

The villages surrounding the town are well worth the hike. An hour or so will bring you to a couple of villages where the only people you will encounter during the day are the scores of children and the old people watching over them.

Zhaoxing was one of the highlights of our trip to China, not a lot happened there, but this we liked. Its minor isolation has kept the peacefulness preserved, but with everything in China today, progress is forever advancing at a furious rate.

We loved Guizhou and really want to return here one day. Not sure when that will be but soon. Next stop Guangxi.


Mr Noodles said...

Great post. Never had Guizhou cuisine, but it is quite well represented in Beijing so I may have to check it out the next time I am there.

Mzungu said...

Mr N - I really have to return to Beijing one day. It's been 10 years, and I imagine it has changed a lot in that time.