Noilly Prattle: China 2017: 1 - Between Xi'an and Yangshuo

Monday, April 3, 2017

China 2017: 1 - Between Xi'an and Yangshuo

our travel route 

the Bell Tower in Xi'an's walled city
     Having enjoyed traveling in the Chinese Province of Yunnan last year, Road Buddy and I decided to give China another chance to host, dazzle and entertain us again this year. We planned to travel from the Ancient Capital of Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, famous for the Terra Cotta Warriors discovered by a farmer in the 1970s, to the world famous terrain of the karst mountain formation along the Li Jiang river between Guilin and Yangshuo in Guangxi Province. We planned to stop in Wulingyuan National Scenic Park, Hunan Province (the geology of which inspired the floating Hallelujah Mountains in the James Cameron film Avatar); the Ancient Town of Fenghuang, Xiangxi Province; the Ethnic Dong Village in Sanjiang, Guangxi; Guilin and Yangshuo in the karst mountain area of Guangxi.

Li Jiang (Li River) and karst mountains
        The travel was more difficult than we had anticipated after the relatively easy experience we had in Yunnan Province last year and the weather was basically various shades of gray with intermittent days of rain and showers—it even snowed in Xi'an adding a extra shimmer to the old buildings and landscape gardens. A glimpse of a rare patch of blue sky and a ray of sunshine was cause for celebration, but, oddly enough, the weather grew on us and I actually began to like it. For one thing it added an aura of mystery to the karst mountains shrouded in fog at times or draped in white clouds in the valleys that gave added definition to the peaks that looked like goose bumps on the earth or maybe crazy mushrooms.

        In well known places like Xi'an and Guilin/Yangshuo that host foreign (read Western) tourists English is spoken well enough to make it fairly easy to travel and stay there. However, once off the beaten path where relatively few foreign tourists yet go, English is practically non-existent or rudimentary at best. This makes travel difficult since communication is essential for finding places to stay, eat, make travel arrangements, etc. One is reduced to the most basic of communication tools—facial expression and body gestures—that actually work with varying degrees of efficiency, or sometimes have to be abandoned as hopeless. For example, when we stopped at a roadside restaurant I asked the proprietress for a toilet, but she didn't understand the word. The only thing I could think to do was mime taking a leak and she caught on immediately and laughed uproariously. Then she showed me where a pubic toilet across the road was located. An interesting thing in this age of technology is that many Chinese have smart phones that can do translation, dicey translations at best, but that proved to be a big help in getting things done in the hinterlands.

a family on the boat to Yangshuo
       Nevertheless, we survived inclement weather and communication difficulties and I have some tales to tell and photographs to show; and that, after all, is what travel is all about—taking you out of the ordinary and having some extraordinary experiences—and, by the way, testing your mettle and unplugging from the sound and fury of a world in extraordinary turmoil. Because, on the most basic of levels, ordinary people are involved in the very ordinary business of living their lives as best they can—something I think we can easily forget when plugged in to the seemingly non-stop controversies of the day.

        Xi'an, the ancient capital of the “First Emperor” Qin Shi Huang 秦始皇, was the first stop on our Winter 2017 travels in China.

No comments: