Hill tribes at the Chinese border – Eastern Shan State

Our guide Sing puts on his hat, says “this way, it’s not so far” and starts to walk up the dusty red path in the midday heat. Christian, me and our Brazilian friends Carine, Gabriel and Fabio stumble out the doors of the minibus after a two-hour air-conditioned ride through green mountain scenery.

Just before we arrive in the first village, we reach a view-point from where we can take pleasure in the sight of rice paddies and green hilltops. The sky is clear and we can see the green hills continuing until the horizon. It is a fertile country.

Right at the entry of the village stands an old wooden monastery. “Let’s go on to the next village, we come back later here.”
Although Sing tries to motivate us we are slow, talk too much with each other and him and take too many pictures. It’s just too beautiful to hurry.

When we arrive in the next village, we have missed the festive full moon celebrations by half an hour… what a pity! In the 300 years old temple we find heaps of glittery paper on the floors. Two voluntary working women sweep the remainders of the festival out of the hall. Anyways the old monastery is charming: The wooden Buddha statues are colorfully painted and full of spider webs. As we enter into the backyards of the monastery we run into a bunch of young novices in brown and orange robes. They play with brooms and run outside in the dust.

In a dimly lit room the sun enter through a roof hatch. Dusty air reflects the rays. Two smoking men and two elder monks sit around a small fire pit. One of them is the monastery’s master. They are curious and Sing translates for us. He explains us a lot about life in the monastery and Buddhist reincarnation technicalities.

Fabio takes pictures of all the people with his Polaroid and gives these away. The more pictures he makes the more young monks show up from everywhere. It seems the camera has some magic cloning ability, multiplying mini monks with every picture he takes. Soon, the room is crowded with orange and brown robed boys and we are taking pictures and talking to them. Checkout Fabio’s Facebook Project Page.

In the village we are invited to one of the villagers’ long houses. They stand on stilts and are made of wood. Most of the roofs consist of palm leaves. These houses are up to 140 meters long. About 5 to 7 whole families live under one roof. The space between the stilts and the first floor serves as stable for farm animals and to dry and stock food. A house consists of two large rooms. One is the living and cooking room, the other serves as sleeping room. The villagers live under very simple conditions here. Privacy does not exist.
Sing is well known to them. He talks to everybody and explains us how people live and where their tradition of coloring their teeth black comes from.

Many children run around here. They play in the dust with what they can find. Elder girls, still of very young age, carry responsibility for younger siblings. Sing tells us that every second village child dies at early age. I cannot confirm these numbers, but I can see the conditions the dirty looking children have to grow up with.

On the way back we discover a closed school building in the middle of nowhere. “The government built the school. Now the villagers are waiting that the government also sends a teacher” Sing explains.

We have lunch in the next village but do not stay long. Also here we see many children and hard living conditions on the dusty village square and under the long house roof. Sing comes regularly and brings them seeds for planting, he says.

We don’t want to intrude into their homes for too long and after a short rest and some conversation translated by Sing we leave.

On the ride back home we continue talking about Buddhism. Sing tells us that he was a novice at a monastery, too, when he was ten years old. “But after a year I left. It was just too much floor sweeping for my taste.”

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