David was the first victim and, as the woman crowded around him singing, the wine was poured, flowing down through each of the bowls like a fountain. The last was angled into David’s mouth and he had to keep drinking until the song was finished. There was little work done that day.
It was here too that Mr Hou told me about the courtship ceremony where a suitor would send a chicken with a member of his family to the house of a prospective partner.
If the union was appealing, the chicken would be returned wearing a small scarf, and the family member must be covered in mud. He also told me cucumber bushes were sacred because, many centuries ago, they provided cover for Huaiyao women hiding from rampaging armies.
Our hiking trail is one of a number of new projects in this area and, in each village where we hope to pass through, we asked villagers how they’d feel about tourists. Responses were unanimously positive.
“It has been hard for a long time,” said Mrs Li in a place called Beidouxi. “Lots of young people have left. New projects will maybe bring some of them back if they see there can be life here again.”
Mr Hou cautioned only that, “our culture is clearly unique, and it must be preserved. If tourism is well organised, it can only be a benefit.” The train station is representative of happenings all across China, where the ultra-modern meets the deeply ancient.
In Xuefeng at least, the two are supporting one another to create a brighter future.