Shanghai-ed in Shanghai

November 13, 2006 — Sa Wat Dema

Much has happened in the last few days –I toured the hectic streets of Shanghai, we stayed in a remote hill tribe village covered in fabulous rice terraces, we explored a quaint river town where fisherman still use comerants (albatross-looking birds) to help them fish, we toured a tea plantation, and I arrived in the very western city of Yongshou. It is has been quite an experience-

Shanghai is a pretty amazing city that reminds me very much of chicago – there is a river with all of the old colonial buildings butting up against it like our skyline along Michigan avenue and Grant Park. These are all of the buildings from the 1800’s when various foriegn powers (France, England, Russia, etc) had important trading posts in Shanghai. Today the city still has that same ruff and tumble attitude, though once you cross the river, it is skyscraper heaven. Every building that can be shaped like a spaceship, be 100 stories tall, and have crazy neon advertisements running down its side have found their way to Shanghai.

We took a day trip from shanghai to visit a remote town with canals instead of streets. It is a truly beautiful place, though Chinese tourists have definitely discovered the place and pack it by the swarm. Interstingly enough, these tourists seem to be more interested in us than the sites –they all come up and want a photograph, people in our group have even been asked to sign autographs! As I mentioned earlier, the fisherman in this town use birds to fish. It is a bit hard to explain, but basically they have these big birds with rings around their necks. They let them swim ahead of the boat and they catch fish, though they can’t swallow them because of the rings. The fisherman then hauls them back to the boat and kind of shakes them until the fish come out. It is all a bit wierd, though they do then feed them smaller fish for their trouble. I have got about a million pictuires of this village - mostly of old teahouse looking places with the standard red lanterns out front.

We then made out way to a very remote area of hilltribe villages (these minrotiy groups called the Yao and the Zhaung). They are all in this area called Longgi, which means the dragon’s back, refering to the hills and crests of the mountaisn they live on. There was no road that led into the village we stayed in called Ping'an, but that is not problem for the industrious Zhuang. You won’t belief it, but they send their women down the hill (imagine about 1 mile of very steep uphill walking down a flagstone path) to carry our bags. And not the young women eaither –it seems the older and shorter these women were (average height was about 4 feet) the better. Trust me, you fell extremely bad when a little old lady who is actually smaller then your backpack is trudging it up this hill –but they won’t take no for an answer! actually, considering the going rate for this service is about $1.50 (and about a week’s worth of their normal salary) they are more then happy to do it. and at least we are not like the Chinese toursists that come for day trips –they have the men of the village literally carry them up the hill in these rickshaw type of things you seel from old movies – no wheels here, just a man on either end. It is a bit amazing.

But once int he village, it is another world. Chickens run everywhere, the houses are all made entirely of wood without nails, and the whole hillside has been terraced for rice fields in almost unearthly shapes. Every last scrap of land that could be made flat has been terraced. And at the top of many of them are ancestor shrines and the graves of the very people that used to work those fields. I spent one afternoon walking for about an hour to the next village over. There were definitely no tourists here, though I ended up getting some great pics and movies of the local people working in the fields or carrying vegetables. It was a great experience.

We have just arrived in a town called Yongshou, which is very westernized and looks like any backpacker area, which is a refreshing site in China. By the way, China is a difficult place to travel –it is amazing, unexpected, and very cool, but it is not easy if you don’t speak the language. Doing China with a small adventorous tour group is probably the best way to see it. If I learned a bit of Manderin (I only know hello, goodbvye, thank you, I don’t want any, and cheers so far) I could probably do it on my own. One cool thing is the food is absolutely great - though it is hard to eat without a big group. Each dish is just one thing –like just pork or just vegatables –so it really helps to have a big group where you can order a little of everything and share. The meal will also cost about $2 a person, so it is pretty great.

Anyway, I hope all is well at home. I am looking forward to coming home and seeing everybody, though my trip is still going strong. I will be here in Yongshou for three days then in Hong Kong for another three before I race the dateline home. (I actually leave at like 11:00 am on November 21 and by some magical, superman-spinning-the-earth like plot, I end up in Chicago at 9:00 am on the same day after a 24 hour travel). Who knows how it works, but prepare for some good times when I get back - with a bit of Thai and Chinese influence of course.


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