Lingyun in autumn

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January 26th 2016
Published: January 26th 2016
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To stand in the middle of Guangxi province and talk about "small towns, surrounded by glorious peaks", is almost like trying to point out that the grass is green. Those small towns or villages doesn't happen only in Guilin. You can travel in the wider area of Guilin - to Gongcheng and Fuchuan, to the borders of Guangdong province; or up and back to Rongshui and Huanjiang; and down nearly to the capital of Nanning and Duan or Mashan. And then towards Vietnam, or towards Baise, Bama, right to Napo, Jingxi, and then to Heche, Nandan or Leye or Longlin, where hills are starting to find a different, silky and rounded quality.

All of this towns and the smaller ones in between can have their own peculiarities, and Lingyun is a perfect example.


I arrive in the middle of the night. The BBQ next to the bus station is just closing down. Even in the dark and shadows of shao kao burning out you can tell the first impressions: freshness, leisure, "niceness".

The things get clearer next morning - there’s a new wooden bridge in the center of the town; a wind and rain bridge lookalike. And wooden resting platforms - or should I say balconies? - down the bank of the river; and people just sitting - chatting or playing mahjong - inside those platforms. (You'd see them and you'd be thinking - perhaps optimistically: no pressure.) There's a Taiping bridge, a rebuilt Confucious temple. The signs says that the place “suffered in times of Republic of China - owing to the natural and artificial causes", which probably means Cultural Revolution. There is Tea Mountain very near. There is a pool with lotuses and many stairs up to the mountains, and an occasional resting place will pop up on an all present hills, again "in a semi old style" (a lovely detail: this hills are so far away from town that young couples would come there to cuddle in peace.) The mountains mean some kind of a borderline: while the residents of the town are mostly Han and Zhuang (many Han people come from the north to enjoy retirement here), Lan Dian Yao and Guo Shan Yao and others live in poorer areas, in the mountains, and mostly come down only to the markets, to sell and buy stuff - and they might do it in their national clothes. Older women kept their habit of smoking thin long pipes with coins hanged on one side of it. The whole place has also - to me - a distinct Guangdong feeling; I can't even really tell why. Sometimes this ideas are unfathomable (and sometimes, of course, wrong). I can tell another thing - when you hear the children screaming from the middle of the town, you immediately start thinking about swimming, and then you wonder, how?, and no way! But the answer is of course yes - this river is so unbelievably clean that not only children can swim there, the grownups come there in the evening to wash themselves up.


The bargaining for price to go to Jing Bao Yao Zhai is exhausting. I know I shouldn't and I won't pay 200 RMB - twice the money that I needed to get here from Nanning. I've been told by other people the price should be around 8 RMB, depending on the number of passengers. People who give me offers defend themselves by saying that the place I'm looking for is around 20 km away, and the road is winding through the mountains; they probably also count on me being a foreigner and in a hurry and willing to spend. This is business, after all. Alright then. I want to see Yao village, but I am absolutely not allowing myself to get ripped off. I enquire about the road and start to realize it would be a perfect terrain for walking. The drivers try to persuade me that I'm wrong - "you will be too tired." But, I insist, there's nothing wrong with being tired. In the end, the local version of san lun che (it is not exactly that and they do not call it that way) takes me to the foot of the mountains for 20 RMB. "Just go up," the woman says, and you can tell she is still not really believing that I seriously want to do it. But it is not the first time for me and anyway, I have a Hope B in my pocket. I know there will be many people passing by with motorcycles and I'm hoping that at least one will be curios enough to stop for the crazy lonely foreigner, walking.

By meeting Mr. Li, I am luckier than I deserve to be. He stops and not only promises to take me to my final destination, he also takes me to his home. His village is more or less a small package of houses - all rebuilt. (There are some old houses nearby, the mud and stone and wood style, but they are rare.) This is Yao village, new version, 2.0. Rice fields, cows, horses, probably goats. Mr. Li is working as an construction worker - working anywhere he can: Tianjin, Shanghai, Kunming - - - he is obviously an experienced worker with good position, because his payment is high; from 7.000 and maybe occasionally even more than 10.000 RMB per month. ("How did you learn?", I ask, because I already know that his education was not high. He practically shrugs the question away:" They showed me and I did it, and I did it well. That's all.")

He built this house himself and he lives there alone. His parents died, although he still has relatives here. By the way he is talking to me - patiently choosing simple Chinese words, giving vivid examples - I can tell at least part of the reasons of why he is appreciated in his job. He can get along with people; he knows how to talk. He knows how to put himself in other people's shoes. He explains modestly - "It is gift that you get when you keep on meeting people from all parts of the country". Yes, but he was smart to learn from this experiences. Then he utters first of two very interesting sentiments - and I am simplifying and reinterpreting for the sake of the story - "When I am in the city, I do not know who I am." I use my logic to try to figure out a double edged problem here. First, he means he is not really sure about his roots and identity; he does not know much about it, because he was not taught to know. It was simply not needed - not important enough. There is even a slight possibility that even saying that he is Lan Dian Yao is a simplification - the story about how national minorities of China got their names is long, more winding that the road to here, and full of holes. Surely, even the national clothes that the younger Yao people are wearing are a modernization of the old ones - I know, since I've seen them also in Yunnan and other parts of Guangxi. But the other part of this double edged sword is that who he is is not important for city people - first of all, most of them do not know much about minorities, and second of all, they do not care - all that matters is that he is able to work. I think it works in his case because he is "just" a migrant worker, and mingling mostly with other migrant workers, and not trying to live there; living there would change situations.

Mr. Li is fortunate. He might not have been taught the culture, but what he came up with as an adult is a cultural behavior - a wide understanding of things. Others may not be so fortunate.

The second important sentiment by Mr. Li:"I want to continue working like this for several years, and then I want to come back here and get married and stay. I know I'll never earn that much money again, but living here does not demand so much money." Later I will hear similar sentiment in the city - a surprising thing, because young people usually talk about big cities, big life, big payment... But here, in Lingyun, I've kept on hearing about looking for leisure life, small town feeling, being comfortable - I've even heard that "Nanning is too big", which is totally unusual. To me it feels like a shiver of a new trend. Or I might have had, in my eyes, a wish to hear that, and some people responded.

Mr. Li cooks lunch and brings in some noodles and pork in some kind of pot and adds soya sauce and I'm wondering: "This is local specialty?" He laughs: "No, it’s my specialty! In fact, I can't cook, I just put something together." I laugh with him - everything this man does just comes out so sensible or simply normal.

He asks me whether I want to go; we pack up.

The ride to the final destination takes us higher and higher. Yao village suddenly springs up with two images - kids swimming (again) and balcony for picnics - with added small wooden hotel and a view to the mountains. The rest of the village is very usual; new brick houses substituting old wooden and mud "dwarfs". Mr. Li takes my phone number and says that he has to go back now, but he will call me; if I'll have problems getting back to town in the evening, I can count on him.

I spend couple of hours in the village and most of that time I was having early dinner or late lunch with local family; the young who came up for the Middle Autumn festival, and middle aged or older women in blue and black and white costumes - and an old man with black turban around his head. I can wonder whether life is hard in this place - it does not really seem to be; the houses are new, and that is telling a lot. I haven't seen anyone fat except Chinese tourists having picnic on the balcony, but I also haven’t' seen anyone starved. This place obviously serves as a stage for Yao festivals, and in that time tourists should come, and money with them. But the place most certainly would be boring for the younger generation. I can imagine them saying - nothing to do, mei you hao war. I imagine I can see the resentment in the eyes of a girl who is almost forced to put on those national clothes. A thought: she's gonna get rid of them as soon as she can.

The most important impression I get from this village is a usual one, a hospitality; at least hospitality towards a foreigner. (I keep on being told that Chinese guests would not be treated the way I am - but on the other hand, most of the people who tell me this never tried whether it would happen or not; they just think it and keep away. And of course you need to try it at least fifty times and then get percentage. My counting: the law of hospitality effortlessly works in 95 %!o(MISSING)f cases.)

I’m headed back to the town.

The advice "Go to the road and wait for the mini van," works in a funny way. The woman who stopped was actually not a regular driver around here, just a visitor, but she stopped anyway; and took me to the valley for free. One hour later I get a phone call - Mr. Li is checking if I'm OK and whether I need a lift back to Lingyun. I tell him I'm all right and ask the traditional question, whether he ate yet. "I'm going out for a party," he laughs.

O yes, the party. Mid Autumn festival party.


The river is still splashed around by water crazed kids. Some small temples are visited by (mostly) women and sacrifices are being given and praying is performed. The banks of the river get a regular evening makeover into BBQ restaurants. The giant roots of the trees are enveloping the small crumbling walls. The kong ming deng or floating - or sky - lanterns are being blown in the air almost all over town; I have never seen so many of them. UFO’s of China. The smallness of the place makes them extra noticeable. It is as if many moons are floating in the dark sky. With words - "I love you", "I wish for a tall, handsome, rich husband", "good luck for my newborn baby" - prayers floating towards heaven. And just when I'm thinking all right, that's lovely, it turns out it is not the last part of the celebration. Quite suddenly - or suddenly for me - there are barbecues all over the town. The families - I'm guessing: every family in town? - puts out, on the street, first, a small sacrificial desk (fruits, rice spirit, incense...) and then a large grapefruit - youzhi - on a long pole. Like some kind of a flying yellow green hedgehog sparkling, the grapefruit is punctured by incense sticks. I am asking what is it for, and the young point me to the old, and the old - I don't understand what they say. “It’s a tradition.” It doesn't really matter by then - because the chairs and tables are being occupied, and drinks are flowing, and smoke gives away the smell of meat (and local spice), - the whole town is out on the streets, celebrating by eating and drinking - there's a guy hunting for wrongly flown floating lantern with a broom, and kids chasing him and laughing - and of course, the invitations to sit down rain on me from everywhere. So of course, I join them. And in this late night chatting I hear more of those words: "We just graduated, came back to work here - did you know that this place is like Bama? A lot of people reach very old age here." Another guy lifts his eyes from smartphone screen - it colors his face blue - "We are better than Bama." Another one laughs:" We don't want to work in the big city. The pressure there is too high. So we just choose to stay here with our families." And since the full moon represents family togetherness, there are no words that would fit that night better.


29th January 2016

the invitations to sit down rain on me from everywhere
Great blog of your reflections on your time and conversations in Lingyun town, Peter. Seems there is a font of knowledge called Mr Li everywhere. That the young are happy to return here rather than the lure of the big city makes me think it may be better than Bama!
29th January 2016

Bama is great. But yes, if Id' have to chose, I'd probably pick Lingyun. Bama is a bit too touristy, and lots of people from other parts of China moved there. Lingyun has some of this, but not so much. It feels cared about and unspoiled. ----------- ha ha ha ha, absolutely true, this about Mr. Li!

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