The following morning, I woke with a start as my new pal Yang Fen stood beside my bed telling me to remember to leave my bedding set at the reception before we leave for Xijiang. This was 7am. My alarm was set to 7:30 and for a few minutes I was a bit panicked about misunderstanding our time schedule. Turned out it was just she who had woken up at 6 am and had nothing better to do than “harass” unsuspecting travel buddies… An hour later we were on the train station, sharing snickers and oranges for breakfast.
Riding the K-type trains in China is an experience in itself. These are the slowest and oldest trains, therefore the cheapest and the only ones that most locals can afford. Sometimes they even take standing passengers so it can be very crowded. As I had company with a local I didn’t get as much attention as I usually get when being the only foreigner in a place, so this train ride was uneventful. The wonderful Guizhou landscape of countless hills was going by at a steady pace outside and after 2,5 hours we arrived in Kaili. A small city by Chinese standards, Kaili was still full of activities with lots of food, groceries, animals and clothes being mongered on the streets. A big difference from Shanghai where you have to seek out the markets far from where the designer brands and luxurious restaurants occupy the streets. Kaili was not our final destination though, and I was told to wait in the crowded bus station will Yang Fen got us tickets.
Two hours later we were arriving to a village which did not look like the average Chinese place. Xijiang is village in which the minority Miao people’s traditions and customs have been turned into an tourist attraction. There’s an entrance fee of 100 yuan to the village. While walking up the street looking for our hostel a long row of women in traditional clothes, lead by two men playing traditional instruments, slowly made their way up the row to the central square. The wooden houses where all built in a traditional way with very tall thresholds (and low ceilings, not made for a Swede of average height…). The whole village was built on the sides of hills with a river flowing in-between, and it was a rather beautiful place indeed. As the temperature hovered around 0°C the points of the tree-covered hills were covered in frost.
We were the only quests in the hostel, and the old owner was showing us several rooms before Yang Fen was satisfied. It was a nice room, and thankfully the bed had an electric blanket, because by now I had realized that the Miao houses were not insulated nor heated during winter. Most of the didn’t even seem to have windows. We spent the afternoon going around the city, looking inside the small museum, and drinking tea. We found a place with a warm stove and spent a few hours there, first joined by the family running the café and later by two music teachers from Yunnan province. They invited us to share their meal and gladly chattered with Yang fen while I tried my best to keep up with what was being said. As with many people I’ve met in China, they were also very nice and warm, asking me questions about Sweden and taking pictures together with me. After dinner me and Yang fen made a short visit to Xijiang’s two bars (or night club, as one of them was called), but they were empty except for a uninterested barkeep and we went back to the hostel.
Yang Fen asked for some privacy changing clothes, so I grabbed my Lonely Planet and went to common area for some planning of my coming stops. I was immediately invited by our host and his wife to join them around an electric heater, which I happily accepted as I hadn’t really brought clothes to handle full days without any warmth. After a few minutes I was called up by Yang Fen, and I was a bit curious about the matter. I found her in the room surrounded by candles and holding a birthday cake. Turns out while I was waiting for her in Kaili she had been buying a birthday cake and gift for me. I am still baffled by how wonderfully thoughtful this was, as I had not expected to really celebrate my birthday this year. We shared the cake with our hosts and I was overwhelmed with thankfulness. We tucked in quite early under double covers and I managed I quite good sleep even though my feet tended to slip out into the freezing air.