vi·car·i·ous trav·el·er


The Hani-Heinie Story by Deb
March 26, 2002
Beauty in the mountains, beauty in the terraces and beauty in the people. From Kunming, we journeyed 8 hours into the mountains to the town of Yuan Yang. From here, it is another 10-hour hike to the Vietnamese border, or days by truck. This is the land of the Hani tribes. For over 1000 years they have been farming these rice terraces high above the clouds. Majestically they descend down the mountain, shimmering like scales in the sunlight.
Our purpose was to assess the needs of a small Hani community about 45 minutes drive from Yuan Yang. As a minority group, they were having difficulty gaining the proper resources from the government to fix their water supply problem. We also planned to see what scholarship needs there were among the children. China has a socialized education system but many of these poor villagers are unable to produce the money required for supplies and textbooks.
As we tumbled out of a van onto the dirt road, a crowd quickly formed around us. While the men went into a little dirt-floor hut to speak with the village elder, I tried out the few Chinese words I learned on the Hani women and children. As I stood on the edge of the road looking down at the descending terraces glowing in the afternoon sun, I asked what word they used for beautiful. “Liang” someone replied (although most of these women also knew very little Chinese). I pointed at the Eden around and said “liang”. They giggled. So I pointed at the children and said, “liang”. They howled as they smeared the dirt from around the smiles of their filthy little children. I went on pointing to the flowers, the women, their headdresses and fantastically embroidered tribal clothes saying “liang, liang, liang”.
A woman emerged from a hut with a bundle of dark cloth and began wrapping a very ornate headdress with colorful pompoms around my head. It didn’t take long for the women to grab my hands and drag me into one the low-ceiling huts. Before I knew it, they had Hani tribal clothes laid out and were undressing me. The children screeched in delight, clapping their hands while a small crowd of tiny Hani women tried to stuff me into their clothes. Smacking my white legs in fits of laughter, I watched them make large gestures, which seemed to hysterically relate how fat I must have seemed to these Lilliputian mountain people. With a deep exhale they buttoned the black top closed, and began manually stuffing my legs into the zipperless bottoms. I couldn’t help but giggle at the absurdity of the moment. Here I was in a remote corner of China, leaning against the backs of a group of itty-bitty tribal women huddled around my waist dressing me up as though I were a giant, white Barbie-doll. Predictably, I failed to fill their pants and opted to hold up a pair of their pants over my own as we posed for a picture. I was told these pictures were given to the women the next year when a new team returned. I smile to know that these women remembered me and somewhere in China, I am recollected, I’m sure, with howls of laughter.


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