A Guizhou Break

Trip Start Jun 03, 2006
Trip End Jun 03, 2009

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

City life is nice, but the ugly white fluorescence, and seemingly omnipresent images of my office walls searing my retina were enough to prompt me to suggest that we should get away.  It was the classic, Where? Anywhere... type conversation. Actually, fresh air and a bit of greenery were closest to my mind and the suggestion of a short flight to what I personally find to be the most beautiful province in China, Guizhou, was just the ticket.
Sitting in a hotel in the provincial capital, Guiyang, it was hard to believe we were in the same country after the glittering glass and bright lights of Shenzhen.  The traffic was minimal, a fact borne out by the almost total absence of road-markings.  Soon afterwards we were to find that those same roads turned into a late night BBQ. You couldn't clearly see the far end of the street 100 metres away for smoke from all manner of food, being cooked in all manner of styles although mostly it was grilled over a brazier or fried in a large wok.  Needless to say, the smell as you walked down the road was more than interesting, although the pungent stench of the cabbage soaked tofu is not always one to set the taste buds racing.  It was a struggle not to want to try everything on offer though, although the fact that at random we seemed to choose the most expensive barbecue on the street to sit down at went some way to controlling the greed inspired by such a cocktail of edible aromas.
There's something inside of me that initiates a feeling of deep distrust and revolt at the sight of mass tourism and a village or city built to funnel and trap visitors like cattle.  As we arrived in Huaxi after an entertaining and rickety bus ride from Guiyang I feared the same.  Yet, apart from the high 6 kuai entrance fee to the park containing the rather pretentiously named, "Love Stream", there was no sign of organisation at all. Yes, there were lots of people, yes, there were lots of tourist shops selling the kind of objects you would only ever consider buying when you both lost your sanity and are on holiday, but as we headed to Qingyan I was delighted to find myself in a busy, yet calm and relatively unpopulated corner of the world.
There really is nothing to Qingyan, yet it is pretty and quaint.  It's unique feature is that it has been preserved and where appropriate tastefully redeveloped. Whether this protection against some of the ravages of China's more recent past has anything to the home of Zhou Enlai's father being in the village I can only speculate.  It is viewed as a place to visit for a day or half-day, buy your souvenir food and alcohol and head back to the city.  By 8pm it was deserted and the streets were almost pitch black except for the lights from shopkeepers working to develop their stores.  Our hostel was outside the village walls and when we walked out of the large gate, one could imagine having reached the edge of civilisation and heading off into the great unknown as the green fields and rolling hills lay ahead of you.
Before I knew it, Sunday morning was upon us, but it was bright, and warm and the fresh air of a country morning ( I know it's a cliché, but after big city life you treasure it) filled my lungs.  If I'd been alone I'd have probably headed out into the fields to watch the farm workers with their water buffalo and dogs and to enjoy the swaying of the crops in the gentle breeze. As it was, there was a clamber along the recently reconstructed village wall and a more sedentary wander through the Sunday market where it seemed as though every villager from miles around had come to sell their speciality, be it farm tools or seed, to dogs, cattle and fresh vegetables. Anything being eaten - except for the cured tofu - was fresh.  The row of stalls through the middle of the market square selling food were no different, and I enjoyed delicious dou jiang and you tiao (soya milk and fried bread sticks)
Actually, sometimes to my distraction, food was a constant theme of our visit.  It may well be a legacy of the cultural oppression of the 20th Century in China that has led the Chinese people to identify themselves and their regions with an essential such as food more than anything else.  My experience of Chinese travel is that food is certainly one of the main points of interest for tourists exploring another region.  Here was no exception as we sat down for what seemed like the 10th meal of the day in pleasant surroundings.  Of course, I exaggerate, but a fascination with food is something I'm going to have to learn to understand here.  I enjoy my food, of course, but just not enough to make a holiday out of it. You can't get past the importance, nay obsession with food here in China though. Perhaps it comes down to a question of values placed on time.  I will happily eat on the fly if it allows me to do something new or of particular interest. I suppose I would not turn down a tour of French vineyards which is a reasonable comparison to make with the traditional Chinese tourist experience.
At times over the weekend one or other or both of us were cranky, but it was also a testament to how close we've become.  We've both had a few up and down weeks in Shenzhen and now was time to flush it all out of the system.  Cycling by the river on a rather dilapidated contraption resembling a bicycle on Sunday lunchtime felt so good I wish it could have gone on forever.  I'm always happy next to water, and the green of the immaculately (by China's standards) kept local produce and the elegant arches of the bridge across the bridge were enough to make you forget city life completely.  As ever, on such occasions, time flies, but I will always fondly remember having those moments because right then they were just what I needed.
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