In one village, English signage and a tacky performance square indicate that this here collection of rice farmers are more than ready to take your tourist money. And if you came here to see those famous Miao “sharpshooters” (枪手者), the reason this particular village makes it into all the Chinese guidebooks (despite–or because–of the fact they aren’t allowed to own guns, many Chinese are obsessed with them), then you won’t be disappointed. Around the empty performance square, young men with muddy boots and long antique rifles prowl, pouring gunpowder down the barrels while smoking cigarettes and looking like their last shower was a cold one.
In the early morning hours, before their hangovers set in, they watch the trees for the occasional bird that somehow didn’t get the word to stay away from this particular hilltop. Then, glimpsing a bony little sparrow alight upon a branch–if the excited pointing and shouting of these skilled hunters doesn’t immediately scare away their elusive prey–the closest man or clumsy boy swings his weapon skyward and sprays a loud and ineffective pop of smoke and birdshot into the leaves. And if it’s minority festivals you’re after, you anthropological traveller you, then you can’t be disappointed here. On Saturday nights, and well into early Sunday morning, children without school the next day run around the square like festive little maniacs, screaming and running and trying to pyrotechnically harm each other in the dark with armfuls of popping fireworks. This, thrill-seekers, is the wild Miao village of Biasha (芭沙).
Not twenty miles distant as the crow flies, off that cold, muddy hilltop and down in a pleasant grassy vale, curls of smoke rise peacefully from the stovepipes of another village. Here, arranging a bed for the night involves a sit-down chat with the village chief, a smiling old man in a three-piece suit. Upon learning you’ve arrived from Zhejiang (“That’s where many of our villagers go for work! You’re not from Hangzhou, are you?”), he will direct his cousin to give you a key to one of the barns and the outhouse behind it; the bed is made of halved logs and covered with a thin reed mat. Such is the available accomodation in a place where no one from outside ever comes, at least not for the night. Out in the village, near the tall, innumerably-tiered drum tower, a wedding is taking place. The groom sports a white blazer and a pink-dyed mohawk and looks impatient as he leans against the water buffalo cart, waiting for the wedding party to emerge from a nearby house with his bride. Women everywhere sit on stools and work hurriedly on their sewing projects; New Year’s is coming, and these silk vest things must be ready. Men sit and smoke and eye the young water buffalos that are newly bridled and being trained to accept this painful inconvenience. There is no reason to come here, other than to stop a bit on the old road to Zhaoxing, or to just be anywhere but Biasha. This, lost travellers, is the Dong village of Biapa (芭扒).
It’s been a great couple days here in Congjiang county, our last stop in Guizhou before continuing along the Du Liu River into Guangxi, but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t looking forward to a good shower and maybe a heated room to sleep in. Winter out here is hard, and the nights are long. Days are centered around tire fires, small spots of warmth that draw crowds on sidewalks and in restaurants. The mud here is deep and the mist is thick; we have liked it but are feeling fortunate to be able to catch a bus on down the road.