By Kartika Putra
Funny how cities possess vibrations that people can pick up on. Or maybe, we are attributing these cities with our own moods in an act of personification. Either way Kaili sat well with us. The air was fresher, the city felt less claustrophobic. We were instantly assisted by an 18 year old who accompanied us until we had found a hotel and then joined us for a feed.
People stare at us, ask us for pictures. Went out that evening and the karaoke bar was so stoked to have us there they gave us drinks and food and videoed us singing karaoke. Lots of people came over to talk to us.
The next morning we had another failed attempt to find Batik works at a textile market that was only open on Friday and Saturday. The large Sunday market only had embroidered works on velvet, sold by women with large flowers in their buns, combs stuck in the back.
We met Billy Zhang, a local tour guide operator of Miao ethnicity. Mandarin is not the original language of the Miao, he started learning Chinese at the age of 10. He was the first of his village to go to university.
He advised that finding genuine Batik designs is hard. There are a lot of fakes, prints dried out in the sun to make them look real. People use chemical indigo dye in factories and non-traditional designs, such as Koreans requesting Christian prints. There is a factory in Kaili he can take us to.
He recommended two villages nearby to visit, Wuji and Matang. Wuji is what is called a ‘new village’. The people used to live in a valley and the Chinese government wanted to build a new road to the village. The road would bring logging and lumber companies which would threaten the cultural traditions of the village so they moved the village.
Miao women don’t know Chinese characters and don’t leave their villages. Look after the elderly and the agricultural land, rely on their craft for their livelihood. Expensive, 350-400 kwai per metre for Batik designs.
He explained that there are two types of batik: white wax batik and honey wax batik. White wax cracks and allows designs to blur. Honey wax is firmer. The material itself stays brown after dyeing until it is dried in the wind and then the oxygen changes the colour to blue. There are two kinds of indigo. At the moment the plant is growing so not many people are making it. August is the best time of year to come for dyeing, after June / July rainy season.
The Guizho batik designs are 1500 years old. It’s easier than embroidery which takes a long time to complete. South China is a warmer area and people need less clothing which enables more batik designs. Indigo grows better in the south where it’s warmer and there is more lime stone in the south for mixing the indigo dye. Indigo dye has a 2000 year history, dating back to when it was used for the emperor guard uniform clothing colour. Farmers use indigo dyed clothing as it is easier to hide dirt.
We head off to Matang village with Billy tomorrow. Hopefully we can find Guizhou batik there.