While in Hong Kong earlier this month, I joined a tour group to explore Huangyao and a few nearby towns in Guangxi, China. We took a 7 hour coach journey expertly navigated by our driver along some narrow and bumpy rural roads to reach the area.
The landscape was beautiful and reminded me so much of the traditional calligraphy paintings that used to be reproduced on Chinese calendars. Often as a child the delicate scenes of carefully created black brush strokes were lost on me, as I did not understand the deep sense of calm and the connection with nature that they conveyed.
During the water trail tour in some bamboo rafts (with life jackets on!) our local guide described how her grandmother at a ripe old age of 104 still strolled up the hills daily. She encouraged us to take deep breaths as we admired the scenes of nature, while fish swam alongside the crystal clear waters beneath. The air in the area was known to be especially clean and so very different from the ‘fog’ of the larger cities.
Our guide used to have a steady job in the city but decided to move back to be with her young family. However, the tranquil way of life for her and her village will soon change. An infrastructure programme means a new airport nearby will soon be completed and their traditional dwellings were already being replaced by more modern, city style houses. There was certainly no shortage of construction work in the various villages we visited.
These changes will no doubt help improve the quality of their lives as they will no longer need to worry about leaks when it rains heavily. I couldn’t help but feel sad to witness first hand that another small pocket of diversity, in an already gradually homogenised world, will soon be lost. My presence there was also a contribution to this factor that I became mindful of.
The contrast between the old and new way of life was particularly evident in Huang Yao. During the day shopkeepers sell their home brand of fermented black soybean. Lovers of this product were invited to purchase a jar and have the thrill of stuffing as many into the container as possible. Much enthusiastic soybean squashing took place within our tour group.
In the evening and within these same preserved streets of Huang Yao, residents wind down for the night and many were in bed by 8 or 9pm. The bright neon glow of nightclub style bars start to radiate from within these old houses to cater for visitors from the cities. Upon seeing this, I was surprised by the extent of my disappointment. I wondered if by inviting in this form of trade they had prepared themselves for the impact on the community further down the line.
Within our tour group there was a comment that if one wishes to see and feel the true nature of a destination they should go early, before it becomes commercialized and tourists flood in.
Most of the travelling I have done in recent years have been to modern cities such as Tokyo and Amsterdam. This trip has reminded me of the delights in visiting smaller places, which should be done so with care and consideration.