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Full Circle

Day 70: Guiyang

Guiyang, China 
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In Miao country. Poor soil, immaculately farmed.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAt the first Miao village we come to we are treated to a traditional Miao welcome which, judging from the faces of the participants, is something that the Minorities Ministry and the Foreign Relations Department are more keen on than the Miao. (No wonder they're confused. Mao Tse-Tung spent years trying to get rid of all traditional culture; now the government can't get enough of it.) Lined up to meet us are a dozen young girls in coiled head-dresses with scarves of pink, green, yellow and white tucked into them. They have tasselled silver earrings and silver discs attached to colourful woven scapulas which are tied at the waist and then round at the back where an elaborately embroidered device, a sort of breast-plate in reverse, is worn. Blue track-suit pants and trainers peep out from beneath this finery. The young men who accompany them are having some trouble tying indigo cloth turbans. Two elders of the village wear black cotton robes with scarves and sashes around head and waists. Both have thin, pointed faces and goatee beards and one of them grimaces as he inhales from a cigarette, revealing a single large tooth in the centre of his top jaw.

Songs are sung to the accompaniment of the lusheng, an L-shaped bamboo instrument which requires great skill to play as you are supposed to dance at the same time. Then the girls step forward and offer Priscilla and me a buffalo horn full of local rice wine.

As my hands go up to take it, Priscilla cries out:

'Don't touch it. Don't touch the horn!'

It's too late.

'I've touched it, what does that mean?'

Priscilla looks disapproving.

'That means you want to drink. Now you have to drink it all.'

I knock it back. It's musty and quite strong. The girls look on with mild boredom. I have the feeling that the locals are used to this little pantomime.

'They've done this before, haven't they?'

Priscilla chides me a little.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 70
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Guiyang
  • Book page no: 101

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