Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Guilin, Li River and Yangshuo 17.04.10 - 20.04.10

Jiantsu Ancient Village

Jiantsu Temple

Guilin is the third poorest city in the whole of China and is much smaller than the likes of Chongqing and Wuhan, two of China's new megacities. Guilin is a tourist mecca because of it's starting off point for the Li river cruise through the amazing karst scenery. The sight of white people in our hotel suggests to us that this is a stop on most peoples' travel itineraries.It rains heavily while we're here and we're lucky we sailed up the Li on the day we did, because the day after, the cruiseboats cancelled because there was too much water in the river! It had flooded the banks of the city and was flowing too fast to sail on. We enjoyed our half day cruise up the Li, even though it was drizzling. The mists provided an atmosphere of traditional Chinese landscape paintings which are always executed in greys and blacks with daubs of grey mist cloud hanging over the peaks. The karst scenery was really spectacular and if we'd known how amazing this was going to be and how poor in comparison the Yangtze turned out to be, we'd have stayed here longer. The highlight of our time in this part of the world was the two hours we spent cycling in the countryside around Yangshuo. Yangshuo is where the boats dock on the Li and has been transformed from a sleepy country town in the middle of some very impressive karst scenery to become a foreign tourists' souvenier town selling all kinds of Chinese tat. The countryside around Yangshuo is, as yet, unspoilt and remains a rural haven of water-filled rice paddies with farmers in straw hats working in their fields, sometimes ploughing up the mud using a traditional hand plough and water buffalo (the fields are too small for any kind of mechanised plough). It's a dreamy scene when the soaring cliffs and odd shaped rock mountains are reflected in the waters below. It's nice how our guide, Tracy (her English name) is in her element too, as we cycle through the countryside. She comes from a rural village near Guilin where her parents still live in a traditional Chinese farmhouse and now she lives in a simple room in the city of Guilin. But you can tell she's a country girl at heart as she speeds off on her bike and nimbly hops off and on (she used to ride everyday to school and back). While in Guilin we're driven to an ancient Chinese village called Jiantsu where people still live very simply in old fashioned courtyard style brick houses with pantiled roofs and cobbled streets. We walk round the picturesque alleys and peer into the houses, spotting an elderly group of mah jong players and a few clucking chickens. The village's temple was unfortunately severely damaged by the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution although they did leave one building standing. In this building there is a portrait of the village's forefather, the first of the Zhou family. In China, each child, boy or girl, takes the father's surname even through marriage, so now every family living in Jiantsu has the surname Zhou.