I traveled in rural southwestern China several years ago with a small group of artists and photographers during the New Year celebrations.
For three weeks, we explored rarely-visited villages where native costumes are still being worn.
The people we met were so friendly. The food was great! I drew and painted every day. It was an extraordinary experience.
We all scrambled out of the bus to watch this unexpected event. I stood drawing in the middle of the street as this dragon danced toward me. There were many men carrying it from below. It was a New Year’s celebration, complete with middle aged women dancing in full costume.
Water Buffalo, near Qingzhen
On the way to a Laohan people‘s festival, we visited a nearby village. It was very cold that day. I remember being able to see my breath, and that of my friend here. I ran out of paper, and had to redraw him on another page.
Dragon Lantern Festival, Tai Jiang
“It was like a war zone — firecrackers, sparklers, cherry bombs all over. There were many long dragons going through the streets. The idea is to torch them with these big sparkler bamboo things.”
Tools and Charcoal Oven, Near Huangguosho Falls
“The man who worked here came to watch me draw. He set down his shovel to include in the drawing, and I think he commented on my being left-handed. This [scene] was on the sidewalk.
Tony [the tour guide] had to come get me — I had missed [seeing] the bus go by — too involved in drawing!”
One of our tour guides was Tony, the son of the head of the village of Langde. We spent one night there, and were honored guests at a big dinner.
“This [outfit] is the more plain costume. Black velvet jacket, mandarin collar, black “apron” tied on in front. Pleated black “mini skirt” underneath skin-colored tights and real black chinese embroidered mary janes!”
Hot Pot Dinner
In one region, hot pot was a popular item for dinner. They set the pot in the middle of the table, and you took out what you wanted. It was warming, spicy and good. You couldn’t recognize anything floating in there, however.
This is the view from a roadside restaurant where we stopped for lunch. There were bright yellow flowers in fields throughout the area. They were growing rape plants, harvested to eat as cooked greens, and for making rape seed oil. After lunch we attended a performance of a “ground opera.”
Dancer, Ground Opera
The ground opera is a performance troupe that performs in rural villages. There are musicians and dancers, and the locals cheer them on.
“The bearded guys fling their beards over their shoulders while they’re dancing. They also hold them between their 1st 2 fingers.”
Here’s another full page from the sketchbook. We happened upon a small town funeral for an important man who had worked in the city and was being buried in his home village. We were welcomed as guests. The older women were dressed in their finest traditional costumes and hairdos; the younger women were as western as they could manage to be. Men draped strings of firecrackers over the top on the coffin, which was left outside on the tiny winding sidewalk. Mourners brought gifts for the family, such as containers of rice or a whole pig. All gifts were carefully recorded in a big book. Funereal money and incense was burned. The sights and smells were unforgettable.