The bus was driving always higher, and I was getting always colder. I had counted on pleasant temperatures, and was not prepared for cold weather. The Yi woman sitting in front of me, dressed up in traditional clothes that looked very warm, firmly kept her window open, and the mountain air entering through her window was always colder. Every time the bus stopped, I hoped the sun would be on my side, and whenever it was, I loved the warmth coming from its potent rays. But the many turns of the road implied that I was in the shadow half the time. At one moment, I could only think of the warm sweater I would buy myself in Puge, the Yi town that was my destination of the day. At the same time, I wondered if I would be able to find any sweaters, and what they would look like. The Yi woman in her colourful dress tried to spit out of the window, but failed - fortunately, she also missed me. Meanwhile, every town I passed through, I was eagerly looking for Yi people and their dresses. I saw some small markets, and yes, I also saw some colourful dresses, but not the fantastic hats I had seen on the pictures that had triggered me to visit the Yi. When the bus pulled into Puge bus station, I had quickly forgotten about the sweater, as we had been descending from the mountain pass where I had suffered the cold. The sun was shining, and it did not take long before I was getting warm inside - a great feeling. As I walked the main street of Puge, I did not see a large majority of Yi in their traditional dresses, as I had expected. People were watching me, and I realized this town did not get many foreign visitors. I decided to try the market area, assuming that would be the best place to see them. As I walked back, I noticed a group of four women sewing silver decorations onto a high black velvet hat. I watched them for a while, and snyly asked permission if I could take a picture of the hat. Shyly, because the Yi are known not to like pictures very much. They agreed, and once they had finished working on the hat, walked away.
One of them gestured me to follow them, so I did. We walked to the entrance of Puge, and then walked up a steep street. When we reached a small square surrounded by one-storey buildings, the women gave the hat to a woman, who took it inside. In a glimpse, I saw several women wearing those high black hats and brightly coloured dresses, but a group of young men motioned me to sit with them. They quickly found a Yi who spoke some rudimentary English, and I could communicate with him. It turned out that the previous day, a woman had died, and she was lying in state in the main building. I was patiently listening to him, but inside of me, I felt a burning desire to move to the square, and watch what was going on. Suddenly, an awful sound seemed to tear my ears apart. Not only were fireworks lit, some kind of electrical firework machine was making a deafening noise - a Yi man was pressing the buttons. After a while, I asked my new friend if we could have a look on the square, and he directly invited me inside, into the room where the deceased woman lay. There, I was immediately offered beer, but I politely refused, which the Yi man found very funny. The woman was lying at the other side of the hall. After a short while, an older man approached me, took my hand, squeezed it tight, and dragged me out of my chair. As we walked through some alleys, the old Yi man looking back at me with an incredulous laugh on his face, I wondered where we were going - until we passed a courtyard. Five cowheads were lying on the floor, with the skin that had been holding their body together, lying right behind them, still attached to the heads. Miraculously, there was almost no blood. In the background, a few Yi men were hacking their way through some big chunks of cow meat. I now had a clear idea of what was coming up, and just hoped that I would like the Yi kitchen. I was guided into a big room where groups of Yi people were squatting on the floor in circles, men and women strictly separated, digging into the bowls in front of them with their bare hands. I was summoned to sit with a group of men, including my companion. In the middle of our circle, three bowls: one with plain rice, one with broth, and one with big chunks of meat. It turned out to be very edible. I only had trouble squatting while eating, and decided I could use one foot on the floor to keep my balance. I was clearly not properly trained to be seated the local way. During this lunch with ultra-fresh meat, my new friend told me that the old man who had joyfully taken me here and invited me to lunch, was the husband of the deceased woman. I wondered how the man could appear so joyful.
After this lunch, I went back to the square adjacent to the room where the dead Yi woman was lying. There were more Yi people now, and I took a seat on one of the sides to watch the spectacle. From time to time, the fireworks started again, and groups of people entered the square. The women were always in front, most of them in the most remarkable and colourful dresses you can imagine, while the men followed - all dressed in every day clothes and contrasting heavily with the women ahead of them. Some of the men would throw all kinds of small items onto the crowd in the square: sweets, cigarettes, small bags with water and juice. Especially the latter were tricky: if no one managed to catch them, they would crash on the floor, inevitably bursting open upon impact and leaving people around with wet pants or dresses. The Yi kids were hunting for sweets the whole time. Whenever I got hold of a candy, I made sure to keep it until a child would pass by without any. They were invariably surprised every time I gave them a candy. All the while, men were getting drunk with the supply of free beer, while the women were chatting in small groups - allowing me to marvel at their dresses. Most of them were light blue, but what made them stand out was the embroidery on their fronts and shoulders. At first, I had been a sight much like the Yi were a sight to me, but after a while, I went unnoticed in the crowd of beautifully dressed people. Then, a Yi woman approached me, and she turned out to be fluent in English. Finally, I could talk, I could ask, and she could explain exactly what was going on, and what was going to happen. I was amazed to find someone who had never traveled abroad to be so fluent in English, even though she was an English teacher. She told me that the amazingly beautifully dressed Yi women at the entrance of the building where the deceased lay, were the women of the grandsons of the deceased. They welcomed all who entered to pay respect, and gave small presents upon leaving the building: sweets and water for the women. While their dresses are fantastic, their hats are even more amazing. Black, high, and some of them with silvery decorations all around. The funeral would be next day, and my newly found friend almost convinced me to stay - but unfortunately, I did not have time for that. It was with pain in my heart that I left the scene, just in time to catch the last bus back to Xichang.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Yi women (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Yi women. Read more about this site.