For the Western traveler in China 1990, the Jiangnan towns provided a glimpse into old world China. In the back lanes time seemed to had stood still. From the kitchens of beautiful white-washed houses with their decorated doorways and stunning courtyards, smells of garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil wafted out. People lived and worked on the canals as had their ancestors.
They were spellbound by a riot of colour as Chinese dragons, Tibetan Qiang minority dancers, and Muslim Hui singers took over the town, paraded through the streets and usurped the public squares. The real fun began after the Communist Party leaders had made their speeches, sped off to lunch in their limousines and left everyone to an afternoon of spontaneous revelry. Here are some photos of what they were enjoying.
The road south of Quanzhou, towards the town of Anhai, passes through what must be some of the most depressing and ugly scenery in China. For about 30 kilometres, the road runs through a series of towns the outskirts of which all merge into one dirty and chaotic urban sprawl, leaving the despondent traveler to wonder what on earth has brought him there. Most of the buildings look as if they were put up in half a day, many are unfinished, bits of cables and wires sticking out, but in full use. This is not a poor area of China; it’s just an example of the complete absence of urban planning.
It is difficult to know when or where to get off the bus in Anhai, as there seems to be no apparent centre. In spite of the huge billboards advertising the bridge as a Number One Heritage Site, the driver of our clapped-out motor-cycle rickshaw was not quite sure where we wanted to go and initially tried to take us to a hotel. However, we soon put him right and after a five-minute ride arrived at our destination.
Built more than 800 years ago (1138-1151), Anping bridge stands out from the urban mess that surrounds it, a haven of peace, far from the thunder of lorries and the honking of horns. The bridge crosses a two-kilometre stretch of sea and is made entirely of stone. A few pavilions and a small temple built along the bridge add to its feeling of timelessness and tranquility. Walking the full length of the bridge and admiring its immaculate ancient stones, is a strangely moving experience that takes about an hour. On the way you will meet many local people who use the bridge and its temples to have a rest and a chat.
This photo was taken at Chengyang Wind and Rain Bridge, near Sanjiang 三江 in Northern Guangxi Province. It is one of the best examples of a Dong Minority Wind and Rain Bridge. Built in 1912, it’s 64 meters long and reported not to have a single nail. This photo was taken after scrambling up a steep path to find an ideal spot to get an overview of the bridge. A pity about the crappy camara I had at the time.
The area around Chengyang Bridge is stunning. Beautiful Dong Minority villages are set amongst electric green paddy fields. In the lazy meandering rivers, huge water wheels turn slowly as they have done for centuries, tipping water into bamboo irrigation pipes. And above all there is the Chengyang Bridge. Sounds like paradise doesn’t it?
In 2003, the only place to stay near the bridge was the lovely rambling Chengyang Bridge National Hostel, a funky wooden guest house with a great veranda for chilling, reading and knocking back a few beers right next to the Bridge. Unfortunately for Margie, it was also home to some of the biggest and fastest moving 8 legged monsters you’ll ever meet.
Spiders, big long-legged, hairy spiders scuttling across wooden beams from room to room, hiding behind the bedhead or hovering above you in the shower; Margie’s nightmare; my hassle. Travelling in Northern Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces with an arachnophobic can be quite a testing experience. The old wooden houses in the minority villages provide perfect abodes for these arthropods. And my job, as always, is to make the rooms safe before Margie will go in them. Given the spaces between the wooden slats; an impossible task.
Every week we’ll put up a photo from our huge archive of photos from China. These photos have been taken over numerous visits to China in the past 23 years. This week’s photo was taken on Tai Shan in Shandong Province in September 2002. The tea was still warm but not a person was in sight.