Saturday, 27 February 2016

China - 4 - The Album

Among my souvenirs....





This selection of pictures complements the preceding three blog pieces, roughly in a sort of chronological order, telling my Story of China....

This time, I will offer no commentary, just thanks to all those who made it possible....  

So enjoy the pictures....































































































































































































































































So, thanks to Hannah and Cameron, without whom we would have been very very lost, and thanks to Amanda, who looked after me; thanks to the Poets of the Late T'ang, who kept me company; thanks to Michael Wood, whose brilliant series The Story of China came just at the right time to help me know something of the background; to Mo Yan and Yu Hua whose writings have added to my understanding of the contemporary world; to Yimou Zhang (and Christopher Doyle) whose Hero (2002) is one of the most beautiful films ever made.... 









And, of course, thanks to 









Without which mindlessness would mean nothing.

And, naturally, as well, to:








Whose pictures are so much better than mine......




Tuesday, 23 February 2016

China - 3 - The Year of the Monkey

I am a tiger*.....






The streets are filled with scraps of red paper, the remains of thousands of firecrackers. The Year of the Monkey - the Fire Monkey indeed, ambitious, adventurous, but irritable - has begun.....  I check with my astrologer:  I am a Tiger, something that later in the day I may come to regret.....







As we leave Ping'an, I notice that the hillsides are splashed with pink, as well, as suddenly random trees have started to blossom.  Also, as it is now the Spring Festival proper, and the family duties of the Lunar New Year have been carried out, tourists, both Chinese and foreign, are beginning to pour into the village, and we see diminutive women carrying huge suitcases up the steep paths, and a palanquin, slung between two sinewy men, bears a mother and her child up the steps past us.




We leave the mountains.  On the way we pay our respects to the Red Yao women again, 







And admire what hangs on their washing line.....







Before plunging down towards Guilin again.  On the way, we were supposed to be visiting a tea estate, but, sadly, this was closed.  Because of the Spring Festival.

Instead, to while away a little time before our flight, we are taken to the Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain Village, which, despite its alluring name, is quite the saddest, most dilapidated zoo I have ever seen.

We were not allowed to take photographs (though Chinese visitors were) under the pretext that research was going on here.  But I think the real reason is that Richard Jones visited in 2010 and wrote about this horror story in the Mail Online:(http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1252500/Exposed-Dark-secret-farm-tigers-bodies-plundered-make-185-wine.html);  I don't recommend you read it, as it will spoil your appreciation of China, and I will probably get into trouble for stirring up unrest. Suffice it to say that there are three kinds of animals in this zoo.  Some thousand or more tigers, who lie limply around in foul conditions until they die and are made into wine (yes, wine: apparently 55lbs of tiger bone (ie one tiger skeleton) is worth £225,000 when crushed up and steeped in fermented rice juice which is sold for up to £185 a bottle).

Chinese medicine.....  

Then there are sun bears, who lie listlessly around in foul conditions or wade in water the colour you get when you mix all the colours in your paint palette, waiting for a visitor to tease them with an apple on a fishing line (lines kindly provided by the zoo-keepers). I say tease, though perhaps it's fun for the bears? There's nothing else for them to do, as the trees are all encased in concrete corsets...  I don't know why these animals are here, though it may have something to do with the fact that sun bear bile and gall bladders are highly sought after in Chinese medicine.....

Oh, and the third animal here is a type of deer, which lie around sadly in foul conditions, their doe eyes betraying the fact that they have read what's on the menu for the tigers....

Anyway, that diversion aside, we are soon on our way back to Haikou, where, believe it or not, the sun is shining.....







And, after three days of washing walls, ceilings, floors and windows (following the ghastly humidity the preceding week), the view  (of the building next door) from the seventeenth floor isn't too bad..... So, to celebrate, we head down town to the old heart of Haikou, which is perhaps the kind of China I was expecting.....





With its temples, complete with incense and offerings:








Their dragons:






Their role as places of learning:







And their shady role as social centres:







Outside, on Zhongshan Road, under European style colonial facades, European style colonial types are remembered in bronze, under the watchful eye of the youth of today.....








And age shades itself under a Ronaldinho hat while selling the ancient art of calligraphy....








Courtyard houses here open off the street, the portico offering shade and the shutters keeping the cool air inside,








While a bicycle rests by heavy armchairs in the open lounge,









And chickens enjoy the security of their roost in the yard.









The streets are busy with the transports of merchandise,








The business of card schools,








The amusement of generations:




And the administrations of public employees, who seem invariably to be female (I guess the men are busy playing cards?)








It is Spring Festival time, and, with the sunshine, there is a holiday atmosphere, so much more relaxed than our first week here in the dreary clouds of the Year of the Ram. 








Our trip is nearly at an end, but first we must travel back to Sanya. So, along with 10.5 million other people in China on our penultimate day, we queue and board, and take the bullet train.  




At the same time, on the same day, five hundred thousand people pass through Beijing's railway stations - the Spring Festival accounts for the largest mass migration of people on the planet, and you can almost feel the island of Hainan tipping south as holidaymakers head for the beaches of the South China Sea.....







Incidentally, our journey south was enlivened by a very useful public service video, which showed in great detail how the toilets on our train are maintained in case of malfunction.....  It quite took my mind off the passing scenery.



It is warm in Tianya, when we return to the Menthe Garden Hostel. We don't need the extra blankets.  It is very pleasant to stroll along the sands at sunset,







Admiring the happy families at play,








And settling for our final meal, crabs, and prawns, skewers of barbecued lamb, grilled vegetables, oysters.....








It's busy now, the whole world is relaxing, 





and night falls comfortably on the feasting crowds.....





We have a last wander, pacing the streets like caged tigers.  And then a last glass, or two:








And then say goodnight to China, the lights and the signs, the tiger purring in my tank.....  











It may be the Year of the Monkey, but I am a Tiger*, so my astrologer tells me, and I'm proud of it, and I feel so sorry for those magnificent creatures in the squalid conditions of  Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain Village in Guilin. 

I don't really know if I will ever understand this country.....




Zài jiàn - 再見/再见 - Goodbye













*Tigers are unpredictable, always tense. and like to be in a hurry. Tiger people are difficult to resist, for they are magnetic characters and their natural air of authority confers a certain prestige on them.

They are tempestuous yet calm, warm-hearted yet fearsome, courageous in the face of danger yet yielding and soft in mysterious, unexpected places. 

Although they love adventures, and are addicted to excitement it is better not to challenge a Tiger's confidence. They likes being obeyed and not the other way around. Because Tigers are urgent people and always in a hurry to get things done right, they usually choose to operate alone. Tigers like to work, they are hard-working and dynamic. If you assign a task to a Tiger, the job will be undertaken and accomplished with enthusiasm and efficiency.....