Gateway to the Storytelling Village:
Our bus finally finds the road into the village of Gengcun! We have traveled almost 4 hours with the traffic out of Beijing to drive south. We have made it!
We disembark our bus several meters ahead, so that we can walk into the crowds of villagers waiting to welcome us. We see flashes of red moving ahead. We hear the faint beating of drums. We are thrilled to see that they have built a beautiful traditional gateway to their village and honored that they have waited for our arrival to conduct its opening ceremony. It is like all the gateways we have seen in the palaces – red is the main color with the designs and paintings of flowers and trees, birds and clouds in shades of blues, greens and white. Written on it are the Chinese characters that announce that this is the Number One Storytelling Village in all of China!
The Beat Goes On!
As we near, we see nine woman dressed in turquoise tee shirts and black slacks marching in formation drumming small red drums, while one huge red drum beats a more complicated rhythm – another woman, one of the storytellers plays it with two curved wooden sticks that look like they have been chosen from trees and debarked. They perfectly match each other. All the storytellers are dressed in red Chinese silk blouses/shirts and pale cream silk pants. They have costumes now! We know that this village has more money since we were last here in 2007.
Smiles Break The Language Barriers:
There are smiles, hugs. They chatter hellos and questions in Chinese that I cannot understand. But how happy they are to see us and our participants are touched, some whose eyes tear with happiness to finally be in Gengcun – to begin the adventure for which they have come to China and have heard about for years.
I can see them search for familiar faces – Elaine’s, Elly’s, Doug’s – those who have been to the village more than once – even 4 times! But, they are not to be found. We, too, look for familiar faces and with great sadness learn that several of the master tellers have passed away, including Sun Sheng Tai, and Jin Zheng Xin.
We sing for the storytellers. We sing to those passed and to whom we must say goodbye. We have learned the theme song from the Olympics: You and Me, from One World…we are family. Travel dreams, a thousand miles, meeting in Gengcun. Come together, put your hand in mine. You and Me, from One World, we are family… We sing in both Chinese and English. We sound like a choir in love.
Hand in Hand:
Ceremony after ceremony. We have met officials and we have learned that they are interested and working on how to preserve the tradition of storytelling in Gengcun. We are thrilled they recognize the fragility of their situation with the emigrating of their young adults to the cities to work and send back money. Some have even taken their children to city schools. A double-edged sword. They are materially wealthier from this emigration, but it also has disrupted the handing down of their stories and the apprenticing of the next generation of tellers.
We promise to work together to solve this problem for we too are concerned and committed to Gengcun’s preservation as a storytelling village. The storytelling tradition has lasted over 600 years. We all want it to be carried into affinity and beyond!!