In the ‘long hair’ Huanglou Yao Village in the Ping’An rice terrace fields, they have a tradition, where they offer you tea, and if you take two chopsticks off the tray to stir it, it means you must stay the night with a family in the village. When our guide first mentioned it to us, I thought it was just a funny quip, but as our morning at the village went on, and I heard more and more warnings, I learnt that it was actually true, and that if you picked up two chopsticks, you would not be allowed to leave until the following day. You would then be expected to take a bath, choosing between a large, medium or small bath tub. If you chose the small bathtub, the whole family would stand around and help you bathe, if you chose the medium size, a young female would get in with the male visitor and wash them, or a young male would get in with the female visitor and wash them. If you chose the large bathtub, the whole family gets in with you: Quite a price to pay for not listening and picking up two chopsticks.
Could you imagine the phone call? “Hello, British Embassy? I am being held in a village against my will, and Grandma is about to hop in the bath with me – help!”
The village was an extremely interesting place to visit. The women have extraordinarily long hair, as they only have one hair cut in their lives, when they are eighteen years old. From then on they grow it, and they tied it on their heads in different styles to shoe if they are single, married or married with a child. We saw the ceremony of tying up their hair, which was amazing; they tie it in elaborate huge buns on top of their heads so quickly and neatly. We also saw a mock marriage ceremony, and got to try the traditional sticky rice, which is pounded into a gluey like consistency in a barrel. I tried a tiny bit, to be honest it was like you would expect a glue stick to taste.
The village is a pain to get to, as we had to cross the most rickety wood slat rope bridges I have ever seen in my
Life. It made the swing bridge at the Buller Gorge in New Zealand look like child’s play. Slippery from the pouring rain, I did consider saying my last goodbyes to this world before setting foot on it.
We also went up to the dragons’ backbone rice terraces, taking a local minibus up the winding mountainsides. Yet another road with hairpin bends and sheer drops. For a pessimist such as myself, there is always a feeling that I am pushing my luck somewhat; the amount of fairly dodgy things I have done over the past year of traveling and come through unscathed is mounting up. The rain didn’t help, the roads were like rivers, and the drivers do not seem to be more intent on making it down the mountain in record time rather than safety. My son will look back on this in years to come and be completely confused about why is neurotic, over protective mother took him on such ridiculous white knuckle journeys up mountains in foreign countries, while not letting him even play in the back garden alone at home!
We managed to see some of the views of the rice terraces, but the weather had closed in, and as we were so high up in the mountains, (900m) we were right in the clouds. We all got soaked to the bone, I got so drenched that even my underwear was wringing wet, I felt like I had jumped into a freezing cold swimming pool fully clothed. The sewage system was overflowing due to the rain, so my trainers were soaked in wee, which was lovely.
The rice terraces are beautiful, and Ping’An village is a lovely place as well, going higgledy piggledy up the mountain side. The walk was up the mountain was great, if a little hairy at times. The stone steps were getting more and more slippery and flooded as the day went on, and they were pretty narrow in places, with drops of hundreds of feet down to the valley on one side in most places. I am very glad we went though, despite the dodgy and very long minibus rides through the flooded country side, and the fact that the person two seats in front of me bought a (dead) chicken and stowed it over head, so for three and a half hours all I could see was the chickens head and neck flopping about from the luggage rack in front of me; when the lovely old lady sat next to me offered me a spoon of unidentified meat from her lunchbox, I almost heaved.