We visited Mrs. Zhang in Longtan Ancient Village in Yangshuo County, Guilin, China. A retired farmer, now widowed (approx. 8 years) and childless.
She lives independently, cooking and caring for her home with her niece and nephew providing groceries. It’s not an easy life with modern day conveniences. Cooking requires a wood fire and the bathroom has no running water.
A church pew type wooden bench that sits perpendicular to her front door and she and her two lady friends pass the day visiting – as they were upon our arrival. Watching others playing cards is enjoyable as well.
A proud woman, she insisted on sitting tall with a pensive look and I found her most adorable when I could get her to smile – capturing her youthful past in her twinkling eyes.
A large bag of recently made dried persimmons and sweet potatoes rested on the long wooden farm table. Upon leaving, with her infectious girlish smile, she filled bags for us to share.
Meet Mrs. Pan – she is 56 years old, lives with her parents in their ancestral family home along with her son and grandson in Dazhai Village – in the foothills of the Longji Rice Terraces in Guilin, China.
Normally when a daughter marries she moves into her husband’s family home. Since Mrs. Pan is an only child she lives with her parents so that she may help care for them.
Mrs. Pan is a Yao ethnic minority – famous for having the longest hair in the world. Women only cut their hair once in a lifetime – when they are 18. The cut hair is kept and made into a hair extension – perhaps saved for when they marry. As years pass the women also collect their hair that falls out during combing and washing to make an additional extension. These two hair extensions are added to the hair on her head to create cultural and symbolic hair style.
They hair is worn in two different ways. If a women has been married it is worn in a bun in the front of her head. If she is single there is no bun.
I tried to learn what Mrs. Pan’s feelings were about cutting her hair at 18. It was something that was normal and feelings are not something that is talked about or shared within their culture.
Since we left Guilin I was about to google more information about their hair growing tradition. It seems that they wash their hair with the left over rice water.
In the first couple of photos you can see her extension hanging on the fence.
I had the honor of photographing the Pan family, Yao people, in their traditional home where four generations live together.
The home is wooden.The ground floor houses their livestock – a horse and 3 pigs. The floorboards of the 2nd level living quarters are removable in two different locations and allows access to feed them. Meet Mr. Pan, great grandfather and farmer. He is in his 80’s.
He tried to look formal which only caused us to crack each other up. Especially when he smoked his pipe.
Apparently his wife is not crazy about the smoke but posing for portraits allows him the opportunity.
Neither of us could speak the other’s language. However, we got along famously laughing.