Welcome to the Nu Wa Blog as you follow Eth-Noh-Tec and the storytelling delegation on their adventure to CHINA! We launched this week on Sept 11 and arrived the following day on Sept 12 (with all our luggage! YAY!). Please copy this link and share it with friends to hear more about our storytelling adventure: http://tinyurl.com/nuwachina
DAY #1, 2, 3,4: Sept 12, 13, 14, 15
We arrived in Beijing in one piece!! It was a pretty good flight with Air Canada’s wide seats and 2.5 meals, unlike last time when we went on United with one meal at the beginning of the flight and none for the next 12 hours!
Beijing is sooo filled with people and cars and tricycle bed trucks and scooters and busses and bicycles and pedestrians, all weaving, seemingly haphazardly, through each other to cross the wide boulevards and streets. With the people finally getting some living wages, there are many more obvious signs of, not necessarily wealth, but enough to buy beyond food and shelter.
MEET THE NEW GEMS
Our Nu Wa delegates are (seen in pix above left-to-right): 5th timer Elaine Stanley, newbies Doris Feyling and daughter Kirsten Feyling, and sisters Luanda Wesley and Melinda Kanios. This is our 6th time.
We are having a great time eating, sightseeing, in the parks participating with dancers and game players of all kinds. And, we have become the Nu Wa shopping tour as well!
Our delegates are all women! So shopping is indeed a draw. Both Robert and our all time favorite guide Peter Liu, who is with us for the 4th time, are ever so patient!
Sunday Sept 14: HEAVENLY!
This is our third day and we have been to the Temple of Heaven, Panjiayuan flea market, the Silk & Pearl factories, the Summer Palace, on boat rides filled with people because, once again, many more Chinese are finally above survival and can travel to see their own country. So one has to imagine what it was like to be one of the concubines, or handmaidens being the only ones walking the beautiful landscapes surrounded by mountains, lakes and gorgeous architecture in these temples and palaces. Or if one dares, to imagine oneself the Empress Dowager… and for Robert, the Emperor or … a Eunuch!
DAY #5, 6: Monday Sept 15 & Tuesday 16
WALKING THE WALL
Today we are off to the Great Wall. What is new at the Great Wall for us is a new area opened that has a tram and a chair lift going up and down, or if one wants, individually driven toboggans to maneuver on the way down. Of course walking up and down those hundreds and hundreds of uneven stairs is definitely the way to go so one can say they’ve “… climbed the Great Wall!”
Breakfast time, so see you in the next blog!
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Yesterday, the Great Wall was amazing as usual, but very special was that there were not many people. We have been to the Badaling area of the Great Wall many times. In 2002, it was sparse with visitors. But every time after, it was so crowded it was difficult to maneuver. Again, the Chinese nationals are able to visit places in their own country.
STONES & BONES: Day #4 Monday Sept 15
In this new place, however, it was not crowded, perhaps also because it was Monday. Thus the walk was pleasant and the views were magnificent. We had time and space to ponder the unfathomable amount of hard labor, freezing winters, hot summers – impossible conditions of the steep mountains upon which the conscripted laborers had to work. Countless lives were enslaved and lost building the great wall over the 600 years of constant construction. We were walking on the skeletons of these laborers buried under the wall. We were winded just walking up and down the many stairs let alone carrying up heavy bricks and cement blocks to build walls, stairs, towers. With reverence, we gave thanks to those ancestors who were sacrificed to build a wall that the common people didn’t care about. It is unbelievably mind-boggling.
Still, for us contemporary humans, we not only appreciated the wall, but enjoyed it. The gondola, chair lifts and toboggans were fabulous. The weather was perfect: blue skies, sunny, about 75 degrees and a lovely breeze. Our energy was well spent climbing hundreds of stairs, and so were we! Still, we stayed awake for the astonishing feats of the Chinese acrobats that night. We even had enough energy to roam the alley outside of our hotel afterwards to eat at a downhome eatery. We then slept well despite the hard beds!
DAY #5 Tuesday Sept. 16:
IT’S TEMPLE TIME
The next day, at the Lama monastery, we lit many sticks of incense to give thanks to our ancestors and to make requests for our troubled world. We next roamed the grounds of the Confucian Temple, then off we went to have lunch and pick up ONE MORE Gem, Xiao-Juan Shu who will be joining our adventure as a part of the translation team.
Now on to the real heart of our Nu Wa Cultural Exchange in Gengcun. We arrived in the city of Gaocheng where we stay. Rainy, cool and dark. The first thing is we tested our beds! Pads on the box springs!! We ate the specially delicious food of this hotel and then sorted out all the gifts we were bringing for the classrooms and for the tellers, chiefs and heads of the associations.
DAY #6 Wednesday Sept 17:
ARRIVING AT THE GENGCUN VILLAGE
Then, the magic began the next morning! Our shuttle got closer and closer to the village’s red gate. We passed under and soon we could see a small group of villagers standing near the school.
We pulled up. We heard music. We looked out the windows and saw a group of 12 dancers dressed in red under the roofed entrance of the school to welcome us. They were dancing, not a traditional dance with Chinese drums as before, but disco music!! Dancing in two lines to disco music! It was fabulous!! We cried when we saw our old storytelling friends. The people are so warm and open hearted. We hugged and ‘Ni hao’ed’ everyone!! Smiles smiles smiles!
Welcome speeches in the new Hall of Stories, smaller in size but the same set up with tables making an rectangular shape, chairs all around with the center empty. They gave us gifts of tea and tea caddies. We came empty handed. Drat our lack of knowledge about the proper rituals, even after all these times! (YIKES! our “Bad!”) We DID have gifts however, but we were waiting for the following days to give. And we didn’t know how many officials would be there to give gifts to. Oh, for me – to be Chinese American! It is right when the elder Chinese who immigrate to America meet Chinese Americans and call us ‘jook sing’. It means ‘like bamboo: looks like something on the outside, but empty on the inside’. We don’t know our culture at all. But, why would we?
ART FOR HEARTS SAKE! ALL HANDS ON DECK! (or Desks)
We ended the day with sharing stories both in the Story Hall and with the children in the school. There are only 3 classes left: 1st, 2nd and 3rdgraders about 8-15 in each class, and what a rowdy group – the boys of course! We were happy to unload all our school supply gifts to the “oohs and ahhs” of the children! The following day we returned to the classrooms to an arts activity.
A very satisfying, and quite exhausting day #6 (and part of day #7).
Day #7 Wed. thru Sat Sept 17-20
SWAPPIN’ STORIES IS WHY WERE HERE!
Story sharing in Gengcun is the highlight of this trip. We went into the village, into their homes to share stories.
A typical home is one large room with a couch, a dresser and a large very hard bed. There is now often one extra room on each side: another bedroom, a room used as a kitchen. In our western world, these are not rooms we think of like in our own homes. Each of these 3 rooms are concrete squares or rectangles. Then they are filled with what the function is. Kitchens will have a concrete sink and a wide concrete ledge for portable propane burners. A small very used wooden table sits in the middle. We rarely saw a refrigerator and if we did, it was in the large middle room where one gathers with the family or friends, and in our case, storytellers. We sit on the bed, the couch and the tellers share these spaces with us. If there are not enough spaces, the tellers sit on small, low little benches for a single butt. At ages 70’s and 80’s they can still ‘squat’ so these tiny benches are nothing for them to sit on and get up quickly. We, on the other hand, would mince going down and groan coming back up!
MEET OUR STORYTELLING UNCLES & AUNTIES!
Most of the storytellers are now the women. Many of the male tellers have passed since the first time we came in 2002. Other mid-level tellers between 40-50 seem to be out of town, possible working jobs in bigger cities and sending money home. It is so very sad. Another 7 have passed away since Robert and I came by ourselves in 2011: 5 more men and 2 women storytellers we adored. Nine altogether have passed from our circle of Gengcun storytelling friends since we started 12 years ago.
NU WA MASTER TELLERS!
Still we are enamored, we are in love, we are thrilled to be in the warm smiles, embraces and stories of our friends. We tell after they tell; they then tell after we tell. We laugh together, we watch as they often go back and forth about a story. We can only gather from their patter and laughter that they have different versions of the story being told and they all have opinions about it!
Their Chinese dialect is different than standard Mandarin, so our wonderful interpreters Peter Liu and Xiao Juan often have to go back and forth as well trying to understand what they are saying. A chorus of the women will pipe in to try to explain what a word or phrase means. It’s quite a spectacle to behold, all in feverish dialect skirting across from one person to another at a very rapid pace, all in good humor.
Day 9: (Sept 20) & 10 (Sept 21)
Now on the weekend, we are privy to all the other children who go to the school in the next village or a boarding school. So the village is fuller with young people waving, curious and very friendly. They stand at the cross paths or gather wherever we are going. They are on foot and many on their bikes. And, they practice their English with us. And, stare!
More story sharing, and a bonus – we got to make pot stickers with one of the tellers! And they were more delicious than any we have tasted here in restaurants as well as those restaurants in the states. We made many, and ate more! Bowl after bowl, boiled but not eaten in soup. And so many pomegranates off their trees plopped in our arms! Another teller made us a treat called ‘eight treasure’ biscuits made from eight ingredients including many kinds of rice and some beans and yams. Very hearty! Could eat one and it would last in your stomach for a week! Good for winter!
Speaking of which, the weather has been perfect! Not too cool and not too warm. Blue skies over the Great Wall and blue with clouds over the Forbidden City, a bit grey over all the other temples. One day of rain, so what did we do? An art museum instead and… Shopping!!
But back to Gengcun.
GENGUN VILLAGE STILL A “WORK IN PROGRESS”
We have fallen in love again with the storytellers, the children and the village. The village is changing. Behind several of the simple concrete homes we see 2-3 story mansions. We were not privy to enter any, as the storytellers do not have those mansions. We have worried about how the young adults all go to the big cities to find a job that pays well. This breaks the continuity of the transmission of storytelling to the next generation. At first they did not take their children with them, so the children still heard stories from grandparents either at home or in the school. But, now years later, they have begun to take their one child with them (which is why the school population is so small and those left behind are placed in other schools). Now these young adults are doing very well, send money back to their parents and build them these mansions. We find that the walls depicting story scenes however, are still not renovated and continue to fade and chip. And there are still very poor villagers living in very poor circumstances. Ahh, this is progress…
NEW STORYTELLING ASSOCIATION
There are two associations in the village: the village association and newly formed – the storytelling association. A man named Jin Chun Li has taken upon himself to represent the storytellers who have not personally been rewarded for being the attraction of the village. I personally don’t think the village officials care. But for the first time, we were charged for each person per day to go into their homes and share stories. Mind you, American storytelling delegations (Jimmy Neil Smith lead 1997, and 5 Nu Wa Delegations 2002-2011) have donated many thousands of dollars to the village. We have helped build their school, paved the first road into the village, renovated their Story Hall, connected their homes to the new water well, and because of our visits, we have brought fame to the village. They are recognized by the country as a treasured storytelling village, the tellers have gained more respect from the other villagers and the young, and the young are proud to let others know they are from the famous Gengcun.
We always hoped that the village would develop cultural tourism and a micro-economy of storytelling could evolve. This is progress! We would not mind being charged if the monies somehow went to the storytellers, who knew nothing about the charge, and who were just told by Mr. Jin. They were very shocked.
Now with the new Storytelling Association, we also have a direct way to give funding to the tellers themselves. We just need to research how this money is to be used, what do they need and how we can help this happen.
LAST DAY IN THE VILLAGE
On the final afternoon, we had a lovely village celebration of drumming and dancing together. We passed out goodies from large bags of Costco healthy treats – nuts, dried fruit and nut crisps, i.e. fancy delicious trail mix brought by Elaine Stanley and Melinda Kanios. Photos of each school child are handed out by Kirsten Feyling through her special project.
The storytellers and hosts have all gotten reading glasses from Doris Feyling and Luanda Wesley. Oh how grateful the elders were!
It was so special to dance to disco music with the younger adult dancers and the children! The kids were pretty amazing following the fixed dance steps of those dancers. Spotted some potential Eth-Noh-Tec tellers for waaayyyy in the future! We wish!
We also wanted to dance Gengcun’s folk dances, so I made the request. The drumming started! Now the elders joined us. It was lovely!
Of course we then taught them the ‘famous US’ dances – the Hokey Pokey and the Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes. And the Limbo!
A surprise visit from some university English teachers, who wanted to meet us, arrived. It turns out one of them is translating some of the village stories into English! We have been searching for such a person! We were gifted several times with volumes of their stories, all of course in Chinese. Now we have a connection and Eth-Noh-Tec will partner with them in this endeavor! We’ll see if we can get them published. Surprises are welcomed!
PARTING: ALWAYS SWEET SORROW…
Too soon the end comes: Speeches, gifts to the village Secretary General and Mr. Jin, and a loooonnnngggg goodbye, as usual.
It is always so difficult to leave them. For Robert and I, and for them, there are always years in between. We have been to their village six times and hugged hello and goodbye six times. We all hug and say ‘Zai Jian’ – goodbye. They tell us we are welcomed back again next time. We all say ‘Xia ci zai jian’ – see you again, though we never know when (or if) we’ll ever see them again!