GUIZHOU

I get by train to Kaili, from there I take a bus to Leishan and, from Leishan, another bus brings me to Xijiang, going through gorgeous valleys and winding roads:

»Xijiang is a Miao village set in a natural basin surrounded by the hills. Looking around:

I have confirmation to something that I had seen previously when meeting the minorities in the South-West (the Naxi in Lijiang, the Dong, etc): since the one-child policy does not apply to minorities, you can see a lot of children around, as if the minorities feel the "need" to compensate for the low birth-rate in the rest of China.
I find accommodation in a hotel of some sort. Apart for a covered bridge:

which is so typical of the region (I have seen others on the way, yet more are shown on my travel book), the village is made of wooden houses where the farmers live:

Farming is the main activity in the village, and paddy-fields are ubiquitous in the surroundings. I spend the afternoon wandering along the narrow paths going through the village and the paddy-fields. It's probably the most beautiful experience of my journey.
»The Chinese countryside is very different from ours: each family farms a small piece of land (this dates back to the Revolution, which took away the land from rich landowners and assigned it to farmers), by means of manual work and the use of animals. This small piece of land supports the whole family. One consequence is that the countryside in China is "alive": while you walk there, you can see farmers hard at work, and you see many: behind their straw hat, they work, and work, and work:

Even more so in Xijiang, where the type of crop (paddy-fields) requires a lot of manual work. A sharp eye will spot at least one farmer per croft:

While I walk along those paths, from time to time a farmer comes out of thin air and says to me cheerfully :"Nihao!", nearly scaring me. The sights on the paddy-fields are amazing:

Several reef have a "decoration" on top made from laid-down tiles:

I could not understand, unfortunately, its meaning. It's amazing, though, that they stay that way, with no use of concrete, mortar or glue.

In the evening, after wandering the whole afternoon in the paddy-fields, I need to transfer my pictures to CDs. "Fancy that!", I mumble, "I won't ever find such a service here". I was wrong, however, because on the nice central road in Xijiang:

which has animal shapes "drawn" on the road:

I find exactly the shop that I needed. They also have internet access.

Once back to my lodge, I see all the extended family gathered around the television set, drinking tea. They are not watching a TV programme, though: it's the recording of the rice festival which took place half of September, they say to me (they do not speak English, but a date is a date, regardless the language). And they are watching at it on an LCD TV through a DVD Player!! When I arrived to the village few hours ago I was sure that here I would find nothing more than paddy-fields, but now I realize that, technology-wise, they have everything they may need! The statistic on the average income in Shanghai and in Guizhou comes to my mind and I can't help doing some reasoning. The average income in Shanghai is much higher, true, but the cost of living is also much higher. In addition, like in all the big towns, the "needs" are mostly "driven" by competition, advertisement, interests, etc, which all contribute to further increasing the costs. The high costs force people to work more in order to afford a given standard of living, in an endless loop. Not to speak about noise, traffic and pollution. People in town are, on the average, less friendly, they do not cultivate friendships and they will never have time to gather around a cup of tea to watch an event which they lived as protagonists. Read in this way, the statistic on the average income has another significance (or, better, it loses any significance). The quality of life is only weakly tied to the average income, yet for some reason the average income is still considered, in China and elsewhere, the most important indicator of "welfare". That's an archaic concept, in my opinion.

They even allow me to take a picture of them:

The day after I have to spend the whole day traveling by bus, so that the next day I am in time to visit the Rice Terraces. I leave early in the morning, I arrive in Leishan and here I try and make the ticket to Congjiang. »Nobody speaks English, but they manage to let me know that I have to go to Kaili first. "What the hell are you saying?" I try to explain "the way from Kaili to Congjiang GOES THROUGH Leishan (meanwhile I show them the map on my travel guide), returning to Kaili doesn't make any sense!". While I say it, though, I also think that this is their job, so how can they ignore this??
They (yes, meanwhile all the personnel of the bus station has gathered around me) draw a map to explain, but I do not understand. They circle a point halfway on the road, but I still don't understand. "What are you trying to say? Would you please make me the ticket to Congjiang?".
In the long run I understand: they are trying to say that the road from Leishan to Congjiang is not viable. I have to go back to Kaili and from there I can reach Congjiang through another, longer road. They use a circle to mark the road interruption, whereas we would use a cross, which makes it difficult to understand each other. Now I understand, but I'd rather not to. It means all my plans are toilet paper now, and I'll spend the next two days going around Guizhou, hopping on and off several buses. I am angry and frustrated, but there is nothing I can do. "Ok, please make me the ticket to Kaili and go to the devil".

I am on the bus, ready to start, when a woman from the bus station runs on the bus, gets hold of me and forcibly pulls me off the bus. Then she opens the luggage-rack and returns me my luggage, takes back my ticket and returns me the money, everything without saying a word (we wouldn't understand each other anyways). Then she brings me towards a larger bus on the other side of the station and pushes me on, and she leaves.
"What happens?" I mumble. "Are you all crazy here?". I turn and I see that the bus is full of boys and girls around 17/18 years old. All the seats are taken, so I stand. The woman from the station gets on the bus again, carrying a small can. She turns it upside-down and places it behind the driver's seat. She indicates there's where I can seat, and leaves.
So I find myself traveling on a bus on a School Trip, with no idea where I am heading for. The way is hilly, winding and all ups and downs and the driver drives like Schumacher, so the can below me swings dreadfully at each bend, I can barely avoid falling by using my legs every time. In addition, I have been made the attraction of the students, against my will. When the road allows (that is, when Schumacher rests a bit ) I try to speak with someone - thankfully a student speaks a bit of English and she tells me that they are directed to Congjiang. All of a sudden everything is clear to me: the road is closed to bus liners, not to this school trip bus. I must say a big "thank you" to the woman in Leishan bus station, who knew about the school trip bus at the last minute and she was quick enough to send me on it, thus allowing me to reach my destination in time.

The journey is unusual: I must be careful to keep the equilibrium at every bend of the road, I feel the stare of the students, who look at me like at an alien, last I have the chance to listen to their songs and jokes. The atmosphere is relaxed and cheerful. I only have some doubt about the comics broadcast by the LCD screen: being speechless, comics are the only chinese programme that I can understand. And what I understood is that in the Chinese comics there is always someone with a broken head, and all the people laugh at that. Even when not violent, their comics seem exceedingly vulgar to me. In summary, I would not show those things to the young; but, being perfectly aware that our tv broadcasts much worse things, I refrain from any judgement.

We stop for lunch in a village along the way, inhabited by a minority (I guess the Dong, but I am not sure about it):

»and I happen to run into a "professional" doctor:

Along the way the road collapsed in several points on one lane, leaving only the other lane, the one on the mountain side, for use. The high number of collapses makes me think that the road was badly built. So, they are rebuilding it over and over again. This causes the GDP to grow and therefore, according to statistics, the country is richer .
Speaking about statistics: the Europeans who work here all agree that the Chinese data (and hence the statistics that come from them) are unreliable: from the life expectancy to the company's, towns' and provinces' balance sheets. Jerome, who works as a consultant for some European companies, even said that it is common practise for a company to have several balance sheets: one for the tax-collection Chinese department, one for the investors, one for workers...each one reports the data that those categories of people would like to find there .

Generalizing these considerations on statistics, can we safely say that this problem only pertains to China? The manipulation of statistics is so widespread that Aaron Levenstein once said: "Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital". I don't think that he had China in mind at that time.

Along the way I see something that really hurts me: the extensive cutting of trees in large sections of forests. And I am not speaking about the healthy thinning out of trees to avoid too much density, but, instead, of whole mountains completely spoilt with trees, with the cut trunks still laying on the ground. I imagine those areas will be terraced and exploited for cropping, or simply the wood is urgently needed[1]. In any case, no doubt the reason for this wild exploitment of the land is the great demographic pressure in the country.

I get to Congjiang after six and a half hours by bus and I am fairly tired. But one section is still missing, until Sanjiang. The way does not seem so hilly and winding now, the road goes along the river:

But once again I spoke too early, because in a short while the road along the river turns unpaved. Initially I think it has to be just a short section, but it is not the case: the bus goes on unpaved roads for hours, while the windows seem to blow up from vibrations, making a deafening noise. We go through villages which are made ghostly from the dust coming from vehicles and depositing on houses, trees, everywhere. The road is being rebuilt in several places, and large slabs of reinforced concrete are being prepared in situ by gangs of workers. The journey seems to never come to an end, now we are climbing a mountain, then we'll go down to Sanjiang going through secluded places in a complete darkness.
At 10:30 PM I arrive to Sanjiang, completely exhausted. Nothing went as I had planned, but I am on schedule. I am lucky enough to find an accommodation near where the bus left me, and at the road crossing a woman set up an itinerant restaurant which offers noodles, meat and vegetables which you can eat at lame tables lit by the street lamps. It's more than enough to get me on my feet again before going to sleep.

The day after, before taking yet another bus, I am just in time to see an interesting example of Dong architecture:

  1. ^I have been told that disposable chopsticks are one of the main causes of wood consumption in China.