Changsha, Zhangjiajie, Fenghaung, Guilin, Yangshou and Kunming
What the hell am I doing? This is absolutely mental! I’m alone and getting lost the whole time. I didn’t think I really believed in God but every time I get lost, pray for guidance and then it appears. I woke up in Jio Jio’s apartment at 9am and my train was at 11.24am. The taxi was meant to take half an hour to get to the station but the traffic was heavy, as always. The taxi driver called Jio Jio to tell me to walk. I looked outside and refused. When I arrived queues were coming out of every crevice. I walked to one place, they said no. I walked to another, they also said no. Everywhere said no, my bags are heavy, it’s baking hot and I’m going to miss my train.
Complications and advice:
There’s bad Internet signal wherever I go, even though I paid a lot of money for a decent sim card. This means that there are no apps available to book journeys, no translating apps or online banking and I can’t call anyone to help me. Somehow a Chinese person who actually cares can sort this out online. You can spend ages in the phone shop and have no success. China Mobile accepted my passport as ID in one province and not the next. It’s very easy if you know what you’re doing, you can owe the company 3 Yuan and they will just shut off your phone without letting you know.
You need to find someone Chinese who will sit and pre book a train ticket with you (because it’s all in Chinese).
When you arrive at any station, imagine a usual queue in London, for instance, and then multiply it infinitely. Nobody helps, everyone pushes and most people jump the queue. If you’re going to miss your train, you’ll feel like smashing everyone to pieces. I don’t know what happens here if you miss a train and I don’t want to find out. I know that you can’t buy a ticket 15 minutes before the train leaves. The queues are usually more than 20 minutes wait. So it’s not very helpful to arrive even 30 minutes earlier. This is all made harder because I keep bolting to the toilet with the runs. The food is really doing something odd to my system.
Most queues are for self-service ticket machines. Do not wait in line here, as the machines require a Chinese ID card. Foreigners, Lao (old) Wai (outside), as they call us, have to show passports as ID.
Most school children know how to speak basic English. They are little angels sent to you in times of need. Just when I had given up all hope, I began to cry in the heaving crowd. A schoolgirl began to help me. Jio Jio had written down some instructions in Chinese and this schoolgirl and her friends helped me. First she asked a policeman where I have to show my passport, then we went to the office and they turned us away. She called her English teacher to try and help too. She boldly passed about 150 people, went to the front of the queue and explained my situation. The ticket officer looked up with a puzzled expression, then he looked at my passport and frantically tapped some keys (I’m praying). Everyone behind me could see I was distressed and allowed me in. My ticket was printed, what a relief! The schoolgirls carried my bag to the entrance. I offered them money but they wouldn’t take it. They handed me over to a schoolboy who would show me how to find my gate.
We went through the baggage check and they stopped the boy, confiscating a knife. I have a knife too but it hasn’t been spotted so far. We spoke through his translate app and he dropped me off to another group of schoolgirls who were getting the same train as me. Bless these children. The girls looked very flustered and all wanted a photo with me. One girl wrote on her translate app ‘Your body smells good and you are so pretty’. I was a bit shocked as I was a sweating mess from carrying heavy bags and rushing around in the intense heat.
Everyone stares at me here, I think it’s because I am the only westerner. They don’t stare and politely look away when I see them. They stare in a violating way, up and down and wide-eyed. I trusted the girls to look after all my bags (this is a big risk as my bags have a lot of equipment in them), as I went to get some food. The train was delayed by an hour because of the floods in Hunan. I picked up a sausage on a stick, which tasted nothing like a sausage, some cigarettes, cake and crisps. I couldn’t see any healthy food. It’s always advisable to buy some noodles and fill them up with boiling water on the train. There is food available to buy on the train but as with most trains, it is quite expensive. The schoolgirls took me to my carriage and we all waved goodbye.
These carriages are ‘hard sleepers’. There are three beds on top of each other. The bottom beds are not very private, as other people use these to sit on. The middle beds are probably the best choice as it has the most room, a good window view and it easily accessible. The top bunks are the cheapest (I chose this one). These have very little headroom and it’s hard to get up and down the tiny ladder. The beds are also very short in length and width. There is limited window view and my head is right next to a speaker. The mattresses are thin but the linen is clean. I am directed to my shared section of the carriage (surprisingly number 22), where there are six beds.
A young man, Lian, helped me to put my backpack on the rack. He turned around smiled. He was a very handsome Chinese man. Little did I know that we would end up as great friends. I asked him where his bed was and it was right next to mine. People along the whole carriage were staring and asking him questions about me, as he translated through the app Baidu Translate. I asked where he was going to and he replied Zhangjiajie, the same as me. He has just finished studying photography and he is going take photographs of the mountains for a few days. That’s exactly what I’m going to do!
We will meet tomorrow to take photographs together. We both have Canon 70D’s and took photographs of each other. He is now climbing onto his bed next to me, smiling and putting his headphones on. This feels very intimate; we are the width of a person apart. In china there is no concept of personal space, everyone is in your face or pressed up against you. Personal space is a luxury, that concept will stay with me. I keep banging my head on the ceiling and I really want to pig out on crisps and cake. He’s asleep, good. He looks so peaceful and pure. I wish that I was in my 20’s again, knowing what I know.
Lian isn’t actually his real name. He gave me his surname instead as I was having real trouble pronouncing his whole name. We began speaking to a family next to us. The father was an English teacher and we had a laugh exchanging our basic knowledge of English and Chinese. They said I am welcome to visit their house any time in the future and visit the school to talk in English to his students. Most Chinese people love to practice English at every chance they get, as they want to show off what they learn at school. There are not many opportunities to practice English oral skills in class.
When we all got off the train in Zhangjiajie a Chinese guy said he was heading our way. The hostel was located about 50 minutes drive from the train station. It was late and we were tired, so we agreed to give him 100 Yuan. Lian and I were communicating via the translate app and I was asking if he thought we were safe. I took my knife from my backpack and put it in my pocket. The man looked a bit shifty and was hurrying and shouting at people he passed. When we arrived at the car, his brother nodded hello and there were two little girls jumping around inside. We put out bags in the car and Lian told me to keep an eye on the bags. He was meant to stay at a different hostel but eventually decided to stay where I was, as there was a spare couple of beds in my dorm. It’s a lovely little hostel and we made friends immediately.
Floodings covered the news headlines in China.
I sat in the social spaces and spoke to an Australian guy and his Chinese girlfriend and Lian sat with a Chinese girl called Rosemary (the English version of her name). A Canadian born Chinese (CBC) called Matthew came over and sounded relieved to find other English speakers. He talking was talking his difficult journey. His missed his first train to the connecting city due to the flood. He had to wait in the queue to buy a new ticket. By the time he reached the front, he couldn’t buy the ticket he wanted to, due to the 15 minute rule. So he had to buy the next train ticket and once he reached the city, the train to Zhangjiajie was getting ready to leave and he had to bang on the windows to get the conductor to let him in. Also due to the flood the 11 hour train ride became 21 hours without any outlets, he just sat there for 10 hours watching annoying children running around screaming. Because Matthew can speak both English and Chinese (and a little bit of French), this would prove to be a challenging experience for him later. He became the person that connected our group together.
Enter the three French guys. These French men are in their early 20’s and came over to our table asking about Forest Park. Their names are Adrien, Michael (who are first cousins) and Arthur.
Our group now consists of:
The four foreigners (including me) are also from our respective capital cities. Early in the morning we all got up early to go to the mountains but having rainfall prevented us from even leaving the hostel. We watched constant newsfeed about the flood. The news said that 150 were dead and millions of homes were evacuated in Southern China. It’s the worst flood in China since 1998.
I went for coffee, all in our waterproofs, with the French guys. This would become a ritual in the next few days. Arthur began playing the bongo’s in the café. He’s very musical, always repeating a beat on something, or talking about the sounds around us. He’s full of life and wonder, making friends with everyone he meets. He is away from his girlfriend for this trip and thinks it can only bring them closer. He studied philosophy and we have some deep moments every so often. I like him a lot. Michael is digital …… and has been working in Shanghai. He said it’s really commercial stuff but he is interested in making art and working in collaboration with artists. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does. These two smoke, we have all been enjoying a variety of Chinese cigarettes and moments.
Zhangjiajie Town Centre
The group walked to the entrance of Forest Park and paid our entrance fee, 160 Yuan for students and 240 for adults. However anybody over the age of 24 is charged as an adult, even if they are students. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is one of many national parks within the Wulingyuan scenic area. It recently rose to fame because it was the inspiration for one of the areas on Pandora (Hallujah Mountains) in James Cameron’s film Avatar.
Rosemary proved to have excellent navigational skills, and talked to locals and Lian, while Matthew translated it to the rest of us. Matthew also began translating a continual photography lesson between Lian and myself. This proved to be difficult due to the many technical terms involved in photography.
Over the next couple of days we would walk approximately 10 Km a day together, as we climbed up and down the mountains.
I feel that heavy weight lifting as we drive through the mountains. I look out onto the vast landscape and see the reflection of our bus in a convex mirror at every bend. I feel that constant heavy weight lifting as we drive through the mountains. It’s raining heavily and the bus smells of new plastic rain macs. I have these new travelling companions to get to know share this amazing experience with. We are getting to know each individual, their backstory and their quirks.
I am getting to grips with holding an umbrella while trying to take a photograph and protect the camera at the same time. It’s a lesson for most of us, extreme photography conditions and hiking!
Arthur is always at the front leading. He says it’s because he likes to talk less and be aware of his own body, people at the back talk more. It all feels like an extension of PE class. I’m always at the back, jumping between reflections and being in the moment. I’m certainly not as fit as these younger ones but still determined to keep hiking! My body feels older, my mind more complex. I have never smoked so heavily. Gearge Perec loved smoking, it helps me to think. I’m trying to figure out if that statement actually true. Sometimes writing a sentence feels so definitive, it can pin something down. Can writing be seen as a pinning down and reading as an unpicking?
I want to capture it all for you but the camera never captures the full depth of this place, thoughts, or of the bonds between us and the landscape.
The wind pushes the clouds hurriedly across the peaks of the peaks of the mountains. Misty green rivers weave their way across the terrain. The sky is the whitest of white, pop video florescent light box white. We are only able to see our immediate surroundings. Each step we take and another part of this mystical place is revealed. A computer game of Zelda lagging or an unfinished level yet to be developed.
Wild monkeys will calmly sit with us, sometimes they charge at us for food. Mathew had to throw his ice cream down for them.
We are the only people on our path. We could be travellers on a quest in an ancient forest. After being obsessed with the Walking Dead (an American Zombie series), I pretty much always imagine my current situation and how it would develop in a zombie apocalypse. I think I would have been dead if sat with E in his heroin addiction. With this group I feel safe and we most certainly have each others backs, already. If a zombie approached us now, we’d break off some big branches and poke them off the edge of the mountain. They would fall and drop through the blanket of white mist, this scene needs to be realised. Forget Avatar, a zombie film has to be made here. We watched a bit of Avatar in the hostel, Matthew commented on how it used to look so realistic and how dated it looked now. We all agreed.
Clichés are mostly true and they come from other peoples experiences. The things I’m experiencing sound like typical clichés but I haven’t experienced them before. This beauty is overwhelming, I keep noticing that I’m smiling and sighing unconsciously. We spend are lives being so concerned with the immediate, zoomed in and unable to see a whole picture clearly. In one swoop I could be swept away by a current, a flood, the force of nature. Yet so many people are dying of their own hand, feeling let down by the manmade world around them. We need, I need to learn when it is time to stop trying to help people who cannot be saved.
All I had to do was to turn my head and look another way, away from someone else’s darkness. We have all dealt with our own darkness, to some extent. Then we can help another when we recognise it but how long do we help for? We can often cross the line where it affects our own wellbeing, to the point where we just don’t care about ourselves anymore. Most people step away before that happens, some of us hold out our hand and let them pull us down with them.
The river emanates a consistent hushhhhh, a soothing shhhh. Everything is going to be ok. We are stopping every two seconds to look around and at each other in awe. We stood on a small wall that crossed a river. For that moment we experienced a united high.
Occasionally I pluck a hair from my head and release it. I want a physical part of me to stay here. I want my dna to remain in 2parts of the world which made me feel something. I’m going to be bald at this rate.
Most of the first day we would arrive at a ‘scenic point’ and only see white beyond the barrier. Every time we arrived at the next point, we’d joke about how we could imagine our own scene or green screen something on later. We knew these views were meant to be amazing, yet they were entirely hidden in the thick fog. Lian and Matthew were having a conversation about how ‘Fog’ and ‘Frog’ are two different things. It’s funny hearing snippets of peoples conversations as I walk. Bonds between individuals are forming with each piece of new information discovered and with the group making decisions together, getting lost and finding our way.
Wild moneys are scattered around the mountains, the park doesn’t have a boundary for the monkeys. They choose to be here. They will let us get really close to them. We watched a mother feed her child. This was a life moment. At this point, with help from Michael and Lian (Michael has a Cannon 7D), I began to understand how to capture such a scene. I panic saying ‘It’s too bright, too bright! What shalI do?’. One of them adjusts the settings for me. Another monkey fails an attempt to have sex with a potential mate (or member of his family, I have no idea). These monkeys will have really vulnerable moments and look out for each other, as our group does the same. The monkeys stare right at you, aware and used to people being around, they will then charge at you for any food. Michael had to throw his ice cream on the floor and Lian gave them our bag of dried kewi fruit. I didn’t want to ever leave the monkey scenes, wanting to understand them more. Look at how incredible these photos are (it finally stopped raining).
The Chinese tourists wear brightly coloured rain macs and protective shoe covers. They come in clusters, with a shell of closely formed umbrellas and protruding selfie sticks. ‘Hello!’ they’d shout quickly, then giggle to each other.
We stopped for a rest. At this moment the mist began to clear and the scenery slowly revealed itself, an enticing strip tease. The sun shone through the intense white landscape we had become used to. We spoke about it being a ‘white sunset and the most beautiful thing we had ever seen’. The peaks began to pierce through the sky at intervals and little avatar-esque worlds emerged. The white light dissipated into pastel shades and then into golden rays. We took photos and we sat in silence, with the occasional ‘wow’. French and Chinese tones became a soundtrack to the scene. We had worked hard for this moment.
If we had seen this beauty all along our path, maybe it wouldn’t be as appreciated. The mist swept across and the scene covered itself again. We gathered our bags and continued on the path together.
Darkness was approaching as we tried to race ahead of it but we soon realized that was a fruitless task. We encountered treacherous paths with signs of ‘no crossing’, as we navigated past them. For once I was situated at the front, leading the way with Arthur.
One by one, we turned the torches on our mobile phones on and watched our step. As it became darker, we had to be aware of slippery surfaces, large toads on the path and huge drops. We would shout down ‘watch that branch/frog/slippery patch’. We knew we had missed the last bus home but our main worry was getting to ground level and to safety.
We heard what we thought was a pack of dogs in the distance, or the echoes of dogs, either way, we were frightful of going any closer. We had no alternative and slowly moved past a little house and its guard dogs.
The descent in the dark took approximately two hours until we reached a main road. We were mixed with the emotions of relief and worry, as we now had to find a way back to the hostel. We were at least 20 Km away.
We eventually found another group of tourists and we bargained a price for one of the Chinese ladies to call her friend and pick us up for 170 Yuan. We thought this was a good deal because the workers at the gate wanted at least 250 Yuan as they knew we were stranded. We finished this day with a lovely authentic Chinese dinner in a local restaurant. Lian an Rosemary taught us different eating etiquettes. Bed was a treat to get into that night; my body and mind were aching and thankful for a rest.
The next day we were blessed with glorious weather. I went for coffee with the French guys in the morning in our local café and then we all headed of for the Forest Park again. It was really busy due to the good weather but tourists were all getting the cablecar to travel up the mountain, we decided to climbs the steep steps all the way up. This meant we were mostly alone, which was refreshing, especially as China is always so full of people.
Although we were all glad to see the mountains clearly, we all agreed tat yesterday was a mystical and exciting adventure. We climbed this endless eternity of steps and I struggled to keep up with these young and fit people. We stopped at points for food, drink, to stroke animals and play archery. We also stopped in a monastery; here we saw a master calligrapher and he specialised in painting prawns. I wonder why he is so drawn to prawns, maybe they have a special meaning or he could have grown up in a fishing village. Maybe he can only really paint prawns. My mother used to draw horses really well. I’m not even sure if that’s a correct fact as I’ve never seen her drawn anything, I’ve just picked up that fact somewhere along the way.
Tourists were paying monks to stroke a giant tortoise. There are three points to touch the tortoise on the shell and the points represent good education, good health and good family relationships. People contribute money to be able to do this. The views from the top of the temple are panoramic and red ribbons are tied onto everything. Written words in the form of a wish, for safety usually, are on the ribbons. Tourists are not allowed to take photos in temples as this is meant to capture the spirit of the God and it takes it away from the temple. It’s a disrespectful act. I will research this further as I’m not entirely sure.
Amongst this amazing scenery, you can spot the golden arches of McDonalds. Yes, it’s everywhere. China mobile is also advertised on carved rocks which explain the geological forms. We eventually ended up in McDonalds for wifi, air conditioning and milkshakes. I was surprised to see a lady painting a typical Chinese scene while having a drink in McDonalds. We rushed to catch the bus and queued for the glass elevator down the mountain.
This day went smoothly and we ended it with another traditional Chinese meal. We talked to Victor, who works at our hostel and he booked us a train to Fenghaung tomorrow, also a ticket to Guilin for the following day. We paced quickly to our bus as we were late. Rosemary rushed ahead and made sure we arrived in the right place, as usual. A Chinese man shouted at us aggressively for being late and we are now on the bus. We waved goodbye to Lian and Rosemary, hopefully they will remain good friends, or get married even! Lian recorded a video of us as we all parted. I can’t believe how close we’ve all become in a matter of a few days. It was an intense experience and I think it has changed my outlook. I want to feel this good all the time and be surrounded by people who care and have a positive energy.
In my teens and 20’s I reveled in my own complexities, uncontrollable behaviours and dark outlook, I was drawn to it. Now it’s far too much effort and actually it bores me. This new excitement for other people and life is overriding my life in that small dead end city, with my heroin addict ex boyfriend. Now I have the confidence to know I deserve better, something I always read in self-help books and heard from other people but I didn’t actually know it or believe it.
We just had to wait for a while as the bus in front of us fell into a ditch and caused a large traffic delay. The bus guide is handing out regional treats to us and she’s been speaking on a microphone for ages, I have no idea what she is saying. The spoken sounds of other languages rhythmically layer over each other, flowing and punctuating the journey through China.
My photography skills are getting on my nerves. I see such beautiful scenes and struggle to capture them in a way that will do them justice. I consistently ask for advice but due to my Dyscalculia, I can’t wrap my head around all the numbers. I am impatient and want to be at a National Geographic photographer level already. Now I know that I want to further develop my writing and photography skills.
Fenghaung is a postcard picturesque city. Authentic Chinese buildings line the river and sell mostly wares directed at tourists. By day there are many skilled craftspeople, grinding animal horns, candy twisting, sandal weaving, carving ornaments, making jewellery and basically anything they can sell.
The sun is beating down on us hard during the day, making it almost impossible to walk around without discomfort. A lady kept asking us to pay for a boat ride, we seemed semi interested as we kept stopping for street snack and souvenirs. She stayed with us, always nearby, on her mobile phone. We took the boat (much like a Chinese version of a gondola) down the river, passing weaved bamboo watermills, riverside restaurants and hotels with intricately carved trimmings. The boat pulled up at a bar and the boys got off to try the local alcohol treats. I stayed in the bot and smoked with the man rowing the boat (I’ve forgotten what you call them). It is always polite to take a cigarette when offered, as people here want you to see how good their tobacco is. As the boys held their bulbous vessels (hmm, I might need to rephrase that), we passed two prominent concrete A’s in the water, a reminder of Alcoholics Anonymous and my strength.
The city is encapsulated by luscious green mountains. Each charming little lane is dotted with red lanterns and a rhythmic pace is set to the bongo beats coming from the drumming shops.
People are relaxed here as this city is catering for mostly Chinese holiday-goers. This is Venice in China. Cats stretch out in the shade and people carefully dart across the dashed stone pillar path in the river. Children are swimming in the river and shooting at each other with large water pistols. Silver and gold crowned ladies in traditional Chinese costumes are poising for tourists on the bridges, fanning out their skirts like peacocks. The sun beams through the dust in the air, running along the slate roofs and striking the curled phoenix carved rooftop tips. Propped up stilted houses. Rows of fried crabs on a stick. Coned-hatted peach and plum basket carriers. Watermelon slicers. Wilting trees bowing and gently stroking the water. Step sitting smokers and mosquito slapping. Stinky-tofu frying.
We went for a rest back at the hostel and little did we know that during our break, the city would transform into the polar opposite of our daytime experience. Act two, scenery change and a completely new cast. The city was relaxed on one side of the river and complete party madness on the other. Most of the families have gone to sleep and the drink swilling partiers are in full swing to techno and house beats. We pass a bar with a leather-thonged man on a lead and a cheering crowd. The neon lights and flashes are pulsating from every fully packed, dancing and cheering bar. I have never seen anything like this before, we were all looking at each other with our mouths open. This was the place to party, yet we thought we were just going for a quiet meal in a scenic town. The bars will close at 12-ish and people are fitting in some intense dancing and drinking in a short space of time.
Looking European in Fenghaung
For most of my trip through China, I have to pose for photographs with people. Mostly I get stopped in the street. This happens to most people who are white European and it is very strange. Some people in the smaller cities rarely see a white person. During the day here our group get a few requests for photos. At night people bombard us and we have to pose with big groups and individuals. People shout happy English phrases at us when we pass such as ‘How are you?’ and ‘Nice to meet you’, followed by a laugh. Being a white European in Fenghaung is the closest to being a celebrity. We think there are two kinds of opinions of us. Some Chinese people are actually really interested in our background and communicating with us. It feels like some other people view us as some kind of rare freak show.
We don’t pay for any drinks or cigarettes and large groups want us to sit with them. We are surrounded by people taking photos and big groups requests for our personal WeChat App profiles (WeChat is a kind ofChinese Facebook/Whatssapp). They clap and jump around excitedly when hand them our phones to add them.
In the morning we packed up, said our goodbyes to Matthew and Rosemary (she gave us friendship gifts) and then got on a bus to Guilin. I’m so glad I met these French boys. Who knows what the next adventure will bring!
Solo traveling can be gut wrenchingly lonely at times. I have to look back to the day in the mountains and the moment the white fog shifted to reveal a beautiful view, just for a second, the same can be said of company. When I find good people after a stint of solo traveling, I can appreciate the beauty of them even more, even if the encounters are fleeting. There is something to learn from everyone. This blog also helps as I know it is for you and that you are reading these words now. We can forget that those daily calls and texts to a partner can build up a security inside of both of you, a constant connection. The loss of that is the hardest part for me.
I feel brave for removing myself and traveling far away. Who actually travels around China? Usually it’s Thailand, India, Cambodia or Vietnam.
It’s hard to get a tan here, it’s very hot but the fog stops the ultraviolet light from getting through. I may be wrong about this, regardless, it’s almost impossible.
Art has stayed by me and taken me to more places than any relationship. People all have a reason why they are traveling, a story. Traveling for art always brings up conversations about creativity. Most people think it’s totally subjective.
I’m very aware of my body and I am stretching its capabilities at every chance. I’ve never been into hiking or any fitness routines. I tell my friends that I think I’ve lost myself and that I don’t know who I am anymore at the age of 38. My friend told me that I haven’t lost myself and that I am evolving. He also said ‘What we feel isn’t always a reflection of the truth’.
I spoke to Arthur about politics and a a car crash he was involved in. He has some scars on his face and body and said it took a long time to recover psychologically. Drivers in China are nuts, often turning bends in the oncoming traffic lane, Arthur is a bit anxious. ‘Sometimes I prefer to close my eyes when they drive like that’ he said.
We are on our way to the rice terraces, north of Guilin. An Indian girl called Minna, from another hostel, has joined us today. Usually travelers ask the same questions ‘Where are you from? Where did you come from? How long are you here? Where are you going next?’. The next level of questions usually revolve around your backstory and career. When new travelers are around they are enthusiastically asking and answering these questions. When you’ve been traveling for a while, you put less effort into these conversations and just hang out. That is unless you feel a real connection.
I learned how to recall my backstory in under two minutes. Her mouth was open, the usual shocked reaction. Arthur turned around to her, smiled and said ‘a heavy story’, he’s heard it all. When I said I split with my boyfriend before the trip and she asked why, people who know just smile. A ‘boyfriend’ sounds so juvenile. He was my best friend, my connected lover, my soulmate, my everything. I don’t go heavily into it and just say the key points, move past it and then focus on the present. I just need to continue recovering. I wasn’t ready for travelling but somehow I know it came at a time of turbulence and it grabbed me away from it all. This is what I’m going to do in any bad part of my life now, pick up my backpack and travel. It’s not running away or ‘doing a geographical’. There’s so much to learn about others, about yourself and recontextualising the contexts you place yourself within. Zoom out and refocus.
The Longsheng Rice Terraces (mostly built about 650 years ago), also called the Longji Rice Terraces, are located in Longsheng County, about 100 kilometres from Guilin, Guangxi, China. There are lovely little wooden houses here, I heard the villages were restored by the Swiss. Wikipedia states that Longji (Dragon’s Backbone) Terraced Rice Fields received their name because the rice terraces resemble a dragon’s scales, while the summit of the mountain range looks like the backbone of the dragon.
The rice terraces were pretty impressive to look at. We walked up the mountain instead of getting the cablecar. These boys love to hike! Minna struggled and reminded me of my first days hiking. I think my fitness levels are improving now but I still need to smoke less. I saw the rice growing and ate rice cooked in bamboo, which is the traditional regional way in this part of China. I don’t get what happens in the middle of the process, what does a rice plant look like below the surface?
The Miao tribe, who live here, is an ethnic group recognised by the government of China as one of the 55 official minority groups. Their staple food is rice.
Game of thrones stare into the distance.
The Wada Hostel in Guilin is cheap and quite incredible (thanks Matthew for the recommendation). We all feel really at home here, washing our clothes, catching up on emails (the wifi connection is the best yet) and eating from to European menu. It’s actually good to eat something other than rice, noodles or soup for a change. Last night I had Italian chicken pasta and lay out on a double lounger, with a fan all to myself. I felt like a princess. There’s also a pool table and the boys are watching the French football final against Portugal tonight. The hostel arranged this visit to the rice terraces and there are other trips where you can raft down the river. It’s a good way to meet other travellers and share experiences.
My plan is to head to Yangshou to watch a show on a river, by the choreographer from the Olympic Games. I remember watching this on YouTube with E, as we were getting excited about going to China together. I used to walk around thinking ‘oh he would love this’ but now I take it all in for myself.
I decided to book a one hour bamboo boat trip (alone) down the River Li. When I say alone I didn’t expect to be sharing the river with dozens of other noisy motorised boats.The boat wasn’t bamboo, it was made from blue PVC pipes and wood. After experiencing the magical vertical mountains at Zhangjiajie, the Li River views left me feeling a little underwhelmed and disappointed. The highlight of this ride was meant to be the view of Yangdi – Nine Horses Hill. It was a grey day and the water was a muddy colour. Each mountain range is named after camel humps or eagles, or whatever they are supposed to look like. I met Stephan, who is German, and his parents, also German, and they took the ride with me. Stephan is truly fascinating and full of China facts, as this was his third time visiting. He seems to always return to the same places, showing friends and family the key spots. Stefan talked about his Phd in Switzerland. His research involves in handing out electronic vehicles and testing peoples angst levels. It was more complex than this but I found it quite difficult to follow. I’ve met a few Phd students here, all studying these little niche areas.
The walk around Yangshou was very pleasant, despite the intense heat. We went for lunch with Stefan’s parents and walked through the little lanes. It reminds Brighton here. A Chinese Brighton. The town is surrounded by mountains and all the shop signs are intensely coloured. Each stall repeats itself. Scarf stall. Fan stall. Wooden statue stall. Archery stall. Dress stall. Scarf stall. Fan stall. Wooden statue stall. Archery stall. Dress stall. ‘Pillow, cheaper, hello’, women shout. ‘Búyào’, I reply (do not want). People seem very happy here.
There are umbrellas all over china, as they are used to shield from the intense heat or for protection from the rain. I’m getting obsessed photographing them. I’m also consistently taking photographs of children, all Chinese children are adorable.
Lots of men have their big bellies hanging out, with their their t-shirts raised above the bulge. If you are really lucky, you’ll see their girlfriends contently stroking the flab. It’s also quite common to see a man with one long fingernail or thumbnails. This is used to pick their noses or ears and also for envelope opening, all very practical uses.
ANIMAL CRUELTY PHOTOS BELOW
This was at the back of the indoor meat market. Dogs and cats crammed in cages, along with corpses dangling from hooks. ‘No Photo!’, they shouted aggressively, as they think I will jeopardise their business. Most Chinese people are against eating cats and dogs as I’ve heard them say ‘They are our friends’. One dog and one cat just stared directly at me, heads bowed. The dogs are kept behind the counter in the dark. It’s really quiet, not a single bark or meow. They have given up. I almost threw up right there. The stench was unbearable. I wanted to buy them all and release them, poor poor creatures. I’ve heard many debates where people ask what the difference is between eating pork and beef, to cats and dogs. I’ve also heard that some rich business people eat the brains of half alive scalped monkeys.
The ‘Impression’ show in Yangshou is set outside, the stage is the river, trimmed by a mountains formed into a bay. As the sun began to set, the dramatic lighting illuminated the mountains and Chinese my doc began. I sat with my mouth open in complete awe. Who goes to musicals on their own? It was a very surreal and lifetime experience. If there were a timeline on our grave stones, this would be on mine. It moved me and for a few moments, I wished that my immediate past was a big nightmare. I imagined E getting a REAL high from this, as I leaned on his shoulder. Instead some boys next to me offered me some strange fruit and I tried to figure out my shutter speed, ISO and whatever the other setting is called.
Chinese people make a lot of noise all the way through the show, hardly applaud anything impressive and use flash photography. Chinese people as a collective are always loud, without many manners, they love flashing lights, bright colours and cute things. They are basically children in adult bodes.
The music had the tone a a traditional love story. Performers entered the ‘stage’ on boats and piers. Costume changes were impressive, really fast and some outfits had operated lights on them. Children chanted, masses of people carried fire torches and the main character, a lady in a white dress danced on a moon. Imagine the Beijing Olympic ceremony as a love story on a lake with a real idyllic Chinese landscape. Endless rows of coned hats and curved boats were flooded with red lighting. Performers held reams of red fabric, stood in their boats and rhythmically created waves.
Megan Broadmeadow, you would love this!
Kunming and new friends
New thoughts The wifi at Guilin Airport is called ‘Glairport’. It made my smile to myself as everyone is actually glaring at me. Children stare the most. One little girls looked at me in horror but couldn’t look away. She almost started crying because to her, I’m completely alien with my white skin, green eyes and western features. Babies often look away when I say hello to them, one baby boy kept turning away and just had a fixed puzzled expression.
Why aren’t planes transparent? Imagine seeing the world move under your feet and watch the sunrise/sunset beneath you and above you.
I’ve arrived at my hostel ‘Cloudland International Youth Hostel’, Kunming in style.
It feels like home here. There are sofas and everywhere, table tennis, pool, everything is perfect. I’ve already made some new friends. Abe is from Chicago, US, Alex and Kelvin are from the UK, Dido (her English name) is from China. She will be traveling to Dali with me. We strolled around town in the evening. This is the first place in China that I could imagine living in. It feels clean and relaxed here, with a large students population and a lovely big lake in the park. We laughed a lot, sat down to eat some street food and I smoked a cigarette with chopsticks.
Karaoke. KTV is everywhere!
More square dancing in the park to work off dinner.
Ni hao (hello) doggie under food stall.
Here’s the plan for the next week:
Over the past week I’ve actually been laughing a lot, even recalling elements of my story before I came here. It’s so tragic, yet I find myself laughing at how unbelievable it all is. I’m totally off my antidepressants and I’ve started to read books again. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to focus on reading, it means I’m finally relaxing and beginning to recover. Travelling has helped keep my mind busy because dwelling and keeping attached is a kind of addiction in itself.
I’m travelling to Dali tomorrow with two Chinese girls Kitman and Dido, I share a room with them here in ‘Cloudland’. It’s my birthday soon and I want to be in a busy hostel. Dali has a ceramic scene and an art district, I’m getting ready for my fix. Maybe that was a little inappropriate.
Thank you for taking time to read my blog, it means a lot as I feel like you are with me.