This was route we wanted to explore for a while and which connects Hongguan with another village in another valley at 20 kms distance called Guangkang.
Our initial plan was to spend the spend the night in this last village but something fun and unexpected happened.
After a couple of days of rains, finally a pale sun greets us early in the morning at the small village of Qinghua.
Transports are just a few and we take a local bus leaving around 7:00 am to reach Hongguan (虹关村hongguancun), just a 25-30 kilometers north.
I found the valleys, the locals and the landscapes to be one of the most beautiful in Eastern China.
Our personal experience when we travel is that we usually end up meeting quite interest people, old mr. Zhang (老张）is definitely our top of the list so far.
78 years old at that time, he greeted me saying :”Zdravstvuyte” (litt. “hello” in Russian). Lao Zhang went to Shanghai a little before of cultural revolution to study foreign languages at Shanghai Foreign Languages University (Waiyuxueyuan) in Hongkou district, where he also learnt Russian.
He has so many interesting stories to share with us, and he does that with the same enthusiasm of a boy.
One his grandfather was a giant and he even had to bow down to enter trough the door of his family house (the on in he picture) he tells us proud while holding an article form and old newspaper.
Here around each village has its own family name, so I’m Hongguan everyone is called Zhang.
We reach a field in front of a tavern where we are supposed to spend the night and he tells us that before the revolution right in front of us there used to be a Buddhist temple, another part of the field was all covered by Buddha’s statues. Today nothing remain of this piece of history.
When he was young he manage to became friend with a Russian whom he used to write to to practice Russian, while it was still possible to communicate to the outside world. Indeed he was really happy to talk to my wife Sayzana. The list of stories goes on.
We hear many locals talking about true Cultural Revolution like a period of their life. In these valleys there are still revolutionary slogans and red stars, even at the doors of latrines. In today China none is talking about the past, but I found rural areas reminding very clearly what they went trough a few decades earlier.
Lao Zhang insists saying we should spent the night over to celebrate Spring festival together with him and his family that same night, “it is decided, you will stay here and my younger bother will drive you back to Wuyuan in the morning!“. How we could even possibly consider to refuse this enthusiastic man request?
We still went for the trial, which after all was still our initial goal. Guangkuang is about 16 km away from us and because of the new plan we have doubled the distance to come back to Hongguan.
Eye-catching landscapes looks beautiful here in the valleys and it’s a pleasure to be out the big cities’ pollution and chaos. Big clouds floats downhill from the top of the small mountains, the forest threes are alternating with bamboo growers.
The forest opens to a tea field valley and we reach Guangkuan just in time to take short brake and run back to Lao Zhang.
It’s already evening and our friend is waiting for been our guide for a special event which everyone waited for more than 3 year to held. The village full of life, people are wandering all around pulling heavy wooden tables covered by rice-paper lanterns and kids playing around.
For the most important night of the new year the village is organizing a one hundreds-lantern-long dragon to celebrate the arrive of the Lunar New Year.
It’s not easy to organized such an event because each family contributed around 1000 Rmb each and because Olay elders still lives in the village, youngest all moved to the big cities (a very common fact in today rural China).
Lantern are held over ones shoulder and linked by a interlocking mechanisms one to other. On the front on the line is the head of the dragon, a small lantern with the shape of ball which the dragon is following and the drums which give the rhythm to the long column of lanterns.
The dark sky and quite the street are interrupted by the explosions and flashes of the fireworks which for more than 2 hours won’t stop.
The dragon first passing thought the small alleys, then to the open fields around the village.
Everyone is running now and following the dragon lanterns, first close, than far, and finally close again. Lao Zhan runs just like he used to run with his brothers in his childhood.
The celebration then reach a basketball field, the Franch now dance in circle, fireworks now are going nuts. Suddenly everything slows down and we reach a small square in front of the ruin of the ancestors temple somewhere inside the village. The dragon close on itself like a snake, the drums play faster and faster and all the participant disappears carrying their own lanterns, leaving the head of the dragon alone in front of the temple. Such a spectacular effect!
We walk back to Lao Zhan house, where his brothers prepared the traditional noodles bowls and they opened a Baotou bottle produced in the old factory of Qinghua, a delicacy give the fact the factory closed something like 20 years ago.
To appreciate chinese culture one must not just speak the language but also to appreciate the little gestures and rituals at the table. Eating culture is inclusive, everyone shares jokes and is greeted. Of course alcohol smooth the process.
This has been perhaps the most intense, interesting and involving experience in Eastern China. I have been in this valleys the year later, but I hope to come back again for the Lunar new year to meet our enthusiastic friend-for-a-day, Lao Zhan.