Tuesday 8 April 2014

Floating down the river to Xingping

I've managed to arrive here in the middle of the Qingming Festival, when it's customary to worship ancestors, clean and decorate old graves, and set off a multitude of fireworks. The most popular type is a sort of ground based firecracker, which winds up from a few quick bangs to a cacophony of explosions; almost like a machine gun was chain firing grenades into the mountain side. They'll continue like this, echoing around the hills to deafen an area the size of Bristol for 45 seconds, then gradually wind down, allowing brief respite before the next spins up.

It cannot, however, take any from the charm that little Asian towns like this all too often have. People strolling through the streets for the sake of strolling, small markets and little rickshaws taking up the remainder of the bumpy roads.

Yesterday, aching to get out into the country, I rented a mountain bike from the "This old place hostel" in Xingping, stuffed a drysack into my pocket and set off into the hills. The villages around are full of cheerful and playing children, groups of pensioners and groups of men building small houses. All would giggle as I called out my usual Ni Hao (according to my friend in Shanghai, when westerners speak Chinese, our accent is adorable) and happily return with a chorus of hellos. Eventually the winding lanes took me deep into fields of tangerine trees, and the groups of workers picking them would amicably move the trucks out of the way for me. It was wonderful, and seemingly absent from the Lonely Planet, so if you come out here I'd definitely recommend it. I think perhaps my favourite however, was the aforementioned graves, set into the mountainside. Groups of families, the youngest couldn't have been older than 5, were making their way along the road, cutting away the grass, cleaning the headstones, decorating with bright flowers and solemn candles, before setting off the fireworks and moving along. I realised with a shock that I had been riding past graves all day, and the amount of grass, brush and stones that needed to be cleaned (and had been) was an imposing task. The completed area looked straight out of a garden; it was a herculean effort.

And so I rode, with the echoes of the firecrackers in my ears and the occasional bright flash of a rocket ahead. After some consideration, I decided not to take pictures of the graves out of respect, but I did take a picture of a small memorial and I hope it serves as an incentive for you, dear reader, to visit.

The rain here is on and off, often merely cloudy (and yet surprisingly humid) and due to a downpour two nights prior the unpaved roads were a bit muddy. I returned covered in splatters, head to toe, just this sort of floating grin perched in the middle of mud man, and tumbled into the showers.

In the evening, a group involving a Canadian, New Zealander, two Americans and myself headed out for food. I've yet to have a bad meal in situations like this, just searching for a random little restaurant in a back street. We toasted our fortune with cold beer, and after the meal tumbled into a little Chinese bar that had live singing. Couldn't have been larger than my living room in size, but we excitedly ordered more beers and got chatting with the owners, a young couple.

Well, it starts to get a little hazy here, but I dimly remember replacing the singer for some western music (to which the locals were apparently very pleased with) and managed to reel out a rendition of The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Dead can Dance style. Though I had to repeat a verse and skip another as the lyrics were a bit beyond me at that point.

We cheerfully headed back to find a locked hostel and had to wake up the security guard to get back in. The town really does fall asleep quite early.

And so today I'm off to climb a mountain! Apparently it offers spectacular views over the surrounding countryside, so I'm quite looking forward to it.

Thanks for reading!

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