A half-day visit to Xijiang for the Miao tribe's "New Year" celebrations is well worth the effort, especially if you enjoy feasts.
"For most Miao people, this is the time for eating and drinking, whether you are a visitor or a host," says Yu Jingsong, a 20-something Miao man who was born and brought up in Leishan County.
Every year around this time, Yu returns to Xijiang, where his parents come from, and stays with his uncle. Despite his ties to the area, Yu says, he is still treated as a guest. On the first day of the festival, after a big breakfast and toasting songs at his uncle's place, he sets off to visit more than a dozen friends' and neighbors' homes.
His arrival at each household is welcomed by singing, drinking and eating. At the end of the day, when Yu returns home, his uncle will invite the people who treated his nephew to the house, for more feasting and singing.
"We Miao people sing a lot and drink even more," Yu says with a smile. "It is especially true for this festival because it was started to celebrate our harvest." In Miao culture, serving wine to family and friends is a mark of respect.
According to tradition, 12 tables are lined up at the village gate and youths dressed in Miao costumes carry bowls and jugs of alcohol to each table.
Guests should drink two bowls of alcohol in order to bring longevity and happiness. At the final table, the bowls are replaced by an ox horn and if a guest can drain the horn everyone cheers the person.
Toasts are always accompanied by singing and it doesn't stop until the wine is finished.
If you can't drink anymore the polite way to say no is put your hands behind your back, bend forward and touch the edge of the bowl with your lips, saying, "dou du mao", or "thank you" in the Miao language.
Beware: If you accept a bowl of wine with both hands, you must finish it, otherwise you may be disciplined by having your head pulled back by the ears and being forced to drink the wine.
How to get there: Take a flight to Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou Province, then a three-hour train/bus ride from Guiyang to Kaili. From here take a local bus for Leishan or Rongjiang and get off at Leishan. Xijiang is accessible by buses from Leishan every 30 minutes. The 50-minute ride from Leishan to Xijiang is usually smooth and pleasant, on a newly paved asphalt road winding through the Leigong Hills National Nature Reserve.
(China Daily November 16, 2007)