We got a chance to visit a southern Chinese city called Guilin. It is known for its beautifully terraced rice fields and cormorant fishing birds. If you’re curious, I highly recommend watching a documentary series called “Wild China”. It’s on Netflix. For me, watching the documentary was pretty close to being there.
You do miss out on being solicited every 5 feet by someone who wants to give you a special price on a tour. And if you have a baby with light colored hair, getting mobbed by other Chinese tourists that are there that have never seen a white baby. We don’t have white babies, so our children get the normal version of baby admiration….
When we were in Guilin, we travelled with our good friends, the Robinson’s (Adam published the squatter the toilet how-to that was linked in a previous entry). They have a 3-year old daughter with curly, blond hair and cute as a button. At first, it might seem like it’d be cool to enjoy celebrity status where strangers mob you and take pictures of you. After travelling with them, I could see quickly that it’s not always fun. Strangers want to hold your child and touch their face. Sometimes, mobs gather and press up their cameras in their face. Some are more discreet and stand at a distance, but have their cameras creepily and steadily pointed at your child like they’re taking some kind of video. When you need to get somewhere, sometimes you’re stopped every few feet by a new mob of people asking if they can take a picture with your child. At some point, you have to say no so you can do the things you planned to do, and that sometimes causes bad feelings. And very quickly the child also gets tired of being prodded and held, and photographed. Lizzy (Kay and Adam’s daughter) quickly learned the phrase for (I don’t want to). – Bu Yao! If you’re travelling with the Lizzy and see the amount of attention she is getting, you can certainly understand why she is screaming “Bu Yao, Bu Yao!”, covering her face, and running away. However, if you’re an admiring Chinese person who sees a blond little girl for the first time, and that’s the first thing she yells at you, you’re probably left with an unpleasant impression. I only got a glimpse of this life, and hopefully the Robinson’s will publish a more detailed account of their experiences with Lizzy.
Back to Guilin – Cormorant fishing birds are pet birds that are raised by fisherman. They remind me a bit of pelicans, but they don’t have the big sagging beak. These birds are taken out by the fisherman on a narrow bamboo raft into the river. Their throats are tied with a string, not tight enough to choke them, but snug enough that they can’t swallow fish. The fisherman then releases them into the river. Less than a minute later, the birds emerge and hop back on the raft. The fisherman picks up the bird and pulls fish out of their mouths that are stuck in their throat because of the string. Their fishing basket is filled within minutes. At the end, the cormorant birds are relieved of the strings around their neck and are given a few choice prizes to feast on. Although the technique is amazing, apparently, it’s not the most economical way to fish. We were told that very few people actually fish this way any more. Mostly cormorant bird fisherman are really only left around for the tourism industry.
In Guilin, there were also a large number of caves. We went through one that was impressively enormous. When I think of a cave, I usually think of a tunnel. But naturally formed caves are very different. They are not uniform. They have all kinds of crazy formations that have formed over thousands of years. The Chinese have all kinds of creative names for the various formations jutting every which way from the cave walls, ceilings, and floors. I suppose in that way, it’s somewhat like cloud formations. This particular cave was quite well developed for tourists. They had it lit up with all kinds of colored lights, especially the formations of interest. There were narrow areas where steps were carved into the floor, and there were large expansive rooms with benches for the tourists. In the middle of one of these large expansive rooms, there were a laser light show. In some ways, it took away from the naturalness of the place, but it also did a good job of highlighting the points of interest (in a vegas light show kind of way.)
We also got to see some beautiful scenery as we floated down a river to a smaller community called Yanshuo. This is the stereotypical scene that I think of when I think of China. Rocky hills jutting vertically from the ground laced with lush greenery. The views were pretty spectacular and photographs could hardly do it justice.
Then we got to a little village in Yanshuo. When we got there in our little electric cart, an old woman (maybe in her 70’s or 80’s) dropped a bunch of things she was carrying and took off like a bullet and at first I thought perhaps she was scared of us. Ends up, she ran over to a manual wooden water pump and was demonstrating it for us. She smiled and waved. We stopped the van, and a horde of other old ladies showed up all with their circus act selling trinkets. One lady brought out her bull. Many of them wanted us to pay them to take pictures with them. One thing that was obvious was that these old ladies were living in poverty. The interesting thing was that they weren’t begging. They were selling. I’m not sure if there’s really a conclusion to take from this. It could just be that offering photo opps was more profitable than begging. Or, it could be that there’s a prevailing negative attitude about begging. I don’t know.
Along our trip through the village, we did see little kids being carried in baskets and a lot of old people. Many of the young working-age men and women have all left the village for a better-paying job in the city. The tour guide explained to me that he used to live in a village when he was growing up. He described a place where he would run around with his friends from house to house. They didn’t have TV, so they would gather around an old man telling stories. When they were done, they’d find another old man and beg for another story. He said the village was very tightly knit and acted like a big family.
It reminded me of the neighborhood that I grew up in. After school, all the kids were outside in the cul-de-sac organizing some kind of game or riding around on bikes. Many of the adults were out either watching the kids or doing some household chore. What I know is that I haven’t seen a neighborhood like this in a long time, but I yearn for it for my kids. I wonder if it has to do with income and independence. Or perhaps all the information that we are exposed to in the modern world that prevent us from letting our kids run amok. Regardless, I’ve talked to several of our good friends about creating such a community. I’ve called it “the compound” but I’m sure there’s a more marketing friendly name. Perhaps, “the village” might be a bit easier on the ears. Compound sounds like we’re going to amass weapons and drink poisonous koolaid together.
I’ve seen such a place up in Marysville. Our good friend, Kate grew up on one. Her father owned a large piece of property and as the children all grew up and got married, they would build another house on the property. In the end, there were four other houses all living within a stone’s throw from the house they grew up in. Kate says that it was wonderful to grow up in such a place. She could go to every house and see who had the best dinner brewing. Kids would run around the large grassy fields in herds playing all kinds of games. I’m not sure what it would actually take to create this kind of community. Do we need to be poor? Do we need to be friends? Do we need to be family? Do we need to own the property together? Do we need ownership in something together? Whatever it is, I’m interested. And as the Guilin tour guide described his experience of village life, it’s something I desperately want for my kids. Something different than the sterile world of video games and computers. It’s something I’d want for myself. Even now, I’d rather spend an afternoon sitting on the porch playing checkers with a friend (or even a stranger that will become a future friend) or help sift dirt for a garden, than spend it browsing the Internet.