Saturday, July 17, 2010

One Night in a Border Town



我喜欢旅行。在陌生的地方,以简单纯粹的面目去面对陌生的人,不提过往, 不提职业。无人过问我是谁。我就是我自己。 (I enjoy traveling. In an unknown place I could face unfamiliar persons in a simple and pure way, without referring to my past or career. No one asks who I am. I am only myself.) -- Jennie

Zhenyuan, an ancient border town of the Miao (ethnic minority) people, has a long history dated back to 202 B.C. when Emperor Liu Bang instituted the town as a county. Its long history endows the town with rich cultural relics including more than 160 scenic spots within 1.2 square miles. Sheltered in mountains and cut through by the Wuyang River, the town is divided into two parts: south 'Wei' and north 'Fu', which forms a water town.

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(View of Zhenyuan from the Black Dragon Cave
青龙洞眺望镇远城)


With their brown mud walls, black tiles and perfect setting, all houses harmonize so completely with the surroundings that your heart leaps up in delight. Any traveller with the least feeling for poetry or painting could drift here without tiring for weeks in a small boat, for there are fresh marvels at every turn produced by man's labour and the bold skill of Nature which hold you utterly spellbound.

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(The town is cut through by Wuyang River)

The Dragon Boat Festival, held on May 25th, is the most ceremonious celebration in Zhenyuan. Though we missed the festival, a boat race is re-enacted by two groups of lads on such a quiet Saturday afternoon.

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(Boys playing on a boat)

After a few days driving in the remote mountains, I could hardly imagine to see such a familiar scenery in Zhenyuan. All in my eyes conjures up a feeling as if I were in the south of Yangtze River which is about one thousand miles east of Zhenyuan. I cannot help recalling another water town, Xitang which I visited in 2006. For many years I have been intensely attached to various water towns so that I ever thought of myself as a fish in previous incarnation.

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The town in the dusk, tender, lovely and tranquil.

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For all its quiet tranquility, this little town in history is a center of trade and communications for Guizhou and a millitarily important gate to enter Yunnan as well as Laos, Burma, and so on. Therefore the small waterfronts have a character all their own. There are inns where merchants put up, barbers' establishments, not to mention restaurants and general stores.


We lodged in a two-floor inn called 'Scenes of the past Zhenyuan'(see below). It's a building with antique facade yet completely modern facilities inside. I chose a room on the second floor with a stone-paved balcony in face of the river. The next morning I ran across an elder couple from Switzerland in the lodging, who by chance saw my room and immediately loved it yet couldn't communicate with the owner. I was glad to do the translation; indeed westerns are almost unknown in this little town and they are the first ones I saw in my one-week journey in Guizhou. Allowing me to do a little advertising here, Zhenyuan is such an excellent place to experience the day-to-day life of southwestern China at close quarters with its friendly people.

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(The inn of "Scenes of the Past Zhenyuan")

Along the business street, I saw many lovely stuff such as handmade straw sandals, wood-carved buddha statues.

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A wine shop. Names of the wine were written on red paper: corn wine, ginseng wine, pure rice wine, kiwi wine, etc.

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All kinds of wine was further contained in bamboo sections.

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The scene of the long tables in front of the modest eating houses and wines on the top recalled me the novel 'A Border Town' written in 1930's (《边城》, 沈从文). Shen Congwen, the novelist, wrote,
"不拘谁个愿意花点钱,这人就可以傍了门前长案坐下来,抽出一双筷子捏到手上,那边一个眉毛扯得极细脸上擦了白粉的女人就走过来问:“大哥,副爷,要甜酒?要烧酒?”男子火焰高一点的,谐趣的,对内掌柜有点意思的,必故意装成生气似的说:“吃甜酒?又不是小孩子,还问人吃甜酒!”那么,酽烈的烧酒,从大瓮里用木滤子舀出,倒进土碗里,即刻就来到餐桌上了。

"For a few cents anyone can sit down at the long table and pull out a pair of chopsticks. Then a woman with plucked eyebrows and a powdered face will come to ask, "Would you care for sweet wine or rice wine, master?" A spirited man who likes to tease will retort, "Sweet wine? What do you take me for -- a child?" Then rich yellow wine is ladled out of the vat into an earthen bowl and brought promptlyu to the table. This potent, fragrant brew can knock a strong man out if he drinks too much."



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(Women dancing in a plaza)

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(The night view, taken from a touring boat)



I enjoyed getting up early and strolling on the quiet bluestone alley, when most tourists were still in the dream. It's so tranquil that I could hear the sound of time. Yet I am not as early as those diligent farmers.

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(Fresh grapes)

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(Green soy beans directly from the field)

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(A housewife is preparing vegetable)



The trip of Zhenyuan is not complete without cruising in the Wuyang River. We left the town in the morning and drove to the Wuyang scenic area, switching to a boat. It's a 20-mile waterway with secluded caves, gurgling springs, rugged rocks, and spectacular waterfalls interspersed on the mountains.

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Writing this travelogue, I seem to relive the journey, refreshing and cool. I wish my words and photos could also bring you freshness in this hot summer.

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一笑一尘缘


Photographed by Jennie Bai.

Copyright ©Jennie Bai. All Rights Reserved.


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