We arrived to giggles and smiles at this house on an island on an island in southern China. Looking for a little adventure away from the beaches on Hainan, we took a boat across a lake to the hilly interior. The soft, tropical rain was falling steadily all the way there, a mesmerising drip, drip through the lush greenery.
A host led us up a muddy path to meet the community. We all piled into the house and within minutes it was filled with piles of beautifully embroidered fabrics and a dozen or more hopeful weavers. A laughing woman took control and deftly dressed one of our sons in traditional costume, surrounded by cheeky, pointing children. With great humour and grace armloads of fabrics were pushed towards us and we bought what we could carry.
By this time the rain was falling more heavily and the boatman was keen to get going. A few hours later we would be stranded in a severe flood, caught in a car between swollen, brown rivers. Reservoirs were overflowing and our route back to the last small town was cut off. Night fell and we dozed in the blackness to the raucous symphony of battering rain and torrents of water from all around us.
After what was one of the scariest nights of our lives, we finally crossed a submerged bridge, clinging onto the children and hoping that the thigh-deep water wasn’t hiding any logs or debris to knock us off. The undercurrent ripped off my shoes as I felt my way across the 100-metre-wide river. The floods devastated parts of the island and claimed many lives that year. We were very lucky. Within a few days, roads had been cleared and we left Hainan on a train that was shunted onto a ferry to make the crossing back to mainland China.
We bought the traditional tribal costume that day, although my son has never worn it since. Now, whenever floods or typhoons are reported in that region, I do think of the warm welcome and beautiful crafts of those hill people, but always with a slight reliving of that fear that comes when the elements are out of control.