I could write beautiful, descriptive lines about the mountainous landscape of Libo, the emerald valleys dotted with thatched granaries and the occasional water buffalo, the terraced rice paddies that are thousands of years old, or the green and blue color of the water that is unlike anything I've ever seen before.
But that would be a lot of work, and you still wouldn't really get it. These pictures should help you understand a bit more clearly how breathtaking this area of China is, but a trip there to see it yourself would be better . . .
The entrance to the Tianhong cave:
Bizarre stalactite formations at another entrance to the cave:
Big Mountain explained to us that the stalactites point away from the cave for a simple reason: They have plants growing on them, and the plants naturally grow toward the sun. Over millions of years, the rock itself has thus shifted direction.
Traditional wooden house in Libo:
Libo is located in Guizhou province, which is heavily populated by several of China's ethnic minorities. One of my bosses, Big Mountain, is a member of the Yao ethnic minority. Above, I am pictured wearing traditional Yao clothing. The Yao people are generally quite short, which explains the skirt length on me.
The clothes I am wearing, which Big Mountain presented to me as a gift, took six months to make. The embroidery is all done by hand, and it is a dying art: Only the old women of the villages know how to do it any more, because most of the younger women have moved to big cities in search of work, and young people in general have lost interest in these types of traditional handicrafts.
The people in Libo are very friendly, although they often seem at a loss for words when they catch a glimpse of me through the car window or out surveying the property. I am the first foreigner many of them have ever seen, or at least the first tall blonde American woman they've come across. As the property we are working on develops further, I suspect the locals will become much more accustomed to seeing Westerners than they are right now. But for the time being, I am trying to take the gawking and pointing as a compliment (and trying not to feel like I'm on the wrong side of a cage at the zoo).
Above is Big Mountain, bargaining for the Yao costume I'm wearing. It wasn't for sale, because (as I mentioned earlier) it took someone six months to make. They sell cheaper versions without the detailed embroidery and hand-drawn ink patterns, but he wasn't having any of that nonsense. Mine is the real deal.
If the strangers I meet on a daily basis are friendly, then the people I am coming to know, and with whom I will work closely in the coming year, are practically treating me like family. In fact, in China, the workplace is meant to be a community, and the lines between personal and professional life are often unclear. Lunch and even dinner are spent at the office with coworkers, and a Friday night off probably includes karaoke with the bosses. Maybe my company is a bit extreme because of its rural location, but I've heard from other people that they have had similar experiences.
Here's a shot of the whole gang having dinner at the office:
Not a bad crew, right?