Rain Rider

The boys took turns staring at the restless ponies pulling at the damp grass and the impatient girls hiding from the cold rain. The air smelled of wet earth, cotton candy and fried pork. Children laughed and jumped in the inflatable tent, and the adults lifted their voices in warning only when a water buffalo or a dog broke loose from the fighting circles.

Bad luck horse

For the Longtai villagers deep in southern China, the harvest season had been difficult with bouts of temperamental rain and the incessant struggle to produce enough crops to feed  the families and still sell to city markets.  But on this day, the Longtai Shui people of the Guizhou Province pushed aside next year’s worries. It was one of the first fresh days of the 11th lunar month – time for the annual Duan festival.

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Like the ancient proverb of the good luck bad luck horse, the villagers knew the next season would bring days that looked good and turned bad along with nights that looked bad and turned good. Luck dangles in the wind. “Good fortune may forbode bad luck, which may in turn disguise good fortune.”

What the Shui villagers standing in the rain did know was that the pony boys would try hard to win a smile from at least one girl who wanted to be a wife. They knew the old men would watch and remember the taste of tender passion. In three days, rains would fall again, this time on the Geiji festival in ChongAn. Good. Bad. Too soon to tell.

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In Longtai, Wang Hui Bing, the 70-year-old village shaman, pulled a pocket watch from his blue robe and studied it as the minutes passed. Finally, he grabbed an offering basket filled with fish, rice and wine, walked out of his stilt house, ambled down into a dense thicket and quickened his pace when he reached the mud-slick terrace trail. He presented the ancestral offerings under a colorful inflatable arch that nearly deflated on his head when the air pump kicked off. Good luck. Bad luck.

The villagers, pony boys, girls and old men watched as the shaman jumped upon his golden horse and rode like a boy through the puddled field until the mist clouds swaddled him.

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It felt like a good luck day. Perhaps.

Meet me: Sheilah Bright, a sucker for a story. I've been a journalist for 39 years after first publishing at age 14. Do the math. No, don't. My work has appeared in hundreds of newspapers and magazines. I spent 18 years writing advertising for People and TIME magazine. When I'm not traveling abroad, I bounce along the backroads of Oklahoma searching for some golden story nuggets as a contributing editor for This Land Press and Oklahoma Today.

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