Once I spent 10 days in the disenfranchised minority region of the Miao in China. You cannot enter that area without a minder, so we had an official escort the whole time we were there. I was working at the time, so I wasn’t with my son and husband, but with my assistant, Reyna, who was a young, pretty Chinese woman. To get into the Miao villages you have to be hosted, and you have to drink rice wine by the shot. I was with a man from Morocco and a Frenchman I knew. The Moroccan man was a wild guy. The Frenchman was a gentleman. We had no choice but to drink with the local people – each night the Moroccan man would get increasingly jovial until he was literally dancing with the village women whilst the Frenchman would get more and more refined and contemplative and discuss his father’s vineyard in France.
Me – I was trying to keep people from marrying my assistant – she had many proposals whilst we were there.
There are no roads in that part of China, only mountain trails. One night I was so drunk my assistant hired a guy in a cart to carry us back to our flat. I vaguely recall her dumping me into the back after I decided it would be a good idea to give my silver ring to a little girl in that village.
I was also supposed to sing. One of the customs as a guest in the region is that when you are welcomed you have to sing. So there I was sitting in this line of chairs with my assistant, and the Frenchman and the Moroccan. And we were all sober. We are facing a line of local people who sing first – each one singing alone, without instruments. So it gets to be my turn and I’m absurdly nervous and end up singing “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” by John Denver. Afterwards a woman came to me, greeted me warmly, in friendship, and said, through my interpreter, “I saw it in your eyes.”
Wisdom comes to us in so many ways. Of course they’d know me in my song. The rice wine, the songs – they shed us of our inhibitions or certainly exposed them.
(You can see the items I took back from that region here on the site. The baby hats!!!! – It’s a very, very poor area and the women beg not for money, but for eyeglasses because they are all magnificent seamstresses. I declined to eat pig, as I am occasionally quite Jewish, but I did have to eat the pickled fern whilst in Miao country, which gifted me with a serious case of the trots. The Frenchman encouraged us to eat crepes every morning, which were wonderful.)