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Great Expectations: The Dragon's Backbone

CHINA | Saturday, 23 August 2014 | Views [633]

Drying chillies, Longi Rice Terraces

Drying chillies, Longi Rice Terraces

WE WERE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE LONGI TERRACED RICE paddies, also known as the Dragon’s Backbone. We were hoping they would be as picturesque as those we saw in northern Vietnam on that cold and rainy day in Sapa four years ago. But after a two-hour drive and a 30-minute shuttle bus we learned that it was another government sponsored mass march through a less than spectacular setting. We have nothing against the locals sharing the tourist dollar; they are the attraction, after all. But sometimes it feels like we are visiting a zoo with the locals performing inside cages. Or worse — we are the prey and they are the hunters.

 

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    Longi Terraced Rice Paddies

Today was a little of both. The problem — our problem, actually — was that we had an expectation of an authentic experience in a secluded area. Such places may exist in China, undoubtedly, but we tourists are unlikely ever to encounter them. We’ve done the math. Despite the abundance of mega-million population cities, two-thirds of Chinese live in rural areas. That’s nearly one billion people. And if only 10% of Chinese are ethnic minorities, that’s still 150 million — 1/3 the population of the USA! Where are they hiding?

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    Reed Flute Cave

Anyway, the rice paddies were not as impressive as those in Vietnam, there were too many tourists flooding into three small villages and too many villagers trying too hard to sell goods they bought from factories. Hardly an authentic experience. Even the Reed Flute cave we visited yesterday lacked authenticity. The cave itself was interesting and the lighting effects, although un-natural, were beautiful. But in the largest cavern, usually an awe-inspiring place of contemplation, they projected a dragon cartoon on the ceiling. Why? I ask you. Why?  Did this impress Tricky Dick and Slick Willy when they visited, I wonder?

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   Cormorant fishing, a dying art

The cormorant fishermen we watched last night are a dying breed, probably already a dead breed. Still it was nice to watch the two of them and their half-dozen birds fishing by lantern light in the Li River. For those unfamiliar with cormorant fishing, a band is tightened around the bird’s neck making it impossible for it to swallow its catch. They are trained to return to the boat where the master removes the fish and sets the bird back into the water. At the session’s end the cormorants are fed the scraps and smaller fish and everyone is happy.

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