We have been in Yangshuo now for eight days. Bill had to go on to Shanghai so we decided to take a two day excursion into Longsheng. We hired a driver for $175 for two days to take us there for two days and then back to the airport in Guilin.
Longsheng is the area known for their terraced landscape. We plan to visit the Longji and Pingan villages there.
We had a "travel" breakfast of coffee (bought a coffee pot for 50 cents and made coffee in the room) and pastries with noodles. The breakfast of travel champions. (Our noodles came with a folding fork. We gave it to Bill so that he wouldn't starve while away from us.)
On the way to Pingan we stopped briefly at a tea house and enjoyed a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.
I had seen many spectacular pictures of Longsheng and I wanted to capture one for myself. It was raining all the way up. The road snaked up the the terraces and I got glimpses at them here or there as the clouds swept through. Mostly though it was impossible to get a good shot on the way up. I didn't know where we'd be staying so I was surprised when I discovered that the hotel was amidst these very rice terraces.
Getting out of the car and up to the hotel was an adventure. I must have climbed hundreds of stairs. I didn't count them but there were a lot. I didn't realize it at the time but it would take us at least 20 minutes to climb up to the hotel wedged into the mountainside. I had no idea mountain climbing was required to stay in Longsheng. I didn't understand any of this at the time we arrived.
When the car pulled up there were hoards of women in colorful costumes gesturing toward empty baskets with shoulder straps. What did they want? I got out into the swarm. There were ten pushing in at me. I could hardly make my way to the trunk. When we did open the trunk, all I could see was a forest of arms reaching at my stuff. What is going on? "Wo bu xuyao." (I don't need.) I didn't know what they wanted but I didn't need this. I pushed them aside, hoisted my bags from the trunk and started up the hill. But the crowd of women made my every step more difficult. "Wo keyi. Wo bu xuyao ni de bangzhu." (I can do it. I don't need your help.) But they persisted all the more. Ruth is yelling at me to look up for a Kodak moment. She thought this was great fun. She had already handed over her bags to the kidnappers for some unknown ransom.
They would not take NO! for an answer. If I backed up, they'd crowd in around me. If I tried to move forward, it was tug-a-war with my bags. If I continued forward I'd have to carry all ten of them up the mountain with me. This is crazy! They all carried folding umbrellas for the rainy weather. One of them leaned down to grab my bag and and nearly put out my eye with the point of the thing. They didn't think they were getting through to the cheap weiguoren so one of the woman started a game of charades. She pantomimed climbing up hill, she wiped her brow and started breathing heavily. "Dui, Dui, wo zhidao. Wo keyi. Wo bu xuyao ni de bangzhu. Xiexie nimen." (Correct, correct, I know. I can do it. I don't need your help. Thank you.)
I was already exhausted and I hadn't even climbed the path.
If you don't want to walk, you can be carried. Men can carry you up using poles strapped to a bamboo chair. I had already climbed up three quarters of the way when they again offered to carry me the rest of the way. It's cheap for Chinese (just 5 yuan) but it's four times more expensive for a weiguoren. (I know. They offered to carry me for 20 yuan and Ruth for 5.) They think all of us non-asians have bucks. I tell them: "Tai guila. Wo shi nongmin nongfu. Wo buyao qin. Wo de taitai you hen duo qin." (It's too expensive. I'm just a peasant farmer. I have no money. My wife has all the money.) They look at Ruth, she's asian, they laugh, they don't believe me. (If only they knew that I only get $20 a week for my lunch money!) It's true. I do work in the field. Right? My Chinese name IS Tian. (Tian means "field" and the character is simply a square with a horizontal line and one vertical line running through. It's a pictograph of a rice field.)
Anyway, it's a beautiful walk up the mountain. Even in overcast the landscape is spectacular. In every direction I see terraces dotted with wooden structures, some old, some new. There is plenty of construction here in Longsheng. The heavy tourists season hasn't begun yet but it's coming. With the May showers the terraces fill up with water and reflect blue skies in their pools. Tourists swell in the wooden hotels as the terraces fill with rain.
We were beyond tired when we reach the hotel. I kept thinking that we'd be there soon but with every step and every turn there were yet more stone stairs to climb. We ate lunch and rested and chatted in the dinning room overlooking the grand view of the hotel.
(The hotel is more like a cabin. Don't expect fancy accommodations here. The shower IS the bathroom. There's a shower-head hanging off the tile wall. There's a drain in the floor. You just strip, turn it on and go. Everything in the bathroom becomes wet. Bring your own soap. There ain't no blowdryers or shampoo, you wimp.)
My favorite thing to do is stroll around and talk with the local people. Lynn is great with the kids and parents. She carries candy and asks if she can give some to the kids. After taking a picture, she'll show it to the people. They love it. She met two old men hanging out a window. She talked a bit, called me over, and asked me to take a few pictures. The old men wanted me to send them a copy so he put on his makeshift glasses of wire and tape and scribbled his address in Chinese characters in my book. (I snail mailed a copy of his picture when we got to Qingdao, In our 2008 trip we returned. When we saw Mr. Liu again he ran to his room, returned with his album to show us the picture I took. He was so happy to see us again.)
We also met two old ladies that were willing to tell us their age. The older the woman the more pride she takes in her longevity. She told us she was 70 years old. I said, pointing to Lynn: "Ta shi jiushi. Ta kanla hen hao. dui ba?" (Lynn is 90. She looks good yes?") They just laugh and laugh. They have a good sense of humor. Lynn frowned at me and told them: "Ta buhaoren." (He's very bad.) "Kai wan xiao." (Just joking.) I told them. Just these few expressions really help us connect with each other. She patted Lynn on the back and waved me off. We all enjoy our limited communication. "zai jian" We say goodbye and went on our way.
The Yao woman are another story. They dress in colorful gowns and scarfs wrapped around their heads. The distinguishing thing about these woman is their hair. They never cut it. They believe that everyone wants to take a picture of them letting down their hair. And they want money for this. Five of them walked up to me while I was taking a photo of a fern. One of them pulled out a dog-eared and faded brochure and showed me four woman holding their jet-black hair just off the ground. They told me I could take my own picture of them for some amount of money but I wasn't listening. "No thanks. Great hair and all but ..." They were very insistent. She grabbed my arm and gestured to her head and then the picture. Yeah, I get it. No! She kept at this while I tried to ignore her. She was like a pestering little kid pulling at my sleeve saying: "I can jump you know. Wana see me jump?" Go away kid, you bother me.
Our hotel is fairly empty except tonight's noisy group downstairs banging at the tables singing Hokey Pokey, an American song.
We always bring ear plugs. Tonight we made good use of them and so were soon off to sleep.
Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. -Chinese proverb