Yuanyang : The Rice Basket of My Soul

Yuanyang Travel Blog

 › entry 151 of 268 › view all entries
The first of many beautiful rice paddy terrace views I will have in 2 days in the Yuanyang region.

5.00am.  Not again.  The price of chasing the sun is always the cost of one’s sleep.  Yes, yet again I am having to unglue my unwilling eyelids at Ridiculous O’clock in the morning in order to be present to observe Mother Nature at her dawn-clad best.  I mean seriously, couldn’t the sun just be a little more considerate?  Wake up juuust a little bit later.  Just for once, to put his hat on at some vaguely humane hour of the day?!  Say…I dunno?  Nine o’clock or something’?  I’m sure he needs the rest too!  It’s hard work producing untold quadzillions of mega-joules of heat and light for countless millennia like that.  Why not just rise a little bit later for once?  C’mon!  Take it easy.

  Don’t burn ya self out man.  “Sheesh!”.

No doing.  ‘H’ (an Israeli guy I’m buddying up with for a couple of trips through the famed Yuanyang rice paddy terraces) and I jump into one of the small tin-pot conveyances that seem to populate Xinjie and that I have dubbed ‘Milk Floats’.  In part because of their tiny, 3 wheel fragile shabbiness and mostly because they pick you up and carry you along the roads before dawn and shake you up far worse in the process then any poor clinking bottle of silver-top moo-juice ever had to suffer!  ‘Boneshakers’ doesn’t even begin to describe the effect on the human physique of thumping and bumping along the potted hillside roads in one of these things! 

We’re heading out about 25 kilometres from Xinjie to the Duoyishu rice terraces.

The terrace-carved valley basin of the Laohuzui terraces.
  About 3 kilometres out the Milk Floats lights suddenly give up the ghost.  Great!  ‘H’ and I are forced to hang our arms out of each window clutching a torch each, shining them ahead of the Milk Float to light our bumpy way.  We manage to arrive at our destination in one piece. 

There are a number of rice paddy terraces in the Yuanyang area famed for their beauty at certain times of day.  Primarily sunrise and sunset as when the paddy terraces are filled with water there is fabulous potential for the colours of the skies to be reflected in these giant cultivated pools that act like mirrors to the heavens.  Duoyishu is the one to hit for dawn apparently.  It’s cost ‘H’ and I Y50 ($7.50) each for our Milk Float here and back and as with a lot of the big terrace viewpoints in the area an entrance fee is levied (Y30 or Y15 for students / $4.

50/ $2.25).  It’s not super busy here.  No more than maybe 12 people and a small gathering of local ethnic minority women trying to sell you warm, hardboiled eggs for breakfast.

The spectacle of dawn and its effect upon the terraces is quite magnificent.  As with the sunset terrace valley of Laohuzu that ‘H’ and I had Milk Floated over to see last evening, the entire valley basin here has been crafted over the centuries into a sweeping, gently descending plateau of paddy basins, carved into the contours and slopes of the hills about.  A myriad number of (from this distance) tiny stepped shelves.  Each of them with their own mud-built boundary walls, acting as a dam to retain waters from either rainfall or direct irrigation and to facilitate the ‘wet’ cultivation of vast, vast rice paddy crops.

Soooooo cute... I never had a hat that cool when I was his age! :(
  There are approximately 12,500 hectares of paddy basins in Yuanyang.

Pre dawn, the crazy jigsaw conglomeration of arcing, curving paddy basins, here all filled with water ( unlike Laohuzu last evening… mostly dry this time of year and a little less spectacular because of this fact) shine silvery white below.  The sun not yet arisen, the sky lightens but everything remains slightly indistinct in the valley below.  As the lightness of the sky intensifies, the paddies start to shimmer into life.  They appear now, spread out below, like a gigantic marbled painting composed of liquid mercury with black onyx trim for the terrace boundary walls.  As the sun begins to lift from behind the hill line to the east, the pools of mercurial water begin to reflect the slivers of gold and subtle salmon pink that it begins to bestow upon their surfaces.

Golden light falls upon Duoyishu
  The colours of a dawn possessed of a gentle palette today are all reflected back up to we admirers on the hillside.  Everybody snapping away, all marvelling that they could take quite so many photos of precisely the same thing!  More light and colour rebounding now, the valley has become a masterwork of mother-of-pearl inlaid in jet black lacquer.  Quite, quite spectacular!

On the way back I get Milk Float lady to drop me off at a small town (whose name I neglected to note) as some guys at the guesthouse yesterday had mentioned there was to be a colourful weekly market there today.  ‘H’ carries on back to Xinjie, itching to catch an early bus north to Kunming.

Stevie at Duoyishu
  Farewell FMF. 

The morning market is already bustling chaotically into life here.  Although unfortunately I won’t be able to impart information to you about the various ethnic minorities that inhabit the towns and villages of Yuanyang (as I had a little in Sapa, Vietnam) this is the real life pulse of the Yuanyang region.  Distinguishable by the varying and always magnificent dress of the ladies, at least 3 - 4 different community groups are represented here at this market today.  It is the Hani tribe who predominate in the region and who over the centuries played the biggest role in the slow evolution of the hillsides into the terraced slopes that exist today but unfortunately I am unable to identify for you which is their visual identity.

The mercury pools of the reflective dawn terraces of Duoyishu.
  The women here, little babies tightly strapped to their backs in bright swaddling bundles, are all dressed in the most magnificently colourful, and skilfully stitched and put together garments.  Detailed, rainbow swatches of stitched geometrical beauty adorn their shoulders, behinds and magnificently composed headdresses.  More so than in Sapa town, this is the unchanged activity of ethnic minority China as yet - if not undisturbed - then indifferent to the minor presence of camera-toting tourists in their midst.  Life going on an usual. 

Chickens and ducks cluck and squawk from the confines of cramped wicker baskets.  The wrenching squeal of small black pot-bellied piglets in the distance.  Ancient seeming women with faces burnt to burnished bronze, weathered and cracked in infinite wrinkled tracery sit behind mounds of vegetable produce piled upon the street surface or sewing machines of even greater antique provenance than themselves.

An example of the incredible dressage of the people of the Yuanyang region.
  Oceans of greens, oranges, bananas, water melons, eggs and people selling steamed buns.  Men as old as the dust of ages sit, sallow eyed, a little withered and hunched down on small stalls together smoking from the voluminously large tobacco smoking pipes that are prevalent here in China.  Large sacks of rice are heaved on to rusted weighing scales, being calibrated, appraised and traded in the same manner this most precious commodity has been probably for centuries gone by.

I stroll down a side street to get away from the madness.  I have some hours to kill as road works mean that the route back to Xinjie is closed between 8.00am to Midday for the foreseeable future.  The path winds and steps its way waaaay down into the valley.

  Small hamlet clusters of brick-built buildings.  I come across some more water-filled rice terraces here.  They are everywhere.  Reflecting now the baby blue of the late morning skies and the heat of the sun.  Locals are heaving their way up to market from villages unseen with backbreaking sacks of rice and other produce (sometime pigs) strapped across their foreheads and resting on upon their backs.  A look of either mild amusement, but more often bemusement crosses their sweaty visages as they see me trundling merrily down in the opposite direction.   

Getting back to Xinjie a little later, alone and linguistically paralysed as I am proves a predictable challenge.  I try and utilise the public buses and am sat on one, stationary for 45 minutes or so (whilst it awaits the full height of the market frenzy to abate and the road to reopen) with chickens and ducks flapping around and under my seats whilst children gaze at me like I’m a stranger occurrence than a piglet trussed to an umbrella in a basket on a bus… which here, of course, I am.

  In the end though some man - in my own interests I think I’m led to believe - ushers me off the bus indicating I would be another 2 hours before getting back to Xinjie on it.  I have to utilise one of the pricier entrepreneurial mini-van drivers that the locals use and I have to haggle down to Y40 (£4) for my eventual return. 

In the evening I go for a stroll to a final site of some large rice terraces that are reputedly very pleasant.  The terraces on route and around the tiny village of Longshuba.  It’s only a 4 kilometre walk away and in a blazing hot but breezy, clear skies evening I have to say this is the most rewarding time I have in beautiful, beautiful Yuanyang.  A dusty winding road.  The blue-hazed hills over the river valley basin to the west.

(Yuanyang) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
  No tourists anywhere in sight.  Just the odd villager on their way to town.  Silence.  And sporadically the incredible majesty of the rice paddies.  I’ve been in or near a number of places in southeast Asia recently which give themselves the monikers for example of ‘The Rice Basket of the Mekong Delta’, ‘The Rice Basket of the North’ (Sapa), ’The Rice Basket of Cambodia’ (Battambang) and so on an so forth but truly the stupendous sculpted beauty of the Yuanyang rice terraces are the ’Rice Basket of My Soul’.  They can be so unimaginably beautiful.  And I could stroll and stare at them for ever and a day.

It would be more than presumptuous to think that we humans could ever improve on the beauty of the works of Mother Nature, but here this almost seems the case.

Busy at the wheel.
  Or at least that an unsought for and incredible aesthetic harmony has arisen between the natural landscape and that which has been imposed upon it by human necessity.  In the primal act of survival, of cultivating food to feed ones families Man here has created an accidental masterpiece of topographical art.  A perfect unending synchronicity of beauty, form and function.

Earlier in the day, reading in the bright sun without shades on I had closed my eyes, and as happens in such moments a sudden firework burst image of warm neon colours flashed across the landscape of my closed eyelids and I swear the image took the form of a large rainbow-silvered, slatted rice paddy terrace!  Honest to G.!  Burnt into my retinas I’d stared at them so long.

One of the many beautiful views you will have on the lovely sunset stroll to Longshuba and back.
  I dismiss the moment but at nightfall, knuckle-rubbing my tired, tired eyes again really-really there they are.  Those arced silver pools of water, receding down, printed, shining upon my minds eye.  Okay maybe it was nothing more than a day-glo Rorschach blot vista of the imagination but they seem to have made an impression on me.  The memory of them will glow it seems for all of my sunsets still to come.

[ P.S.  Has anyone else noticed how cretinous some of the people who have tagged detination coordinates on the Google Map of the World are that our blogs trail across?!  I mean seriously, this entry for Yuanyang in CHINA seems to have me residing on some island of the mid-west coast of Africa for fricks sake!! What's that about?! LOL  I will seek to rectify these errors when I have time and if it is possible.

Stevie & the Sunset at Longshuba
.. but for now I assure you friends & family I am CHINA not an African island! :)  ]

sylviandavid says:
I just read this to David.... Great images you painted with your words.... thank you! Sylvia
Posted on: May 23, 2009
irmayu says:
he he...you have to insert exact point :)
..in any way you have a great time :)
Posted on: Apr 21, 2009
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
The first of many beautiful rice p…
The first of many beautiful rice …
The terrace-carved valley basin of…
The terrace-carved valley basin o…
Soooooo cute... I never had a hat …
Soooooo cute... I never had a hat…
Golden light falls upon Duoyishu
Golden light falls upon Duoyishu
Stevie at Duoyishu
Stevie at Duoyishu
The mercury pools of the reflectiv…
The mercury pools of the reflecti…
An example of the incredible dress…
An example of the incredible dres…
(Yuanyang) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.…
(Yuanyang) Muju [www.mujuworld.co…
Busy at the wheel.
Busy at the wheel.
One of the many beautiful views yo…
One of the many beautiful views y…
Stevie & the Sunset at Longshuba
Stevie & the Sunset at Longshuba
Farm buildings in the valley at La…
Farm buildings in the valley at L…
Sun goes down at Laohuzui
Sun goes down at Laohuzui
Pre-dawn at the Duoyishu rice terr…
Pre-dawn at the Duoyishu rice ter…
Mommy an her little King :)
Mommy an' her little King :)
The duoyishu rice terraces (detail)
The duoyishu rice terraces (detail)
Sun up at Duoyishu.
Sun up at Duoyishu.
Weighing the price of rice.
Weighing the price of rice.
Cute! :)
Cute! :)
Old friends chatter at the market.
Old friends chatter at the market.
Anyone fancy a nana?! :)
Anyone fancy a 'nana?! :)
Descending down the valley slopes.
Descending down the valley slopes.
Rice Paddy plants.
Rice Paddy plants.
Sewing at the market.  these machi…
Sewing at the market. these mach…
Struggle
'Struggle'
Success
'Success'
And this little piggy went to mar…
"And this little piggy went to ma…
Orange & Blue
Orange & Blue
Yuanyangs champion bong-toking sm…
Yuanyang's champion bong-toking s…
An example of the Milk Float
An example of the 'Milk Float'
On approach to Longshuba village.
On approach to Longshuba village.
Boy reflecting in paddy terrace.
Boy reflecting in paddy terrace.
Paddy farmer.
Paddy farmer.
Yuanyang
photo by: Stevie_Wes