I had seen photos of the Longsheng rice terraces while I was in Beijing, and then stuck in the middle of a city with twenty million the thought of seeing beautiful landscapes was irresistible.
And now a month later, it was Friday morning at 8.00 and I was ready waiting for Jerry.
I had hired Jerry, I never found out what his real chinese name was, for two days for 50 Yuan to take me to Longsheng. Over dinner a few nights earlier he had recommended an alternative trip to the rice terraces avoiding the tourist trail. So we were going to stay DaZhai village, home of the Yao and Zhuang people.
We took local buses up to the village from Guilin. And from Longsheng finally took a taxi as the bus never arrived.
While waiting for this elusive local bus Jerry asked about times in a very local café . While he was talking I went round the side and saw a local dog having his throat slit. Then all the glands round the neck were cut out and he was skinned. I had seen dog stew on the menu the night before and thought perhaps it was a mistranslation, but obviously not.
The final leg up the mountain was so different to the China I had seen so far. Green, tree covered hills with wood houses reminding one of old Alpine villages.
We paid to enter what is a national park and walked up to DaZhai village and a newly built and barely competed hotel. Suddenly Jerry disappeared into the hotel and hid.
I looked round to the path we had just taken and there was a Zhuang funeral procession. From behind the door Jerry hissed ‘no photos’. But I was far enough away for no-one to notice. And I hadn’t come all this way to join Jerry hiding behind the door!
First came three men carrying coloured banners on poles, then a small band with simple trumpets and cymbals, then the coffin wrapped in cloth and finally a procession of mainly women. It was very colourful and gay rather than solemn.
Apparently the Zhuang people bury their dead and then after about two years the bodies are disinterred, the bones are cleaned and rearranged before a reburial.
The terraces, here are called the dragons back, as apparently in spring when the water is in the gullies it looks like the scales of a dragon, are spectacular. With the price of imported rice from Vietnam, Cambodia and even USA, the Chinese state subsidises rice to maintain the terraces as not only an important heritage but as a tourist attraction. Tourism brings wealth into this farming area unlike most of rural China which suffers from high taxes, corrupt local officials and a depopulation that has led to a dearth of young sons to farm.
There were lots of little paths that linked the hamlets with the village, well the village was so called as it had a shop.
Zhuang women, who seemed much smaller than the men, were forever walking these paths, always slightly bent with the ever present back pack and either a blue or pink towel wrapped round their head.
Although I did see one woman working the terraces it was mostly men cutting and threshing.
There were about a dozen middle aged Chinese Han staying in the hotel, probably a works outing, and after the evening meal of rice out came bottles of Chinese alcohol and raucus Majong was played. Although I watched for a while it was all too quick for me to follow.
The next morning we set off for the walk to Ping An, the main village and tourist mecca a few hours of gentle beautiful countryside round the mountain.
Here the Zhuang and Yao women dressed in embroidered jackets, laid out local handicrafts , straw sandals and woven material for the mainly Chinese tourists. Some of whom were being carried up the hill in sedan chairs by small Yao men. Unlike DaZhai here there were restaurants and guest houses. Altough it was full of tourists it was still a pretty village of wooden houses.