Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Yuanyang Rice Terraces
One of China's most famous sights is the endless expanse of rice terraces, stretching for miles, climbing up mountains during the sunrise. Normally, these spectacular shots are of the Yuanyang Rice Terraces in Southern Yunnan Province. It was another of the great places I first saw on Wild China, a great documentary by the BBC.
The writer for the Yunnan section of the Lonely Planet was terrible as I learned again and again. He drew a crude map of the area, but not of the town. His directions were unhelpful. He listed a hostel, but didn't tell where to find it; he didn't even list the village. I arrived with no ammo and no clue. I walked around aimlessly for fifteen minutes before a woman found me and brought me to her guest house.
She gave me a map, which was somehow even worse than the Lonely Planet one, seeming more artistic than based upon any kind of direction. So, I picked a road and walked. I'd gathered that the village was not walking distance to any of the spectacular terraces, but where I went was lovely; I spied locals going about their business, working the fields. I stopped to buy a water at tiny shop, and next thing I knew, some random villager was taking me by the arm to his home for food. I wasn't hungry, but such opportunities are fleeting and form the basis for everything I love about traveling: first hand exposure to another culture. The man and his family were Hanni and didn't speak any English; their Chinese wasn't too great either, but he could read and write the characters, which wasn't helpful to me.
I ate a few bites of food, got a bit drunk on some endless toasts of baijou, and smoked some non-intoxicating week, probably a type of tobacco, out of one of the giant bongs smoked all over North Vietnam and Yunnan. I stayed mostly silent, except to either repeat the last two words of any question asked of or to utter "Wo ting bu dong! (I don't understand.) They tired of my conversation quickly, but seemed to enjoy the random foreigner quotient of the evening. I doubt my random road choice sees many tourists. On my way out the guy scribbled something in the dirt, roughly translated to "Something Something Something China Something Something Good," and smiled. I take that as a positive omen.
I wasn't seeing too many westerners myself for a place featured on the first page of the book, I figured it would be swarming during the peak season. The next day, I emerged late in the morning after three coffees made on my Vietnamese coffee filter system (best buy ever before coming to the coffee anemic China). I finally saw six white people sitting in the lobby. "Foreigners!"
"Well hello." one said, "want some coffee?"
"Sure!" I replied. "Sorry, I haven't talked to anyone in three days. I was beginning to think foreigners didn't exist in Yunnan."
So I spent the day with this group, joining one for a sunset tour that got rained out. The next morning, we woke up for a sunrise tour, which was also rained out. Thankfully, it cleared up enough for a hike along the terraces. Our guide told us to walk in a certain direction, explaining it all the best he could in simple Chinese. I finally gathered we were to walk to the second village and not to take a left at any point, then he'd meet us with the van down the line. We got lost, having taken a right that led to a dead end and took so long, we were to miss our bus to Kunming that day. The walk was lovely though and we worked out an alternative route to Kunming that was cheaper than the direct bus. Sometimes seemingly annoying things work out for the best.
I think I've been travelign too long. The terraces of Yuanyang are gorgeous, but they did not excite me. This left me not only disappointed, but also with a great underlying guilt. Here I was, standing at one of the great sights fo the world and I'm unimpressed. What the other people see is gone. All that stands before me is a bunch of rice, yes, incomprehensible amounts, but rice all the same. This is the sign it is time to go home, but I still have a month left.