After the madness of Ping’An, it was such a relief to find Ma’an, famous for its Chengyang Wind and Rain Bridge, a quiet relaxed place. The about 100 year old bridge was built by the villagers only using wood, no nails and is covered by what looks like a cascade of roofs. The rice paddies next to the river are irrigated by large squeaking waterwheels.
The 5 hour bus trip from Ping’an was just smooth, despite having to take three different buses. It seemed like hop on, hop off with buses just waiting for us. The new Yang’s Guesthouse right in the village seems to be the new favorite for the handful of foreign tourists with very simple but extremely cheap rooms, good but pricey food, free internet and a nice terrace that brings you in the midst of village life.
Unfortunately it rained a lot when we where there, which strongly hampered our hiking plans. Nevertheless, we managed to do a four hour walk around the neighboring Dong minority villages. These are famous for their drum towers, which are basically assembly halls or places to meet socially. Although it is easy to find your way around, we asked a local to join us. Our lovely guide, Wu Shu Je, spoke some English. We are sure we saw and learned things we would have missed walking by ourselves.
For instance, she told us about a big fire in the village of Pingtan Zhai caused by a stove in a kitchen that destroyed many of the wooden houses. This is the reason why more and more houses are built from bricks, or at least the walls of the kitchen in some old buildings are replaced by brickwork.
In this village, we were offered to come inside the Drum Tower, where a group of elderly men was playing cards. Some were watching a hilarious TV program, a man and a woman were competing screaming “Miau” in high-pitched voices. When we were ushered in by one of the man, they gave us big welcoming smiles and then went on with their business. Tea was offered and of course some smoke for Gilles, both pipe and cigarettes.
Then we were presented the modest “guest book”, where previous visitors left their comments. There was an English translation at the front page, but bits of it did not make much sense. Together with Wu Shu Je, we finally figured out what the word “bookkeeping” was supposed to convey: “donation”, which is what the rare visitors are asked to give to maintain the Drum Tower. In return donors are asked to write down their name on a large stone with a marker. Afterwards this name plus the amount donated is chiseled into the stone, a testimony of our generosity for future generations.
In one village, an official note on a wall asked young people to remain living in the village even offering a small financial incentive. Considering the big difference in the standard of living between cities and rural communities, we wondered how successful this campaign might be.
Another interesting observation we made was that children in these villages had no toys. They played with stones, wooden sticks, strings and above all with each other. Once we saw a group of boys proudly hammering away on some kind of game boy that children in Europe would never dare to use in front of others.
The last evening in Ma’an, we chatted and laughed away with two Argentineans and their Chinese tour guide. She was quite a character who had a command of English that was almost native like. An extremely outgoing personality! This evening will be remembered!