World Heritage Villages of Hongcun & Xidi

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
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Trip End Aug 12, 2011


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What I did
Xidi Village
Hongcun Village
Old Tunxi Town

Flag of China  ,
Thursday, August 11, 2011

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There was a major rain and thunderstorm through the night. This morning, we woke up to a chill in the air coming through our open window.  I felt we were in the clouds themselves with the poor visibility.  I could see a tree just outside our window bending with the wind.  We're lucky to have experienced a beautiful sunrise yesterday, because today it’s a fog out.

We had planned to make our way down the Western Steps and the Yuping Cableway and hopefully with an early start pass before the conga line crowds that our guide Jessica says typifies the narrow sections of this area.   When we saw the current poor visibility and hikers in the hotel lobby all dressed in rain gear fully prepared for rain, we decided to change our plans and take a shortcut down to the Yungu Cableway, the one we came up on, and spend the rest of the day visiting World Heritage Site Villages.  Jessica not so subtly was lobbying for this plan late yesterday afternoon and we assented this morning.

As we were waiting for Jessica in the lobby, I took out my iphone photo gallery and looked at some of Michael Kenna’s images of Huangshan.  He used fog to simplify his compositions and focus on a single tree, mountain or path in a very dramatic way.  I showed them to Harvey and we both agreed that today was just the type of weather that Kenna’s images were taken.  We have been blessed with the perfect weather and how fortunate we are to be here under these conditions!  Harvey remembered that when we spent a week in New Zealand hiking the Milford Track we had very similar conditions, but we didn’t recognize the photographic potential.   We also remember the German tourist on the Great Wall.  We are reminded again to find beauty and opportunity in whatever comes.

I start to get this feeling of loss in my gut.   I ask myself, what is really bothering me?  Today, what beauty could I have witnessed if we took the other path down the western steps?  What am I missing by not taking that path?  I have looked forward to this trip for so long and this is our last day touring, our international flight home is tomorrow.   This day has become a microcosm of my life.  As I sit in the hotel lobby these feelings of loss are more than this path that we are not going to take down the mountain or the last touring day in China.  Over the past seven or so years, I have been more aware that we have lived more years than we have ahead of us.  I don’t want to come to the end of my life with regrets.    We make choices of what we do and how we live our lives and in the process choose to do one thing or another every day.  The point is - there isn’t enough time to do it all.  Instead of focusing on paths not taken, I need to celebrate those that were taken.  In Huangshan, it was our hiking both sides of the Xihai Grand Canyon and the sunrise experience.   How about our trip to China!  We certainly can’t control the weather, but as Harvey is want to say, we can control our attitude and what we think. 

Our last hike on Huangshan is a reminder of how walking is a social activity for the Chinese.  As they walk, many talk in a boisterous manner and some yell to each other.  We hear a "hello" and turn around and we’re not sure who said it so we smile and respond “ni hao” to everyone.  I’m sure I don’t have the tone correct, but I now chant “ni hao” before anyone says anything and sometimes people respond back with ni hao, hello, hi.  As we walk a downhill stretch, we pass a man sitting in a sedan chair being carried by two porters.  Harvey wonders if he should have given that a try.  A young boy is walking with his head down and looks up and sees me and his eyes grow to be wide open as if he has never seen a foreigner before.  What’s a normal way to hike in a national park? 

About one hour from the base of Huangshan, we arrive at Leigang Villa Restaurant for lunch.  I really liked this small, clean unassuming place.  We had wild vegetables from the mountain, bean sprouts, bamboo with pork and a soup of egg, tomato and greens.  The fresh vegetables grown in the area were stir-fried in grape seed oil, garlic and salt and served with rice.  We tried the Huangshan local beer.  The vegetables were naturally flavorful.  It was so good that I wish that I could cook like this at home.  Really fresh vegetables is the key.

We have come to visit the Hongcun Village, a world heritage site, that has about 150 residences and a water system dating back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties and said to be among the best of their kind in China.  Scenes from the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed here.   The architecture, narrow lanes, school and community center were all interesting.  What captured my imagination is walking into one of the homes and seeing the second floor where women would spend their time.  I had read the book “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See, a novel about the 19th century code of conduct for women’s duties in China’s rural areas.  I was riveted by their life and standing here in one of the typical homes completed the picture for me.

Xidi Village was declared part of the “ancient villages in Southern Anhui” and along with Hongcun is a World Heritage Site.   It is similar to Hongcun but with more shops.  It was still interesting to walk through.

Next we head to Old Tunxi Ancient Street.  With centuries old history, it is lined with stores standing two or three floors with local Anhui construction.  It is charming.  We weren’t in a buying mood, but the feel of the old architecture, the people watching and window shopping is fun.  There are handicrafts on display, brush calligraphy, ink painting, woodcarvings, stone as art, antiques, tea shops, and restaurants.  We stopped in at Sanwei Tea Shop and had a tea tasting of their locally grown tea.  We learned a lot and had fun.  We tasted some black Chinese crackers (maybe good to forestall grey hair?) that are eaten with tea and that was a new experience as well.  And to our surprise we brought some tea and crackers for home!

At about 10:30 PM, we boarded our 7th and last domestic flight in China. 

Tomorrow, we’re bound a half a world away to Miami Beach, Florida.

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