Continuing on our tour of the ethnic countryside surrounding Kaili we next head to Langde. While most of the Miao villages are quite similar in architecture and landscape, they each have their own unique personalities and characters. The government, in their constant pursuit of capitalizing on the growing number of internal domestic tourists, treat many of these villages as new mints, increasing the nations coffers at the expense of the local villagers and their traditional ways of life. It’s a story that is oft repeated in modern day China, but I don’t think there was a place that was more in your face that what we experienced in Langde.
We boarded the local bus with the usual cast of characters – chain smoking farmers, produce toting old ladies and the token fellow independent traveller (in this case a Frenchman) all driven by the chain smoking driver. . . did we mention that they smoke a lot here?
Upon arrival we were greeted by a gaggle of men guarding the public bathrooms who smiled and waived as we set out and began exploring the village. At first the village seemed deserted. No one was in sight. Aside from the half a dozen men guarding the restrooms, the place was a deserted. But that in itself was not such a bad thing. The peaceful silence was a welcome respite and wandering the cobblestone streets without hassle or bustle was nice.
Peaceful silence can only last so long in two people’s lives and after a half hour or so we began to think the place was a bust. We came to the conclusion that everyone must be out in the fields hard at work and that we had just came at the wrong time. We weighed our options and began to think about when that next bus would be heading back to Kaili. As we wandered back to the entrance of the village our silence was broken by a scratchy voice coming over the loud speaker. . .wait the village has loud speakers?
Having spent some time in China’s neighbor to the south, Vietnam, we knew a thing or two about Communist countries and how much they love to broadcast propaganda. The ‘Voice of Vietnam’ can still be heard today in smaller villages across the country, bringing the news and stories of the world, only with a slanted twist in favor of Vietnam. Knowing none of the languages being spoken, we just assumed it was the Big Red machine hard at work. A few moments later, the voice bellowed out once again. As if on queue, glimpses of villagers dressed in full regalia began to flash down the alleys. The voice came again, this time more hurried and anxious. This was something more than just propaganda. . . this was a call to action.
The town square filled with young and old, men and women, crippled and able bodied. They came from all corners of the village and beyond. Doors previously barred and closed, swung open to reveal shops.
Babies with slit pants shared the square with fully adorned Mao women donning celebratory attire and headdresses.
Another call goes over the loud speaker and we finally realize the voice is coming from this very same square and that the man making the announcements is directing people sit here, stand there and line up over there. Still not 100% sure what’s going on, we decide to sit on the ledge out of the way and wait to see happens.
The band strikes up and a few moments later, streaming in from one side came the point-and-shoot wielding, khaki’s shorts and goofy hat bearing tour group. Ah, now it all makes sense. The icing on the cake came in what I like to refer to as a “Funny Farm Moment.” (A couple think they have purchased their dream home until the townspeople show their true colors. In an effort to sell the house, the couple pay off the town to act ‘normal’ for a day.) Little coupons were divvied out to those that participated in the charade and there even appeared to be multiple levels. If you showed up in dress, you got a little coupon; if you sang and danced, you were given a different colored coupon.
Authentic no longer, the show was still interesting as we were able to hear traditional songs, see traditional dances and dress all without having to fork out any money.
Sure it was a little fake, but hey, it was fun and entertaining anyways.
After the show, we walked back though the gorgeous valley a couple of kilometers to the main highway to catch the public bus back to Kaili. Langde may be somewhat tainted in our minds by the show put on by the government, but in China, land of kitsch, it somehow just seems to make sense.