Sum up and today, Sat 4 October
I climbed the nearly 1000 steps to Moon Hill (see picture on blog) and nearly died in the attempt, but was escorted by a sweet woman, who fanned me all the way up, and laughed a lot, and talked about her children in her few words of of English. I told her I'd been to see the chang mao (pandas) and she understood .. and she and fellow guides laughed at the exhausted foreigner, who staggered on the the top of the mountain ... and so did I! Red, panting, mouth hanging open .. She might have had the grace to look even slightly wearied .. and she was carrying a coolbox of drinks! They might be slight, but they're jolly fit.
I love the countryside here - actually, this is the best part of the trip for me. I don't really like cities, though i can admire the fantastic emperors' buildings.
I'm sitting here wearing a garland of fresh flowers in my hair - what a hippy! (PS This email might be hijacked for the blog, but I have only an hour on the internet). Tomorrow I think I shall go for a bike ride with a guide. I've had my hair cut by a boy who looked like a porcelain doll, with the tiniest features I've ever seen - and a great cut!
Then on Monday we're flying to Shanghai, Tuesday free day in Shanghai, when I shall probably meet up with Rachel, Wednesday to Suzhou, Thursday to Tongli, and Friday this tour finishes and the others fly home... (smug git grin from the linger-longerer...)
No opportunity lost to exploit the tourist, of course, and even though there's a fair bit of hustling, if you do stop, the hustling stops, and they're very polite - this has been the case everywhere we've been, so it's not that bad at all. Funny bit - we stopped the minibus in the middle of nowhere to see ducks in a pond (I said to Kent if they were in England, we'd be turning them upside down to see the 'made in china' label - he laughed), and lo and behold this woman appeared, flourishing tiny carved ducks, aprons, embroidered bags and fans. Caryl said she must have been hiding on the roof rack .. Oh and yes of course, she made quite a few sales - including the fan I have sitting next to me on this desk.
We had lunch in the bike guide's house - she wears the trousers in that household - she sang to us while we ate, pressed rice wine on use (errm, not very nice actually), saying her husband made it and there wasn't much left (excellent marketing huh?). He did all the cooking, was rather self-effacing, and showed us to the loos (plural) in their enormous house in this village. I rather think they own the Sunshine Chinese Cookery School next door (big sign in English) as they're a very enterprising pair.
You know what - it's really enjoyable to be visiting a country which isn't destitute - far from it. Questionable history, questionable government, but friendly people - helped, but not exclusively, by tourist money. We might be shown an idealised, sometimes (but not always ..) sanitised, soft view of China, but hey - I'm loving being here.
Tonight if the rain keeps off (though it's warm and it was fun on the river to dabble my feet and get generally soaked through) it's son et lumiere.
Off now for a shower and my legs want a little lie-down. If I remember China for anything, it'll be the quantities of steps everywhere ...