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China

Distances are big in China and we travelled non-stop by buses and train for 40 hours from Laos over to Kaili in Guizhou province, all the while our lungs suffering from Chinese chain-smokers. From there we did a series of day trips to surrounding villages of the Miao people. I generally enjoy villages in China much more than the larger cities. Many villages still have the lovely tiled roofs, mud or wooden walled houses and there's a relaxed yet highly productive feel to them. Agriculture is a real art and the fields are worked hard with every square metre used, even if it means terracing the hillsides and diverting streams. Compared to the wholesale burning of the entire countryside we'd seen in Laos, this seemed to be a lot more sustainable and productive even if it's a lot more work, and large tracts of forest were left intact.

Our next stop was a town called Zhaoxing which is home to a minority people called Dong. Like many 4th World people they often build to a very specific style and standard. There standard house is a huge 3-storey home from wood built entirely without nails in the main structure. The only nails are on recent modifications to the houses like windows and metal-hinged doors. We went to a nearby village called Tang'an that had a fire destroy some of the houses and were lucky enough to watch the rebuilding process. The craftsmanship was wonderful to see.

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Central to any Dong village is a drum tower. These large, pagodaesque towers are also made without nails!

Another full day's travel and we arrived at Ping'an and the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. It was drab, grey and just awful light for admiring what the postcards assured us was a stunning sight of steep hillside after hillside carefully terraced and irrigated. The local Yao people and their village was about the only highlight here. After a morning trekking through the countryside we had a home-cooked meal of vegetables and rice cooked on an open fire in much the same manner and in the same style house as these people had used for centuries. Ignoring the recent additions of the TV, the poster of Mao, the 2 karaoke machines (in IT we call this n+1), glass in the windows, plastic bits and pieces and electric lights and we could have been there almost any time in the last few hundred years - oh, the shoes, but you get my drift!

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