A village in the valley

When traveling from Dali, the northern center of Yunnan, to the west, the Burmese-Tibetan frontier, some ten miles ahead of Nuodeng, the thousand-year-old royal salt mine town, the road makes a sharp bend. Turning to the right, a beautiful small river valley opens up gradually. First the lines of the nicely cultivated terraces are laid before us, like a fascinating nomadic carpet, and then unfolds itself the village lying in the valley. Seen from the road carved in the hillside, the overlapping mosaic of the whitewashed or adobe brown façades, curved tile roofs, carved gates and irregular windows of the hundred-year-old houses is lined up on the other hillside like the houses of Český Krumlov on a picture by Schiele.

Egon Schiele: Krumau an der Moldau, 1914

Many times I went along this road, and passing by the village I always wanted to stop the bus, so that I could go down to the valley, enter the Schiele picture, ramble through the streets, admire the carved gates, and cross their threshold. Now the time has come.

Heping village, 和平村 Hépíngcŭn is so small, that it is not on most maps. The driver of the minibus hired for our minitour does not even believe that it exists, and he stops instead in the village of Guanping, fifteen kilometers earlier. “What do you want to see in this one?” he points over the dusty main street. “In this one, nothing. But go a little further”, I show him the pin inserted in Maps.me. He nods. It is not the first time that I can show something new in Yunnan to him, accustomed to the demands of Chinese tourists. We set off.

Three-wheeled tuc-tucs are parking in front of the river’s bridge, the rides of the most well-to-do villagers, who go with these to the city of Yunlong, ten kilometers away, and bring goods from there. Old stone lions watch them with a hard gaze from the balustrade of the bridge. There is no motorway beyond the bridge. We set off on foot to the village.

The lower main street is lined by elegant, classic Chinese houses, with high façades and magnificent carved gates. These are the houses whose whitewashed, two and three-story back façades look to the river and the road. Most gates are locked, and most façades are losing not even their plaster, but even their adobe bricks. The bourgeoisie has left the building.

As we move forward, eight Europeans with huge telephoto lenses, the doors of the houses in the sidewalks gradually open up, curious women climb up the stairs to the main streets. Even some men, as if they were just passing by. They watch us as if a filming were going on, as if a parallel reality were coming across the village. I address them in Chinese, they give a start, reply with a laugh, they also enter the picture.

We climb up to the upper street. Here is waiting for us the house which, seen from the highway, stands in the middle of the Chinese Schiele picture with its ornate gate as if it were a temple, the house of a big farmer, a keeper of historical secrets. The village is built around it in the picture. I have often imagined how a chariot stands in front of it, goods are carried in, they illuminate it, a dinner or a wedding is held in it. It has something about the inviting atmosphere of the old Transylvanian houses. Here we stand now. Above the beautiful gate, a marble plaque with a green inscription – sometimes obviously painted with gold-colored copper –, as it is usual in large manor houses.

Two meek men invite us in the porch of the house. Their grand-grandfather was still a servant, and after the bourgeoise, they remained in the house, which is only a shadow of its former self. The former painted wooden panels are covered with decades-old newspapers, but they are also coming down, there is no energy to renew it, let alone the house. The central atrium is conquered by grass, hens are creaking in it, a rusty maize mill stands in it for the late pigs.  One man calls me out to the backyard, he points to the back wall of the house. Ohe wall, drawings and inscriptions from imperial times, which were sheltered from destruction by the roofs of the stalls.

But the village is not dead. After the decades of decay, desolation and misery, it seems that some of the benefits of China’s economic boom starts to drift down here. Although the village, as shown in the social security tax register pasted up on the wall of the main street, has only a hundred and fifty-two residents, they recently started to repair a number of houses. They invite us to a courtyard. The adobe walls were replaced by concrete bricks, and the wooden panels with cheap tiles. The former stone pavement of the yard was poured over with flat concrete. Whatever survived Mao’s system, is now falling prey to the new world. Probably these are the last years, that the traditional villages hitherto surviving in the Yunnan mountains can be seen in their original form.

The lions of the bridge tighten their eyebrows even more, when Csaba turns on the drone. Someone might have made a phone call, because soon a police car comes down from the highway to the bridge. They do not even get out, they turn around and go back, leaving the foreigner to take aerial photos of the strictly secretive village. This is already the new world. The drone flies over the village. Under the shields of the gray roofs, the main street is a thin ditch, dark rectangles the enclosed courtyards. From bird’s eye, you cannot see the details.

No hay comentarios: