Some of our more frequent readers of CoffeeCrew may be familiar with my recent journey through China. This article is the second of a three-part account of my journey through China. To read the first article, click here.
My trip through China was divided up into three portions: Beijing, the rural lands of interior China, and Hong Kong. As I left the hustle and bustle of Beijing, not without some exhausting efforts to make sense of the city, my next major destination was Xian. Xian may be familiar to some as the location of the now world famous (photo-left) Terra Cotta Warriors.
Ranking up there with the Great Wall and Forbidden City as a must-see site in China, the army of warriors is a recent archaeological find but is actually 2000 years old. Stumbled upon in 1974 by a farmer, the site has undergone excavation and now consists of 6000 well-preserved life size warriors made completely out of terra cotta. The army is quite an extraordinary site, and as I gazed upon it, I began to wonder how a project of this size ever began. That is until I thought about what I had already seen - The Great Wall first comes to mind - and I once again realized that the Chinese were no strangers to massive labour-intensive projects spanning Emperors and Dynasties. Not the only site to see in Xian, the city also has an impressive intact city wall measuring 12' by 12' - this was constructed as Xian was once the capital of China - and is the only well preserved city wall left in China. Although the sites in Xian are amazing, the city itself is nothing much to remember - it is actually rated as one of the four most polluted cities in China.
Travelling further south-west into the country, I soon found myself in the province of Yunnan. An interesting mix of ethnic minority groups, Yunnan is now one of the most popular destinations within rural China. I eventually found myself in Lijiang, a small mountain town up 7000ft in the foothills of Tibet. A fabulous maze of cobblestone streets and winding alleys, Lijiang (photo-right) was refreshing, and also the home to the best cup since leaving my Italian coffee shop back home in Vancouver. Although a bit on the weak side, this latte-type cup (photo-below) was a great find in the middle of Asia. The cafes and restaurants in Lijiang are plentiful, as this city is fast becoming a tourist hot spot (but not so much for Westerners). In typical fashion, where there is good food, good coffee is not far off! Most of the shops served up fine cups of Yunnan Coffee, which is roasted in the province's capital, Kunming. Suprisingly, the beans also come from the province, as Yunnan is at roughly the same latitude as Columbia and Venezuela.
Venturing outside of Lijiang was a must, as the surrounding countryside is the reason for travelling to this completley out-of-the-way destination. One of the must-see sites near Lijiang was a trip to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, the first turn of the Yangtze River, about 100km from Myanmar. An impressive site, the Gorge is actually one of the deepest in the world. In between the day trips and short excursions, I frequented the cafes in Lijiang for cups of Yunnan coffee to go with my noodles and rice, as I had no idea when I would come across another decent cup again on the trip.
The final portion of my travels through the rural interior of China was Yangshou and Guilin in Guangxi province, near Vietnam. Yangshou, world famous for the picturesque views of the lush green lotus peaks, was my major destination in this province. Another town similar to Lijiang in terms of size and tourist allure, Yangshou was another great place to spend a few days eating cheap food and beer, chatting with fellow travellers, and doing a bit of last minute haggling for "name brand" goods. A trip to Yangshou was not complete however without a bike ride into the countryside among the odd looking lotus peaks. As if stepping back 50 years, I biked for hours through the extreme heat and intense humidity among rice fields and water buffalos, finding a very different China than I had experienced so far.
During my time in Guilin and Yanshou in Guanxi province, there was extreme flooding in the north. I was there in rainy season. However, I lucked out and Yangshou's flooding level had decreased just before I arrived. This event did not help with the mosquito issue however.
The distinction between Xian, Lijiang, and Yangshou when compared to Beijing is night-and-day; The north of China is highly developed and industrial, whereas the south is the extreme opposite, moving back 50 years. At times, the feel is that of stepping back into the country Mao had envisioned, where he saw the future of the country life in the hands of the labour-intensive rural countryside.
Although I really only touched on the surface of the interior, I did experience some minority cultures, interesting local cuisines (including snake blood in Yangshou), and was able to see a China that vastly differed from the big cities that are such a dominating force in the country nowadays.
My third and final article on my journeys through China will be focused on Hong Kong, where I was once again greeted with a very different feel. After leaving the rural areas of the central south, the amenities of the big city were a welcoming site once again. An interesting mix of Asian and European feel, there was plenty to see in the city, including some interesting tea and coffee finds!
Dave Reimer lives in Vancouver now that he has graduated from UVic and BCIT. His new job places him right downtown in the centre of some mighty fine coffee territory.