Our guide, Jackie’s mom is from the ethnic minority known as the Miao people. Today we visited his home town. Jackie tried to warn us for what was to come, but I don’t think any of us actually believed him. When we arrived at the Miao village we were greeted by singing women in silvery headdresses and traditional costumes. There were also three men playing the bamboo flutes. There was a man at the front entrance to the village pouring each visitor a bowl full of rice wine to drink as they entered the village. Then each of the Miao women brought horns full of rice wine and practically forced us all to drink. I think I took 3 or 4 swigs of rice wine on the way in drinking from a common bowl and several horns. Before I had kids I was really squeamish about drinking after other people, but after Max was born somehow it just doesn’t bother me anymore.
Having past this initial blast of women insisting I drink from their horns I began to enjoy the sights of the village. We were slowly ushered into an open outdoor area with a really long table. We had a seat and the plates of food began arriving. For some reason I had had enough of trying Chinese cuisine and really just couldn’t make myself eat much. The company was great and we all laughed and enjoyed ourselves. Then the Miao women started singing again and we knew there was more rice wine headed for us. Sure enough there were several waves of women bearing bowls of sweet rice wine. They would not take no for an answer. In Wiley’s case they literally poured it down his throat. He was not amused. However, we enjoyed the event greatly. After this wave of alcohol a bright red yarn necklace was placed around each of our necks. At the end of the necklace was a bright pink egg. We were told later that these eggs were meant to warm our hearts. That, and the gallons of rice wine were successful in this regard.
As the meal concluded we were asked to take seats facing the stage area for a presentation of “athletic dance”. After a brief dance and drumming sequence, we were welcomed to the Miao village by the announcer. The Miao women made another pass with the rice wine and then the announcer asked the Wesleyan Chamber Singers to come to the stage. We had no idea what this was about, but we figured they were just going to recognize us or take a picture, or maybe another gift. As we took the stage the announcer said, “Please listen as the Wesleyan Chamber Singers perform for us.”
WHAAAATTTT??? Okay, this is secretly my worst nightmare – a situation where you are on stage and there is no plan at all. We had no idea this was coming and were not prepared to perform today! Not only that, but several of us were swimming a little after several liters of rice wine had been poured down our gullets. Dr. Bierschenk decided we would sing Ting Ying Tam’s Magnificent Horses. We had tried this from memory once a month ago, but had decided not to attempt memorizing any of our music. This was great comfort to me since my memory really is not strong. However, we didn’t have any music with us since we had no idea we would be performing. To add adrenaline to the experience – this is the piece I have a solo in.
I took out my iPhone and played an A on the virtual keyboard and we commenced to singing. I have no idea if I sang the solo in the right spot or not, but we did all start and end together so I guess it was alright. It certainly was an unexpected memorable event. After we sang the announcer said we “brought honor and prestige to the stage with [our] shoes”. This was a very meaningful statement and really felt sincere. At so many points in this journey we have felt the warm regard of the Chinese people. I believe this feeling is genuine and will never forget the warmth shown to us time and time again by these people 7000 miles from home.
Following our performance a small section of the Guiyang choir girls came forward and performed a very interesting piece very much in an eastern pentatonic mode with some very nuanced twists and turns and using the typical eastern tone quality which is so foreign and exotic to us. They really represented their city well.
We all did some shopping on our own and then as we were waiting for the bus, the choir from Guiyang motioned excitedly for us to join them. A couple of us answered their call and ran over to where they were. We all joined hands and circled hurriedly around a young man exuberantly playing the bamboo flute. It was a spontaneous moment of laughter and fun between two choirs. I truly wish we would have had more chance to interact with their chorus members during the trip. They are clearly a well rehearsed and talented group of students and it was a great honor to share the stage with them.