The air smelled of wet earth, cotton candy and fried pork as we waded through mud to help celebrate the Duan festival in Longtai. Children laughed and jumped in the inflatable tent, and the adults lifted their voices in warning when a water buffalo or pony broke loose.
I never feel like I understand a country until I visit its rural festivals. For the Longtai villagers deep in southern China, the harvest season of 2012 had been difficult with bouts of temperamental rain and the incessant struggle to produce enough crops to feed the families and sell to markets. On this day, the villagers pushed aside next year's worries.
I had read the story of the "Good Luck Bad Luck horse." Now, I saw it play out on a rainy afternoon when boys jumped upon the backs of spirited horses and raced through the mud with only a whistle warning to jump out of the way.
"Good fortune may forbode bad luck, which may in turn disguise good fortune," the proverb says. Next season would bring days that looked good and turned bad along with nights that looked bad and turned good.
Wang Hui Bing, the 70-year-old village shaman, presented ancestral offerings of fish, rice and wine under a colorful inflatable arch that nearly deflated on his head when the air pump kicked off. Good luck. Bad luck.
The villagers and I watched the shaman jump upon his golden horse and ride like a boy through the puddled field until the mist clouds swaddled him. It felt like a good luck day.