Sunday, August 1, 2010
A Friend in Town
This past week, a friend of a friend made a trip out to Guizhou. Abby, a current Fulbright scholar studying renewable energy at Tsinghua University, wanted to conduct some research in rural China. As such, with the help of Stone, we undertook to see whether we could jump onto a student trip that was heading to San Yuan (3 元）, one of the poorer villages in the region.
Sounds simple right?
Not really. As it turns out, doing investigative work is quite difficult in China, and as a foreigner, there are many different hoops one must jump through before the government will grant you permission to do much of anything. Long story short, we were barely allowed to go on the trip, and this wasn’t without some severe restrictions placed upon us. With a bit of cunning, however, we were able to get around the most severe restrictions- I’ll blog more about this in a subsequent entry.
Anyways- I have to admit- I really wasn’t expecting much coming into the trip. After having already spent a decent amount of time in the countryside, I really wasn't sure what more to expect. In the end, however, the experience was positively delightful.
The area was gorgeous, the college students were down-to-earth and welcoming, and the kids… oh.. the kids. Let's just say- before this trip, I thought I was light years away from wanting to have my own- but now, it may no longer be such a stretch...
(Abby with two of the college students)
Since we weren’t allowed to do investigations, Abby and I taught English to the youth.
(Note that its mostly girls in class- the boys just go off and do their own thing)
Probably the highlight of our trip- our intrepid student leader, Xiao Ping, was constantly bugging us to come up with a performance. We were under the assumption that in accordance with local customs, we would be doing some small song-and-dance in front of some villagers and perhaps a gov't official or two. We brainstormed a few ideas- perhaps a skit on American historical events, or maybe a simple Bollywood dance. Eventually, Xiaoping let us know that the local government officials were requesting that we sing in Chinese. This is when I started to figure that this wouldn't be some ordinary fireside gathering. Being the music prodigy that she is, Xiao Ping then embarked to teach us a Chinese folk song called "茉莉花" or “Jasmine Flower.”
(Getting my makeup on with some of the dudes)
(With some of the local girls who performed)
As it turns out, it really wasn’t some small-village performance. In fact, it was a pretty big deal - the County's first-ever county-wide cultural exhibition festival. Many of the local government officials were in attendance and despite the rain, nearly 1,000 people turned up to watch the show. To make things even more interesting, we were even interviewed by the provincial television station. Click the link below and scroll to around the 2/3rd mark...
Rob and Abby On Guizhou TV!
(Afterwards, with Xiao Ping)
On balance, this was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my trip thus far. The culture in the region is so rich, and the people exceedingly warm. I definitely hope to come back to the region at some point. I also learned a lot about what it means to build Guangxi ("relations") at the local government level. Stay tuned for a deeper analysis on this topic.