Sunday, January 25, 2009

Qiunatong 秋那桶

Qiunatong, originally uploaded by jiulong.

My own excursion into Qiunatong began when I turned north off the main 'road' about 10km north of Bingzhongluo, and walked up the rough track towards the collection of log cabins. I followed behind a tractor that was carrying three guys who had been collecting firewood, as it was put-putting at the same speed as I was walking up the long incline. I passed a few houses and got barked at by a few dogs, but didn't see any sign of the small village wth a guesthouse and shops that I had been expecting.

Then suddenly I emerged into a small concrete square amid the houses, and there in front of me was the Qiunatong Catholic church. Not much to look at: mostly constructed of wood - it had a small cross on top and looked rather dark and grim. There were a couple of locals loafing around on the steps in front of the church, but nobody paid me much notice. I took my heavy pack off my shoulders and found that an old lady hanging round by the door was the keeper of the church key - and she opened the place up to me. I was granted a few minutes to survey the dark red painted wooden interior and the simple kneeling pews and religious icons, then asked for a 10 kuai fee by the old lady before she shut up shop.

As I was leaving I read the various official notices posted on the front door. One was asking the parishioners to respect and support the 2008 Olympics, and another listing the contributions made by various visitors to the church restoration fund. It seems that visitors from places like Spain, Hong Kong, Sweden and Beijing have provided huge amounts of money to the church - 3000 yuan here, 20,000 yuan there. In contrast, another sign noted the contributions from Qiunatong villagers for the relief of the sick fund - 5 kuai here, 8 kuai there.

Most of the activity in the village was centred around the building of a new floor on one of the buildings. About 20 villagers - seemingly more women than men - were hard at work, digging up gravel and using it to mix concrete and spread it on the floor. They carried their loads using their foreheads to support a large band. They seemed cheerful enough and invited me to have a go. But I was exhausted from my long haul up the hill and was also frustrated that there was no store open in the village - the xiaomaibu pointed out to me remained fimrly boarded up despite my polite requests to buy some water or drink.

I eventually found my way to the village 'lodge' - which was a house like any of the others. A young girl took me over the vegetable patch and I found the interior was similar to all other Tibetan houses I've ever stayed in - the spacious dark room with little furniture and with life centred around the fire. I was offered butter tea and was introduced to another guest from the outside world - a Chinese guy from Hunan province. He alsmot immediately started quizzing me about my travels and knowledge about China, and then started talking politics, asking why America wanted to change China ... blah blah blah. I just ignored him as much as I could after that. It wasn't difficult because other toursists started to arrive - the new breed of Chinese backpacker types - all kitted out with the latest outdoor gear, walking poles etc, and all very noisy.

I went out for a wander around the village - climbing up a track to take some pictures with the Rolleicord from above, then crossing over to the other side of the valley, leaping over a stream and boulders, to climb up to the village graveyard. There were some simple Chinese-style graves but topped off with crosses. There were also a few very primitive graves, some basically just a heap of stones, and the ones where a child had been buried next to adults were very poignant. I came across a man who was carrying a large slab of thin slate on his back, walking down the hill from god knows where ... and I returned to the lodge.

By late evening there were quite a number of Chinese trekkers in residence. The local family cooked me a dinner of egg fried rice and, thankfully, some decent tasting and very filling baba/momo bread, which was rather like a chapati. I was sat near the window, next to the head of the house - an older feller in his late fifties or early sisxties. He sat by the fire all evening, drinking corn liquor (shuijiu) slurring his words and telling us about the place. I couldn't make out much of what he was saying, but then neither could the Chinese from Beijing. At one point he was sounding off about the logging activity in the area - but whether he was angry about the logging by outsiders or the recent logging bans, it wasn't clear.

He told about how he had been in the army and had been involved in the liberation of the area. And yet at the same time he said that outsiders didn't understand the Nu and their ways. This became apparent when some arrogant Beijingers poured into the house in their high tech trekking gear, looked around, sniffed and announced they were going to the village head's house to find somewhre to stay. The old man exploded with a diatribe against them, cursing them for being so insensitive and for their assuming that the villaege head (Cunzhang) would be better than him. He said that the Nu all considered themselves equals, shared everything and helped each other. Later he talked about how they had weathered the Cultural Revolution, how he had told the people who came to close down the Qiunatong church that Christianity was in the hearts of all the Nu in the village and that they could not bear the closing of the church.

The guy kept offering me some of the snot-coloured liquid and I drank a few sips but it tasted of nothing much and seemed to have no alcoholic effect on me. Which was a pity as I could have used oms Dutch courage to get me through the obligatory sing song - when it was my turn I did something Christmassy: "O Come All Ye Faithful' I think.

The Chinese talked among themselves - a continual game of stating-the-bleeding-obvious and also a lot of one-upmanship/bragging about where they had all been - mostly based around trips up to Chawalong.

At around nine we all went over to see the dancing and singing in the village hall. Quite good fun - Tibetan-style dancing in a ring, a bit like the hokey cokey, but with Tibetan lyrics - and the men and women staying in their own single sex groups to sing set pieces/challenges to each other. Some Nu girls hovered about the place with kettle full of shuijiu to op up the dirty cups of all the drinkers.

I was also accosted by one the the local guys who informed me t"hat the Nu considered themselves different - " we like to enjoy ourselves' he told me. We are Nu. We are honest. We like to have fun ..."

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