Anthony Paglino is the man behind Yunnan where a chance meeting leads to some unexpected results. He's recently published a digital cultural guide to China for the iPad. It is available for download on Yunnan province sits a small village that time forgot. Maybe it is better that way. Fortunately, the village of 诺邓 (Nuòdèng) still resembles what life was like before broad avenues and traffic, before the creep of urbanization, before the work force migration and before the mass commercialization of life in China. In this village, traditional values of farming and family are not separated behind a glass wall in a museum, but living and breathing in people's everyday lives. Read on for more.... Nuodeng has gained notable fame by producing some of the best preserved ham in all of China. The serene village has also served as the backdrop to a handful of movies, including Richard Bowen's modern-day fairytale The village originally built its fortune from nearby salt wells. This white gold was funneled into Yunnan's many trade routes that connected Southeast Asia with Tibet and the rest of China. The town reinvested its economic windfall into education and is notable for producing many scholars. A massive Confucian temple that once prepared young pupils for the imperial examination now stands dormant at the top of the village. With the salt trade long gone, farmers must still tend to their plots that cling to the terraced fields. The village's other profitable export are the famous salted hams that still hang suspended from courtyard rafters. And believe me, they are real serious about their salted hams. Watch this video of the salting process by hand:
The homes retain their structural integrity, resembling the way most homes looked throughout the country pre-Chinese industrial revolution. Orange clay brick courtyards are smushed up against each other. The village is compact with narrow alleyways allowing only light foot traffic and pack mule trains. At night, villagers often gather under the fluorescent glow of one light bulb swinging in the square. As an amplifier box pumps out distorted Mandopop hits, the women of the village circle around and dance the night away. As I meandered through the empty village corridors in the warm dusk of early September, I happened upon an older farmer, well into his 60s. This character was wearing the usual Yunnan farmer's uniform: a bony yet muscular frame was draped by a thin cotton collared shirt, dark slacks and a sun-bleached blue Mao hat. He had just returned from the field and was carrying a big bushel of grass clippings on his back that he would later use to feed his livestock. When I came into his view, a smile emanated from his face. His long arm immediately grabbed my hand and as he started to drag me toward the arched wooden gateway and into his home he spoke to me rapidly in a thick Yunnan accent. I struggled to keep up with both what he was saying and his walking pace. What I could comprehend was something about going into his house, paying RMB 5 to go in, and that his family had been living in the village for generations. As we walked swiftly through the entrance, from the corner of my eye I glanced at a marble plaque that was posted to the clay brick wall. His surname was Huang and this house was not only his home, but also a museum. After enough time spent living and traveling through China, especially in overdeveloped tourist locations in Yunnan, you grow weary of this type of solicitation. I was captivated by this man's energy. Instead of my knee-jerk reaction, I gave in and allowed myself to be carried away. Was this man trying to sell me something? Or was he trying to tell me something? Captured by curiosity I followed this kind gentleman into the holy grail of travel in China, a traditional courtyard family home. Where will the rabbit hole lead? Find out in part 2, coming soon. [gallery] About the author, Anthony Paglino: For a year and a half I was fortunate enough to live, work, and play in a vibrant village community in Yunnan's ethnically Bai area.