Anhui Province: Up at 6am after sleeping 8 hours to worry about whether my stuff are all dry. Doesn't help that my hostel room already starts to smell damp, not from my airing, but just a general matter of things when you don't pay too much for a room. Considering the night before was a bed made of board with 1cm of cushion, the one last night was a lot better.
0714hrs Huangshan Youth Hostel, Anhui Province: Up for breakfast. Looks like it will be another cloudy day. Since I have been out for some days now, thought I'd indulge in a little coffee and english breakfast, which here probably means bacon and many eggs with toast. Waiting for my lazyman tour to the villages so I can take things easy today before catching the 9pm train back to Shanghai.
I have also realised I might need a larger camera bag as I cannot store my extra 105mm lens in the Thinktank Speeddemon bag. It sits right in my left pocket in my cargo shorts. Not exactly very comfortable. Maybe a lens drop in case will do next time.
0823hrs In tour bus at Tunxi, Anhui Province N29.71073 E118.30611: Someone please remind me why in China it is a lot better to go on your own than to join a tour. This is a small bus with a dozen people in it, all locals except for me I guess, there are a couple with Beijing accent, and complete with the stereotypical always-smoking chinese male in his 30-40s. No chinese with rolled up long pants yet... I can't do that as I'm on bermudas. So we are going around Tunxi city picking up passengers. My GPS are not getting the full signal it should be getting because of the dense buildings in the city. And I do have a tour guide as well, too bad she speaks only Chinese. This will be fun... Looks likely we have picked up all the passengers, and should be on our way out thru the south west of Tunxi...
And now I know where I will be going today... The two villages of Xiqi and Hongcun. And here I have my tourguide talking about the time ex-President Jiang Zemin visited this area. As usual, the stamdard procedure in the bus is to take down the phone number of all those in the bis just in case the little ducklings get lost during the tour. Luckily this one walks to everyone and asks because I will have issues writing my name in Chinese characters! Alright, time to get a little nap here in the bus while we move along at 60kmph according to the Garmin.
N29.88901, E117.95902 Anhui Province: The bus is passing by an area where it seems there are plenty of city slickers in bright life jackets traversing the calm looking rapids at this gorge. The scenery here consists of a road meandering at the bottom of a valley surrounded by hills covered in bamboo and with a river running beside the road.
Passing by many villages on the way to Hongcun (I think that is where I am going) and this is the first time I see horses being used as a trasnsport in China. They are on the road, used as individually and also to pull cards. Horses here seem smaller than usual and looks well groomed. What do I know about horses.
0941hrs Hongcun Village, Anhui Province: Haha, it doesn't really get more touristy than this, as expected. There is a proper entrance with a ticket booth and all those. Also full of chinese tourists and their cigarettes.
Hongcun village entrance is surrounded by a little lake with a humpy mini bridge in the middle. If anything, this place is swarmed with art students doing their sketch or watercolour. Some better than others. All alleyways are full of budding artists, and it is difficult to take humanless still life shots of anything here.
There are some nice little lakes in the town and squares where things look bright for once and looks old enough not to seem renovated at first glance. The quaint factor is definitely there, except for the art students who are everywhere. I think I might have mentioned it countless times before in this post. Off the beaten track there are plenty of small corridors where after a time they will all look the same. The architecture is supposed to be Huizhou but obviously its written in all guide books and mentioned by the tour guide but being a non expert, i will only recite blindly. Although the roofs are angular like normal, the edges are always made with a border thats rectangularish with the typical edges adorned by stone creatures. Walls are always white and the roofs are always dark stones.
I took a path out into the hills of the village where you get passed by old people balancing two pails what smells like sewage water or piggypoojuice presumably as fertilizers. Stinks for sure. The feeling is definitely rural China here. But one thing you're not going to escape here, that's the art students. They're in the hillsides as well. Anyway, I have my DSLR, RF and Point & Shoot out at the same time shooting away, including a full roll of tri-x on the Leica M6. Yup, even deliberately missing the art students, it is possible to take a full roll here.
The moon crescent lake is quite a nice place to shoot your photos. The only problem is, it is not possible to shoot something without any tourist or art student in the picture, but I try anyway.
1145hrs Lunch Time: The tour guide would herd us all into the mini bus, whisk us around the corner to a restaurant and advised us to run in so we don't miss the table as there is another tour bus ahead of us. So we all squeeze into a mini room, 9 to a table and barely a minute later, 8 dishes of mainly vegetables and tofu arrives. 15 minutes later we're all done and back into the minibus... Chinese efficiency!
1216hrs En Route to Xiqi N29.92810 E117.93848, Anhui Province: So we are on the road again, my gps is acquiring the plots again and once again I am getting a headache from blogging on my E61 Nokia while driven by a furious chinese mini bus driver. Horns ablazing, I have always been surprised how they managed to avoid running over 90% of road traffic here, consisting of transport carts pulled by humans or animals of bicycle, slow electric motorcycles and the many pedestrians who walk on the road. Its a display of amazing chinese road choreography I tell you.
1231hrs Xidi Village, N29.90367 E117.98611, Anhui Province: We are dropped off at a medium sized bus station for your buses and herded off by local tour guides. They explained the village's main archway, talking about the figurines on the arch. Thereafter they proceeded into the village entrance and right then I have already lost my group. All I was told was to meet back at the bus in 2 hours time.
Not an issue for me. I proceeded to enter a couple of houses, they are usually occupied but have significant historical value to them. The occupants are definitely making themselves present, easy lounge chair in the main foyer, souvenir stalls and towels hanging all over.
Xidi is much bigger than Huangchun, at least it feels like it, and it is definitely possible to get lost here. The big difference is that there are a lot less art students here. No they're not nonexistent, just you will see less of them.
I wandered to the little stream than runs the north of the town, and this looks like the pipe water of its time, villagers washing anything worth washing in them. Clothing or food. Soon I'd hit the countryside and the stench of manure. Its not uncommon to find pots of manure, fresh from wherever or whoever. Sometimes when you see people walking with 2 pails balances on a bamboo and holding a medium sized scoop, stay clear. You will smell it when they pass. I've seen them brining it out to the fields. But funnily enough, at the last house before the pig sty and the farm covered with natural fertilizers, I find another lone art student. Not too impressed with his drawings though.
I did also stumble across a small silk worm farm outside someone's house. In the less popular narrow alleyway with the fast flowing drain/water system, its common to see one of two art students waterpainting and old inhabitants sitting next to them dehairing pieces of pork or chicken and chatting to each other.
If you stand the occasional stench and the presence of animal poo on the sidewalk, this place is quite peaceful, off the tourist routes.
I'm sure the pavillions and buildings are interesting on the inside but I don't bother after visiting one or two.
1430hrs On the way back to Tunxi: Nothing like riding in a furious minibus listening to The BBC's Breezeblock with Dr Alex Paterson from The Orb. Everything seems so calm and in slow motion. winding our way back to Tunxi along the narrow gorges, while the tour guide explains to us the local culture again, something about tea. Ended by singing us a song, and then her phone rings and realised we left a tourist behind! No problem. Our furious driver stopped in the middle of the 2 laned road in the narrow valley floor and proceeded to do a u-turn to pickup the forgotten tourist.
1927hrs Tunxi City, Anhui Province: Got the tourbus driver to drop me off at the Tunxi (Huangshan City) old street so I can take a 3 hr walk back to the train station. Had dinner on the way and switched my Leica M6 to Neopan 1600 film for some night shooting. Seriously there are not too much difference here compared other chinese cities with about 1 million people. Trishaws, bicycles, the occassional farmer with their more elaborate tractor or cycle carts. The mode of public transportation here are taxies, buses, motorcycles with a crude metal shield behind for the passenger or bicycle rickshaws.
Just hanging around the train station waiting for the train tonight back to Shanghai. Had 3 bananas for energy. The streets from the old street to the railway station here in Tunxi quickly gets quiet.
So I am now at the end of another trip to nowhere. The theme of the current trip is the countryside. Started first in Jiangxi Province, with a visit to Wuyuan and stayed at a tea house in the village, after a long trip from Shanghai via train, bus and finally motorcycle. The next morning met up with the motorcycle guy that brought me there to Xiao Likeng village so that I have I person to bring me around the countryside. Weather cooperating, and early morning, Jingling's scenery with the broad valley floor filled with white coloured houses in clusters are amazing. Can't wait to come back with my medium format Mamiya in April/May when the flowers bloom. Mr Yu will be my driver again of course. Too bad I had to skip the area around Qinghua because of the rain yesterday. Back in Anhui, today's trip to Hongcun and Xidi was, although a tourist mecca, not too bad once you wander off the designated tourist path. The people there don't seem to mind being photographed. Maybe they just dont bother because they get it all day long.
I'd like to say I feel refreshed after these 3 days in the countryside of Anhui and Jiangxi provinces. I am definitely physically tired, slept at least 8 hours per day since reaching here but most likely mentally rested.
Signing out from Anhui...