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Chuan Di Xia - page 2
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It's a good thing we had a guide, since at first glance it wasn't at all clear how to scale the village walls - effective for keeping out invaders and tourists alike!

As it turned out, a little passageway off to the left beckoned upward with beautiful wildflowers, and quickly turned right to reveal a maze of twisting passages that wound between the homes:

Just as the kids started to ask "are we there yet?" we came across an older woman from the village who had stopped to rest on her way back from the local market. One of the kids asked what the "roller thing" was next to her, which prompted a quick explanation of how corn is ground into flour. As luck would have it, a nearby open-air room had a millstone still in working condition, and the kids teamed up to give it a try.

Jessica, Laura, Emily, Miranda and Sami were so enthusiastic about pushing the millstone around we thought they might apply for jobs in this corn-oriented town!

As we continued to climb through the narrow passageways that served as streets, we came across some interesting signs, courtesy of governments present and past. The one on the left is a contemporary example of "Chinglish," which we enjoy collecting via photos. The one of the right is a Cultural Revolution leftover exhorting the locals to follow "Mao Ze Dong thought (if you had to ask what it was, you weren't following it).

The Cultural Revolution slogan was actually painted on the side of a house. Village homes in China are built around inner courtyards, and the outside walls are intentionally left plain (so passersby can't easily look in and determine who is rich or poor).

The village is a sort of living history museum, with many private homes, still lived in, open to tourists. The first one we entered was set up as a museum, with photos and artifacts of daily life in Chuandixia.

As we passed through handsome wooden doors, we noticed beautiful carvings at the base of the door jamb -- one of the many architectural details that give the village a feeling of being lost in time.

The doors opened to reveal a little entryway leading directly into a wall, rather than into the courtyard itself. Traditional Chinese folklore holds that since evil spirits can only travel in a straight line, adding a 90 degree turn immediately inside the front door keeps the bad spirits at bay. This is why most Chinese restaurants, for example, have a fish tank, mirror or folding screen facing the front door.

Murals painted on either side of the entryway clearly indicate that this home belonged to a wealthy family.

In this home, though, the murals were obscured by official-looking Chinese writing (you can see the a few brushstrokes of the mural underneath the text). Though I couldn't read the text, the date at the bottom stood out -- September 4, 1966 -- very close to the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

It was an eerie, uncomfortable feeling to stand in front of such a stark example of the Cultural Revolution's trashing of so much traditional Chinese culture. Most such examples of destruction have been cleaned up since then, so it's rare to see one left intact like this. I couldn't begin to imagine how the residents of this home must have felt as they watched the sacrifice of their beautiful mural, or how they felt, ten years later, when the Cultural Revolution was finally exposed as Mao's insane last gasp.

Once through the entryway, we emerged into the courtyard itself, which was surrounded by a number of ancient buildings - still very much occupied. I had the strong feeling that we were visiting just in time -- the village will likely either crumble under the ever-increasing impact of tourists, or it will be"restored" in a way that will likely erase its authentic charm.
We were especially intrigued by the traditional paper windows, though many were broken.
After a thorough examination of the house, we emerged to find that we had made our way to the top of the village ramparts, where we looked down on the courtyard homes below.
The kids were delighted to hear that the "official" tour was over! They were ready to scamper off to explore on their own, but not before we caught a shot of them all together: Sami, Emily, Jessica, Miranda, Laura, Anya and Maya.
Next: we find our hotel and begin the evening's festivities!


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