October 8: I woke up at 6 after having a very refreshing sleep. After several nights in the noisy hostel in Beijing, the absolute peace and quiet of this small town was very refreshing. I had a quick breakfast of fried rice (very anti-caveman, but all there was available), and washed a bit of laundry before heading out to the villages with the taxi driver who had picked me up from the airport last night. I hired him for 200 yuan to drive me around today.Â
Visiting the villages was an interesting experience. First of all, it was raining, and raining hard. It rained all night, and it rained all day, and it抯 still raining now. That made changing lenses and photographing in general quite difficult. On the other hand, the light was soft all day, so there was a definite upside to it. Also, I saw very few other tourists, because the rain was keeping them away.
I visited three villages. They all had exorbitant (for China) entrance fees of about $10 each. That抯 what you抎 pay to get into top-notch sites like the Forbidden City, and about three times as much as you抎 pay for lunch. But, the money (supposedly) goes to paying for the restoration of old buildings and cultural relics, so I抦 willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. That is, with the exception of the last village, which cost the most, was the most run-down, and was absolutely crawling with souvenir and craft stands. All of the restored historical sites in this particular village were filled with that garbage and people trying to hawk it. I felt like I got ripped off, overpaying to get into a souvenir shop.
I had mixed impressions of the villages. In many ways, I felt like I was in a time-warp, because people in these places live like they did hundreds of years ago, working and living off of the land. The decrepit and decaying atmosphere was ubiquitous, but was charming in a way. There was nothing new anywhere, except for trash and recycling receptacles placed along the tourist paths. This extended to people too. Almost everyone I saw was old, ranging from late middle-age to ancient. That made sense though, since there wasn抰 much work to be done in the village. Probably all the younger people were off in nearby Tunxi or had moved to bigger cities to find work.
Everywhere I went, I sensed a heavy distrust from the locals, who eyeballed me and my camera warily. No doubt they thought I was some fancy city slicker with my hoity-toity clothes and newfangled electronics around my neck, possibly coming to steal their land and build an amusement park on the site. Or maybe I抦 projecting. In any case, very few people would let me photograph them. It seemed an odd twist on the normal that the country people would be less friendly and open than the city people I met in Beijing.
I had a good experience with lunch though. My taxi driver took me to a small restaurant run by one of his friends. I抦 sure I paid more than I should for this meal, but it was worth it. I took pictures of the owner while he cooked. Later on, as he brought me my meal (tomatoes with fried egg, beef with stir-fried bamboo shoots) he took great pains to teach me the Chinese words for all of the things I was eating. When he figured I抎 mastered those, he started bringing other vegetables and fruits out of the kitchen to teach me their names too. I taught him how to say 揻ried tomatoes?and he proudly went around to his wife and the taxi driver repeating it and grinning back to me. The meal cost 35 yuan, and I gave him an extra 5 yuan. Tipping is unheard of in China, and he was flabbergasted but extremely grateful. He shook my hand about five times, patted my shoulder about 15 times, and then took me around to show me the rest of his house. When I went outside to take some pictures of a pig that the villagers were trying to wrestle off of a truck, he held his hand over my camera to try to protect it from the rain.
I had dinner tonight at the hostel, cooked by our host Steven. I ate with a nice couple from Germany. He was working and living in Beijing at an architecture firm, and she was visiting for a few months. They were on a brief holiday together, and had just come from Shanghai. They were kind enough to give me their tourist map, and pointed out some places I might like to visit.
Anyway, it was a good day overall, despite the weather. I抣l post the pictures from today later, because there抯 no wifi here and the hostel抯 computer is pretty slow and unreliable. Also, I’m noticing that the text I pasted into WordPress from my memory key has Chinese characters instead of apostrophes and quotes. Fun!