The Shenlong Falls - one or two of the 10 tiers of falls at the Jiulong Waterfalls.
I just noticed yesterday that the little multi-coloured, woven bracelet that mad-as-a-Hatter Darling tied around my wrist in Pai, Thailand over 4 months ago has finally slipped a thread and is beginning to unravel. Tiny little strands of blue, magenta, yellow and green slowly starting to fray apart. Shame. I liked that particular travel trinket. A little memory tie that may soon be gone. Long may it cling to me.
It’s morning in Luoping. A town on the border between Yunnan and Guizhou provinces about 230 kilometres east of Kunming where I had stayed for a night the day before yesterday. I’m here on pure impulse really. ‘H’ whom I met in Yuanyang had showed me some very seductive photos of the landscapes around here.
In particular the cultivated fields of rape seed crops and also a waterfall complex he happened upon, quite by accident, which on his snaps looked like visual poetry. So ostensibly I’m on a 460 kilometre round trip to chase waterfalls and flowers. “Ah, why not!”.
It’s strange how such large distances begin to shrink in the mind of the long-term traveller. This is inevitable of course. A shift in perspective. In the perception of space; of scale and geographical distance. The world feels a little smaller, a little more accessible. “Do-able.”.
Manageable? Well we’ll soon see about that last one.
Luoping is a useful trip laced with beauty to alleviate some travel teething troubles for me in China.
” he says. As in, it acts as a bit of a wake up call to me. Begins to define some of my personal limitations on the road. Primarily the anticipated, but no less shocking for this, language barrier. I of course expected this. Not just a language barrier but a Great Wall of Incommunication that I am required to try to scale and get over. It’s going to be hard work if my experience in Luoping’s anything to go by. And so it should be. Don’t get me wrong, this is of course one of the essences of travel. One of the challenges. And joys of it too I guess, although it certainly doesn’t feel like it when I’m stuck in a town where not one single person I attempt to interact with in 36 hours speaks one single word of English.
The grand sweep of some of the 'Nine Dragons' waterfalls at Jiulong.
Whilst I expected this situation in China, it’s quite another thing to actually be facing it. To have to deal with the fact that nobody understands at all what you wish to communicate or to do. A totality of lack of comprehension.
I have been trying to learn some basic Mandarin at the speed of light. But this too is tough going. Especially when always operating at a certain pitch of travel weariness and general fatigue. With about a million different vowel sound combinations (okay a rough count of 33 odd) and those 4 darned vocal intonations, even the sentences I struggle to memorize more often than not must be falling foul of mispronunciation, mis-intonation - or both! Because I am rarely understood in the slightest.
It must be said that even one week in to China the collective personality of the destination you find yourself in will greatly effect success rates.
The Shenong falls.
Many people just have no interest in interacting with You. The Tourist. The Foreigner. The Strange One. In my limited experiences thus far anyways. My friendly approaches have even provoked looks of horror - “Why WHY of all the people in this darned city did this weirdo have to approach me?!! Go away, go away, GO AWAY!!!”.
You see it written on the eyes. Fear. Discomfort. Annoyance. In Luoping only about 1 in 4 people I smile and say “Nihou!”
to actually acknowledge my existence let alone respond. “Yelp!”. I am becoming a ghost. A feeling of loneliness, that accompanies you at many times in a long journey, but is unconsciously ignored almost all of the time - a silent stowaway that doesn’t make its presence known to trouble you - is suddenly a very real companion for the heart.
Stevie at the falls.
Its reality solidifying; intensifying in the crucible of isolation in a way maybe that only a village or town with not one single other ‘foreigner’ or English speaker can achieve. Am I myself, coming just a little undone; a little unstitched by this disquieting fact?
But anyway, let us move to warmer, prettier scenes. A bus ride and a mini-van connection out of town brings me to the Jiulong or ‘Nine Dragons’ Waterfalls. These (in some ways sadly) turn out not to be the falls that ‘H’ had shown me in his photos, but they are the famous falls in the area. ‘H’ it seems when requesting “pubu?” ( “Waterfalls?” ) in Luoping was by some happy accident taken to some other, less known (and free) falls that neither he nor I now will have the ability to relate to you.
'Lovers Waterfall' (detail)
But despite the Y60 ($9) entry fee these are an impressive destination. A ten-tiered series of pretty grand and beautiful waterfall cascades and plateaus that sweep through the valley basin here. A good solid walk up many a stone step (ignore the fee-loaded cable car) will get you some fabulous views of the surrounding hills, fields and the full sweep of the falls and river below. Early morning and a sprinkling of all Chinese tourists are here too. Old ladies try vehemently to get you to buy pretty wreathes of flowers to put on your head. The fact that I am a lone foreign male does not put them off their attempts at botanical opportunism. Bless ‘em.
For the second chapter in my quest for natural splendour today it’s a trip to the curiously titled ’Golden Cock Hills’.
Rape seed plants and sky.
This area is on the way back to town… although I don’t know/ realise this so go all the way back to Luoping and then have to bus right back out! Y6 ($1) the minor price for my folly. The ‘Golden Cock Hills’ is an area of great topographical beauty. The entire area here abouts is given over to vast rape seed cropping operations. Sat amidst this sweeping agricultural vista are a large chain of small, pyramidal hillocks of tree and scrub-covered rock. Now this area is at its most awe-inspiring and photogenically finest earlier in the year. February/ March spring season in this region when the rape seed blossoms are in bloom and the area appears as an endless golden carpet. I knew I would not have the pleasure of such a sight today but wished to see the landscape nonetheless.
Patterning the fields with labour.
I’m in search of wide open spaces right now. China has many magnificent such places to boast about and I found this landscape fabulous even robbed of its golden robes.
It is harvesting season now and there was great pleasure to be had from observing the hard working croppers, sickle and bind their sheaves of rape seed stalks. Altering and patterning the landscape in their own and captivating way as they work. Sat atop of the rock which is signposted as providing the best vantage point for the fields, three small croppers’ children dash about the summit. They giggle and play and are mush amused by this strange appearance. Me that is. They run and hide whenever I turn my camera upon them. A great fun game of hide an’ seek.
Stevie & the Golden Cock Hills.
I shout “bang bang bang!”
from behind my lens in mock-photography whenever they come into view and they peal away squealing and laughing. A nice moment. Way up here.
Back to Luoping (again!). My ticket back to Kunming set to go (after the nightmare of trying to acquire it yesterday!) in an couple of hours. I go to the station early anticipating confusion born of communication problems. This proves to be so. Even reading the bus ticket, printed there and written in Chinese it seems nobody is able to understand the obvious as I point to the various buses saying “Kunming?” … that I just need someone to point out my bus for me. But no. Two people emphatically usher me in the end onto a coach ( “Phewf!” ) and stow my backpack in the boot.
But 20 minutes later for reasons unknown to me they have suddenly realised that I am in fact on the wrong bus and usher me to a final, correct receptacle for my return trip.
Communication is becoming hard, hard work. Harder it seems, the harder I try. And I can’t deny that at one moment, at my lowest point; the waves of Confusion crashing over the rocks of Frustration I almost want to cry out loud! But I don’t. I must try harder. And always, always keep smiling even if often they are not reflected back at me. In the back of my mind other small details are troubling me. The cost of anything other than food in China, so far, against expectation seems extremely high. Relative to my recent destinations anyway.
Any sight worth a second glance often carries a hefty entrance fee. Outside of local buses (which will mostly only ever take you part ways of where you want to be) transport connections, minor and major are incredibly costly. Today in transport to sights and entrance fees alone has cost me Y136 ( $20). That’s steep. Food ‘n‘ drink, accommodation and ticket to Kunming (Y60) not factored in. That’s a heavy day for a budget backpacker. Trust me. And worst of all… “Uh oh!”…
China don’t seem so hot on post cards for tourists. Which means I’m gonna soon be in trouble with m’Nan. Big trouble. “Yelp!”.
So in small, small ways this Little Thing (me) has become, only by slight degrees, to come a little undone in his early days in China.
"bang bang bang!" - Gotcha! ;D
A little jaded. A little lonely for the first time. This will not last of course. And a little frayed around the edges. A slight but noticeable loosening and unwinding of the threads; the warp and weft of my travel sanity. I hope to get firmly knotted back together soon. But when I arrive in Dali
the following morning at 6.30am dazed and very confused as no one can even understand to confirm to me “Are we in Dali yet?”
(having caught the night bus from Kunming at Y104/ $15) I look down at my left wrist, musing on the pseudo theme for this entry and find that my Thai threads have come entirely undone… slipped and fallen from my wrist in the night.
Unnoticed. Gone for good. I am naked of travel-bands for the first time since Paris 8 months ago. A little further undone. “Yelp!”.