Traveling through rural China on bumpy dirt and paved roads is a sign of forward progress. A good thing as far as travel goes, but is it necessarily good for the old world values and uncomplicated society? Paved roads mean easy access. It means potential prosperity. It also means change. I this kind of change a good thing from a cultural point of view? From the outside looking, I’d have to say ‘no’, but who am I to make this call. I haven’t grown up in this environment which from the looks of it, can be extremely harsh and difficult. Each time I visit these types of places, it always makes me take a step back and wonder how different things could’ve been had my Great-Grandfather hadn’t made that brave voyage over the Pacific Ocean back in 1889 to start a new life for his family in San Francisco.
My approach to visiting these small villages is one of respect. When I see kids going about themselves playing in the most simple ways and finding such joy in it without the distractions of video games or even a basketball or baseball field to spend hours playing with friends, it takes me back a bit. Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to kids in the villages. I try to be invisible while being the present while strolling the lanes and alleyways where village life happens before me. My clothing is a dead giveaway (not to mention a huge camera slung around my neck) that I am not from around these parts; something tells me that everyone knows everyone (in the village) no matter how large they may be. It’s more experiential for me. This has turned out to be the primary motive, photography secondary. It wasn’t this way in the beginning. It’s more thoughtful of me now. It’s more contemplative. I find myself trying to arrive with little notice (physically) as possible … which is often impossible, but to not raising the camera so quickly and just allowing the experience to organically develop. Sure, I miss photo ops here and there by doing so, but in the end, I think it much more meaningful as I slow down and let the experience of just being there cover me with a sense of gratitude.
We arrive in Zhaoxing in the Guizhou province. You get a strong sense of commercialism with every entry fee paid to places like these. Entry fees signals tourism. I also think the near complete bullet train station a few kilometers from the entrance was a tip-off to planned expansion as well. No cars allowed in the village itself – a good thing, but it felt a little strange being shuttle off to our guesthouse in an electric golf cart as we pass several shops and cafes resembling the likes of Lijiang (an perfect example of over-tourism) – they even had a KTV at the edge of town! As we make our way down “Main Street” of the village, it grew more and more local. This being a Dong village, there were several Drum Towers – 5 I believe, so it was a pretty substantially sized village. It set inside of a valley. We arrive at our guesthouse called the Indigo. It appeared to be fairly new and updated, complete with western style loo. The room smelled of freshly cut Pine wood … mmmmm …
… leaving that KTV on the other end of town, local life was vibrant and at ease. The weather had been threatening since our arrival a couple of days ago and finally broke into a full on rain during our time here. With wrapped lenses, taking the the lanes was mandatory. Quiet life was in order – even with the downpour over the next couple of days. We managed to hide under cover and still captured photographic moments. At one point, while situated on a bridge in the heart of town, we had a photo session with a young Dong woman in full traditional festive dress. Stunning the say the least. Shortly upon the start, a small group of Chinese tourists walked up and start in with their camera’s. I didn’t care too much until they started to muscle their way into my shots. I finally got frustrated, lost a bit of my cool and yelled out “走吧！” complete with wrinkled forehead and stern motion for them to get out of the way. They scampered out of the way quickly like a mouse on fire, but of course tried to weasel back into the shot. They finally left and it was back to business. I kinda surprised myself at my reaction to their rudeness. Rudeness met with rudeness, I guess. Jiayou!