Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
One pleasing scenery travelling long distance across Anhui province is the presence of green. Whether in the form of natural foliage or human agriculture.
Where villages are, usually a concentration of simple white cement houses, whether tucked away at a valley or spreaded out on a plain, are usually surrounded by neat plots of vegetables or crops. Every inch of land around a house is definitely devoted to the growing of some edible plants.
Anhui's climate is suitable for tea growth. And it does have its own species of tea. Keemun (qimen) red (black tea is regarded as red tea) tea is one of those.
Passed by lots of tea bushes along the journey, however, they are not planted in large scale. Mainly in the form of small, squeezed in between vegetables and crops or grown simply to fill up the space of arable lands. Therefore, some of these tea bushes are grown in the weirdest places, like the slopes of a steep gradient, in a corner of a forest, on a ridge and many are actually far off from villages. They look more like the results of re-aforestation, rather than planted for use.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Hong village resides in the region of the Yellow Mountain and was the location for the movie "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon".
Hong village is famed for its Hui architecture, that is, the white-washed wall (now coloured by age), the grey tiled-roofs and pointed gables. I would add another element to the charm of this village--water. Without the reflection from the waters, Hong village will be far less interesting without the symmetrical effect. Not to mention the perfect reflection of the bridge, the houses and the surrounding hills during calm days, giving a sense of tranquility.
Visitors are greeted by the lake immediately after passing through the gate. And a narrow footpath spans across the lake with an arch stone bridge in the middle of it. And this footpath leads to the village. It was said that the layout of the village was constructed according to the shape of a buffalo, with the lake as its stomach.
In the centre of the village, there is a pond in the shape of a crescent, surrounded by stone houses that stood next to one another. The idea of the crescent was symbolic (nothing in the Chinese architecture can seem to pass without symbolism) and it represented imperfection, relative to a full moon. Therefore, with a crescent, there leaves space for good things to come to fill up the crescent (to a full moon). The pond which lies in the centre of the village is actually the spring of life, providing water source to all the households.
Villagers still live in a very basic manner. Or eco-friendly. I wonder if tap water, save for the hotels that are there, is accessible to the villagers living here. Some are seen washing vegetables and their utensils by the pond, which in the past was their portable water source and I wonder if it still does.
In stark contrast to the prudent feel of the white and grey theme of the village, there were wealthy merchants who lived in the village in their magnificent houses--exquisite carvings on the wooden columns and beams, colourful wooden ceilings..... the wood used as columns are insects-repellant which are especially useful in the summer. Also, the skills of carvings that show vivid facial expressions and mannerisms of people are very impressive! Looking at such craftsmanship reminds me of those days when real skills were much appreciated and valued, unlike these days, the skill of generating money is much appreciated than any other real skills. Therefore, a banker is paid more than a doctor; a fund raising officer of private schools are paid more than the school teachers......
Enjoy walking through the winding alleys of the village, soaking in the feel and the smell of the village itself and seeing "authentic" villagers out and about running their chores, save for a handful of businesses targeting mainly at the tourists. The claws of tourism are still bearable. And it was easy to avoid the winter crowds as they mainly gather at one or two scenic spots before they move swifly to the next destination--another historical village near-by. Hong village is actually an open-concept village with no village walls. Apart from the main entrance, there are other ways into the village. If I have not struck a deal with the taxi driver to include the entrance fee into the fare, I would have walked round the village to find a way in (like I always do).
Considering the living cost of the locals, entrance fees to places of interest in China is very expensive. A village like Hongcun demands £8 per entry. And I certainly do not see how that money benefited the villagers living there.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Without the fog, the mountains would be fully in sight, and that would be relatively boring to the beholder than when they are partly hidden. It's all about the art of "looming", being able to see part of the whole picture visually, leaving the rest of the picture to the minds of the beholders to construct, bringing about infinite possibilities. And that itself is exciting!
Yellow Mountain refers to a range of granite peaks in Anhui province, a poor agricultural province 7 hours bus ride from Shanghai. The granite formation of the peaks created peaculiar-looking contour lines and precipitous cliffs. You get lots of jutted peaks and cliffs that are stacked on one boulder on top of the other like lego. Although not of high altitude--the peaks are only about 1600m-1800m high, the precariously-looking cliffs, pavements and pavillions sticking out of the granite edge, are definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Yellow Mountain has been a magnet of attraction throughout the history of China, in art and literature, and is still the most popular mountain to the Chinese as a tourist attraction. In the year 2007 alone, 15 million tourists, mainly Chinese, visited the area, and the crowds in summer, the peak season, are disastrous to the serenity and tranquility of the mountain range. Unless, of course, if you are able to rise above the nuisance of the crowds.
Names of the peaks and rocks formation
It is all visual and imagination. Names like "Lotus Peak", "Turtle Peak", "Lion Peak", "Bookcase Peak", "Pillow Peak" are simply representation of the shape of the peaks. "Mobile Rock" is a boulder in the shape of a mobile phone with an antenna, "A monkey gazing at the sea" is nothing but a gigantic boulder, shaped like the back of a monkey, resting on the peak.
It is a test on imagination and you can actually see more things if you go beyond the "officials ones." I like "Scholar drying shoes" especially, where a peculiar-shaped boulder, resembling an upside-down ancient Chinese shoes. And I still remember a spot where Guanyin, a goddess, is playing chess. Didn't see that this time round though.
Photo: A pine tree, adorned with icicles, growing from the granite, just like that.
Playing with Time
For three consecutive days, the mountain range have been shrouded completely in fog/mist/clouds. Luckily, there was time to bid for luck--that is, to wait at a scenic spot for the fog to clear or clouds to move away. It might be a futile attempt but when the luck shines, it is worth all the time waiting.
Chanced upon an area called "Collective Peaks Point", a side-track from the main route, thus void of any Chinese crowds. Only a white screen was presented at this "point". Loitered around. Staring ahead of a white screen of fog, when all existence is shielded from one's eyes, is quite philosophical. When the fog moved away, the peaks started to peer through the screen of fog, revealing peaks one by one, and that was when you realize there was so much to offer behind that blank screen!
There was indeed a WHOLE collection of peaks, as suggested by the name. Given the speed of the passing clouds, peaks unfolded promptly and faded into blankness swiftly, and thus, every second is a changing scenery. When the peaks surfaced above the clouds, which is termed "the sea of clouds" in Chinese, there was really a surreal look, as the altitude of the peaks are accentuated by the sinking clouds. The show of the peaks lasted for less than five minutes but it left such a beautiful impression.
And because of such a brief period of opening, whenever the clouds clear, I will scamper into action with camera, filters and chasing after the clouds before they swallow the peaks. Sometimes, you have to run after it literally; sometimes you are caught in a delimma of which part of the scenery to take in. On the second night, temperature dropped below zero, yet not enough to bring about snow. Instead, the day woke with a blanket of frost. The wind in the night left its trail on the pine needles in the form of icicles and from far, the pines looked like they have been decorated with a layer of icing.
Yellow Mountain cannot do without pine trees. And these trees is an embodiment of strength in the Chinese culture. Because they thrive in places which are impossible for growth, such as crevices of rocks and they survive the harshness of winters.
Pine trees add the scale of perspective to the peaks and soften the harsh lines of the granite. Some even took to the liking of growing diagonally from the cliffs.
LuckStill, snow did not dawn as desired. Instead, lots of rain. Each day, after the walk, all shoes, clothings and bags have to lay infront of the heater to dry. On top of that, most of the peaks were closed off in winter and a lot of the sights were missed due to the fog. Given that Yellow Mountain is hidden in fog/mist/clouds for a third of the year, and given that little amount seen during the few openings of the clouds this time, this is by far the best of Yellow Mountain that I have ever seen. Tonnes better than the last time I visited during summer when sky was clear.
So less is indeed more.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
While most mountains in China are highly modernised in terms of infrastructure, with a large presence of cable cars spanning across the mountains at different altitudes, neat cement pavements, dustbins and pavillions painstakingly installed along all routes in the mountain range, there is one thing of the Chinese mountains that remains disturbingly backward (not taking account into the level of hygience and mannerism), that is the transport of goods up and down the mountains.
It seems to me, that every mountain in China I could name, is equipped with a cable car service. Yet, in the popular Yellow Mountain range, with a hefty entrance fee of £23 (high season), three cable car stations ( £8 per trip), 3-4 stars hotels littered across the mountains, is still relying solely on manual labour for the transport of all and sundry. Every single brick used in the mountains is transported manually--over the shoulders of a porter on a bamboo pole, all the way up to the final destination in the mountains. Cable car stations are built in this manner too. And we are looking at an average altitude of 1500m where most hotels are concentrated. Even walking up the steps to such height with a light pack proves to be a feat on the calves and thighs.
Face it. Every leaf of vegetable that I eat and every chair that I sit on in the mountains are hand carried by these porters. Laundry is carried down daily from the hotels to the foot of the mountains to be done before being carried back the same way it came down.
Wages are paid according to the amount of weight that they carry. I was told, on the average, the porters could carry about 75kg per trip, which is more than the body weight of the porters themselves. Some could even stretch up to 100kg.
I bear witness to a small-frame porter coping with 1 gas cylinder each on either end of his bamboo pole, negotiating his steps with that amount of weight cutting into his shoulders. It took me 4 hours just to descend from an altitude of 1800m, and with a walking stick.
While cable cars are used extensively to transport tourists who could not afford to walk up the mountains, they prove too expensive to transport daily supplies and construction equipments.
So when I sat cosily at the hotel lounge, looking at the computers, bar counters, large calligraphy frames, fridges, chandeliers, french window etc. around me, I couldn't but feel surreal.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Something caught my attention for no apparent reason. I noticed people carrying their own shopping bags round the city, instead of the usual plastic bags. Being a skeptic, I did not think that the environment awareness had suddenly landed from Mars on this city and her residents in a span of 5 months, nor the Expo 2010 had in anyway contributed positively towards the a greener environment. It was all, unshamedly, down to the effect of charging for the use of plastic bags. And its effect is phenomenal. Money speaks louder than words.