Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Lutz is on the bus heading to Sanjiang. We'd met him on the walk to Ping'An, going in the opposite direction and instantly started chatting away like friends who've not met for a while. He's been studying Kung Fu for 9 months at a Shaolin temple and is travelling around China for before returning to Europe to start a new life. Roland, a Welshman who teaches English in Beijing and is taking advantage of the national holidays, is with him. We're all going to Chengyang - renowned for its Wind and Rain Bridge.

It sounds like a long shot - travelling into the countryside to see a bridge (it is a lovely bridge), but there are also a series of traditional Dong villages, the Dong being one of China's many ethnic minorities. The countryside is very pretty, a river winding through wooded hills and surrounded by rice fields - what else - with wooden houses huddled together around Drum Towers. These are buildings that mark the village centre, usually with a small square and a stage to one side. The towers have pagoda style roofs here and usually an open room below where all the old fellas sit to play cards, smoke, drink tea. There are several villages clustered near to each other and connected by a series of these 'wind and rain' bridges - ornate wooden bridges supported by stone columns. Many of the buildings are built without nails, just interlocking joints.

We love the area and are undeterred by all the other tourists - most of them daytrippers who hurry to take photos of themselves in every conceivable location, the youngsters holding up two fingers in the V for Victory sign. Or is it Peace, man? You can even hire local costumes from the entrepreneurial locals for a few hundred more photos. Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun and so are we. It's harvest full moon, a special day in the traditional Chinese calendar, and perhaps a greater reason for everyone to be on holiday. Special cakes are being sold everywhere and some are delicious - like mince pies without the fruit. Lots of pork suet and peanuts. Yummy. It's also Lutz's birthday and we celebrate with beers on one of the bridges as the full moon rises. Around us, from all the bridges, firecrackers explode intermittently, like a Triad gang shootout. In the moonlight the fields and villages are perfectly illuminated.

Another day we walk between the villages and over a pass linking two of them. The views are great and it looks like good walking country. Back in the village there's a pumpkin fight being held in front of the Drum tower. Roland wangles us up on to a balcony above a shop to watch as young boys from the neighbouring village attempt to drive out heavily armed women from beneath the Drum tower. It gets extremely messy and some of the crowd join in or withdraw from the onslaught. Lots of oohs and aahs. Great fun. It seems a shame to move on.

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