In August we said good bye to Wangcai. She was only around 10 but she’d had a hard life. Until we found her, she’d spent all her time chained up, neglected and malnourished. The change in her final year after such a harrowing time was truly remarkable. She never completely learned to trust people, but it was clear she was happy. She could sit patiently as we ate our dinner, and would gently take bones and other scraps from your hand. She even started following us on our evening walks. Her passing away from a sudden sickness was completely unexpected.
Shortly after a friend’s dog gave birth to five adorable puppies. This was also a surprise as no one even new she was pregnant until she went into labour in the back of the car. We initially said we would like one of the litter, but they couldn’t find owners for all the others and so now we have two lovely, naughty, shoe eating puppies causing mischief and mayhem in the house.
It’s been a busy few weeks with guests from the USA, Columbia, Germany, France, Belgium, Beijing and Chongqing.
The month got off to good start when Santa brought me an early Christmas present – a mighty Bosch hammer drill – which I’ve been putting to good use on the crag behind us. There are now 6 lines there including a quality 6c (5.11b) slab climb called ‘shark attack’. It’s south facing and a great place to soak up some winter sun.
The Cave has also seen the FA of a new route – 吃饱了 “I’m full”, going at 7c+.Well done Sylvain Audibert and thanks Marcos Costa for bolting it.
And to cap it off the village got together to celebrate a baby’s one month party. Here, as in many rural areas of China, they still follow the tradition that after birth the mother must stay inside with the baby for a whole month. No one except the family can see them and fearing that she’s weakened from birth, the mother can’t shower. After a month has passed, a pig is slaughtered and the whole village joins them for two days of feasting and eating.
October 1st is National Day in China, a public holiday marking the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. (Almost) everyone in China has a week off work and takes the opportunity to do some travelling. Trains are booked up weeks in advance and tourist areas are unbearably crowded. Our house is full for a week, mostly with friends, but also with a number of climbers coming to check out this up and coming climbing destination. To mark the holiday and our opening, Ling cooked up this incredible feast.
For most of the people here, tobacco is the main source of income. The average family gets around $2000 for the harvest which, when taking into consideration the fact that they own their own homes and produce a lot of their own food, makes them wealthier than most Chinese. It also ensures that the villagers do all they can to get as big a harvest as possible. If tobacco isn’t toxic enough already, the regular cocktail of pesticides will guarantee an early grave for the unfortunate addict.
This is Wancai (meaning to get rich), our dog. She came with the house and her owners didn’t want to take her to the city; not because they cared about her, completely the opposite. For them she had just one function, to bark a lot and fool people into not breaking into the house for fear of being savaged. She’s about four years old and for all we know she’d spent all that time attached to the end of two metres of chain and not able to do anything that dogs like to do. As soon as we could we started to try and make friends. After a few days of going to see her she finally let us unfasten the chain. Immediately she began to run, and her eyes lit up, sniffing everything she could find, biting sticks and chasing her tail. After a few more days, Ling was able to give her a bit of a wash. It’s been a few months now and she’s slowly learning how to interact with people. She’s started coming to Ling when she calls, and enjoys being stroked. The only touch she’d had before was from the wrong end of a stick. Having lived so long in such conditions, she’s not fussy about food. We just cook a bit more than we want and she gets the same as us – rice and vegetables with a bit of meat, and the odd bone to chew on. For now she has to stay on the lead when we go for walks but hopefully one day we can let her off, knowing that she’ll return when we call.
There’s a village about 20km from here with a natural mineral spring. They call it smelly water because it smells like bad eggs – sulphur in the rocks. For three days a year it’s believed to have health giving properties and so people come from all around. It sounded like it would be an interesting experience so we got a neighbour to take us there. The village was much like ours but with even more rubbish and it felt a bit rougher. These were real mountain people. There was a small market selling the usual greasy street food and they’d even set up a sound system. It looked like it had been quite a party. Elderly women were gathered in their traditional minority dress, and some people had made themselves beds and were sleeping out. We asked the way to the spring and were led up a narrow side street. Surprisingly, people seemed to have formed quite an orderly queue. Some, like us, were there just for the novelty, but others, locals I’d guess, were taking it more seriously. They were filling 20 litre bottles to take home to use for washing. I thought we’d be waiting for ever to taste some of this fine smelly water. It did take a while, but the people filling the massive bottles were good enough to let others push in front. The water turned out to be not so smelly and tasted better than I’d been led to believe, a little fizzy and just a slight taste of sulphur which gave it a bit of a zing.
This is my new friend, an old guy who lives in the village. He speaks an entirely incomprehensible dialect and I don’t even know his name. What I do know is that he’s 84 years old and still does manual labour every day. The first time I met him he was collecting firewood for cooking. Also, 50 years ago he helped build the house that we’re now renting. The hat is a present from us and he seems happy with it. He calls by the house most days to check on progress.
Yesterday was tomb sweeping day, a national holiday for everyone in China. It’s a day where people go to their relatives graves clean the graves, lay some flowers, burn incense and fake money and make offerings of food and gifts for their loved one’s spirits. Here in DaMaiDi, there are family cemeteries dotted around the hills and we were invited to join the neighbours to celebrate this day. For most people, going to visit a grave should be a sombre occasion but here the people are taking food, beer and baijiu (strong spirit), making fires and having an all day party. I was really happy to have been invited to this private celebration. Just like at Spring Festival, Chinese are always welcoming and like to share their traditions and cultures.
Luckily there has been a bit of rain in the past week or there would have been a real risk of burning the whole hillside. This time of year there are strict controls on outdoor fires but we’re far from any authorities and the local police are probably doing the same themselves. A couple of fires were made for cooking, two chickens had their throats slit and the women began to prepare what was to be quite a feast. The men got to work cleaning the graves, pruning trees and then relaxed, smoked cigarettes and drank baijiu, and the kids did what kids do squirting everyone with water pistols. By the time dinner was ready I was absolutely starving but it was well worth the wait. And just like all Chinese social gatherings, once the food had been eaten there was no hanging around. Everything was packed up, firecrackers were strung up in trees and to their ear splitting sound we all set off down the hill. I hadn’t really understood this festival before, but the way it was done here it made a lot more sense. It was like a big family picnic where even the ancestors could come, and celebrate the importance of a close and loving family.
With the arrival of spring festival my initial enthusiasm had waned. Trying to get anything done at all was proving to be a near insurmountable task. Every year it’s the same. Everything slows down, shops start shutting, people stop working, and then finally the whole county shuts down. I’d wanted to get someone in to help do the walls. However, everyone was far too busy doing the rounds and taking it in turns to be plyed with food and alcohol. Frustrated I used this time to explore some of the trails by motorbike and get to know the surroundings a bit. I was hoping to find a backroad link to Liming but the higher passes still had snow and my 150cc road bike, although surprisingly capable, just wasn’t up to it. Just before new year’s eve I returned to Kunming, found a lorry driver still willing to work, and then together with Ling and all our possessions made the real move to Shigu. New year was spent with the family who own the house. Exciting for us but for them I could see a little sadness at giving up their beautiful family home for a more comfortable life in the city.