Xingping

Located on one of the more popular Li River rafting routes, Xingping rests just upstream from Yangshuo.  Many tourists take motor rafts from Yangshuo and travel upstream to Xingping and some even continue all the way to Yangdi.  Xingping is a sleepy and quiet town nestled in the green mountains that run past Yangshuo.  Were it not for the tourists sightseeing along the Li River, Xingping might never see any people besides the locals.

This small town is surrounded by small farms (photo above) and also relies on fishing and tourism.  As I walked from the boat landing towards the Xingping Bridge, I watched as the local peasants carried water to their crops.  They carried the water in buckets connected to a yoke and carried across the top of their back.  Watching them fish water from the well and then carry it to the crops I wondered how little the lives of the peasants have changed in two thousand years?  I saw another man sharpening his sickle and another chopping bamboo near his motorcycle.

Crossing over the Li River at the Xingping bridge, I saw another man as he fished.  His canoe was very long and I wondered how he was able to keep from flipping it over.  Aside from the man washing his dog on the other side of the bridge and the murmured chatting of some Chinese locals, it was very quiet and we lingered as we walked into Xingping enjoying the serenity of the moment.

I paused on the bridge to get a good look at the Li River and the surrounding mountains.  From this vantage point, I am looking up the river back towards Yangdi with Yangshuo downriver and behind me.  Unfortunately, the grey skies dampened much of the colors in the photos but mountains shrouded in mists did provide a surreal grey look.

Inside of Xingping, it looks like many other little Chinese towns with narrow streets and houses decorated with traditional ornaments.  Xingping did have the added boost of the tourist trade and some expats as well as Chinese visiting from other cities could be seen.  I noticed a thriving dog population that ran the streets unchecked – for now…

Catering to the tourists, many of the local vendors had street-side tables selling all of the common Chinese knick-knacks: “ancient” Chinese coins, bracelets, jewelry of all kinds, post cards, embroidery, brass book ends and all of the other “touristy” things that look good – until you get them home and then they become dust magnets.  I did pick up some souvenir coins for the nieces and nephews and a few post cards to mail to the family.

There seemed to be quite a few restaurants, cafes, hotels and guest houses catering towards the expat community – or so I supposed as most signs were written in Chinese and English.  Many of the cafes and restaurants looked downright inviting and I wished that I had a few days more to stay overnight in Xingping and “relax” a bit over a cold beer or a cup of coffee.  Unlike Yangshuo with its bustling movements of people (primarily tourists) even though Xingping had some tourists, it was very mellow and relaxed.  If any anyone is passing through Xingping while on a river tour, I’d recommend staying overnight, at least one night, to see the best of the town.

As I walked down the main “tourist” road I noticed that down the alleyways, the town wasn’t so big and one could easily walk 100 meters and be back in the farmland that surrounds it.

The walk from the main part of town towards the bus station carried me through the heart of the residential portion of town.  I was late in the afternoon and I was going to catch the last bus back to Yangshuo.  At the dinner hour I was able to walk through the city mostly unnoticed.  It was one of my first chances to see into the homes of the Chinese as many had left their doors ajar to allow the smoke from the dinner fire to escape.  I saw this Chinese boy in the threshold of his family home.  His hood should give you an idea of the temperature…

At this bicycle shop I was able to squeeze off a flash photo before the bike repairman noticed me.  Despite the growing numbers of cars and even more motorcycles, the bicycle is still a staple means of transportation in China.  This man was probably trying to finish up a  last repair before his wife called him in for dinner.

Most laundry is still dried on clothes lines in China and you often see laundry hanging to dry.  You’ll also notice the family’s shoes deposited outside the door to keep the floors clean inside.

I am not sure what the Palmello skins are used for.  I believe that I was told that they are dried and used for soup flavoring.  The Palmello is a popular fruit in this region of China and I ate them with regularity.  It is large, about the size of a melon, is yellow in color and has the consistency of a large orange.  I suppose that it tastes a bit like a flavorless orange.

One of the homes had some home-made sausages drying from the upstairs balcony.  What type of meat it was is anyone’s guess.  With the lack of refrigeration in many homes, I noticed that it was common to take home a chicken for dinner while it was still alive and slaughter it yourself.  Other products, like sausage, that do not require refrigeration seemed to be a staple item on the menu in this area.

Most of the homes had red banners and blessings written around the entry ways.  Many were decorated with lamps and I noticed more and more decorations as it came closer to Chinese New Year.

As I walked quietly from one house to the next, I often surprised the Chinese families who were sitting around their dinner tables slurping their dinner and chatting away.  A smile and a quick “knee-how” (hello) usually was returned with a smile and a quizzical stare.  Most families waved “no” as I held my camera up to take a photo.  With the low lighting, it was difficult to shoot a photo without the flash and shooting flash photography on the sly is close to impossible.  As  result, I didn’t take any photos of Chinese families as they ate.  I think that it was better to yield to their wishes than to be impolite by taking an unwanted photo.

I came to one home that had its double wide front door wide open.  I could hear the family in the next room eating, their chopsticks clicking the insides of dishes and a mellow conversation of Chinese.  I was quite pleased when I saw this Mao shrine and quickly captured a photo before anyone noticed.  Mao is still revered in China as the Godfather of the modern Chinese state.  He is still respected by most Chinese that I met despite what we have learned about him in recent history; most notably that he is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese (50+ million alone in the 1958-1962 famine).  Every Chinese person that I talked to had no idea how widespread the ’58-62 famine was.  Those that heard of it parroted back the State’s line that unfair Russian trade policies caused some hunger, but no real famine.  Yes, I do believe that censorship and the absence of dissenting voices has created an information “black hole” for most Chinese people.


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Li River

One of the most popular Yangshuo tourist destinations is the Li River running through the tourist town of Yangshuo.  The Li has some very beautiful stretches that can be reached by bus, bicycle or by hiking.  A popular way to view the Li River it to take a bus from Yangshuo to the nearby town of Yangdi and then rent a bamboo raft and float down to Xingping and then by bus back to Yangshuo.  Anya had done the Li River trip before and brought me along to see its grandeur.

Coming over the mountain pass above Yangdi I shot the photo above.  In this photo you can see the mountains that make this part of China so popular with the tourists.  The entire area around Yanghuo and up and down the Li and Yu Rivers are surrounded by these beautiful green gems that climb up from the river to great heights forming a magnificent valley along the riverway.  Unfortunately, it was quite an overcast day and the colors in this post are a bit subdued, but I vowed that I would return to the Li River again, on the next sunny day.  The photo below is near the docks at Yangdi where I bartered for a boat to Xingping.  Note to fellow travellers, don’t pay more than 100 Yuan for a bamboo raft to Xingping; I was quoted as high as 240.

I shot this photo (below) from the bow of MY bamboo raft.  The boat coming opposite is the same type as I was in; the driver sits in the back, a double bench seat in the front for the passengers and a shade canopy overhead.  I chuckled as I looked at the “bamboo” that was actually large PVC pipes.  It seems that “progress” never ends…  I suppose that its cheaper to use plastic than bamboo wood, but perhaps better for the bamboo forests?

As I motored peacefully down the Li River headed towards Xingping (and Yangshuo beyond) I enjoyed the beautiful view and busily snapped away with my camera.  I saw this water buffalo and made sure to get a photo of him in front of the green mountains that disappeared into the foggy mists.  I thought again and again, I must come back during the summer time.

Despite the overcast skies, the grand vistas from the Li River were spectacular.  Even though the mountains were somewhat obscured by the haze and fog, the views were still quite stunning.  With each mile that I floated down the river, I came upon mountain after mountain in a never-ending cascade of spikes and spires covered in lush green foliage.  I enjoyed the gentle hum of the boats motor, the sound of the water splashing between the “bamboo” floor of the boat and I waved hello to passing boats of Chinese as they motored up the river headed from Yangshuo to Yangdi.

 

 

Sometimes, the river narrowed and there seemed to be some “traffic.”  The boat captains expertly navigated many near misses and I looked at the Chinese in the passing boats and they looked at me.  I smiled and waved and they did the same.

About 90 minutes shy of Xingpin, MY boat driver announced that we had arrived and tried to drop me at this dock that was, really, in the middle of nowhere.  I realized that he was trying to pull a fast one on me.  The boat man tried in vain to convince me that this was Xingping but I refused to get out. Finally, he continued down the river.  A word of caution to other travellers, don’t get off until you are at the town of Xingping; you’ll recognize it because it’s a town, it has a lot of boats and vendors and you should be able to ask other tourists if you are at Xingping.  I would have a later run in with this man and his wife.  More about that in another post…

A little while later I out a 20 Yuan note.  I held it up and look at the horizon.  Sure enough, I were looking at the same view that was used on the artwork of the 20 Yuan note.  I held the bill up and took a shot of it in the foreground with the mountains in the background.  It was a beautiful landscape.

Just past the location where the 20 Yuan note art was created, I arrived at Xingping.  After I exited my boat, I looked back up the river and captured the photo below.  For about $12 US for a 4 1/2 hour boat ride, I was pretty happy with my visit.  The Li River has some of the most beautiful river views in China and it was a relaxing trip.  If you make it to Guilin or Yangshuo, I highly recommend the Li River raft trip!


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