Tuesday, 18 November 2014

bucolic bliss

Sometimes when you're wild camping you just have to make do with what you can find at the end of the day.  We've had a few bumpy pitches lately, but nothing to keep us awake.  Today we find a perfect grassy spot, on a hill, out in the open but with cover from trees and bushes.  And it's not yet dark.  We've had to push through a small plantation of trees, but the hunch has paid off.  Down below a farmer is spraying his field with what kind of chemical?  A water buffalo bellows in a rice paddy.  Firecrackers explode in a village.  We are in a lovely valley west of Yixian town to visit the village of Nanping.  Gayle has had a look around this afternoon and I will tomorrow morning.  We're not so comfortable leaving the bikes alone - although I'm sure they'd be okay - and the real reason is that we want to use the same ticket.  Once again we've had another warm sunny day - perfect for sight-seeing.

Nanping's main claim to fame is that Zhang Yimou's Judou was filmed here, as well as scenes from Ang Lee's hit Crouching Tiger Hidden Ticket Inspector.  It's not such a big drawcard as the nearby UNESCO sights but is fascinating nonetheless.  The village is packed solid with high-walled courtyard houses, all in familiar grey stone, with ornate entrances including some lovely detailed latticework.  These villages are about a 1000 years old while the houses date from the Ming period.  And here they are still lived in by an aged population.  Not many young folk, like a lot of villages.  In one house are panels of coloured glass that came from Germany over 300 years ago, such was the measure of wealth then.  It's in sharp contrast to the poor simple homes these have now become.  No longer the homes of wealthy merchants, just sad damp draughty refuges for a forgotten population.  On my way out of the village a ticket man challenges me - he has guessed I'm using Gayle's ticket.  Ashamed, I quickly get on the bike and ride off.

Later on we are sat having our lunch in Yixian town in a tiny restaurant.  A woman wearing a facemask walks by and stops to look at us.  Our bikes are leaning against the window.  She walks on and then returns a bit later and thrusts a 50 yuan note down on our table.  It's £5.  We say thank you but no thank you and try and give the money back but she won't have it and walks away quickly.  We are speechless.

Down the road is Xidi, the other UNESCO-listed village and Gayle pays a visit while I sit in the coach park and watch the tourists pile in and pile out again.  The numbers are daunting.  As in Hong Cun, there are students everywhere painting with watercolours.  It must be part of the national curriculum judging by the numbers of artists we've seen wandering around and perched on tiny folding stools with a pot of water and a pad of paper.  Gayle remarks that the village looks much poorer than Hong Cun and we wonder how the £10 entrance money is spent.  They must rake it in, judging by the numbers this afternoon.  Nearby mountain Huangshan gets 15 million visitors a year - it's the most popular in China -and it costs £23 to visit.  Tourism is booming.  We wonder if the high prices are a way to keep visitor numbers down.  The tourists are predominantly Chinese.  On these few days we only see about six other laowai.

traditional life goes on in Xidi

Camping again in some nearby woods - the sun is setting around 5.30pm so we have long nights in the tent nowadays.  We've taken to eating instant noodles at night, quick and easy, because we can find really good cheap food during the day.  The meals are cooked fresh, the rice keeps on coming and there's always plenty of green tea to wash it all down with - ideal for us.  China isn't renowned for its environmental policies.  Since SARS and bird flu epidemics many of the nation's cheap restaurants have reverted to using disposable chopsticks - about 40 billion are produced annually.  We have seen the cut bamboo stacked on the side of the roads.  It looks like a cottage industry.  There is one thing they are very good at recycling and that's vegetable oil.   It is apparently dredged out of sewers and drains to be reprocessed and sold back to restaurants.  It's estimated about 10% of the oil used is sourced in this way - it sure adds a little je ne sais quoi to those tasty stir-fries we enjoy.

We find another back-country road that will take us to Huangshan City.  Originally called Tunxi, the town has been renamed presumably to help those 15 million visitors find their way to the entry point for trips to the big mountain itself.  Confusingly there was already another town called Huangshan on the other side of the mountain.  It seems the Chinese are good at replicating.  Along the way we pass picture-perfect scenes of rural life.  Farmhouses wedged in-between fields.  Villages with old men playing cards while the women run the shops and restaurants and do the laundry and mind the kids and keep house.  Mao famously once said that women hold up half the sky - but that only takes one hand. With the other they're doing plenty of other stuff.  The one place you won't see many women is in the upper echelons of the Party, although this may change one day as more and more young women join the Party to progress their careers.  Anhui province, a predominantly rural one, also has one of the worst boy:girl birth ratios.  In a 2009 study the ratio was 138:100 for children up to 4 years old.  The one-child policy applied to Han Chinese has been relaxed a little to change this imbalance - if your first child is a girl then you are allowed a second child.

Out in the fields there are plenty of people out harvesting chrysanthemums.  The countryside is full of these vivid yellow flowers and it looks like the time to gather them in - trucks are being filled with giant bags of them.  This area is famed for the variety used to make a tea which supposedly has many medicinal benefits.

some like it hot

When we reach Huangshan/Tunxi we take a room in one of the youth hostels. The room is a little bit more than a cheap hotel but it's much more peaceful and there're comfy communal areas.  Plus there's always staff who speak English.  We arrive on a Sunday and our plan is to renew our visa here on the Monday.  I thought our visas would expire on Tuesday but when I re-count the days they actually expire on Sunday.  Ooops.  
WANTED for ticket evasion

We wonder what they'll say when we enter the local Public Security Bureau office, but the senior officer (he has no uniform, speaks excellent English) who we talk to doesn't check the days.  The process is straightforward - we just need to write a rough itinerary for another 30 days and they want to take our photo.  To my dismay I really look my age on the photo.  We are told to return to collect on Friday - 4 days later.  That would mean 4 days of the new visa spent waiting for it.  We protest and they agree to us collecting the next day.  With great relief we do so and find they have given us 31 days extra by mistake.  Can't complain.  Now, how do we get to Xiamen?

No comments:

Post a Comment