Travelling alone, wandering alone, some people love living a life like this. Talking to oneself, talking to the sky.
The Nanling Mountains long sequestered the Cantonese natives of Guangdong province from the Chinese interior. The mountains protected the ancient dialects of the southerners and cultivated the unique cultural character of the sea-facing and seafaring Yue peoples.
Branding itself "the garden of the Pearl River Delta", around 80km northwest of Guangzhou, straddling the Bei, or North River, is the Cantonese-speaking city of Qingyuan. What first appears as a cluster of mottled factories (many fast being dismantled to make way for new high-rise flats) was once an important river town on the imperial highway – the Bei is a tributary of the Pearl River to the south and thus connects Guangzhou with Shaoguan in northern Guangdong Province. So while malls and marauding traffic might define Qingyuan’s metropolitan pretensions today, the river is still the lifeblood of the county, feeding its predominantly agricultural surrounds while crafting a centerpiece through the fresh-faced urban district. It should, therefore, stand to reason that the principle sites of interest lie along the steep banks overlooking the deep jade waters of the River Bei itself. To experience what Qingyuan has in store simply hop aboard a boat at Wuyi Dock and ask the captain to sail east.
Wedged between Shanghai and Suzhou, Kunshan is often overlooked by holidaymakers. Its reputation as a manufacturing hub courting Taiwanese and Japanese company’s to set-up-shop and produce their wares hardly endears Kunshan to tourists. But its superficial modernity bellies the fact that Kunshan was an important centre of culture and trade when Shanghai was still an inconsequential market town. And this heritage is evident within the city proper and beyond in Kunshan’s idyllic water towns. Indeed hearty travellers will be rewarded with architectural wonders, musical marvels and much between.
Anyone who’d visited the city of Datong in northeastern Shanxi province a decade or so ago would have reported on a crumbling old town blighted by smog. Much of the city’s architecture would have constituted Mao-era square brick tenements. The coal industry was the only thing turning the wheels of the economy.
Shanxi, the vast and arid plateau to the west of Beijing known principally for its coal mining industry, is in fact, a part of China steeped in history. Nowhere is the rich heritage of this landlocked locale better exemplified that in the gorgeous, historical town of Pingyao
Located in the province of Yunnan in southwest China, the Old Town of Lijiang is a well-preserved old city of ethnic minorities. Surrounded by the tree-covered Lion Mountain in the west, Elephant and Golden Row Mountains in the north, and vast fields with crystal clear waters running through it in the south, Lijiang is absolutely beautiful and picturesque. The old town itself occupies 3.8 square kilometers and was built in the late Song Dynasty/early Yuan Dynasty. The city was built along the old trade route of the "Old Tea Horse Caravan Trail” and was once a confluence for trade. It is also the only old city built without a city wall around it.
The Bama Yao Autonomous County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is no easy find. The bus departs provincial capital Nanning and follows an expressway through the pastoral lands of the South, veering past banana plantations, rice fields, grubby roadside garages and pig farms until it finds the hills. Here the Han Chinese lowlands submit to the highlands of Zhuang and Yao peoples, isolated villages clinging to the crooked karst landscape that dominates and defines so much of southwest China.
The Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province is known to the world by the “workshop-of-the-world” moniker. The region just above Hong Kong spearheaded economic reform in the 1980s transforming itself from a largely rural area into a sprawling manufacturing megacity in just three decades. Ancient cities like provincial capital Guangzhou along with Huizhou, Foshan and Zhongshan expanded rapidly while new players like Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhuhai emerged from the paddy fields as metropolitan entities in their own right.
The city of Kushan, nestled between Shanghai and Suzhou, is oft overlooked by its larger neighbours. This is a shame as it had been a source of great influence in ancient China, nurturing many musical forms notably Kun Opera (the mother of Chinese operas), carving kun stone (a prized precious stone) as well as harvesting a bounty of food shipped up the grand canal to feed Beijing. Today the city is largely a manufacturing base for Taiwanese and Japanese firms but its traditions remain well preserved in the ancient river towns that still surround it.
Boulders scattered across the track make life difficult for the saloon car we’re riding in through the Sanwei Mountain Scenic Area. The road is uneven and stony. Eventually we have to abandoned the air-conditioned vehicle and go out on foot, walking in the arid desert heat beneath cloudless, deep blue skies. There is little shade and no other people in sight. The silence is unnerving. Our march through rocky ravines and narrow passes recalls the journey of the droids through on planet Tatoonie in the original Star Wars film. Our only company is limited to some flightless birds foraging for who knows what, for there is little life here bar a few hardy desert plants sucking-up water from deep underground
The streets are cracked and dusty. The hum of churning machinery emanates from every other building. Coolies push bamboo carts stacked heavy with sacks of clay, blue and white Ming vases or Buddha effigies down crowded alleyways. If a shop is not an open-front-workshop it’s a porcelain store brimming with plates, cups and bowls. The clumsy merchandising and sheer quantity of goods bellies the fact Jingdezhen is living breathing history, a place that lays claim to being the porcelain capital of the world, a reputation it established well over a thousand years ago.
Arriving in Kaiping, a small, nondescript town on the eastern edge of the industrial Pearl River Delta region, you'd be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about...