The Land of Dong

Isn’t that where one’s nose turns luminous? asks one friend.

No, but one’s hands might turn blue…

The Land of Dong does sound like something out of a children’s nonsense book. But it’s real enough, it’s in south-east Guizhou province, China.

It’s a land of green and red terraced fields, of streams tumbling down hillsides and children running down beside them on their way to school from high huddled hilltop villages, of wooden theatre stages about to fall over sideways, of drum towers and wind-and-rain bridges where people gather to chat and bake sweet potatoes.

The village drains run purple with indigo dye; the streets echo to the thud of giant wooden mallets the women hold in their blue-dyed hands, beating strips of indigo cloth to a smooth dark metallic shine.

All the colours are fadedly sumptuous; old gold and bronze and purple and chocolate and olive green; rich colours worn with long use.

The local goddess is a woman warrior; she’s worshipped with a green paper umbrella and a few scattered blue-and-white thimble cups.

I’ve made it sound like a nonsense fairytale. Edward Lear did get something else right; ‘The plaintive pipe of the lively Dong’. That must be the giant bamboo lusheng pipes. They produce a strange, forlorn fluttering hoot; a melancholy sound for such a lively and cheerful people.

At the Conjiang music festival, the lusheng pipe competition consisted of seeing which band could play loudest and longest. Maybe loud enough even for the long-lost Jumbly Girl, with her sky-blue hands, to hear…

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