It is an axiom of this trip that we are on cramped buses for the gorgeous, clear weather and are socked-in by clouds and mist when we take a day to explore. So it was at Yuanyang, the famous collection of Hani villages and rice terraces in southeastern Yunnan. High up a twisty road (and past a $16 dollar admission booth) is Duoyishu, and below sprawl some of the loveliest terraced hillsides. Supposedly. I think I saw a terrace down there, below the fog.
So, in a haze, we backtracked a short ways downhill, to the bustling market town of Shengcun, where we filled up on local specialties of forest mushrooms and, um, what turned out to be dog meat. Then we dove into the market, a packed and enticing affair. Traditional Hani clothing–black garments decorated with faux-antique silver coins, intricately embroidered belts, fancy hats laden with silver balls– hung next to a table of pig faces, next to a bin of black sesame cookies, next to Michael Jackson boxed sets. Men sat on the sidewalk and smoked from the giant bamboo bongs 水烟袋 that have been prevalent since Pingxiang. Everywhere, babies peeked out from their hand-embroidered carriers, as their moms inspected the fresh pig entrails and new smart phones. In a ramshackle shed, an old man gave haircuts next to pigs being slaughtered, creating a mess on the sidewalk that was to be avoided.
Back up the hill, we imagined the view and expressed collective ambivalence about joining the sunrise viewers. The market had been interesting enough, as had Nick’s tour of the nearby hamlet with one of its sons–a young manager at an outdoor apparel factory in Guangzhou who had just returned, with a wife and a baby, for the first time in five years. No need to go stare at some pre-dawn hillside with the crowd from the big cities. But the next day, a hard rap on our door from the guesthouse owner at 6AM gave us no chance to back out: everyone in the guesthouse was going to see the sunrise; this being China, we’d be hounded every minute that we didn’t join them. And now that Owen was awake, we now needed to go do something anyway.
We traipsed past the designated viewing platform, which in the darkness was already alive with the sounds of a crowd’s hacking and spitting, to a half-built house on a little outcop. The owner charged five yuan to stand on his unfinished first floor. Those with tripods (read: everyone else) grumbled derisively about these contract conditions and set up their thousands-dollar kits, while those without tripods bought hot hardboiled eggs from the village kids and tried not to get crowded out from the dark view (“Be careful, you’re too close to the edge!” Said one man as he angled to set his camera directly in front of where Nick was standing. “Better you look out for yourself,” said Nick, slightly elbowing him sideways. “And I’ll look out for myself.”).
Those with tripods soon became audibly annoyed with the continued egg-selling, and began competing to make condescending jokes about the kids (example: “(in a mocking voice)’Would you like to buy an egg’–ha! It’s the only standard Mandarin these little hillbillies will ever know how to say!”). Those without tripods then made condescending comments to the people with tripods, about how the education systems in Shanghai and Chongqing (determined from their car license plates) had also evidently failed to produce mature adults. Those with tripods became silent.
Then the sun rose, as it does, but behind heavy clouds, and those with tripods smoked their cigarettes and frowned through their viewfinders. Their 50-megapixel pictures would not look like all the pictures they’d seen on the internet.
After breakfast, we flagged a passing bus, just in time for the clouds to break and the whole valley to open up below us. The views through the dirty bus window, as always, were killer.