Monday, July 7, 2008
Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces
I woke to find Tim's share of the price of the room left by my bed and a message of good luck for my journey. We'd said our goodbyes the night before, not expecting to see each other the following day. After this lie-in I got myself to the bus station. The feeling is of exhiliration, as you haul your backpack over your shoulders again and stride out onto the street, leaving behind you good experiences and excited about what may come.
My plan was to make it to Longsheng, to view the Dragon Backbone rice terraces, as they were called. An unhelpful bus station attendant told me that there were no buses. I was convinced that there must be a way and finally found out that there was one going to a place called Sanjiang, which was more than half-way there. I sat on a step close to my bus, to be sure I wouldn't miss it. Some young male fellow passengers came and began chatting to me in mandarin. I was able to tell them that I was english and where I was planning to go. The smiles and body language were welcoming, which cheered me on my way.
I was expecting an easy journey on a major road, which my guide books map seemed to suggest. Instead it was probably my worst in China. The roads were mostly dirt tracks but with stones that kept the vehicle in a continual state of noisy vibration. It was five hours, passing through hamlets, villages and towns, a beautiful lake with the glimmering reflections of small fishing boats in parts, chickens screeming their entrance to the vehicle held upside down by their feet.
The rural life was good to see but it meant alot to finally stop shaking in my seat as we pulled into Sanjiang. Asking how I could get to Longsheng, the ticket collector kindly led me to a tuc tuc type, three wheeled taxi, and coming with me directed the driver to drop me off at the correct onward bus station. I gratefully waved goodbye to him and found an attendant who again was willing to show me to the correct bus, which would be leaving in another fifteen minutes. It's amazing how things work out. I thought of the two extremes of, "it's not my problem" attitude and the willingness to go well beyond ones duty to strangers. Some people were so happy to help.
After a couple of hours I arrived in Longsheng, where I payed a crafty tuc tuc driver 2rmb, about 14pence, to take me around a corner to the Riverside Hotel, where I was going to stay. I shared a chuckle with him and payed the money. After settling down to a beer and some food, I met a french guy and we decided to go out and look for a club. He said there wouldn't be one but I said there would be somewhere, if we could only find it. In the main square there were young boys and men breakdancing, and older folk and women doing traditional dancing together. Typical sights in a chinese city or town square. We walked on and passed a hairdressers for adults, with its distinguishabe pink sign, offering extras by young attractive women, through the tassled doors. Then on some more and I spotted the Tiger beer sign down a side street.
There were some good western beats and after a while some young chinese people came to break the ice with the usual, "cheers!", and butting of bottles. We went and drank and smoked mostly on their hospitality. A cute girl asked me for my lucky neck pouch, which I'd been given when leaving Mama Naxi's, in Ligiang. OK. But then she asked me for one kuai, 1 rmb. This seemed odd and I didn't want to go along with this. She then gave me her number on a sheet of paper, with something written in chinese and the symbol for 1 rmb. I didn't give it. She left a little later.
The following morning I caught a bus towards Pingan, a village in the hills of the rice terraces, but was dropped in the valley, where various tour groups were waiting for a bus up the hillside. I got impatient with asking for directions or waiting for a bus, and didn't want to be mixed in with a tour group. I started walking, my way being confirmed by an old couple, and continued up the hill for about six kilometres.
The village was misty and rain was continuing to gently spit. It took me some time to get out of the village and on to the right paths towards Dazhai because of the poor visibility. And for the two and three-quarter hours of hard walking I saw little of the hoped for golden snaking hills. I enjoyed pushing myself in the drizzle and spit but this walk was mostly about achievement. I needed to get to my destination before the final bus departed back to Lonsheng.
At the splitting of paths I had to guess. Passing through a hamlet in the hills I was directed on in the right way. The residents beamed smiles and were glad to help. A young boy seemed to skip on ahead of me, as if showing me the way, but when he turned towards a dwelling I asked him if the onward path to the left was the correct way to Dazhai, in my basic of basics mandarin. He shrugged his shoulders as if he didn't know. An old man hearing my question confirmed that I was heading the right way. I made it to the bus collection point with twenty-five minutes to spare.
There I met two young chinese women from Shanghai. One worked for Marks and Spencers, the other for Pinkies, a french company. They spoke good english and I conversed with them a little. Then a middle aged chinese man interupted our conversation, again in clear english, telling us of his coming from London, where he had a chinese medicine business, to visit the venue of some work done by one of his favourite photographers. It was surreal in this outback of China to meet these english speaking urbanites.