Yo Yo


On the way back from the Miao village I sat next to one of our volunteer guides from Guiyang named Yo Yo. We talked all the way to the village and all the way back which was probably about 6-7 hours total. She spoke English perhaps better than any of the other guides and we talked about everything we could think about. She is a post graduate student studying English at the Guiyang Normal University. She taught high school for several years and is hoping to get into magazine publishing when she graduates in three years. Her boyfriend lives in another city so they don’t get to see each other very often, but they plan to marry when she graduates.

Yo Yo was one of the first to greet me when our flight landed in Guiyang. She introduced herself to me and smiled so brightly I couldn’t help but feel welcomed. I will never forget how her eyes lit up when she smiled. On the bus, I showed her pictures of my three kids and she gushed over how cute they were. Insensitively, I asked how many kids she wanted. She kindly reminded me of China’s one child policy. I could tell how much this hurt her and I regretted my insensitivity immediately. I knew that China had that policy, but it was never ‘real’ to me until today when I saw the longing in her eyes. I told her she would make a wonderful mom someday even though she said she wasn’t so sure.

We also talked about where I lived and she said told me that she had always lived in an apartment, but longed to have a little yard so she could have a garden and maybe a dog.


She asked if I would ever come back to China and bring my family. I told her I would love to and that my kids would absolutely love it, but that I probably would never be able to afford to come back. I asked if she’d ever come to America and she said she’d love to, but seemed to indicate that it would be equally impossible for her.

What was really amazing about Yo Yo was that she picked up on several nuances of social interaction within our group. Somehow, despite cultural and language differences, she picked up on who among our group was involved with who, who was being picked on and several other things which I wouldn’t think would be so evident to a foreigner. I told her that this was one of the reasons I enjoyed choral groups; because so often they are made up of so many diverse representatives of human nature. I mean, just within our group we have so many different people with so many different stories and watching those spirits interact and form an expressive unit is a deeply beautiful thing.

On this trip we’ve experienced truly royal treatment, seen unbelievable sights and made life altering memories, but for me – my six hours talking with Yo Yo may be my most precious memory of China. To spite a world of distance, polar opposite governments, completely different customs and cuisine – she is at her heart a loving human with hopes and dreams of a happy family and a fulfilling job. The differences between our countries are many, but the commonality of spirit is very real. I treasure my time with her and was deeply sad to say goodbye. My trip to China was destined to be life changing and unforgettable, but it is made exponentially richer for having shared in conversation with Yo Yo. For me she is the face of China and has offered me such a beautiful window into the common soul we share with our communist friends.

I truly hope I will get the chance to introduce her to my family one day. Though money, distance and politics conspire to make that impossible, I remain optimistic.

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Xijian Miao Ethnic Minority Village

IMG_2647Our 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.  IMG_2654 Fuse

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.   IMG_2660The 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.  IMG_2673IMG_2698They would not take no for an answer.  In Wiley’s case they literally poured it down his throat.  IMG_2718He 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.  IMG_2742That, and the gallons of rice wine were successful in this regard.IMG_2710

As the meal concluded we were asked to take seats facing the stage area for a presentation of “athletic dance”.   IMG_2747After 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.  IMG_2798We 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???  IMG_2812Okay, 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.IMG_2814

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.

IMG_2760 Stitch

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