Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Longsheng - Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces

There are two main day trips to do from Guilin. The most famous and popular is taking a cruise down the Li River. The views down the Li River are some of the best the area has to offer and are normally ranked as one of the top 5 sites to see in China. However, the locals know this and charge an arm and a leg to take one of the cruises, especially by China standards. To take a cruise is normally 400 - 600 RMB (~$70-$90). Luckily, when I met the guy from the Netherlands on the train to Guilin, he advised me to take a shorter cruise around the Yangshuo area that is much cheaper and shows the most beautiful part of the river anyway. He said that the cruise from Guilin can actually get a little boring since it lasts around five hours and the scenery is pretty much the same throughout the cruise. In light of this information, I decided to postpone my river cruise until I went to Yangshuo. The second main day trip from Guilin is to the Longsheng (or Dragon's Backbone) Rice Terraces. In Longsheng County all the mountains and hills are carved up into rice terraces, so it's not really a single hill, but an entire region. They have been that way for over 500 years and during certain seasons offer some spectacular views. It is interesting to see such a feat of engineering side by side with traditional methods of farming, but then again you'll see rural farmers using cell phones as well, so I'll leave it up to you to decide which is more surprising.
A Picture of the Rice Terraces I Did Not Take
Since some traditional villages and cultures still exist in the area, it is also possible to see some local life, although they have been bastardized to a certain extent because of the tourist trade. Our tour guide told us that the government pays the villagers money to stay there and live, otherwise most of the young people would bolt for the big cities, as happens pretty much everywhere else in China. I think since the village life there is unique and proves to be a good tourist draw, it's worth the money. I decided to do the Longsheng day trip and booked a tour through my hostel. That is really the only way to be safe, as a lot of these touristy cities are rife with fake travel agents and many a foreigner has been bamboozled into paying for a fake ticket. The trip takes all day and they normally show you a couple villages where you get a see a performance, eat some lunch, and see some of the buildings there. The first place we went to was the Yao village. This village is famous for the women who live there. All the women have really long hair and are only allowed to cut it one time in their lives, when they are 18 years old. Before the girls get married, they can't show their hair to any men, since their husbands should naturally be the first ones to see their flowing locks. Because of this rule and also the logistics of having hair that is nearly as long as the girls are tall, most of them have their hair done up into a hat/head scarf type thing. The village itself is nestled into the side of a hill and near a river, so it was very picturesque, especially with the surrounding fog on the rainy day I went there.
Yao Village Women
Yao Village
Yao Village
Yao Village
Yao Men and Smoked Meat
At the Yao Village, there was a performance where the girls did some singing and they had a short wedding ceremony with four men from the audience. While there were a few other foreigners there, I was conspicuously the only young white guy, so of course they chose me to participate. Our tour guide had told us beforehand that they would want volunteers, which normally I strongly prefer avoiding, but they chose me against my will.
Outside the Performance Hall
Yao Girls Singing Married Women Showing Long Hair
When they took us backstage, they told us that each of us would have to sing a short part of some kind of love song to the girls we were getting married to. At this point, my heart dropped and I began getting extremely nervous, since singing in front of a crowd is a pretty scary idea to me. They said we could sing a few lines of any love song we knew and at this point, my mind went completely blank. Before I could think of any ideas, they made us dress up in the traditional marriage attire and led the four of us out on stage. There were four parts to the ceremony, which was of course in an express mode for the performance. The first part is to make rice cakes by mashing a big bowl of rice. Each of the four couples took a turn.
The Four Couples
The Rice Cakes
The whole time this was going on, though, my mind was searching for something to sing. I've never had my mind completely go blank like that before. However, at the last minute, I remembered some of the words to the old Elvis song "Only Fools Rush In". When it came time to sing, they of course picked me to sing first and I most likely butchered the song, but at least I got through it. Needless to say, I am not a performer by nature.
This Man is Not a Natural
The rest of the ceremony including some exchanging of rice wine and giving a gift. During the ceremony, all the other village girls were pinching my and the other guys' butts as part of the custom. I am not sure why, but I will say that they were not holding back at all and were pinching quite hard. At the end of the wedding, all the men had to carry the girls off on our backs. All in all it was pretty fun and I have to admit it is a relief to finally be off the market. I never thought this was the way I'd get married, but marriage is a sacred bond that lasts for life and I cannot betray it.
After the Yao Village, we went to the second and final village where we could hike up to see a view of the terraces. I had met some Korean MBA students on this trip and hiked up with them. They were also kind enough to take some pictures of me during the wedding ceremony. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy this day and by the time we reached the top it was too foggy to see. It was also winter, so the terraces weren't green like in the spring or yellow like in the fall, when the rice is ready to be harvested. Those are the risks you take traveling during the winter, though, and for the most part it was still worth going.
Hiking to Terraces through Village
View at the Top
View at the Top
View from Lower Terraces
View from Lower Terraces
Korean Friends
It might be nice someday to go back to the Longsheng terraces in the spring or fall, but then they might be a lot more crowded and expensive than when I went. There are always tradeoffs traveling, but no matter what the experience was fun. If you want to see more pictures, check out: http://picasaweb.google.com/wallred10/Longsheng


Phil Dawsey said...

I'm hurt you got married and didn't invite me. Looks like you've done pretty well for yourself though. I was very impressed with that first picture until i found out you didn't take it haha.