|RURAL CHINA IS ALIVE AND WELL
Proud images of a country on a lightening race to modernize, spurred me into action. Is there still rural life in China or am I too late?
A child is about to throw up. The duck takes a dump on my left foot. A piglet, stored in the aisle, is breaking free of its bamboo bonds. Duties of a rural bus conductress in Eastern Guizhou require heroic patience and an even temperament - Especially on market days!
My Vancouver friend writes Chinese guidebooks. "Great idea but how do you plan to get around?" he asks cynically over a double decaf latte. "Each of the 55 minority groups has it's own dialect. Without a guide you're hooped!"
I soon discover that the best course of action is to look helpless. No problems there! With few exceptions Chinese people are extremely kind, good natured and proud to help. Throw yourself at their mercy and they will rarely leave you in the lurch.
My quest requires some patience and more tenacity than I had expected. The first destination is a failure. I am greeted like a 3 headed Martian looking to lunch on small children.
I revert to the guidebook, and, with a renewed sense of determination, return to the bus station.
The lone employee begins calmly enough. She makes a couple of phone calls. She switches from talking to writing. When I continue to shrug, she presses her pen until it pierces the paper, then defiantly hands me the note. Even an idiot "guilo" should understand this!
She is already peering at the clock and reaching for her coat when a voice asks, "Can I help?" Phew!
My journey to Kaili, just over the hill apiece (on my map anyway), takes 2 full days! I am led through 6 bus changes by kindly conductresses and spend the night somewhere (?) in a small hotel of a kindly official's choosing.
Mr Wu is in his tiny CITS (China International Travel Service) office when I arrive. He speaks perfect English. "But, but, Lingyun is just over the mountains," he splutters in amazement, upon hearing my story. "Where did you go?"
"Haven't a clue" I reply. "Pretty countryside though!"
"You should stay at the Ying Pan Po Hotel across the courtyard."
"At 330 Yuan ($50) its too expensive."
"Just a moment" he says, grabbing the phone.
"Would you pay 180 Yuan?" he asks, covering the receiver.
"Eat on the street. Hawker food is delicious. Kaili is famous for potato pancakes and sweet peanut soup. The woman on the corner makes the best breakfast dumplings - Be there early, she always sells out"
"Tomorrow there are markets in the Miao villages of Chong 'An and Longchang. You won't want to miss the festival at Zhouxi on Wednesday," he adds, busily writing the Chinese/English names on the back of his business card. "Just go to the bus station around the corner. Any problems, call me OK."
Wow the Holy Grail at last!
My favourite is Shidong. Here, the noisy market is by the river. Day old chicks; irate pigs bought by weight; songbirds in intricate rattan cages; sacks of rice; shoulder poles; live fish; squawking ducks; 100 year old eggs; barbers; umbrella and shoe repairers.
Traditional clothing is sold on the street above. Silver headdresses; pleated skirts dyed with indigo paste; rings; chains; coin necklaces; false hair.
Ferrymen do a roaring trade poling customers to and fro across the river. Yes, rural China is alive and well.
The trip home is slow. Maybe a thousand women are rebuilding the highway one rock at a time.
The conductress cleans my left foot with an apologetic grin. Our driver tosses a couple of Yuan to an old man who washes the side of the bus. Throwing up is normal fare on roads that resemble a roller coaster! The duck is restricted to the stairwell.
Guizhou province is one of the last untouched areas of China. It is home to dozens of minority groups, each with it's own traditional clothing, architecture and skills dating back hundreds of years. Markets and colourful festivals are real and a photographers dream.
With the encouragement of the central government, domestic tourism is changing the face of rural China at an alarming rate. Five star hotels, discos, and kitschy souvenir stands are springing up beside padi fields.
The time to visit is now!
IF YOU GO:
Copyright © 2010 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.