Of Rice and Rain

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June 20th 2008
Published: June 20th 2008
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We set off early from Yangshou to drive three hours to see the amazing Longji terraced rice fields high in the mountains. Our bus driver was a horn enthusiast and used it frequently and repeatedly, even when there was only a lone motorbike to overtake. Even with my ipod on full volume I couldn't drown out the shrill sound. It was a hazy and rainy day and as we neared our destination visibility got so bad that we could only see as far as the side of the road. We'd heard that there were lots of landslides on the way to the terraces so it was a little disconcerting not being able to see, or maybe better that we couldn't see!
En route we stopped at the obligatory local village and saw a traditional Yao tribe dance. The Yao women are renowned for their long hair, and apparently have the Guiness world record as their hair reaches their ankles. They all wear their hair up in different styles according to whether they're single, married or married with children. The anthropologist in me found it fascinating. We were told that they only cut their hair once in their life, when they're eighteen. The dance was very entertaining and the women looked beautiful, dressed in traditional clothing - bright pink or red wrap tops, knee-length A-line crepe skirts with colourful panels, and black Mary Jane shoes. Part of the dance involved them showing us the marriage ceremony and they called for 'groom' volunteers from the audience. They demonstrated that for a man to show his affection he carefully places his foot on the woman's foot, for a woman to show her affection she pinches the man on the backside! Another custom we were told about is that if you stay in the village they may ask you if you want a bath and there are three bath sizes to choose from. If you choose the small bath all the family watches you bathe, if you choose the large bath then the family jumps in with you, and if you choose the medium-sized bath you get your own personal washer - a girl from the village. It all sounded a bit dubious and we weren't sure whether to believe it.
From the village we changed to a smaller bus and drove up a steep mountain (some 1900 metres above sea level), full of hairpin bends, to the Longji Terraces. The air was thick with mist, and the valleys and ravines below were barely visible. The side of the road showed a huge drop hundreds of metres down to a river in the distance - ugh! When we got to the top we could just make out the shape of the steep terraces. We had lunch and then walked to the top of the village to look down on the spectacular terraces. It's layers and layers of paddies, all stacked on top of one another - a bit like the photos I've seen of Pamukkale in Turkey. Because of all the rain, the paddies were deep with water and the terraces glistened in the light. The terraces have different names such as the dragon's backbone and seven stars accompanying the moon. It's amazing that humans have cultivated the land for so many hundreds of years and created such an incredible sight. Despite the rain and fog, it was well worth the visit.
From the top viewing platforms, we were ushered by a well-meaning Yao lady further up the path. We'd heard it was a twenty minute walk to the highest platform but she kept walking and walking and walking, and I was getting anxious about our rapidly nearing bus departure time. Eventually another Yao woman joined us and she understood enough English for us to explain we needed to get back to our bus. Over rice paddies we walked, along ridges, down steep hills, until eventually they got us back to the village - twenty minutes early even. They were stooped old woman carrying baskets and we - two tall westerners - must have looked a sight walking in-between them.


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