After spending recent days in the wilderness of Zhangjiajie national park, and on the public transport network of China (another wilderness) we decided to spend a few days basking in civilisation.
As it turned out this was not the easiest town to reach. Whilst it is itself a sprawling mass of modernity it has no train station. So after a longer-than-brief bus journey we arrived.
It was certainly not the beacon of civility we had called for, nor did it look like the pictures than shone out from magazines and radiated from our computer screens.
So we pushed our way through the crowds around the station and headed to what was called the old town. We arrived on an non-describe bustling main road. One that didn’t look too old.
We walked to the bridge nearby and cast our eyes downward. There. Down below the pulsating masses was the old town, tucked, buried, hidden away beneath the grasping toil towards ’progress’.
Descending the crooked, worn and ragged steps we entered the old town. Flanking a wide river – the lifeblood of the town – sits wooden buildings lifted high above the water on stilts and people still doing things the ’traditional way’… Even if they are jostled by all the tourist tat that comes with fame in China.
It is unfortunate but Fenghuang has its fare share of tourist tat. It has long been on the ’hit-list’ of domestic tourists and as such the old town is in an ever-evolving old-becomes-newer-town. But the charm that attracts millions a year can still be found along the cracking cobbled side streets that sit aside a crumbling ’great wall’ aside a tinkling, and at times, roaring river.
… Just not on Saturday night when all hell breaks loose and turns what should be tranquil into terrible…. Chinese tourists seem unable to go anywhere without outrageously loud karaoke music and dingy clubs screaming din till the wee hours of the morning. Even in this oldie worldie place.
However, if you stick around long enough to allow Saturday night to fade into obscurity there is another Feunghuang waiting to be discovered.
One bathed in natural and man-made light up and down its forever-lit banks.
One where fishing boats lie restlessly bathed in light, waiting for the next day to come, to be of use once more.
One where the spiritual and the everyday have equal importance once the sun is set and a different light rules… And highlights ’everything’!
… Even the river shines out. A natural mirror amidst an unnatural splendour.
It is like a fairy stream. Full of light and life and the ever present sound of aqua vitae!