Sunday, August 26, 2018

China: In Search of the Past: Part 2: Nanning and Vietnam border

Detian Waterfalls
From Hong Kong, it's a short flight to Nanning, capital of Guangxi Province in China's deep south. During the French colonial era in Indochina, their railway connected Vietnam with Nanning and Kunming, which we'll visit later. When I ask about visiting the old part of townthe hotel clerk gives me only a blank look. This is my first indication, but by no means the last, of how much of the Chinese past has been erased.

Modern Nanning is a vast construction site of towers, bamboo scaffolding, bulldozers, cranesand empty towers. From our brand-new Wanda Resort we have a glimpse of more high-rises across the river.

Behind us are streets of upscale facadesalso developed by the Wanda Corporationcompletely empty. All this might be a sign of great optimism, or of severely over-extended banks. The boom has enriched manyapartment flipping is commonand provided many jobs. It has also destroyed much of China's heritage and gutted the environment. However, the general prosperity is breathtaking. We discover, next door to our hotel, the fabulous Wanda Mall.

June-July is the rainy season in southern China. If it's not raining, it's humid and cloudy. Under turbulent skies, we board the bus early the next morning for Detian Waterfalls, known in Vietnam as Ban Gioc, located on the border between the two nations. Our journey will take at least six hours. Each way.

Shortly after we leave Nanning, the gasps begin... the Guangxi landscape is like no other. I am jet-lagged and dazed, which makes for an even more dream-like experience.

To call it lush is an understatement. Every bit of land carpeted with dense fields. Sudden upthrusts of jagged velvet-green stone rising into lowering clouds, heavy with moisture.

Soon the road begins rising into these mountains.

The scenes are timelesswater buffalo plowing the rice fields, terraced hills dotted with white stone tombstones. All I can think of is generations stretching to antiquity.

After a time, a muddy river appears, and I have the sense of wildness. How easy would it be for jungle to overtake these fields. How hard these people must work to hold their own against the power of nature.

Five hours into our journey, we approach a prosperous regional capital. Streets filled with shops and shiny foreign cars. 

In the Daxin County bus terminal at the end of town, a passenger who lives here tells us we must change vehicles. He waves us off. "Hope you enjoy China!"

In the smaller bus, we wind our way uphill through wilder, more rugged terrain, the Guichun River gathering force. 

And now we arrive. A short muddy path takes us to our first sight of the thundering cascadethe world's fourth largest transnational waterfall.

We push on through 100% humidity, rain, and river spray, heads spinning with jet-lag. And awe.

It has been a rainy season, the river expanding over its banks.

Moving through pure jungle, soaked...

we reach the boundary marker between China and Vietnam.

Heading back, I turn time and again to hold close this experience... this extravagant display of nature's magnificence and power.

I imagine the French colonial official who once lived here in splendid isolation.

Drained and drenched, we board our small bus to the large bus terminal at the end of town, setting off in late afternoon.

Now, I see new sights, smaller moments in an ancient land where nature still reigns supreme.

After dark, a heavy rain begins to fall. During a fuel stop, I glimpse the village night life. 

Across the road, a woman cleaning her restaurant...

Two doors down, the action continues.

And inside the bus, a raucous video draws laughter and keeps the driver awake. Fourteen hours after leaving Nanning, we return to our hoteland our welcome beds. Tomorrow we must rise early to catch the train.

Next stop: North to Guilin

Sunday, July 15, 2018

China: In Search of the Past: Part 1: Hong Kong

I avoid red-eyes like the plague, but there we were, off for Hong Kong, only hours after my 23-year-old daughter and her second-graders finished the countdown to summer break! Eighteen months ago, we'd traveled to India and Sri Lanka for my WW2 research. Now to continue in China.

Around dawn Sunday, approaching the glamorous "new" Lantau Island airport, I recall my many hair-raising descents past packed tenements into funky old Kai Tek, on the Kowloon (mainland) side. Hong Kong Island, across the harbor, gives its name to this vital metropolis that still mesmerizes me. It pains me that for the first time we won't be staying here.

But with tomorrow's early flight, I've booked a seaside hotel not far from the airport--and the former shipyard that is now Disneyland. The view is not bad!

A high point of Asian travel is the breakfast buffets. We feast on luscious fruit, omelettes, parathas, spicy noodle soup. After my fifth cappuccino, I'm ready to enter the local time zone. We plan to "cruise" through it by ferry. Easy. We think.

Given the humidity, most people are happy for the air-conditioned "fast" ship, but the close air makes us drowsy. I am revived as we move into the waters of my beloved Victoria Harbour.

At Hong Kong Central, we board another closed ferry to Cheung Chau, a pedestrian-only island where I passed significant time many moons ago.

Along the busy waterfront, we join the Sunday crowds, many with hand fans or little battery-operated ones. But, although bludgeoned by the heat, we are here, and I hope to catch a memory or two.  

One block inland, we find brief shelter under a grand old banyan.

It's even hotter in the narrow, shop-lined back alleys. I look around... from which of these lanes did Shirley Lamb recognize my laugh, in which basement restaurant? (But that's another story.)

Later, I discover the library and, in the children's section, a "Giant Biography" of George Washington. Now a Chinese territory, Hong Kong maintains her outward-turning spirit.

Wilting, we return down the waterfront, admiring this cool windsurfer. 

Heading back to Lantau, we find cheap passage on the open-air "slow boat." It's a great pleasure to sit and feel the salt breeze.

Ready to put our heads down, we're even more grateful to return to our hotel in time for a glorious sunset over the South China Sea.

Early tomorrow we're off to southern China--and the magnificent Detian Transnational Waterfalls on the border with Vietnam.

Next Stop: Nanning, China