Tuesday, November 07, 2006

To Guillin in China

Day 5 we flew to the south of China to Guillen, the city many Chinese love to vacation in--Guillin is like Yosemite, famous for its beautiful landscape. As we were on our bus driving in Guillin we crossed the Li River that bisects Guillin. We learned the Guillin is 400 miles north of Vietnam.

The next day while we drove in the bus outside the city a couple hours, our tour guide Huang, who was member of the Zhuang minority, explained that 90% of Chinese were Han, the majority people. In China as a whole 10% of the Chinese are minorities but Guillin is in Guangzi province, where 75% of the people are minorities. She explained there are a lot of minorities in the Guillen area; for example, the Miao people are clostely related to the Hmong in Vietnam. The Yao are another hill tribe like the Miao that the Han people conquered. Hwang said she was proud of being part of a minority that never bound its women's feet like the Han people did!

Huang pointed out that we were passing rice paddy fields, as Guillen was a rice growing area. Also she discussed agriculture, saying that the Communist Government, after taking the fields from the farmers, had returned the fields to the farmers, so farmers now on average owned a few acres--5-10 acre. Some she said were quite prosperous. Our bus stopped at a waterfront, and we disgorged, getting onto a tourist boat. There were many other tourists getting into big tourist boats.

Our boat then headed down the Li River through some of the most beautiful landscape in China: on each side of the river were limestone hillocks and small mountains in a fantastic variety of shapes. Mists half-covered some of the scultpured beautiful green mountains. This is the landscape--a river cutting through beautiful small green mountains covered in mists--that generations of Chinese painters and poets have celebrated. As the big tourist boats floated down the river, we saw tiny junks with two men and some goods on board. The junk banged into our big boat. A few minutes later one of the men from the tiny boat was knocking on the window trying to sell us souvenirs.

On the riverbank were small farms, docks, and stairs leading down to the river. We floated through more awesome sculpted tiny limestone mountains. Floating down the Li River reminded me of films I've seen of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam: a river meanders through a rice growing area of astonishing beauty. While we were floating downriver, we had lunch, and I got a chance to talk to Hwang as I wanted to ask her more about Chinese agriculture. She said Chinese admired U.S. agriculture better because of its greater productivity. She said they wanted to make their agricultural more productive. I was startled since I've grown up with criticisms of California agricultural for its mistreatment of farmworkers and its use of pesticides. I asked her if they had any large farms as she had stressed most farmers had small farms. She said the Chinese Army did have large farms.

Also, she said that Chinese wanted to develope beyond being factory laborers by developing a high technology industry, so they were pushing their children to learn English in schools like the Indian children do. They were aware the because Indians spoke English, they were getting the high technology jobs that moved to India from the U.S. Once Chinese children spoke good English they too could compete globally for high tech jobs.

A short while later our boat docked at Yangshao, a picturesque little village. We walked by the gorgeous riverfront which had lots of stalhs for tourists to buy stuff, but I wondered away from the stalhs to find one of my tourmates Linda and her husband surrounded by about four young Chinese, one of whom had gotten Linda to teach him English. I joined the group, but when I taught them an English word I had them teach us a Chinese word. It was fun participating in this Chinese-English language lesson.

After a bus ride back to Guillin, we stopped at a Teacher's College which had been a foreign palace with a lovely mini-limestone mountain for us to climb, but I declined. Instead I wandered around taking photos of the gorgeous old-stycle Chinese buildings and passed by a group of schoolchildren. As I took their photo, they all shouted to me, "Hello." "Hello," I responed. Certainly the children are learning English. A cave was carved into the mountain, and a large group of schoolchildren were led by their teacher into the cave. I followed. Inside they had sculptures of emperors with small tablets with writing on it to teach the children history.

That evening Hwang invited us to go to a theater performance of dances of minority people; I joined half the people in our group who went. The dances of the Zhuang, Dong, and Miao people were great! One was a dance based on planting rice! Another was based on courting. Many minority women (like the Vietnamese Hmong) are great embroiders and weavers making intricate multi-colored embroidered shirts, long skirts, etc. The costumes were quite beautiful, rather like Latin American folkloric dance and costumes but instead it was Chinese minority dance. I thought these dancers were so good that they should tour worldwide!

After that, Hwang said we could go see a 2nd event, but this time we boarded a boat to watch fisherman use the comorant bird to catch fish. From our big boat we watched a fisherman in a small boat with about 5 birds. He pushed the birds into the water. One by one they caught fish which resided in their mouth and then returned to the fisherman where they disgorged the fish, spitting it out until the fish lay on the floor of the boat.

That day in Guillin was my most perfect day in China.

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