I’ve seen enough steps on this trip to last me a bloody lifetime. Following the thousands of steps I had to climb last week during a grueling three hour ascent of Huangshan, I promised myself not to climb any more steps for at least a few weeks. I was even considering living out the rest of my days in a small but not unpleasant bungalow.
So quite why I decided to go and visit the rice terraces of Longji yesterday – rice terraces that are reached by nothing less than another half hour upward climb along slippery and uneven steps – I’ll never know. But alas, man is an imperfect and irrational beast, and so off I went in a happy little tour group that included an American bloke and a Swiss couple to embark on our intrepid adventure.
I’d taken my waterproof coat, expecting rain. But for inexplicable reasons I chose to leave it on the bus. Sure enough the rain fell freely, and I spent most of the day soaked to the bone.
It was worth it though. The sight from the top was breathtaking – a panorama of emerald green rice fields, arranged in terraces down the side of hills as far as the eye could see. The terraces were backed by mountains, with threads of cloud ribboning their way between the mountains above and the banks of rice fields below. It was quite a sight, even despite the fact that my clothes were by now holding half of the world’s rain water.
Earlier in the day, on our way to the terraces, we’d stopped to visit a little village the quirk of which is that the girls who live there never cut their hair. Don’t be fooled by quaint notions of a small Chinese village full of tradition and tea fumes – this was a tourist trap in its purest sense. From the moment we arrived we were targeted by old ladies selling souvenirs – purses, scarves. Strange four faced Buddhas. My (increasingly well rehearsed) ‘I don’t want to buy anything’ face was painted on from start to finish. I can only imagine our guide, an enthusiastic Chinese chap named Danny, was on commission.
Alas, however, it was loosely interesting hearing about the history of the village. I imagine that the touristification of this rather pretty little place is only a fairly recent phenomenon. For years before the coaches and minibuses arrived the girls here lived happily with their long hair flowing to their ankles. It was remarkably well kept long hair as well, shiny and sleek. Pantene’s advertisers are missing a trick.
I was very interested to learn about the criteria blokes in this village use for selecting a girl to marry (there was no sense the girl herself has much say in the matter). We were told that an attractive girl would generally possess small hands, so she could do intricate needlework; big feet, so she could work in the rice fields; a broad bottom, so she could bear children; and a loud voice, so she could call the husband when his dinner was ready. It all sounds perfectly reasonable, don’t you think? Hoorah for Chinese feminism!
They got their own back though. We were treated to an artificial feeling dance performance in a purpose built auditorium (how many ‘traditional’ Chinese villages have fully functioning theatres?), after which the girls lined up either side of the exit to pinch the bums of all the lads as we walked past. This, we were assured, remains tradition, a process which claims to determine masculine fertility, although I’m a natural skeptic when it comes to this sort of thing. But fair play, I’d do the same if I thought I could get away with it. Good luck to them!