I am sure that in the UK no one would get the least bit excited about rapeseed flowers in full bloom, but here in China, the occasion brings out hordes of tourists. Only for a short while though, as the season lasts just a few weeks from the middle of March until early April when the yellow blooms slowly fade away. So in the spirit of adventure and trying to taste China in all its facets and quirks, my motley group of international friends and I decided to go and have a look to see what all the fuss was about.. And how better to enjoy an authentic experience than by joining a ready-made touristy weekend trip, Chinese style… The snaps on the travel agency’s webpage indeed promised a real extravaganza of gold splattered all over the rolling green hills of the Chinese countryside.
We arrived at the metro station indecently early. 7.20 am on a Saturday morning had necessitated a rather early start after a rather late evening, but who cared? On the four hour coach trip to our destination, WuYuan, we were sure to catch up on sleep. After being issued with the mandatory badge to identify our group amongst the sea of Chinese faces and ‘instructed’ to follow the Yellow Flag, we were herded onto the coach. Most of us snoozed for a little while, but coach travel Chinese style – even with only adults aboard – involved entertainment, games and singing… There was no escaping the games, but singing??? We politely declined to amuse the Chinese students with renditions of English songs, feigning sudden amnesia and a paltry repertoire consisting solely of ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ … In the meantime, the glorious views of the yellow speckled green slopes blurred past the windows, hardly getting any attention.
After a quick bite for lunch at a ‘Convenient Store’, we reached our first port of call: a huge amber field where we could walk leisurely taking photos and selfies to post onto WeChat, as long as we kept a watchful eye on the Yellow Flag… But which yellow flag? At least three other yellow flags bobbed up and down between the rows and rows of yellow flowers. Thank goodness that at least the badges were not identical. We took turns hoisting our flag, taking silly photographs and wearing flowery garlands, and followed Dorothy’s footsteps on The Yellow Brick Road. Only here the roadside was yellow and the path muddy and brown. We didn’t meet a Lion, nor a Tin Man, but spotted a few weather-worn and threadbare scarecrows scattered amongst the flowers and certainly felt as if we were on our way to meet this Wizard of Oz..
Our journey continued and after a whirlwind photo stop at a lake, we arrived in WuYuan, or more precisely a small traditional village in the area. We watched local women washing vegetables in the clean-ish looking river, and only took a deep breath when we realized this was most likely to be our dinner.. And then there was the washing of the dishes… and the washing of the clothes… Salad was definitely off the menu here!!! But the food turned out to be rather delicious and, and as far as I know no one suffered any unfortunate ill effects.
Our lodgings were primitive to say the least, but as we had opted for the cheap package, what did we expect??? Maybe not quite having to share one bathroom two floors below with seven other people and all the bar guests, nor having the abundance of fresh and cold air streaming through the ill-fitting wooden doors and literally sleeping on a wooden plank… On the upside, being in the rooftop room meant we would wake up to the beautiful vista of slowly dissipating mist hugging the cloudy mountains.
We survived the night after taking part in the Chinese style bonfire evening where twenty twenty-something Chinese students walked in single file around the blazing flames spreading the only warmth. They sang sedate campfire songs preparing everyone for a good night’s sleep until the Indian delegation managed to liven things up with a bit of good old fashioned bhangra dancing. Even the Chinese joined in!! And when the embers started cooling and it was time to retreat, with temperatures barely scratching zero, we stocked up on local brew and spirits before hiding under our duvets, fully clothed… I tried to drink my fair share, but as the liquor had the distinct flavour of really nasty medicine, I left the others to portion it out between them.
But the village, surrounded by fields of yellow, was quaint, exquisite and smacked of ‘time stood still’; only occasionally would you see a child or teenager wearing modern, Western clothes and be reminded that here too it is the 21st century . Apart from that, it showed a different side of China than the one I have grown used to in Hangzhou, a modern urban city, affluent, breathing the rhythm of a Western world. There were no high rise buildings, only traditional Chinese houses with whitewashed walls stained with the black of moist air and damp, with traditional Chinese roofs ending in dainty upturned points where ubiquitous dragons stand guard.
Sunday was our walking day, a 10 km hike over the mountain crest, taking in spectacular views of the yellow flecked valleys and gently rising slopes. We did not exactly start from the foot of the hill but somewhere half way up, and soon we joined the winding path of steps up to the summit. But tackling hundreds of steps, some steeper than others, took its toll on weaker knees and slowly but surely our little group began to break up, leaving only the very fit to carry the beacon to the top and beyond… I may not have been the youngest of the crew by a long way, but I certainly was there with the first ones to see the other side of the mountain. And downhill, that was child’s play, at least for those whose knees were still willing…
Another four hour coach journey home, this time without the need for songs and games as most of us were too tired after the morning’s exercise and a couple of nights of not enough sleep. But we certainly had an enjoyable weekend.
And travelling Chinese style?? Maybe next time we might just be a little less stingy and pay a little more to get the room with the view as well as the bathroom and a door that keeps out the cold….