Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Joys of Yashou's Landscape and Song

View from lodgings
Finally, weary of monster cities where traffic is packed in like a good Lego set, nothing moves, and there are so many masses of people you have to re-jerk yourself to acknowledge who you are and that yes, you do have a role and importance in life. We are such individualists in the US, and individualism is the new robe for so many Chinese who have lived as and been thought of as the masses for centuries. This is why the China art world has exploded into the face of the world with gusto. It pays to be original.

Shopping street in Langshou
We flew from Chengdu, a city of over 8 million, to Guilen, a city of 80,000, so you get the feeling of the drop. And, for the first time on my China adventure, there are the usual excellent roads, but there's no one on them but us. Wow. I know this freedom is short lived because Yangshuo is a natural wonder for its topography, 10,000 incredible Karst limestone hills, like giant green fingers protruding in the air, and rivers running through them. Tourists are already discovering it with weekend trips from Hong Kong, and hotels are rising like fireworks to hug all those wanting the experience. But most appealing is that here in a "landscape theater" twice every night is the extraordinary production of Impressions, preformed on a large lake with 600 actors, and produced by one of the producers of the Beijing Summer Olympics of 2008.

Cooking school layout
Not only that, the people are rural, farmers; some men even wear hunting knives in their belts and still use the "shout out" system of communication, women shout at the men when its time to get home and the men shout back, I guess whatever they feel about the need. This can carry on for miles. There are rice paddies, passion fruit and pomegranates, osmanthus flower fields, pomelo (in season) and citrus fruits, honey bees, water buffalo, geese, and a few of the colorful minorities that still reside in the mountains of Southern China. Rice is grown, not for consumption, but for exportation, so farmers earn a bit from that, after they have stored what they need for a season. But most seem to be tall thin men who spend their day floating tourist (mostly Chinese) down the Li River lined with Phoenix Tail bamboo weaving below the giant Karst hills. (Boatmen earn about 25 dollars a two hour trip.)

Eggplant and beer fish by me
Our residence was the Yashoang Mountain resort, which has already settled along a river tributary with a precious view of the Karst hills. But, services are limited. Can't flush toilet paper and ruin their septic system. Don't clean the rooms. Don't tote luggage. But they cook up a good Chinese meal and their menu is rich with American choices from pizza to hamburger, which suggests American tourist have discovered this place. Every small room has a balcony and air conditioning and really good wi-fi, but the hot water runs only at certain times.

Dance of the Red Nets
Our first event was a cooking school which regularly brings tourist wannabe Chinese chefs a bit closer. It's all about the cleaver and the wok. How to handle without injury. And we had an aggressive teacher who got upset if one failed to put the chopped green onions on the plate separate from the chopped bell peppers. Oh well. We prepared for the three dishes we were allowed. All I wanted to do was to learn how to make dumplings. She relented (it wasn't on the list) and we chopped into tiny fine a bunch of green onions, rubbery fungus (it cooks good) and carrots, and used store bought dumpling wrappings to make the stand up pieces (mine flopped).

Luna Song
We made a beer fish with cat fish and a good eggplant dish and a lotus root , all of which are over-kill on oil and salt, and if you wish hot peppers. The young teacher would yell out orders - Now put in the garlic," or the fish, and yell out "stir slowly, slowly" and made sure her English instructions were well understood. In the end, we went down into a dining area and feasted. There were many other Western tour groups feasting too, so I gather this was a major cooking adventure for tourists.

Silver Z
This night included one of the most amazing theatrical experiences I've ever enjoyed. Called "landscape theater," the "Liu San Jie" theater holds 3000 and it is packed every performance. We had a box at the top where the view was spectacular but picture taking had poor results. Imagine being in the middle of the Beijing Olympics Opening show directed by Zhong Yi Mao. This is his cerebral baby, performed in the Ox-Bow curve of Li River, sort of like a lake with the beautiful Karst hills (about 500-700 ft tall) as a backdrop, completely lit up now and then, and the echo of voices reverberates as groups sang in unison, responding to one another from across the large lake.

DCV pipe rafts hauling down the Li
Young girls sang in soprano voices, and from barges on three sides of the lake, other groups, lit up by breathing fire or by exotic lighting, would respond. And others moved about on hidden rafts with the most impressive being when 15 rows of men 35 deep dragged huge red swags across the entire width of the lake (1.5 kilometers) making a symphony in red that invigorated the soul. The last section (there were six elements all with music) about 200 women dressed in ornate silver costumes formed a Z across the lake, one by one turning on their lights as they round the corner, and then when all done, turned them off all at once. Then their costumes turned to gold light. Then back to silver. Well, I wish I could really paint the picture, but it was so extraordinary, it's impossible. I actually stood up most of the time because I was so invigorated to see such miraculous theater I couldn't sit still. And it made me start wondering how we could do "landscape theater" on our own Mississippi River.

View on the money
Most of the performers were from local minority groups. There are the Zhuang who dance and sing as they work and shout out to each other from long distances; 2)The Dong women, a matriarchal society (to be accepted as a groom, boys must prove themselves with three things: 1) house-keeping. 2) farming, and 3) silver mining - getting silver and making beautiful things for their beloved. He will work 3 years to achieve acceptability in these things, but if the girl, at the end says, "no", he has to start over for the next female hope.

Fan factory
The third group are the Yao women who have the longest hair in the world.The only time in their entire lives their hair is cut is when they are 16 yrs old. By the time they are 60 years old, hair would be almost two meters long and it is continually plaited and rolled and twisted on their head. From the time the girl starts growing her hair and the time she gets married, she cannot show her hair to anyone. She undoes her hair at the wedding, and it is always black and shiny, never going gray, because she washes it in fermented rice water (rice takes two weeks to ferment) (Yes, bad odor goes with it.) She shampoos twice a week only, no more, no less, and rinses it with mountain spring water.

Shopping street in Langshou
Once she lets her hair down, it is in three thick strands - the middle one is real hair from birth, the left one is the one cut at age 16 and the right one is made up of all the hairs removed from continuous hair brushing over the years woven together. In the show, there is a group of women in plain kimono style robes in a scene with a large cradle moon. At the scene's end, their hair is let down in unison and the robes are removed from them, leaving them in white body stockings. It has impact. When the show sort of ends as all the 600 participants are absorbed by the shores, you are speechless. And we walked out into the same world from which Mr. Zhong saw what he saw in the mystery of life.

The engine can run anything
Our second day in Yangshou, we slowed down the pace and spend the morning and the afternoon cruising down the Li River in a primitive raft and later in the day down a tributary in front of our hotel in a more primitive but fun floater. I guess I expected something more isolated, after an hour and a half drive through the Karst of Guilen when we arrived at Xingping, the launch spot. It was packed with tourists and I had to buy a crown with flowers on it. I crawled across three DVC pipe rafts to reach ours. This is major boat primitivism with a strange fan-like motor the driver must sit beside to muster the whole trip. Then I looked across the waters and couldn't believe how many rafts were filling with tourist, mostly Chinese.

Bamboo rafts for real
There are 400 boats available for 25 kilometers down the Li viewing the Karst. You take a lot of pictures and at one point, a turn around spot for some, you can take a photo in front of the very scene that is on China paper money (the Karst scene on one side and Mao ZeDong on the other). The two hours were pleasant, calming, with scenery to die for. After two hours plus, we pulled up to a crude dock and disembarked none the worse for wear, then had to stroll through the tourist vendors trying to sell you everything you can imagine "made in China."

Made in China
After lunch at Yangshuo 7 Heaven Cave which overlooked one of the shopping streets in the village of Fuli, we were guided to a "fan studio" where they make fans from scratch, large fans, nothing smaller than something you needed to put on a stand and display. We did stop in a very expensive shop which sold the incredible embroidery and needlework done by the Miao and other tribal women. If you wandered upstairs, you found the real stuff which had real prices - from 3 - 10,000 dollars for a detailed baby carrier (which mothers made for their baby) or heavily embroidered gown. Prices are not cheap in China, tho you think it would be. And you have to have an eye to see when something has been done not by hand, but machine, or half and half. I did find a pair of the "lotus shoes" , remnant from some woman who suffered her life with bound feet. It seemed appropriate.

Evening peace
We headed about an hour up the tributary not far from our lodge to end the day with another float down the river but this time on a real bamboo raft plus there were "rapids" of sorts when we dropped from one level to another. (If you fell for it, pictures were taken and before you could say "Yiikes" it was printed and you had it. But we didn't participate in that.) Everyone in China is working to get good tourist money. This is why the middle class is increasing like a rising hot air balloon. Everyone is getting a chance to upgrade his income and the tourist trade is a winner for the farmers in the country, not to forget the million and billionaires who are taking over businesses world-wide. We disembarked at the lodge with wet feet and a groan at having to move, even tho the bamboo chair was Not comfortable. The peace was. No barking dogs. No loud music. No noisy machines. Just a quietness that heals.

No comments: