from ancient town fenghuang

Greetings from Fenghuang, Pheonix, a charming ancient river town in western Hunan, populated by Miao and Tujia ethnic minorities.

I woke up at dawn – still suffering from my jet-lag. As I lay in bed, reading, I listened to the birdsongs – a rare treat to an urban dweller like myself and the sound of local women beating their washings by the river.

I am staying at a hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet called Kaola House, with a private balcony onto the river. Across the river stand the old mill and traditional brick and wood houses on stilts. Absolutely delightful.

As the town came to life, some wailing started – a funeral ritual was going on. Then the familiar , unescapable noises of construction started: thanks to the success of places like Kaola House, more people on the river fronts are turning their homes into guesthouses.

Last night, disco and karaoke wailed into small hours. The way for many Chinese tourists to feel that they are having a good time is to frequent karaoke bars. Beautiful scenery or vibrant culture never seems enough.

I was too exhausted to be bothered by the noise, after days marching. My legs are still stiff.

Yesterday, my feminist friend Xiao Meili reached Changsha where she planned to rest for a week or also. I am taking a side trip to Fenghuang.

I’ve been inspired to visit the place ever since I read The Border Town by renowned Chinese writer Sheng Congwen who was born and raised here. The story is about an old man and his granddaughter, making a living by ferrying people across the river, and the girl‘s
relationship with two brothers. Like most of Sheng’s stories, there’s no villain. “The world is filled with kindness but also unfortunate coincident,“, as Sheng always argued. there’s no happy ending but a poetic sadness about the novel.

Dismayed by the touristy development, I am nevertheless delighted to have made my way here as it is still enchanting. In the golden morning sun, I strolled around the old town, tasting local specialties like bean starch jelly and smelly bean curd, sharing jokes with local women vendors in their colourful outfits and watching life going by.

Tonight, I am planning to sign up for a tour which will take us to a Miao village some 40 km away where we’ll join the locals dancing around a camp fire. Totally touristy but I am a tourist after all.


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