Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Five Senses Of China

Part IV: Sight

While I've been planning this installment for a long time, having been to the "Grand Canyon of China" that is Guilin before, and knowing we would be making a return visit this year, I was not prepared for the "side trip" we would be making during the same journey. And so I am now divided on this sense. As a result, I am inclined to highlight two sights, and categorize them as "God-made" and "man-made."

The beauty of China is difficult to package into one poem, paragraph, or book. The diversity of this land mass, and the unique features of each place make it impossible to choose a favorite. Yet as the karst peaks emerged from the earth, so too does a clear front runner, which can possibly be equaled, but not easily surpassed. The limestone peaks of Guangxi Province, especially those found in the area of the Li River, are truly God's masterpiece.

Formed two hundred million years ago, when the oceans receded from this area, they have been the stuff of art and poetry for thousands of years. Each peak juts from the earth in its own distinct shape. The wear and tear on the sides of each reveal patterns that can resemble whatever the imagination can see. While some are revealed, others are on their way to being reclaimed by the earth...A wonderful example of primary succession. Collectively, though, they are the essence of the mystery and intrigue that is China.

Now, about that glitch in my plan...

Within the same province of Guangxi (but not nearly as publicized), and around a three-hour bus ride from Guilin, is the "road of heaven" known as the Longji terrace. Our destination, the village of Ping'An, is the home of the spectacular Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. The mystery of this place is not how it was formed, but rather how could it be?

In effect, the work of men and women has transformed a series of mountains into a collection of terraced rice paddies, whose expanse is truly immense. This farmland is not merely a holdover from China's past, but a living example of history in progress, as men and women continue to work these fields with their own strength, along side their livestock. Many of the levels that we observed were in the preparation stages. Hand plows, pulled by horses and oxen, farmers beating the sides of each level to remove unwanted plant life, water (most likely from mountain streams and springs) being diverted through bamboo tubes from one level to another to irrigate the paddies that were ready to be flooded...The scope and sequence and human power necessary to maintain an operation of this magnitude are unfathomable to me. So too is the memory of so few workers present. Pairs and singles, working here and there...Their work backbreaking, yet observed as if a photo in a picture book...The epitome of peace.

While I left this place with more questions than I ever knew I had about this type of farming, one thing is unquestionable. As each person does his or her part, wonderful, beautiful things are accomplished. The transformation of this land mass is not only a feast for the eyes, but also a lesson for all.

I'll never look at a bowl of rice the same way again...



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