Most tourists visiting China for a week to 10 days limit their travels to Beijing, Shanghai and maybe Xi’an, and I totally get it – China is just about the same size as the USA. If I had 10 days to visit the States, I know NYC, Washington D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, the Grand Canyon, Disney World (because who doesn’t love Cinderella), Charleston, San Diego among a zillion other cities would make the list, but in reality you have to be selective. Well, in my opinion, if you want to see Shanghai, save yourself the time and visit NYC – I mean yes, it is very cool and if you have the time, by all means, I would love a visit from friends, but Shanghai is very modern and commercialized. In place of Shanghai, I would encourage you to fly further south to Guilin. I think it gives you a better picture of 'real' China. I mean, to over 20 million people, Shanghai is 'real' China, but I am talking about the part of China where minorities are vast, culture is clearly visible on shirt sleeves and new technology (other than the cell phone) hasn't been introduced since the 1300's.
So in search of an authentic minority experience, Tim and I took a two hour drive from Guilin to the Longji Rice Terraces. WOWZERS! This was an amazing day trip! First, we took a group tour so we met a bunch of interesting people including this American lady who works for six months and then quits her jobs and travels Southeast Asia until she runs out of money and returns to the States and works for another six months, then quits her job to travel – you get the point. We also met a couple from The Netherlands who are on a six month sabbatical from work – just traveling around Asia. Could you imagine a six month vacation?!?!?!?
Entering the terraces I was feeling awful – I had a case of car sickness, but thankfully that faded away pretty quickly and my mind became preoccupied by what we saw!
We were greeted at the entrance of the terraces by women of the Yao minority. They are known for their super long hair as well as wearing bright pink clothing – of course we didn’t get a picture, but if you are interested, just Google Yao minority Longji and you can view tons of pictures. From my understanding, they cut their hair once or twice in their lives. And let me add that their hair was beautiful. You girls know what I am talking about – that friend of yours that loves keeping her hair super long, but in reality it just looks straggly – I am totally guilty so no offense to anyone. Well, with these women the longer the better – it still looks healthy even if it is past their rear-ends! I also noticed they wore really heavy silver earrings – almost looked like gauges. I know it has to do with their culture rather than some phase they went through as a teenager, but I am still not super clear as to why they wear such heavy earrings. I learned a while back that some minority groups wear their wealth in the form of gold earrings instead of putting money in an institution and if they needed something they would use their gold earrings like an emergency fund, so that's my best guess. Either way, it looked terribly painful, although I was reassured several times that it didn’t hurt at all.
Walking up the terraces took about 90 min. It was actually pretty steep at parts and definitely got the heart pumping.
There were small villages scattered throughout the terraces which gave us the opportunity to see the residents’ homes as well as provided a front row seat to their daily life activities such as cooking, laundry and potty training (YUCK)!
We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch and tried one of the specialties – rice cooked in bamboo over an open flame. The rice is mixed with vegetables, meat and other spices. It was pretty good!
We also tried a tofu dish and a chicken dish. The biggest difference between the food we eat in Shanghai and the food here was the cooking method. In Shanghai, everything is cooked with gas as opposed to Longji where everything is cooked with charcoal – EVRYTHING had a smoky taste, but everything was delicious! Another specialty of this area was rat, but we didn’t indulge ourselves!
This was definitely an experience I won't soon forget!