Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Blonde American and the Naxi Herder

We're in a very rural village today that is about 1100 years old. It is pronounced Bai Sha.

The village is surrounded by beautiful mountains.

I left our tour group this morning for an adventure of my own. I walked off the main drag of town and headed for a dirt road that led into the mountains. The views from that road were spectacular and stretched to the horizon. There were corn fields, Chinese style homes, rice paddies, mountains and vistas. It was a feast for the eyes. I began climbing a road that twisted up the mountainside until I got to a clearing where an old Chinese man was leaning on his cane. He gestured to me and I thought, "Why not?", and followed him. He was a Naxi (pronounced Nasi) cattle herder. The Naxi's are native to this area in the Yunnan Province.
The Naxi herder had about 10 cows and 6 dogs with him. His face was lined with age. His skin was dark from the sun. And while his teeth were yellowed and crooked, his smile was beautiful. He had only a simple wooden cane and a tattered backpack.

He wouldn't let me take his photograph (but I sneaked a few anyway). We traveled together up the mountainside following his cattle. The only words we had in common were "thank you" in Chinese (pronounced ju bai say) and "hello" in English, but somehow we managed. I'm sure it was quite the scene: an American blonde who is a bit clumsy and an agile, old Chinese man traipsing up the mountain. He showed me these old stone structures, which I later found out was a graveyard. He tried to teach me some words as he chattered to himself in Chinese. He also looked through my journal and was excited to see the only Chinese writing, which symbolized the word "China". He pointed to himself and said something like "chin quoi", which means Chinese, and then he pointed at me and said "men quoi", which I took to mean American or foreigner.

Mostly he enjoyed watching me take photos of his cattle and was amazed that he could see the finished product on the camera screen. He taught me how to move the cattle up the mountainside and together we made the gutteral Chinese sound that was a signal to the livestock. When we hit the road again we parted ways. He pointed at himself and gestured farther up the mountain. Then he pointed at me and gestured down the mountain. I thanked him many times for his kindness. The whole time I was torn between two feelings: fear that I would lose my way as we traveled through the mountains higher and higher, and exhilaration at being able to have this experience. Happily, the fear dissipated as I started seeing familiar sights and I was left with the feeling of exhilaration. Daughter

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