Thursday, 2 June 2011

Fenghuang (10th of September)

Sometime in the early hours of the morning the racket outside our hostel had ceased and at 6.00 a.m. it was remarkably quiet for a town, no beeping horns or barking dogs. But by 7.30 the noise had begun again, it was as though there were people surrounding us. I really thought I was missing something lying in bed and went downstairs to look. A flotilla of the small fishing boats were making their way down the river and their occupants were singing. On the bank the early rising tourist were already taking pictures and the locals were getting their stalls ready coming along with their baskets on their backs. A man was painting a picture of the houses on the other side and a lady sat at the side of the path making wreaths out of flowers. Otherwise there wasn’t much to see and I couldn’t really understand why it had seemed so noisy.

We spent the day in exploration of Fenghuang, walking up and down the river. Just seeing the locals go about their daily business was fascinating. Every day must be wash day and the ladies were washing bed sheets, which they would bang with a wooden paddle and then wash again. Outside one inn there was a washing machine that they’d brought out to the river where they could fill it with water. Downstream of people washing their sheets you would see people washing cabbages or chillies. Three men in boats were cutting riverweed with sythes on the end of long poles, but they were just leaving it to drift down the river. Everyone seemed to be very busy, well apart from the three men asleep on the bridge crossing the river. Before we turned back we saw a kingfisher and the locals were puzzled as to why we were photographing it. In some shops a local ginger sugar sweet called Jiangtang was being made. They had big hooks on the side of their shops, which they pulled a mass of shiny golden gloop over. The man making it loved us apparently.

Downstream there were a lot of boats waiting for passengers, which everyone tried their best to get us on. Going back along the other side we got into the heart of meal town where there were all manner of doomed animals outside the restaurants. There were snakes, frogs, lots of fish, honeycomb containing huge maggots, shellfish, chickens, pheasants, ducks, fluffy muskrat type animals and even a ginger cat. None of them had very big cages and they all looked as though they knew what was coming. Hanging from the ceilings of some shops were flattened pigs heads, two with cigarettes coming out of their mouths, presumably the Chinese find this very funny.

We managed to escape the tourist throng in places as we walked down any old street. Here was the less touristy China with old houses, carts, a man selling chillies, furniture being made, old people sitting around or playing badminton and children making paper flowers which they would take down to the river to sell at nightfall. Sadly it wasn’t long before we were amidst all the tourists again and the stalls lining the river. Along the wall you could try on a range of different costumes and have your picture taken, one lady looked very pleased with herself as she posed in a soldier outfit. Since we wanted to take a few pictures of the night-time Fenghuang we sat on a bench and waited for dark. It was all happening where we were, some men were fishing and then the ladies aided by their children were setting up shop to sell their paper flower lanterns, which people could buy and let float down the river. The ladies arrived with huge polystyrene boxes of paper flowers on their backs as well as baskets in their hands. Some children were sent off to sell the flowers elsewhere, but they were far more interested in trying to catch shrimps in their hands. As it got darker more of the illuminations came on and the music got louder and louder, every bar trying to outblast its neighbours.

We took our pictures, saw some bats, some rather fancy pig and mouse lanterns and tried as best we could to persuade the ladies that we didn’t want to buy a paper boat. On our way back a girl reached out to touch Jenny’s arm and looked positively overjoyed to have touched a white person. Outside the hostel two small children were playing cards like only the Chinese know how to while their mother tried to sell paper flowers. Back in the hostel a man seemed to have purchased himself a kitten (alive, not dead) and was sitting in the communal area stroking it wildly and cleaning its bottom. Since he was in the room next door to us we heard a quite a few outbursts of kitten meowing during the night.

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