Save Taiwan (Guangxi, China)

Seen high up in a village in Guangxi: “We must liberate Taiwan.” Seems like a weird, out-of-place issue for villagers so far inland to be concerned with. I also wonder if anyone’s given them any Taiwan updates in the last 70 years…

Elderly recreation center (Guangxi, China)

Elderly Recreation Center

Gaoyou is a Dong village known for longevity. There is a sizeable group of men in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. Not unusual throughout China, but quite a feat out in the countryside where hard labor is the norm and medical services are not readily available.

In the center of the village is an old traditional building labeled the Elderly Recreation Center. My grandpa, who’s going on 90 himself, was beckoned in by one of the old men inside, and the rest of us tagged along. They told us their ages, invited us to eat fruit, and agreed to a picture.

Just like the men, the building was aged. Whereas the drum towers and other buildings we saw were often newly-built in the traditional STYLE, this was a real traditional building. No nails, blackened poles, and far more intricate than anything they bothered to build starting about 100 years ago. Very fitting for the Elderly Recreation Center.

One thing that I couldn’t help but notice was that there were no women. Presumably the village should have a lot of long-living women too, especially because women live longer on average. But, the guide explained, it’s a patriarchal society, so only the old men are highlighted. Another explanation could be that, while the old men are here recreating, the old women are the ones still working the land and taking care of the grandchildren. No wonder why these men can live so long!

Zhaoxing chorus performance (Guangxi, China)

The Dong ethnic group is known for its ability to sing in chorus without a conductor. This skill is put on display via a public performance every morning in Zhaoxing.

This particular morning, we were treated to another kind of entertainment: a Chinese tourist so keen on documenting the performance that she basically became part of it. In the middle of songs, she frequently strode up to the stage and posed for photos. You had to look at her even if you didn’t want to. Well, since she was posing so nicely, thought I might as well snap a photo!

Cow stomach stew (Guangxi, China)

Cow stomach stew is a Guangxi regional delicacy. It’s just about exactly what it sounds like, except worse…much worse.

It starts with grazing the cow the day before and then killing it early in the morning. At that point, the grass has been half digested. All of it – the stomach, the stomach juices, and the half-digested grass – is thrown together and made into a soup.

The guide didn’t recommend that we try it, and I did not insist. We saw a pail of it being sold at market, that was good enough for me!

Zhaoxing Disneyland (Guangxi, China)

Zhaoxing is the biggest Dong village in the area, and it’s been over developed to the max. When you have to park in a gigantic parking lot decorated with elaborate wooden structures and take an electric shuttle into the village (another chance to collect more money!), you know there’s something wrong. It turns into a brightly lit wonderland at night, not so much a village as it is a Disneyland.

Almost the Epcot version of itself. Whoa…#postmodernism

Huanggang Dong Village toilets (China)

Huanggang Dong Village is special, our guide said, because of its toilets. He wasn’t kidding. The toilets are outdoors, suspended over the rice paddies. They usually consist of two boards to stand on, surrounded by short walls for privacy. Version 2.0, however, features higher walls and even a roof.

The thinking behind the toilets is actually quite ecological. The wastes go directly into the water, where it feeds the fish and fertilizes the plants. There’s no need to flush it with water, or to carry it and dump it. If you slip, though, it could be especially nasty!

Xiaohuang tourist tower (Guangxi, China)

Authenticity is not a priority in Chinese tourism, so it can be quite difficult to find. Xiaohuang village is an example: investors saw an opportunity to develop this old Dong ethnic village for tourism, so they cleared the entryway to the village. There, they built a gigantic square with an new “traditional” drum tower in the middle. They would have paved the surrounding rice paddies to make a gigantic parking lot, but fortunately tourist numbers weren’t as high as predicted.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the village, we saw locals at work and hung out with locals in play. But that’s more of the western style of tourism, said our guide. Something that most Chinese tourists are not interested in.

Scenes from Guangxi villages (China)

We went to Guilin for the magnificent nature, but also wanted to see some culture while we were there. So we took a quick trip out to the neighboring province of Guangxi and visited some villages of ethnic minorities.

We saw lots of terraced rice paddies and old wooden structures. Got serenaded by a bunch of smiling children and sat in on a game of chess with rules that we couldn’t quite follow. And stumbled upon the occasional plaque with advice on how to be a good Communist party member. Our goal was to get an authentic experience, and it was off to a good start!