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The Awesome Very Beery Six Year Catch Up

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,

So any way, Does anyone know what day it is? That was one hell of an unexpected return to where it all began!

February 2005 found me arriving in a tiny town in very rural western Guangxi Province that over the following year and a half helped shape my life, what it could become and has become here in China. Some of my classes had up to one hundred students, many of which came from farming families so poor that they wore plastic flip flops to school during the cold months of winter. There was no need for me to learn Mandarin Chinese as ninety five percent of the small population are from the Zhaung People’s Minority Group and speak two or more local dialects from within Guangxi Province along with Guangdong (Cantonese) Language and several Guizhou Languages.

Though small, Tianyang Town had its three claims to fame;

First being the ancient 'birthplace’ of the Zhaung Minority Group and each year Zhaung People from all over China flock to Tianyang for a spectacularly colourful festival dressed in their area’s minority/village costumes. Second being it’s watermelons that are known throughout southern China as Black Beauties and thirdly its succulently sweet red and yellow baby tomatoes. Being a small farming community, there were no taxi’s only three wheeled motorbikes, no KFC, no Mc Donald’s in fact no fast food eateries at all. During the warmer months most people left their kitchen clean and ate at any of the countless street ‘wokups’ found throughout town. As I taught all of the town’s leaders children it was expected of me to eat and drink with them without worry about the following days classes.

If I was to hungover then simply call and continue to sleep. Thankfully that only happened once, though almost a hundred times.

Culinary delights were that of many types of wild vegetables, dog, cat, frog, eel, snake, rat, fish, heart, stomach, liver, brain, throat, tongue, arteries, eyes, penis, feet, paws, claws, hoofs etc along with anything else edible from something or anything that once moved. Sometimes I was sure that even if it didn’t move but had legs (such as chairs and tables) it was somehow included in the cooking process.

Living in Tianyang taught me how far we in the west have taken things such as cleanliness and what is ‘tolerable’ etc to obscenely ridiculous levels. We ate outside every night on grimy tables in street markets where at night old men hunted giant frogs and rats with a torch and spear gun and sold them to us by weight. The Wok Up guy would then clean and cook it and serve it with a cold beer and green beans. Within the first two weeks of my arrival my friend’s father cooked her cat as a treat for the first foreigner who was to visit their home.

There is just so much more I could write about that time of my life.

My year and a half in Tianyang Town would easily be right at the top of what have been the most amazing times in my life. I learned so much about ‘real’ life and how it once was and how I feel it still should be. As I gave away everything I owned prior to leaving Australia I learned how to live with almost nothing except for that which the schools apartment provided. I lived in a very simple apartment and had only a small fridge and tiny washing machine. I shopped at the local market place and purchased fruit, vegetables and meat that had been sitting either on piece of plastic on the dusty ground or on a table in the open air for an unknown length of time. I learned to live with two sets of clothes for summer and two sets for winter which I hung outside my front door without fear of them being stolen.

All I had was what I had and what I had, was barely nothing!

Even now I continue to live in such a simple manner, though now I have added a computer to the list of things I own along with a mobile phone which is also my camera, MP3 player and communicator. As it did when I left Australia, my entire life’s worth can still be squeezed into a small 45 liter backpack and that includes my thick winter jacket and winter clothes. Yes, I think living in tiny Tianyang Town definitely helped shape who I have become here in China.

Even though I had travelled solo to thirteen non-English speaking countries prior to my return to China, living such a small rural existence gave me the confidence to not just travel alone but to step out of ‘The Backpacker Bubble’ and spend the following five years travelling solo in search of the unknown hidden gems. In China there are thirty two Provinces and Special Economic Zones and I have now been to twenty five of them and I would say that I have travelled each one of them (some much more than others) rather extensively. From that twenty five I have lived and loved in six and in those six provinces I have taught in eight different rural communities.

After four crazy nights in Tianyang I am now back in Baise in my little hotel room next to Mr & Mrs Smiths apartment and as I sit here with a cold beer I ponder;

If all those years ago I had of chosen a large city to teach in, who would I be now? Where would I have travelled? Would I have discovered the person within that was trying to be born? Maybe I would have found the expat scene and spent the years hanging out in bars with other foreigners, eating in nice restaurants and never really found a true Chinese friend or the real China I have had the privilege of finding.

<u>Now For a Bit on The Tianyang 2012 Return Beer Bash</u>

After leaving Baise I had ridden not even half way when the chain on my bike broke &#8216;again’ (two days in a row!). I then had to walk to the next village (one hour) and after finding a &#8216;bike guy’ had to wait half an hour until a new chain link arrived before I could continue. My inner feelings upon arrival were like nothing I have felt since my return to China and waking up the morning after arriving in Tianyang. My first port of call was to the gates of my old school and within one minute a high school girl came racing over yelling Shwaiyne Shwaiyne, you were my Grade 6 teacher. Shwaiyne Shwaiyne you are in Tianyang! Shwaiyne Shwaiyne please be my teacher again!

Now that was an amazing moment!

Next stop was the one I was so excited about, seeing my beautiful friend Cathy for the first time in six years. We’ve continued communicating by phone and QQ but the thought of holding her and seeing her big smile had me racing to her place of work….and there she was! Cathy was my schools kindergarten English teacher when I taught in Tianyang and we spent every lunch time together chatting over our rice and vegetables. Once a fortnight her father (an amazing cook) would wok up a feast, his friends and family would drop in and we would all have a wonderful time sharing great moments over beer, food and wine.

One of his main goals was to always get me absolutely hammered on rice wine.

Before my arrival Cathy had told her parents to wok up a nice dinner as an old friend was dropping in. You should have seen the look on their faces when I walked in. It was such a special moment! After dinner and several beers Cathy and I headed across to her work place as her boss was putting on a huge BBQ night for his birthday. Now was my time to be surprised as most of the guests were those who would usually attend Cathy’s fathers fortnightly wok ups and probably still do.

After many wonderful hours catching up over BBQ and beer I headed out for a walk.

I needed to know if the family that adopted me for the entire time I lived in Tianyang was still around. I headed across to the night market and there they were, in the same place they have been wokking up storms for the past ten years I silently crept to their &#8216;place of wok’ and while they were busy cooking I yelled HELLO! We all screamed, hugged and jumped up and down and within five minutes four boxes of beer and a hand full of old friends arrived.

As Tianyang is built along the main highway from Nanning (Guangxi) to Kunming (Yunnan) their &#8216;place of wok’ (as I’ve always called it) caters for the overnight long distance buses that run to and from. They begin cooking around eleven each night, stop around seven the following morning and in between there is a hell of a lot of beer and food consumed and having a foreigner with them always helped many of the buses choose where they wanted to eat.

On the other hand it always got me rather drunk too as everyone wanted to cheers the funny round eyed monkey.

So for the last four days/nights I slept during the day, spent my evenings with Cathy, her family and her friends and then really began my night around eleven when I entered &#8216;The Place of Wok’. One night (early morning) around three they had &#8216;Wokking’ friends take over the cooking and we moved on to their apartment and I’m not sure what time I made it back to my hotel the following afternoon but we all had an amazing night really catching up and partying like it was 2005!

<u>Now For a Bit On The </u><u>Zhuang Minority People</u>

The Zhuang Ethnic minority are the largest minority group in China with a long history and glorious culture. Over ninety percent of Zhuang people live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The rest reside in Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou and Hunan Provinces. They have their own language that belongs to the Zhuang-Dai branch of Zhuang-Dong Austronesian (Austronesian belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages) and the language is divided into two dialects although they have few differences.

They believe in the propagation, the totem, their ancestors and now, most of them are polytheists, believing the power of many inanimate things in nature, such as giant trees, high mountains, the earth, the sun and water etc. Sacrifice activities are usually held due to their beliefs of being blessed by the divinity and to prevent all kinds of disasters.

They are very hospitable, any guests are honored by the entire village and rice wine is a must when treating guests. Whilst living in Tianyang, guests such as myself when visiting friend’s villages on weekends are shown a unique way of drinking ie: you drink each other’s wine from a spoon by crossing arms. The village elder is shown respect by nobody eating before him and guests will be honored by drinking from his spoon.

The style of clothing differs according to different areas.

There is little difference for men's wear in comparison with the Han people's style but women have numerous styles. For example, the women living in the northwest Guangxi usually wear the collarless, embroidered jackets buttoned to the left along with loose and wide trousers or pleated skirts and embroidered belts. The women from the southwest Guangxi prefer collarless jackets buttoned to the left with black square headbands on the head and loose trousers and both complement their outfits with silver ornaments.

Like other ethnic group women, Zhuang women are skilled at weaving and embroidering. They have a great reputation for the distinctive designs of cotton woven yarn brocade they make in colorful velour. Zhuang brocade is renowned for its color, luster, durability and wide range of use. Another skill such as dying with wax is also popular and is used in handcrafting carpets, aprons, bed covers, waistbands, tablecloth and curtains etc.

Besides sharing similar festivals with the Han, they have their own unique festivals;

The Devil Festival, held on July 14th of the lunar month, is regarded as an occasion second to the Spring Festival. The day before the Devil Festival, every family does a thorough house cleaning and makes special preparations for the outfits to be used in sacrifice. On the day, duck, pork and good wines along with candies and fruits are offered in order to show great respect to their ancestors.

The Ox Soul Festival held on April 8th of the lunar month is to celebrate the birthday of the king of oxen and to show their love and respect to the ox. On this day each ox is relieved from their yokes and free from plowing. People give the ox a bath accompanied by the beating of drums. Parents of the family feed the ox with five-colored glutinous rice, while singing folksongs and it is a festival that represents their great hope for a good harvest.

The Singing Festival is a traditional occasion where families visit the graves of their ancestors. Now it has become a grand sentimental occasion using songs for their expression. On the day, after sacrificing they will sing to each other to challenge not only the song itself but also wit so the lyrics are usually improvisational and humorous. It is also a perfect day for young men to express their love to the girls by singing and is reputed as the Valentine's Day of the Zhuang ethnic minority.

The Zhuang minority's frescoes carved on the steep cliffs are of Zhuang characteristics and figures and beasts along with other patterns carved have been dated more than two thousand years old. The bronze drum used both in sacrifice and festivals, delivers a special culture of the Zhuang ethnic minority. On the top and sides of the drums, the sun, frogs, dragons, dancing women and other patterns are used to decorate. It is a great revelation of their worship to the sun and frog. Nowadays, the bronze drum has become an indispensable musical instrument to help celebrate all festivals.

<u>Now For a Short List of Some of My Favourite Blogs From My Time In Tianyang</u>

A Short Run Down from 2005 Where is that Damn Cat!.....nice with Lemon Sauce! In With The Pigs Freaky English Names and Evil Biajio! Do You Spit or Swallow Living Amongst The Frozen Moments In Time Gan Zhuang Shan Festival (Zhuang Minority Peoples)

Beers N Noodles toya…..shane ___________________________________________________________

The soundtrack to this entry was by Melbourne’s Underground Lovers The album was &#8216;a mix of all of their EP’s’ ____________________________________________________________

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China

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