Nuodeng Village entrance.
Anthony Paglino is the man behind iCurious Travel, a cultural guide that brings together insightful stories and experiences highlighting China’s rich language and cultural landscape. He’s a firm believer in the transformative power of traveling with a thirst for knowledge and curiosity as your guide. Join him as he journeys through a small village in Yunnan where a chance meeting leads to some unexpected results. He’s recently published a digital cultural guide to China for the iPad. It is available for download on iTunes.
He has turned his family home into a living museum. I have seen many homes and courtyards during my time and travels in China. The village where I previously lived had similar establishments, where retired folks would put out a sign in front of their courtyard entrance, and charge a fee to get in. Most of the time these houses were just glorified living rooms, nothing of real importance.
But as this man continued to pull me deeper into the courtyard, I remember looking down at his shoes. A line fromForrest Gump came rushing back to me: “You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes.”
More after the jump….
This man was literally wearing rubber soles that were strung around his feet with tattered cloth. The fact that he had been outside all day, and probably all of his life, collecting grass clippings with these shoes on, grounded me into the reality of what I was seeing. This man was not in it for the money. No. I could feel that there was something inside that I truly needed to see.
I’ve read about poverty, seen it in the cities, even seen hard back-breaking labor in the village during rice planting season, and houses built brick-by-brick. On the surface, judging by Mr. Huang’s appearance, you would take him for being another farmer struggling to make ends meet. However, the longer I talked to him, the more I could feel the sense of pride, dignity and respect radiating from his presence.
The inner courtyard of the Huang family home.
Once I stepped over the raised doorway, into his ancestral home, history and reality slapped me right in the face. Mr. Huang, out of love and piety for his family’s heritage, had turned his home into a living museum. Spend enough time in China and you can become jaded at how much growth and development is overtaking traditional villages, buying out the residents, and flipping the buildings into a corporate ghost town.
But here we were, standing in this man’s humble abode, with his son and grandson still living with him. The entire family unit persevering together, protecting the fragile outline of a once spectacular mansion.
We toured the family altar, and saw how intricately the ceiling had been woven with bamboo reeds. We walked upstairs to the religious nook where Confucius, Laozi and Buddha all stood stoically, watching over the house. He showed me a variety of antiques including old measuring instruments, and other family heirlooms. In my head I tried to re-imagine the house in all its magnificence.
Join us on the tour yourself in the following video. To give fair warning, Mr. Huang speaks only Chinese with a thick Yunnan accent.
This is the difficulty of life in China. Conflicting realities of trying to move forward with life after dramatic experiences, like the political revolutions, civil wars and famines. Death hanging around in dark abandoned corners of the nation’s psyche. Here was this man trying to confront the past head on, working to restore and rebuild the legacy of his home. As we ended the tour, he opened up a signature book and I struggled to find the words for my emotions.
In China many people are getting rich beyond their wildest dreams, hollowing out their souls in the process. In this small village in Yunnan you never would expect to find the wealthiest people. Surrounded by their homes, family and heritage they are maintaining their connection to the past, and to their community. As development and mass tourism edge closer to consuming this village, their collective spirit is the best strategy for continued survival.
Open the map for detailed directions to Nuo Deng.
View a larger map of Nuo Deng with directions.
For accommodations, I recommend 诺邓大青树客站 (Nuòdèng Dàqīngshù Kèzhàn). It is best to phone ahead (+86 1528 811 3286) to make reservations.
About the author, Anthony Paglino:
For a year and a half I was fortunate enough to live, work, and play in a vibrant village community in Yunnan’s ethnically Bai area.