I was rather bemused to be told the other day that this is the beginning of the rainy season! When, one wonders, is the non-rainy season, given that the winters are cold and wet and the summers, hot and wet!! But I think I'm in danger of becoming a weather bore, so I'll try not to mention it again!
Well, once again we were given last minute leave of absence - the kids were all doing tests last week. So I went, on my own this time, to an area about a 4 hour bus ride away, where a Chinese minority, called the Dong people, live. The area is also famed for its beautiful Wind and Rain Bridges - ornate, covered wooden bridges that keep off the wind and rain!
Once again we (the bus) went up into the misty mountains to the north-west of Guilin. covered in delicate, thin-stemmed,pale-green, feathery-leaved bamboo forests. (No pandas, unfortunately. I don't think that they exist in the wild any longer.). I changed buses (and bus stations) in Sanjiang and went on to Chengyang, which is where the most renowned of the W. and R. bridges is to be found.
It was magnificent! It is made entirely of wood and without nails. It is 78 metres long and took 12 years to build. There are 5 multiple-storied towers along the length of it and exquisite eaves. It also has a 6 metre high working water wheel alongside it which irrigates the terraced fields on either side of the river, which are lush and green. The bridge itself is the centre of commerce for the local Dong women, who set upon me as I tried to cross - I think that business was pretty slack - I didn't see many other tourists whilest I was there, apart from an Israeli couple, who arrived the following evening. The arm-twisting was not aggressive, however, and the stuff they were selling was lovely.
I stayed in a hostel by the side of the bridge, with a balcony overlooking the river where the frogs and mosquitos were out in force. I watched a spider spin its web silhoutted against the overcast sky. I couldn't, for the life of me, see the web or what it was attached to - the spider just bobbed and bounced about in space and, eventually, settled down in the middle of nothingness! I had every hope that his diet would be mosquitos!
The next day the sun shone intermittantly and I had a wonderful time exploring the rustic Dong villages, untouched by time or tourists. I stayed away from the roads and walked from village to village along paved foot-paths, through paddy fields, over more, but less hansome, wind and rain bridges. I checked out the triangular Drum Towers (the focal point of the village - the 'village hall'), the narrow flagstone alleyways between the wooden houses, in some cases so narrow that the roofs almost touch and the numerous, and very necessary, fire-hydrants! For several hours I followed a concrete path that should have led somewhere, but ended up leading nowhere, surrounded by endless paddy fields, peasants, generously giving me fruit and offering to share their food (it was lunch time), and water buffelo. The scenery was superb, the peace and tranquility, total.
The children are delightful. I get choruses of 'hello' wherever I go. They don't seem to possess any toys but they play together in complete freedom and have tremendous joie de vivre.
The following day I returned to the rice terraces in Ping'an and had two days of glorious sunshine, and just enough breeze for it not to be too hot (sorry, but that was necessary!). I walked among the rice terraces again and to the local villages, up and down the mountains on stepping stones, with rushing, gushing streams hurtling down the hillside, grasshoppers, butterflies and birds for company and just the occasional (Yao, this time) lady, with her sunshade/umbrella and beautiful pink or turquoise costume, passing by. I fended off two rather persistant Yao ladies who wanted me to 'walka, walka' to their village (about 15 kms away!) and 'looka, looka' and, maybe, have some 'lunchee, lunchee'! Unfortuately, my circumstances were too straitened to allow for anything like that. There are no banks or ATMs in Ping'an and no-one accepts credit cards and I hadn't brought quite enough cash with me. No matter,I survived and got back to Guilin (where there are ATMs) with the equivilent of 30p.!
I stayed on the 3rd floor of a small hotel with a balcony and lovely views, but the stairs were like a ladder, so narrow and steep were they. Also the old granny (not me, the one those family own the hotel), was so enamoured of the mod. cons. (the shower, lights, TV - all on at the flick of a switch!), that I really thought that she was going to move in with me and it was only with the greatest difficulty that I eased her out the door of my room!
This Thursday marks the halfway point of my trip (as well as a couple of significant birthdays!). I feel that I've been away for much longer than three months. It actually feels like an eternity!! As always, the next three months will probably go much more quickly.
I very much regret to say that I'm still unable to access my emails on the school computer. I have to use the ones in the Teacher's Room, if and when they're available. It's a real nuisance(??) because I can access the internet, e.g., my blog, on the school computer, but not my emails. So, apologies to those I should have written to and haven't...
Until the next time, love and best wishes to all.