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Full Circle

Day 70: Guiyang

Miao Villages, China 
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Old and young prepare a traditional Miao welcome.
Michael Palin - Full Circle'It is to show the hospitality of the Miao people,' she explains. 'It is to show respect to extinguished guests.'

A benign warmth has begun to spread up from my throat.

'Extinguished is the word, I think.'

After the wine there is dancing which I am invited to join. As I've had a hornful it's not as embarrassing as these moments usually are, when clod-hopping foreigners with no sense of natural rhythm feel bound to join in intricate national dances.

Their village is like something out of The Seventh Seal, with timber-framed, bamboo-walled barns and smoke rising from the curved tiled roofs of the huts. There is a modern red-brick school building in clumpy socialist style, from which children wearing 'Shanping Village National Minorities School' tracksuits spill out and make their way home across the paddy-fields. Four miles away is a market to which any surplus maize, tobacco or vegetables are taken. As we drive there I'm told of the Miao marital customs. Apparently couples can have trial marriages for a week, after which they can continue to live together or not. But as soon as the woman becomes pregnant the man she is with must marry her. As the child may well have been conceived during an earlier round of this marital musical chairs it is, in Miao culture, the second child that inherits, not the first.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 70
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Guiyang
  • Book page no: 102

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