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The Miao Guzang Festival – A Marathon of Feasting, Firecrackers and Pigs 苗寨鼓藏节:一场八个阶段的马拉松

Our visit to Guizhou Province, an extraordinarily beautiful part of China with steep green hills, silvery mists and winding rivers, just so happened to coincide with a really big deal –  the Guzang Festival, an ancestor commemoration that occurs once every thirteen years for the local Miao people.


Not that we knew it was a big deal at first. We had good information from the always-helpful Billy Zhang at Gateway to Guizhou that there was a Miao New Year Festival taking place in Leishan over several days, or a week (these things always being rather fluid and flexible), but we figured if we arrived in the middle of those dates we were bound to see something good.

Trying to pin down just when and where the festival began, and in which of Leishan’s surrounding villages events would be taking place, and what the nature of those events might be was much more difficult. Even the official Chinese programme Billy emailed me was too obscure to be helpful.

2012年11月26日至29日在丹江镇、西江镇、郎德镇、大塘乡、望丰乡等乡镇的相关苗寨举行斗牛、斗鸟、斗猪比赛等民间民俗活动。

The bullfight, fighting birds, bucket pig race held on November 26 to 29 at the Dan Town, West Town, Grande town, large Tangxiang, and Wang Feng, townships Miao Village folk folk activities.

But it did sound intriguing – a bucket pig race! Whatever could that be? 


Our plan was to just turn up and see what was happening. Well, not so much a plan as a loitering presence.

But then one of those lucky travelling things happened. On the way to Leishan we detoured to the pristine wilderness around Libo in southern Guizhou on the invitation of a young American blogger (Kaci and the World) living there, and spent our first night in Libo as guests of the generous hospitality and outstanding home cooking of her good friend and Chinese National Geographic photographer, Big Mountain. His real name.

Big Mountain is passionate about the many ethnic minorities in Guizhou, of which he is one, and has photographed all of them over many years. When we told him of our plans to visit the upcoming Miao New Year Festival he made enquiries and discovered it was, in fact, the very infrequent and incredibly important once-every-THIRTEEN-years Guzang Festival. Before we knew it our party of four without much idea of where we should go and what we should see had become a party of six with contacts and a plan

Big Mountain set about explaining the intricacies of the festival to us. Preparations begin three years ahead of time, involving a drum (gu) which needs to be buried (zang) and another drum needing to be woken up, the selection of an ox for sacrifice, and the use of ducks as vehicles to swim across the heavenly sea, returning with the woken spirits of the ancestors. 

It sounded terribly complicated and very, very interesting, but in the end came down to the essence of every good festival – a gathering of people, drinking, feasting, music and dancing, with a few uniquely Miao components thrown in, like the celestial ducks, some bullfighting, firecrackers and pig slaughter. It was going to be one hell of a party.

Here’s how the festival unfolded, from our perspective.


我们去了贵州省,那是中国一个风景特别秀丽的地方,有很多陡峭的青山,萦绕着银雾还有很多蜿蜒的河流。很巧的是我们还遇到了当地一件大事——鼓藏节,这是苗族当地一个祭祖的活动,每十三年进行一次。
我们一开始并不知道这是一个大型活动,我们从乐于助人的比利张在Gateway to Guizhou所发文章中得知好消息,在近几天或者一周(这些事情总是不固定,比较灵活)在乐山将会有一个苗族新年节日举行,但我们要计算出是否我们可以在这些日子期间到达,我们必须看看这些有意思的事情。试着确定节日在什么时候、在哪里开始,在乐山周围的哪些村落举行,获得这些信息本身就可能更加困难。甚至是比利发给我们的正式中文节目单也太模糊以至于没帮上什么忙。
十一月二十六到二十九日期间,在丹江镇、西江镇、郎德镇、大塘乡、望丰乡等苗族镇区将举行斗牛、斗鸟、斗猪比赛等民间民俗活动。

但这听起来确实很有趣——斗猪比赛!究竟会是什么样子?
我们打算去看看究竟会发生什么。
之后幸运的事情出现了,在去乐山的路上我们绕道走进贵州南部荔波附近的原始荒地,并受邀于一位住在那里的年轻美国博主。我们作为客人在荔波度过第一晚,受到她慷慨热情的款待,还品尝到她好友绝妙的居家烹饪厨艺,她的好友是一位中国国家地理摄影师,名叫大山。
大山对贵州的少数民族充满了热情,他已经为他们拍照很多年了。当我们告诉他我们将要参观即将到来的苗族新年时,他打听后发现原来这个节日是非产罕见和盛大的,十三年才举行一次的鼓藏节。在知道这件事以前,我们四人团队没有太多考虑过要去哪里,现在我们应该去看看这个节日,这成为六人团队的共识和计划。
大山着手向我们解释有关这个节日错综复杂的情况。人们提前三年就开始做准备,期间需要埋藏一个鼓,与此同时,另一个鼓会被唤醒,还要献祭一头公牛,鸭群被当作游过天海的交通工具,归来之时带着唤醒的祖先之灵。
这听起来非常复杂,而且特别有意思,但归根结底到最后都会回归到每个优良节日的实质——聚集的人群,饮酒享乐,音乐舞蹈,还有一些独特的苗族成分在其中,像神圣的鸭子,斗牛,爆竹还有斗猪。这将会是一个盛大的派对。
接下来我将从我自己的视角展开节日的叙述。

1. Pre-Festival Preparation: Ducks and Firecrackers 节日前的准备:鸭子和爆竹

One thing is certain when we arrive in Leishan – this Guzang celebration definitely involves ducks, lots of them, and unbelievable quantities of booze and firecrackers. This might be a potentially lethal combination, and doubtless will be, particularly for the ducks. 
Every single shop in Leishan has abandoned their usual wares in favour of floor-to-ceiling displays of firecrackers, ten-metre long dragons rolled into neat coils, or huge luridly coloured boxes – the kind where you light the taper at one corner and run away for ten minutes of full-throttle bedazzling. 
The liquor, mijiu or rice wine, is being sold on the footpath in plastic jerrycans, with the smallest size ten litres, and the average purchase twenty-five. At around 40% alcohol it’s clear, deadly stuff and is about as tasty as lighter fluid and just as flammable. 
Every motorbike coming out of town has two boxes of firecrackers on the back, counterbalanced with two jerry cans of strong liquor on either side, and a brace of ducks nestled at the driver’s feet. 
我们到达乐山的时候有件事可以确定——这个鼓藏节一定会有很多鸭子,还有多到难以置信的数量的酒和爆竹。这将是一个潜在的致命的结合,毫无疑问是特别为鸭子准备的。
乐山的每一个商店都放弃了他们日常的商品空间用来搁置爆竹,从地板到天花板,十米长龙整齐地绕成线圈,还有巨大的色彩斑斓的盒子——那种在盒子一角点燃导火线的礼花,每个烟花都可以饱满地绽放十分钟之久。烈酒、米酒或者黄酒,被盛放在塑料罐里在小径上售卖,最小的十公升,平均每人购买二十五公升。大约有百分之四十是纯酒精,显然是致命的玩意儿,像淡味饮品一样可口但却是易燃的。

 

25 litres of liquor…check, smallish box of fireworks…check. Now to load the basket of ducks……..

2. Feast Number One 一号盛宴

We arrive in the tiny village of Paiweng on foot, leaving the van parked at a point where it can’t drive any further on the narrow dirt track. The first sign of something afoot is the distant echoing crack of firecrackers, and a cloud of smoke above the next valley. 
As we round the last corner we see the village sitting in the folds of steep hills, with rows of dark wooden houses on stilts staggered up the hillside. A barrage of fireworks goes off in front of the house immediately to our left, deafening us and lighting the narrow zigzagging pathway we’re taking to the family home of a friend of Big Mountain, high on the hillside. The paths are busy with guests arriving – Miao women in their traditional dress of a black velvet tunic embroidered with pink roses, hair in a high bun decorated with a single pink rose.
Arriving at the house, the start of the festivities is marked by the lighting of a long red snake of firecrackers right next to the woodpile outside the kitchen door. It seems unnecessarily risky but clearly it’s been safely done thirteen years before. Or…not. I guess thirteen years is long enough to rebuild a whole village razed to the ground by fire, and forgive whoever lit the firecracker that did it.
Inside the kitchen, the grandmother of the house greets us as she guts fish for the feast. She motions for us to move into the big open room at the centre of the house, a high-ceilinged space with stairs at one end leading to the upper floor for sleeping, and an open verandah at the other, pefect for watching the neighbour’s fireworks display as cinders rain down on the roof.
We’re warmly welcomed by the rest of the family as they prepare for the feast. The oldest daughter’s husband carries in precariously leaning stacks of porcelain rice bowls, painted with small blue and pink flowers, and lays them out on the floor in long rows. 
He reappears with twenty five litres of mijiu, and taking a tin teapot, decants from the drum and begins to pour a bowl of mijiu for each person, full to the brim. Out of politeness he includes both of our children, who, out of politeness and strong looks from us, decline.
The women and men come in from outside and take their seats as the food begins to arrive. The whole extended family is here – the grandmother, all of her daughters and their husbands and children, aunts and uncles, lined up on narrow wooden settles around the room’s perimeter. 
We eat – first, a steaming wok full of blood congee, a type of rice soup, rich and tasty. It seems impolite, as guests, to ask where the blood has come from. Balanced across the rim of the steaming wok a narrow wooden plank is laid, and on this rest three dishes, keeping warm – spicy duck, chopped into small pieces with a sharp cleaver, fried fish, and pickled sour bamboo shoots. 
The fish has grown in the nearby rice terraces through the summer along with the rice. Come harvest the water is drained out of the terraces and the fish can be easily caught. 
Another bowl of braised duck arrives, and suddenly the symbolic duck swimming across the celestial lake and bringing back the spirits of the ancestors is sitting in a bowl in front of me. I guess their role was not purely metaphorical after all.
No sooner have we started eating than the husband of the oldest daughter lifts his bowl of mijiu in a toast. We follow suit. 
‘He jiu!’ he commands, literally ‘Drink alcohol!’ It rhymes with Sergio when he says it.
We all take a sip of the burning liquor and resume eating.
A few minutes later one of the other daughter’s husbands raises his rice wine in a toast. ‘He jiu!’ he says. ‘He jiu!’ we all reply, and take another, bigger sip.
I reach for a piece of the sweet rice terrace fish, and just as I’m about to wrestle it free with my chopsticks I see another toast about to take place. 
‘He jiu!’ comes the call. 
‘He jiu!’ we all respond. 
This time though, the command is followed by ‘He gan!’ ‘Drink dry!’ and around me old men and young women alike down their rice wine, followed by that puckered face caused by skulling hard liquor. They tip their bowls sideways to prove they’re empty.
Everyone is rosy cheeked and happy. The teapot comes back out and refills our bowls, and another round of firecrackers go off. 
‘He jiu!’
我们徒步走到排翁小村庄,将车停在再也没法往进开的一条狭窄的土路上。准备工作发生的首个迹象就是远处爆竹的回声,以及在旁边山谷上方腾起的烟雾。
当我们到最后一个拐角处的时候,我们看见村庄坐落在陡峻山坡的重叠之中,在我们左侧是一排排的像在山坡上踩着高跷的深色木房。一串爆竹在我们左侧的房子前面噼里啪啦响了起来,快要震聋我们了,也照亮了我们去大山的一个朋友家的一条之字形的小路,就在那个高高的山坡上。路上拥挤着到访的客人——身绣着粉色玫瑰的黑色天鹅绒束腰外衣苗族妇女,头发高高束成一个小圆包,上面插着一支粉色的玫瑰。
到达房子的时候,在厨房外的柴堆旁点燃一串鞭炮标志着节日正式开始了。看起来没必要冒险但是显然十三年前这么做也是安全的。又或者并非如此。十三年的时间足够长将原来的村落用一场大火夷为平地并且再建一个新的村落,与此同时也原谅了那个点燃鞭炮的人。
在厨房里面,房子的主人一个老奶奶问候了我们,她正在准备晚宴,清洗着鱼的内脏。她提议我们去房子的中心,一个大的开放的房间,那里的天花板很高,在房间的一头有楼梯通往上层睡觉的地方,而另一头则是一个开放的走廊,非常适合观看邻居家的爆竹,尤其是当烟花落到房顶的时候。
当房子的其他家人准备晚宴的时候我们受到热情的欢迎。大女儿的丈夫以一个不怎么安全的姿势倚靠在瓷制饭碗堆旁,这些碗的上面画着蓝色和粉色的小花,一排排被摆放在地上。他在出现的时候拿着二十五公升的米酒,带着一个锡制茶壶,从桶里倒出米酒,又为每一个人倒入碗中。出于礼貌他也要给我们的孩子们倒了,但我们委婉拒绝了。
女人和男人们从外面走进来,当食物上来的时候他们也坐了下来。整个家庭都在这儿了——奶奶,女儿们和她们的丈夫孩子还有叔叔阿姨们都依次落座于房间周围窄窄的木椅上。
我们开始用餐——首先,一锅腾着热气的血糯米粥,是一种稻米做的粥,浓稠而美味。作为客人询问这血是从哪里来的看起来很不礼貌。在冒着热气的锅上平放着一个窄窄的木板,上面放着三盘菜,这样可以保持这些菜是热着的——用锋利的菜刀切成丁儿的辣鸭、炸鱼还有腌制的酸竹笋。
另一碗炖熟的鸭子端上来了,游过天湖并带回祖先之灵的具有象征意义的鸭子突然间就这样出现在我面前的这个碗里。我猜它们的角色毕竟不是纯粹具有比喻性的。
大女儿的丈夫举起他碗里的米酒干杯时我们就开始用餐。我们就跟着他们的样子做。
“喝酒!”他命令道,字面意思是“喝烧酒!”
我们都品了一小口烧酒,之后继续用餐。
几分钟后,其他女儿中的一个丈夫又举起米酒干杯。“喝酒!”他说。“喝酒!”我们都答道,之后又喝了一口,稍大一些。
我想拣一块甜糯米上放着的鱼,在我将用打架的筷子快要够到的时候我看见又要有人敬酒了。
“喝酒!”紧接着又是一声。
“喝酒!”我们都回答道。
尽管这一次,指令是“喝干!”“喝光了!”我身边的男人和女人都一饮而尽,紧接着便是烈性酒引发脸红胀了起来。他们将碗倒过来证明酒都喝干净了。
每个人都是面色红润而且非常快乐,茶壶被拿过来又斟满我们的碗,又一轮开始,像放鞭炮一样的感觉。
“喝酒!”

3. Feast Number Two 二号盛宴

At some point the ‘He jiu!!’ begins to reach a crescendo, with shorter and shorter intervals between toasts. Then just as everyone’s warming up the whole room stands and moves towards the door. We’re full to bursting with food and a little drunk.

‘What’s happening now?’ I ask Big Mountain. ‘Is dinner over?’
‘That was just the first dinner!’ Big Mountain tells us. ‘Now we go to her sister’s house up the hill for the next dinner!’
The what??
We arrive to find another long wooden house, its big central room filled with people lined up on each side and braziers warming more dishes of food in the centre.
Out come the towers of rice bowls, and out comes the tin teapot, this time poured by the daughter of the house. 
We greet the new family we haven’t yet met with a toast.
‘He jiu!’
And reacquaint ourselves with the family members from the first feast.
‘He jiu!’
And then everyone toasts us, as guests.
‘He jiu!’
The food is similar, a warming soup (this time bloodless), crispy-skinned duck, and shredded fish with a sour sauce.

The toasts continue for several rounds. Everyone makes the same puckered face when they have to ‘He gan!’ and drink the bowl dry.
Funny stories are told. 

‘He jiu!’

Serious stories are told.

‘He jiu!’

And then someone spots my bowl is empty, a sure sign I need to be shown true Miao hospitality by having a daughter of the house clamp a bowl of rice wine to my lips and hold it there until I drink all of it.
After that, details get a little hazy. I take a series of really, really dreadful fireworks shots while next to me Big Mountain takes National Geographic quality images despite being just as intoxicated. The mark of a true professional.

Fireworks, possibly shot from a ‘lying in the grass’ position. Not going in Nat Geo anytime soon.

Before midnight we take our leave, our hosts pressing upon us that we absolutely must be back at 4am for the most important part of the celebrations – the sacrifice of a pig.
Looking around me at the ongoing toasts being made for our departure I can see there is unlikely to be anything but snoring happening at 4am. I ask the grandmother of the house what time we should really return. ‘Eight at the earliest. More like nine or ten’ she says, with a wink.
在某一刻“喝酒!”开始渐增,敬酒之间的时间间隔越来越短。
“现在发生什么事了?”我问大山。“晚饭结束了?”
“那只是第一餐!”大山告诉我“现在我们去山上她姐姐的房子吃下一顿!”
什么??

我们最终到达的时候发现另一个长长的木头房子,房子中心的大房间的每一边都坐着人,火盆中央上方加热着更多的菜。接着出现垒成了塔的饭碗,还有锡制茶壶,这次是由房子中的女儿倒酒。
我们敬酒问候了我们之前没见过面的新的一家人。
“喝酒!”
离开第一顿晚宴之后重新认识这家成员。
“喝酒!”
然后每个人都将我们看作客人向我们敬酒。
“喝酒!”
食物是类似的,热乎乎的汤(这次没什么血色),脆皮鸭子还有撒了酸汁的切碎的鱼
敬酒仪式继续了几轮。当他们不得不“喝干!”的时候,每个人都有一样的红胀的脸,而且也确实将酒和干净了。 
期间还讲着有趣的故事。
“喝酒!”
接下来又说了一些严肃的故事。
“喝酒!”
然后有人质疑我的碗是否是空的,我需要给他们一个肯定的示意,房主家的女儿将盛着酒碗贴近我唇边,拿着它直到我喝干所有的酒,这就是苗族人的好客。
在那之后,细节逐渐变得模糊。我放了一连串真的致命的爆竹,而那个时候挨着我的大山居然照了如同国家地理品质般的照片,尽管当时是喝醉酒的状态。他果然是够专业。
在午夜之前我们离开了,主人执意要求我们清晨四点再过来参加庆祝仪式最重要的一个部分——献祭猪的仪式。
环顾周围是他们为我们的离开而持续不断地敬酒,我想除了凌晨四点的鼾声外应该不会有什么其他事情发生了。我问房子里的奶奶我们该什么时候过来。最早八点。九点或者十点也是可以的,她说着眨了下眼,

4. The Sacrifice 献祭
We return at eleven, fortified by a good nights’ sleep and strong coffee. Still, the ongoing firecrackers are a bit upsetting to the delicate equilibrium, as are the squeals of pigs meeting their end in every corner of the village. For some reason I had thought the village en masse might sacrifice a single pig, but apparently there is to be one pig for every family. Or in some cases, two.

While the butchering is happening, each one marked by fresh rounds of fireworks, I take the opportunity to wander around the village in daylight. It’s a beautiful place, full of life and colour.

But it’s hard to walk very far without coming across another pig. The task of killing, cleaning and butchering the pig falls to the men in the family, carried out on the path outside each home. 
I’m very proud of my two girls who take it all in their stride, proclaiming that ‘if you’re going to eat it, you have to be able to deal with it being killed’. How different from their squeamish attitudes before we came China, I think to myself.

我们十一点到达,以一个良好的睡眠和一杯浓咖啡振奋了一下精神。依旧是持续不断的爆竹声,对于心里的那种微妙的平衡感而言有点让人心烦,当村子每一个角落的猪看到自己生命的尽头之时,它们发出尖叫声。出于某种原因我以为全体村可能只是献祭一头猪,但显然是每家一头猪。或者在某种情形下会是两头。
当屠宰开始的时候,每一场屠宰仪式都会伴着新一轮的爆竹点燃。我抓住机会在白天游览了一下这村子。这是个美丽的地方,充满生机与色彩。
不绕过另一头猪很难走得远一些。宰杀、清洁还有屠宰的任务由家庭的男性来完成,这些都将在每家外面的小路上进行。
我很自豪我的两个姑娘都大步跨了过去,她们表明了“如果你要吃它,你必须面对它被杀的事实”,我暗自思量,这是多么不同于来中国之前她们那种神经质的态度啊。

5. Feast Number Three 三号盛宴

At midday we return to the house for what turns out to be the main feast, a meat and offal celebration of every part of the pig. Behind us haunches of meat hang from the wall, dripping small puddles of blood. 
The first course is laid out for everyone to taste – cold slices of cooked liver and marble-white pork fat with partially fermented sticky rice, sweet like apple cider. The pork fat has a clean sweet taste, and soft luscious texture I don’t expect to like as much as I do.
The room fills again with people, faces from the night before and an occasional new face. Out come the bowls and the tin teapot. I admire the fortitude of the Miao as they fill their bowls yet again with mijiu and the cry goes up once more to ‘He jiu!’, although with just a little less conviction today and noticeably smaller sips.
We huddle around the hot dishes as they arrive – a bowl of soup, flavoured with thick slices of pork and pieces of cooked blood, sliced fried intestines cooked in a rich and savoury sauce, chewy and incredibly tasty. My children eat them. And ask for more.
The room fills with steam, and more toasts, and some faces begin to sweat and look unwell with the onslaught of more rice liquor. But they soldier on, and at the appointed time we all rise and move on to….

正午时分我们返回到房子品尝最重要的筵席,包括猪肉和它每一个部分的内脏。我们身后墙上挂着猪的中腰部分,血滴在地面上形成一小滩。
第一道菜呈上来供每个人品尝——烹饪后的肝脏放凉后切片,大理石般白肉伴着部分发酵的糯米,甜甜的像苹果汁。白肉有一种甜甜的味道,我从未期许过的那种柔软甘美的肉质。
房间又一次挤满了人,有前一晚见过的面庞还有偶尔的新的面孔。碗和锡制茶壶又拿了出来,当苗族人再一次填满碗中的米酒,再一次喊着“喝酒”的时候我承认他们的坚韧,尽管今天少了一些确信,而且明显喝得也更少了些。
在菜上来的时候我们拥挤一团围在热菜周围——一碗热汤,用猪肉厚片和烹饪过的血块做的,切成薄片的内脏伴着浓重开胃的酱汁,耐嚼而且非常美味。我的孩子们吃完这些,还要求再来一些。房间里充满蒸汽,还有更多的干杯声,一些脸庞已经开始出汗,看来难以应付对于再多一些米酒的进攻。但他们还在坚持着,在我们约定好的时间全部举起酒杯一饮而尽

6. Feast Number Four 四号盛宴

Unable to believe we were all going to tuck into our fourth feast in less than twenty four hours we head back up the hill to the sister’s house. The atmosphere this time is a little more subdued, with all the family elders sitting together at one end of the room.
I am asked to take their portrait, a succession of four polaroids, one for each of them. The look on their faces is delightful as they see the pictures develop and colour.

Before long though, everyone has rosy faces and and has fortified themselves for the important and health-giving feature of this final feast – fresh pig’s blood, uncooked and congealed like jelly. No matter how well prepared or how adventurous, fresh blood is one thing I cannot bring myself to try, but everyone else takes a small bowl.
This seems to signal the end of the feast, although in fact, the guests are simply leaving to start another round of visiting and feasting in the neighbouring villages. As a parting gift, each family is given a whole pig’s leg or two to take home, carried over the shoulder hanging from a pole.
难以置信在二十四小时之内我们又将去品尝第四顿盛宴,我们朝着山上姐姐的房屋走去。此时周遭的气氛减弱了一些,家里所有年长的人坐在房间的一边。
我被要求为他们拍照,一连串四张拍立得,每人一张,当他们看到相片一点点显示变得有颜色的时候他们的表情都非常的开心。
不久之前,每个人的面颊都是绯红色,为了强健他们的身体,最后这餐是非常重要的,而且有益于他们的健康——新鲜猪血,没被烹饪过的,凝结成像果冻一样的东西。不论准备多么充分或者多么爱冒险,新鲜猪血是我唯一无法说服自己尝试的东西,但其他每个人都尝了一小碗。

这看起来像是筵席的尾声,事实上,客人们仅仅是离开去邻村开始另一轮的拜访,参加新的筵席。作为一部分的礼物,每个家庭都会受到一两头猪的腿,腿被挂在一个杆上,这样被人们扛在肩上

7. Bullfighting 斗牛

Much of the visiting and feasting now over, the fourth day of the Guzang Festival  brings a bullfighting tournament in Leishan’s stadium, packed to capacity with spectators. 
I’m not sure what to expect. This is bull versus bull, with no human intervention unless a bull is fatally wounded. I’m expecting it to be bloody and confronting on many levels.
Intead, what we see is quite comical as two sedate and lazy water buffalo bulls are led into the arena through separate doors, ambling slowly. Suddenly they see one another and fly into an intense territorial rage, charging the other bull and locking horns. The first three battles end when the weaker of the two bulls unlocks horns and runs away, and the fourth after horns have been locked long enough to declare a draw. No blood is seen at any time. 
现在拜访和筵席都结束了,鼓藏节的第四天实在乐山露天体育场举行一场斗牛比赛,这里会有很多的观众到场。
我不知道期待什么,这是一场公牛之间的对抗,除非一头牛受到致命伤否则没有人会中途干预。我想这一定非常血腥,而且会有不同级别的对抗。
事实上,我看到的相当滑稽,两只沉着慵懒的水牛通过分开的门被牵到场地,他们步态缓慢。突然它们看到彼此,气氛充满了控制领域的高度紧张的愤怒气息,它们欲控制对方,牛角纠缠在一起相斗。第三场比赛以较弱的一头水牛解开牛角逃走结束。第四场比赛,牛角长时间纠缠在一起相持,最后平局收场。整场比赛没有见过一滴血。


8. Recovery, with Singing, Dancing, and Possibly Pig Bucket Races 复活,唱歌,跳舞还有斗猪比赛

The last days of the festival are subdued by comparison. Firecrackers continue to go off sporadically and there are pigs’ legs aplenty being carted around over shouders or on the backs of motorbikes. 
The villagers of Paiweng try to entice us back on a promise of singing and dancing on the village basketball court – but we run out of time to return to see it.
It’s been an exhausting few days and I’m keen to eat nothing but vegetables for a while. 
So let’s see – I think I’ve covered everything – ducks, ancestors, firecrackers, rice liquor, bull fighting, pig sacrifices, feasting, and….oh wait! What about the pig bucket races? We never did get to see those.
相比较而言,最后几天节日的气氛减弱了。爆竹继续零星地放着,人们扛着大量的猪腿,在肩膀上或是摩托车的后座上。排翁的村民想让我们回去,他们说在村子里的篮球场地会有跳舞唱歌——但我们没有时间去看了。最近几天真是筋疲力尽,这一阵儿除了蔬菜我再也不想吃其他东西了。
所以让我想想——我想我已经概述了每件事情——鸭子、祖先、爆竹、米酒、斗牛、献祭,盛宴,和……哦,等等!还有斗猪呢?我们再也没机会看到那些。
那就期待着2025年的鼓藏节见吧。

Looking forward to seeing you all for Guzang 2025 then.

The Year of the Dragon. In Red.

Best wishes for health and prosperity for everyone in the Year of the Dragon! As I walked through Yu Gardens this week watching the frenzied preparations to hang thousands of lanterns for the coming Lunar New Year tomorrow night, everywhere I looked was the same strong, vibrant Chinese red. 
Red symbolizes happiness in Chinese culture and is always the colour of joy and celebrations. It inspired me to find all my favourite red images from the last year, from all corners of China (I really covered some ground!) and put them together for you. Enjoy!
L: washing seats, Shanghai stadium
R: Drum Tower, Xi’an
Sliding sled seats sit on a frozen lake, Beijing
L: A small boy sits outside his mother’s hairdressing shop, Miao village
R: Lucky red underwear for New Year, Tongli
Cheap wigs, Qibao

L: Opera singer, Tongli
R: Night chicken feet and giblet vendor, Qian Dao Hu
Toffee strawberries, hawthorns and other fruits for sale, Nanjing
L: Peek into a Chinese home, Tongli
R: lanterns for sale at Shanghai’s Commodities Market

Bicycles, Shanghai. ‘Standard Integration, Transparent Operation’
L: Elderly worshipper, Longhua Temple Shanghai
R: Elderly early adopter with mobile phone and mountain bike, Beijing

L: Travelling home for Chinese New Year, Shanghai Railway Station
R: Transport for a family of four Kyrgyz, Lake Karakul
Dancing Miao women, Langde
L: Temple deity, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan
R: Young Kyrgyz girl near Tashkurgan

Hundreds of single votives hung together to create the character shou 寿 ‘long life’, Tongli temple
L: Scented handmade decorations for Dragon Boat Festival, Shanghai
R: Sweet peanut cake, Xian
Temple, Nanjing
L: Carefully painted fire hydrant, Shanghai
R: Gate to the old city, Lijiang

Pair of ancestor paintings, Tongli

L: Tiny carved wooden deity, Qibao
R: meat for sale at the wet market, Shanghai

Firecracker Seller, Nanchang Lu, Shanghai
L: A tour group of workers from a costume factory in Northern China dress up in cabaret costumes whilst visiting a small Miao ethnic village. No, I have no idea why.
R: Prayers at the Confucius Temple, Shanghai

Unbridled joy on a battery-operated wheelie horse, main square, Kaili
Gong Xi Fa Cai!


恭喜发财

Happy New Year! Congratulations, and be prosperous!

2012. My Year of Maximum China.

Firstly, a big smiling Happy New Year to every single one of you! My hope is that 2012 will bring all of us a year of good friends, good food, and a lot of laughter! 
2012 will likely be my last year in China, a situation I have very mixed feelings about – I miss home and family, I miss the breathable quality of overseas air, and the Australian wilderness, but I have an extraordinarily interesting and colourful life here in China that will be hard to let go. Not to mention the noodles
There’s no escaping it though – our older daughter begins high school in Australia at the start of 2013, and we promised we would return home before that date, although we never imagined we would be living in China right up until then!
As a way of fending off any imagined future regrets, I plan to pack as much of China – its food, its countryside, its people – into the coming twelve months as possible. The major manifestation of this plan is a crazy scheme that first gripped me some six months ago and I haven’t been able to shake it off since. You know it’s a good idea when it gives you a sick, terrifying feeling in the guts every time you think about it. 
So here it is. We will take a Chinese truck, or a minibus, or some kind of campervan-like vehicle, and transform it into a fully-equipped home on wheels, replete with sleeping, cooking and coffee-making facilities, then spend the last six months of 2012 roaming around the remoter backroads of China. What do you think? 
Personally, I think it’s a bloody crazy idea but you can’t deny it has enormous appeal. Even crazier, the rest of the family has come on board with it, after some initial misgivings about whether there would be Western-style breakfast cereal and the capability of recharging electronic devices on the road.
It will be a hugely HUGE undertaking, mostly because we are breaking relatively new ground – recreational vehicles don’t really exist in China, necessitating making a sort of custom-built home-made frankencampervan of our own, complete with comfortable bedding and privacy curtains. 
Camping of any kind is pretty much unheard of, and the last time I saw anyone in a tent in China, it had been erected by the staff of a three star hotel on the adjacent concrete basketball court, with use of hotel facilities included in the tent price. There are no camping grounds, no trailer parks, and no laybys with nearby toilet facilities. 
So I’m calling 2012 our year of Maximum China, a fully immersive experience of seeing and eating our way through as much of China as possible, with our own twist. As 2012 looms excitingly ahead, instead of looking back on the year in review as I’ve done before, I’m looking to the year ahead and what it might hold, both in the short term and the long term, in travel planning terms. 
Here’s what I predict for the coming year of Maximum China:
1.  I will pass my Chinese exams next week, motivated by the desire to avoid being the first student over forty to fail and the need to speak enough Chinese to cover vehicle breakdowns and other minor emergencies. Although I wish the teachers had given me a lot more warning about the 100 word written essay at the end of the Chinese test, because my essay will consist of twenty characters I can write from memory, and a lot of blank spaces. (But – I have a cunning plan to copy any vocabulary that might be useful from the rest of the exam paper and paste it into my essay, although this may not work out so well:
On my holidays, my family and I visited the…bank to make a credit card application. At the…bank…was a lot of…lovely scenery…and we…completed the application form…while…climbing a mountain.  That day the…weather report predicted rain…but we…waited for the application to be approved.  The End.)
2. The ratio of Chinese:Western meals my family is willing to eat will decrease from 1:3 to 1:10 by year’s end, decreasing exponentially with time spent on the road away from supermarkets full of Western food in Shanghai. I will be forced to resort to making them congee for breakfast when we run out of cereal. They will hate this.
3. I will pass my Chinese driver’s license test without having to bribe any officials, or have a Chinese stand-in named ‘Fay-ah-na’ sit the test on my behalf, for a pre-arranged fee.
4. We will finaly get to visit Tibet, provided there are no more monk self-immolations in 2012.
5. My iphone app, the Shanghai Xiaolongbao Tour for Crimson Bamboo, despite being extremely niche, will go totally viral on release causing the entire Chinese internet to collapse and making me an overnight app millionaire. (The first part of this prediction is entirely true – I’ve been working on this exciting project with Crimson Bamboo, authors of cool travel apps for history lovers, for the launch of a new range of travel apps for food lovers. It’s released in two weeks, and I’ll tell you more closer to the time. The latter part of the prediction? Well, dreaming’s OK, isn’t it?)
6. The hare-brained travelling campervan scheme will take more money, wits, patience and cunning than I currently possess, but because I’m not a quitter I will make everyone’s life hell as I try to source solar-powered portable water heating and a compostible travelling toilet in a country that hasn’t yet heard of camping.
7. Eighteen will be the number of times my husband will tell me we can just hire a car and sleep in hotels with actual beds instead of campervanning our way around the country.
8. Eighteen will be the number of times I reply something along the lines of ‘bugger off’ to his very sensible suggestion. Although sometimes I will really, really want to give in.
9. China will finally get high-speed internet just as I leave the country, and I’ll be really pissed off because I never got to experience the thrill of uploading a photo in under ten minutes.
10. After six months of travelling rough crammed into a home-made campervan my children will probably hate me, but when they’re forty-five they’ll tell their kids it was the best holiday they ever had. I hope. 
There you have it, my 2012 Maximum China predictions. Let’s see how many come true……..

News for the New Year!!

Happy New Year to everyone! I spent the last night of 2010 in a snowy farmhouse in the Dutch countryside, listening to the local farmboys setting off firecrackers as soon as it got dark, at about four in the afternoon, and continuing all the way through to midnight. I had spent the day in Amsterdam yesterday (more on that in tomorrow’s post), wandering the wonderful streets and canals and having the bejeesus scared out of me every five minutes by people setting off firecrackers in the middle of bridges. The Dutch seem to go in for noise rather than spectacle in the firecracker department, just like the Chinese. It’s all about the bang rather than the lights! 
The remote farmhouse we’re staying in is in the midst of the Veluwe, a huge forest about an hour from Amsterdam, and I couldn’t be further away from the crowds and business of Shanghai. I can actually hear myself think. I haven’t heard a single car horn, or truck horn, or bus horn, or motorbike horn for a whole week, and I think I can hear birds too, the only other sound. The garden is full of rabbit prints in the snow. I’ve spent a week cooking, taking all the assembled kids for sleigh rides in the snow, and reading, and relaxing, and generally having a very quiet time. It’s been fabulous (and all thanks to my sister, whose idea it was to get as close to the middle of nowhere as possible). We travelled long and hard to get here, having braved the debacle of Heathrow, the snow and ice and frreezing fog the length and breadth of England and Scotland, spent a couple of days in the snow in Edinburgh, to visit my darling Grandma, and gather up my sister and her family, and now survived a North Sea crossing in the Newcastle-Amsterdam vehicle ferry. It does make me wonder why I didn’t just fly directly to Amsterdam from Shanghai, but, you know, I love a train trip, or a boat trip, or a car trip, where you can see the scenery and watch the transition from one place to the next. If you can see through the heavy snow, that is. 

So over the next few days I’ll tell you all about the Veluwe, and Dutch food, and Amsterdam, but for today I have three exciting pieces of news to write about. 
Firstly, a few months ago I was very excited to be asked by iPhone app company GPSmyCity to write a GPS guided walking tour of Shanghai. My very own app! I was given free reign to write a tour of my own devising, so I decided to write about the Old City, the area of Shanghai I love the most. It took weeks of taking photos, and recording the audio over and over again until I sounded like I was just having a chat, rather than giving a high-school presentation, and it was finally published before Christmas. It’s so easy (and daunting) for tourists to get lost in Shanghai, that they rarely stray off the tourist track. So GPSmyCity had this fabulous idea of making tours all round the world utilising the clever GPS thingy in your iPhone. You just take your iPhone, and walk around the old streets of Shanghai with my little voice in your ear telling you what you’re seeing and all the while not getting lost. Brilliant. You don’t even need to be able to speak Chinese.
The tour The Old City – Hidden Secrets is available for the tiny price of $2.99 through the App store  and you can also see it at the GPSmyCity website too. I’ve got another two in the pipeline,  French Concession tour, and the Bund and Nanjing Road. Just working on that relaxed tour-guide voice.


Secondly, I have started writing online for Shanghai City Weekend, as their new blogger. I’m hoping to encourage expats living in Shanghai to just get out there and try something new each week, new places, new experiences, new foods. 
Try Everything Once….. features every Friday on the City weekend website. And my first print article for City Weekend monthly magazine will be out in February. Exciting!

Thirdly and lastly, for foodies who love to read, the Foodie’s Reading Challenge 2011 has invited all of us food-lovers to read more books about food, cookbooks, cooking biographies, and novels with a food theme in 2011. The website will be like a portal for discussion and reviews on the books you’ve read. 

The Foodie’s Reading Challenge 2011 invites you to be a 
  • Nibbler (1-3 books)
  • Bon Vivant (4-6 books)
  • Epicurean (7-9 books)
  • Gourmet (10-12 books)
  • Glutton (more than 12 books)
I for one, have a long list of books I’d like to read about Chinese food (like Musings of a Chinese Gourmet, written in 1954 by F.T Cheng to educate westerners about Chinese food), so I’ve taken up the challenge as a Gourmet, with a view to reviewing 12 books, one every month on Life on Nanchang Lu. 
I invite you to join in too!
So, enough news already. Back to food and travels tomorrow……Happy New Year!