No return to Kaili

I had thought the rubbish bag protection would have been effective, but a whole day of rain had the upper hand on my passport, which I extracted from an inner pocket in a pitiful warped condition. Maybe it was partly the fault of the Chinese quality umbrella that decided to break down and leave me in the lurch just when I needed it most. I had to strive to put it up and keep it open, and then suddenly it would crash down again.

I woke up to another rainy morning, but it didn’t much matter by then. Over the previous day I had already walked my legs tired enough, so my plan was only to return to Kaili and recover from exhaustion. I sat despondently in the restaurant next to the bus stop where one of yesterday’s men took me, had noodles for breakfast and watched the rain drip from the eaves until the bus came. In Kaili I wondered if I should return to my hotel or move on while I was at the bus station. With a t-shirt and little more in my small backpack I could survive a little longer without the rest of the luggage.

I was certain the landlady would give me for lost, but all things considered it made sense to move on. The Liping bus left at 15.30 and would take 5 hours, leaving me enough time to look for a place to stay once arrived. The journey was all motorway and tunnels, with romantic mists drifting over the hills to be sighted from the viaducts. Liping bus station was already closed, so I found a room, bought provisions for the next day and had the worse sinewy beef soup ever.

The next day in a couple of hours I was at Zhongxing village. It looked interesting but was being affected by a deep sea change. There was extensive work of renovation in progress, the place was going to be turned into another Xijiang-style park. Streets were being paved all over, the stream dredged and embanked anew, and I sadly concluded it would soon end up being another stilted showcase village with hardly any heart of flesh left. Of all transformations under way it was the vastness of the entrance esplanade that was most disquieting.

Zhongxing was upgrading to Chinese-class tourist standards to become another cash-cow. I was not disappointed by its present state, still authentic enough, but by its future prospects. When I had protested about the ticket system in Xijiang the ticket inspector retorted with the argument that China is a developing country and needs this to keep growing. But in my opinion, the explanation lies rather in China being a Communist country in which party officials can turn towns and villages and even nature into attractions and charge a ticket. In democratic countries a town cannot be turned into a museum unless it wants, but in China it is decreed from above. I felt proud not to give in to the temptation of visiting either Xijiang or Huangguoshu waterfall. Being this the biggest waterfall in China, I was uncertain whether I had made the right decision, but all doubts were dispelled when foreign tourists commented they were literally disgusted at the setup and the number of visitors.

From Congjiang I went to Basha where its inhabitants still wear ancient costumes, mostly for the sake of tourism, although they still make a living on farming. The country village life is therefore genuine, and even a bit dull because there is nothing but farmhouses and country odours wafting in the air. In the clearing the locals had just finished giving a re-enactment. I sat down next to a man and we talked as he sawed his toe nails with a big machete knife. Opposite, a groups of girls were intent embroidering.