"Where are you from?" the Chinese man asked my friends and I when we were climbing Huangshan. He asked because we spoke English to each other. He was not the first and not the last that day - but he was the one who replied "Impossible!" to my answer of "Australia". To most of the Chinese, only white people can be from Australia. It's a bit of an oxymoron - they demand to know why you speak English, but you can't say a Western country because you look Asian, not matter how poor your grasp of Chinese. If they weren't being rude and demanding (rare), or if I'm feeling particularly nice (it does happen), I'll tell them my mum's hometown of Huangshan, where I was born. Though I probably know and feel more comfortable in Beijing than Huangshan, where in the space of a day: a) I got ripped off when buying a bottle of water; and b) failed to grasp how to order at a restaurant my aunt recommended and have been to before (she ended up riding a bike over to order for us). But Huangshan is my hometown by Chinese definitions and three of my friends visited me for a few days while I was with family.
After a horrendous night on Huangshan, which I'll save for another entry - I'm still a little scarred - we went straight to Hongcun, a UNESCO heritage site. It's also known as where they shot a portion of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was my second visit to the village. I went there last year as part of those prima-facie-$99 tour aimed at ex-pats. Who goes on a tour to their hometown? Me! But I really fell in love with the place, and I suggested it to my friends when they were planning their visit.
Despite it being the middle of Summer, the time we spent in Hongcun was wet and grey. Fortunately it didn't rain until night, so we were able to take some photos. Because it was Summer, lily pads covered a portion of the pond, which was lovely. (However, Hongcun in February last year, at the end of Winter, blew me away. You also get to miss the brunt of tourists, which is fantastic.)
This was how clear the water was on an overcast day. It's really a sight to behold when there is absolutely no wind and the sky is blue.
Wearing sneakers with my qipao - no sir, I don't think I'll have a future as fashion blogger any time soon. Or any time at all. (But for all the sane and practical reasons, the only shoes I had on me were the sneakers I climbed up Huangshan in. Champion!)
Water caught in the centre of the plants...shine bright like a diamond. (Yes, that was a terrible Rihanna reference.)
Sometimes China feels too much to handle - too many people, too fast, too loud, too many assaults to the senses. Hongcun was a nice, lovely respite. Unless you are a local, you have to pay an entrance fee of around 100RMB (half price if you are concession - not really advertised, but my aunt told me and I asked the desk). This means if you spend a night inside the village, which we did, you get to enjoy and explore a slice of historical China without crowds of tourists. In a small and beautiful village like Hongcun, with very narrow alleyways, this is a blessing. There is a small convenience store and many family restaurants, and prices were all very reasonable. A lot of the hotels are converted homes, like the one we stayed in, and really charming. (And I'm trying not to say it, but I can't find another way to describe it, so yes, the homes converted to hotels are up to western standards if you make sure to book one with western-style bathrooms.)
For the cost of 6RMB (1AUD) per person, this was our breakfast. (And the corn our hostess told us they grow themselves.)
The hotel complex wasn't very big so it felt very homey. We had dinner late and the hostess left it on a table outside our rooms, next to the pond that runs through the centre of hotel. Such a nice difference to how miserable we were the previous night.
One of my friends and I woke up at five the next morning, hoping there might be a sunrise. There was no sunrise, but it was very nice and peaceful. Except for the three humping dogs that followed us around.