We Are In Love… with this Village!

Stories fly between our American participants and the Chinese master tellers. Although we must all stop every few sentences for translation from English to Chinese or Chinese to English, we have been the lucky recipients of their treasure trove of stories collected over 600 years. And we bring stories for them.

Tells a Thousand Words

As we walk the dirt roads to their homes, we can see that the village is undergoing changes. There are paintings on walls depicting stories popular in China. We see grand mansions being built. The roads are lined with stacks and stacks of bricks waiting to be part of someone’s new home. Though we sit and share in homes that are the same as before: cement blocks with maybe one other room connected to it, we also sit in others that are 2 stories high, have 2 or more bedrooms attached and even a dining area.

When we first came in 2002, they did not even have doors. They hung thick cotton quilts in the door frames to keep out the elements. We sat on their bed to listen to stories as the one room was the sitting area and bedroom. In the newer larger homes, we sit on sofas.

Outdoor Kitchen

They still cook on coal burners in a small cement block in their yard. And, always there is a yard filled with their own small gardens of squash, green onions, persimmon, fig and apple trees, flowers and a chicken, a guard dog. Each compound continues to display an enormous door that opens up to a tiled wall of various scenes. One must step over the traditional ledge to enter. Both the tiled wall and the ledge keep out evil spirits and ghosts. Did you not know that these entities might be small and therefore not be able to pass over the ledge? But it they are large, they like the small ones, can only travel in straight lines and the tiled wall stops them from entering.

Whether their lives are improving with these changes or not, they continue to fill us with warmth and welcome, stories and smiles for those of us that have returned as well as strangers who have now become new friends. We sing “We Come From the Mountain” and dance together sharing our American ‘hokey pokey’ and they teach us their fancy footwork and songs.

International School of Beijing Joins Us

Then, we are joined by a gaggle of 8th grade students from ISB, here to learn about Gengcun, their traditions, and to hear and tell stories as well.

Robert and I spent a day with 13 young Chinese students from America, Malaysia, Australia and Hong Kong who are in a Mandarin class at their school. Their teacher Delinda Wu and Greg Thomas the curriculum chair of the Middle School wanted them to try storytelling and to get connected with the country they are living in.

What better way than to join us in Gengcun. We did a storytelling workshop with them and coached their telling. And now they have literally bounced into our lives and not only joined in with our Nu Wa storytelling program, but added so much enthusiasm and energy, that we’re all bouncing!!

Youth Tell in Gengcun

It was a complete pleasure to have them with us and I believe they had an experience that simply will never be matched to the one they just had.

Kuai Ban Workshop

One of the highlights of the time spent here was a Kuai Ban presentation. A magnificent man, Mr Shi Young with a magnificent face treated us to rhythmic poetry and stories accompanied by bamboo clackers. He also introduced the different walks and gestures and faces of male and female characters in Chinese Opera. He was outstanding!

Last Day in the Village

All too soon, our final day in Gengcun with the storytellers and the villagers. We usually share stories in a concert fashion for the village and celebrate with songs, dances, bubbles, arts and crafts and a lot of laughter.

This year they brought in a Chinese band to play. Another welcome as we disembarked the bus. Then we taught them Filipino dances: Pangalay  using graceful hand and wrist movements floating above a rhythmic bounce, Singkil – the four bamboo pole dance, and the Kapa Malong dance – the graceful dipping and sashaying of the traditional round skirt wrapped but not tied around the body. One of our participants – Anne Shimojima, storyteller from Morton Grove, IL, also taught them Tanko Bushi, the Japanese coal miner’s dance. Great fun!

Three of our participants – Beth, Kathy and Linda – did the arts and crafts with the villagers. Little girls and even moms and grammas made dolls with wooden spoons and forks, pipe cleaners, ribbons and those shakey little plastic eyes; banana puppets and paper lanterns; paper folding. And there were bubbles, big bubbles ala Robert with help from Kelvin and the villagers!!

Raise the Banner High

Everyone enjoyed the day. And then we had our farewell speeches and toasts. Mr. Fan even sent special greetings for us to carry back to former Nu Wa participants, but particularly Elaine and Elly.   We then presented the village with $2000, not as much as we have before each time we’ve come, but it will help them rebuild the Geng temple and burial mound that was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. They feel by restoring the temple and mound, their own spiritual center will also be restored. In addition, they are hoping that tourists will frequent their village and once again, they can build inns and businesses.  This is one way they hope their young adults can remain in the village and perpetuate their 600+ year storytelling tradition.

We said goodbye to the students, goodbye to 2 of our own participants Shilpa and Shyam leaving early, goodbye to the storytellers and we are so very sad and long for more. And now we have said goodbye as well to our all time favorite guide and interpreter Peter Liu. It’s a sad day. We’ve made so many friends and saying goodbye is hard.

Our Guide Above and Beyond: Peter Liu

A special thanks to Peter as he has been our guide, our cultural and language interpreter and most certainly, a friend for 3 of our China trips (2002, 2006, 2010).  He works his magic and conjures words to help us connect with the Chinese people, train schedules and wake up calls, and manifests meals for the vegetarian Hindus, non- pork eating Muslims, and gluten and soy free dietarians alike.  He has provided our tour with cultural information, learned the local Gengcun dialect of that Hebei area, and has become quite the storyteller as well!  Peter we LOVE you and look forward to our next trip with you.

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