Before I tell you about our day, a quick anecdote from last night’s dinner.
During the day we had scouted out a place quite close to our Inn. When we arrived it was doing a roaring business – always a good sign. We were quickly sat at a very nice table for two near the window. A picture menu of a great many pages was given to us. The choosing was a bit daunting but we settled on braised water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. Of course another local beer. This one cheaper than others we’ve tried at the equivalent of cdn$2.00 for a half litre “to-share” bottle. It was tasty but a bit warm. The water chestnuts were also very delicious – pork balls were somehow a major part of this dish. Now the bamboo shoots. Hmmm what to say? I’m not sure what the dear panda bears see in this meal. To say it was a tad on the chewy stringy side would be a slight understatement. Thank god for dental floss upon our return home.
There was a charming young woman also eating at this restaurant. She spoke good English so she assisted first us, then a pair of young Caucasian men, by providing translations to the waitresses. Several people we’ve come across try to use a translation app on their phones but the app is seriously flawed as it doesn’t appear to properly understand the English being spoken into it. Quite a few people do speak quite good English so we’ve been getting along just fine. There is always a will to be helpful as well which also breaks down that language barrier,
Now to today’s activity. Not quite as positive as the last couple I have to say. Our lovely guide Tang Li and driver show up very promptly and we set off for a two and a half drive west up into the mountains. Our destination is the picture perfect, thus famous, Longji Rice Terraces that swirl and climb the steep sided mountains. These paddies have been in constant rice production for the past 700 years. The farmers who tend them are the Zhuang people, an ethnic minority in China. Tang Li tells us all this as we drive. We’ve seen the pictures, we’ve read the guide books. We’re looking forward to a real taste of rural China, meeting some rice farmers, and having a simple lunch in rustic traditional surroundings – as described by Tang Li.
At one point we stop in a very crowded parking lot full of massive tour busses and Tang Li goes to get our tickets.
Say what? Tickets to see rice terraces? Whatever. We’re told the money derived from ticket sales supplements the merger farm income and encourages young people to stay and continue the farming tradition. Another half hour of steep hairpin road brings us to a second jammed parking lot. We hop out and join hordes of people. OMG.
We pass through a gate and begin walking up some stone steps set into the steep hill. No sign of any rice terraces. Dad isn’t a fan of uphill walking (even less than level walking) so we take our time. The steps are fairly narrow and there are people passing going up and down. Thousands of people. We enter into a string of large wooden buildings presumably built after the fashion of what would have been much smaller bamboo farm houses. Kitch shop after kitch shop all selling stuff made in China – oh right, that’s acceptable here. I doubt much if any of the stuff was locally hand crafted. One shop sports a weaving loom. On quick inspection it is clearly a plant as it lacks all the necessary moving parts. Restaurants and hotels, several under construction, one after another, flow up the hill like a gigantic tsunami.
There are women in the traditional dress of the region which is very colourful. They call for us to stop and look at their “hand made” wares. Other women are porters and they carry baggage for the tourists who show up here with suitcases instead of backpacks. How silly is that? Lots of silliness in evidence so business is brisk for the women porters who sling the suitcases into baskets carried on their backs. There are also pairs of pushy irritating male porters with reclining sedan chairs for people unable to make the walk. Dad attracts considerable attention and two sets of these pesky wee creatures stick to us like glue for several minutes until Tang Li speaks sharply to them and they get the message to go pester someone else. Dad is just too stubborn to take the easy way and ride up a mountain in state.
So up we walk ever so slowly past shop after shop and more restaurants and hotels than conceivable. This, it turns out, is the traditional ethnic farm village we have come to see. Not a farmer in sight!
We stop for a truly delicious lunch in a beautiful restaurant offering a view out over the terraced rice paddies! Yup, there they are, hiding behind all the buildings. They glow golden, ripe plumes of rice swaying in the breeze. It is lovely. Dad declares he’s walked enough so he stays here while Tang Li and I continue to the top to admire the view down over the terraces. They do indeed sweep and swirl around the undulating terrain.
They do not stretch very far in any direction. I’m more than slightly underwhelmed. This is a sad commercialization of a view that is not as dramatic as in places such as Nepal. Frankly, I’ve seen much more spectacular rice terraces there. If the rampant commercial aspect of this view was absent, I’d have been delighted with the scene, but it is over sold and quite ruined with all the surrounding exploitive enterprise. I’m sure this is not indicative of real rural China!
The once pretty traditional ethnic village has been devoured by the tourist industry.
We do see a few farmers in the distance. I expect they are harvesting the ripe rice. Now to be fair, had we walked the hour or so over to where the work was being done we’d have seen more, but time is ticking by and Dad is hopefully not getting into too much mischief back at the restaurant.
We return, and indeed do find him getting antsy. We wend our way back through the kitch gauntlet, find our car and driver, and are driven back to our funny wee Inn.
Our drive through the mountains is enjoyable and very scenic. The huge variety of trees growing in the surrounding forests is most impressive. The towns we drive through are nothing special. Actually they are very reminiscent of Nepali towns along the main vehicle routes.
This is not a wasted day, but we’d neither of us recommend anyone to do this particular trip unless they’ve never seen a rice paddy terrace anywhere else and are unlikely to ever do so. Hiking in the region would probably lead to a much less jaded perspective as that might improve the opportunities to find something more properly traditional and authentic.
Our weather today was dry and warm. Not so here in Guilin where it’s been cold and windy. It’s currently trying hard to rain.
Good night from a slightly jaded tourist, who is looking forward to a boat trip down the River Li tomorrow.