China: the final frontier (an introductory post)

Scene from Impression Sanjie Liu (not my photo)

Yángshuò is known as China’s backpacker haven, but there just aren’t that many here – at least, not in nearly the same numbers as in Thailand (may have something to do with the expensive and hard to get visas, or the fact that it was 5 degrees celsius when we got here, though it’s since gotten warmer).  What there are however, are Chinese tourists. Yángshuò is probably the most popular place in China for domestic tourism. And given China’s population density and ever expanding disposable income, that’s a lot of people.

That’s why even now in the off season,  there were still hundreds of people packed into the open air theater to see Impression Sanjie Liu, Zhang Yimou’s epic nighttime spectacle with the river and lit up karst mountains as backdrop.  This show put the Vietnamese water puppet show to shame. Its scale is so big that it is only conceivable in China.

Zhang is the filmmaker (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, earlier dramas like Raise High the Red Lantern) who was also responsible for the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. Picture that transported to a riverside in Southern China, with a cast of literally hundreds of fishermen and hundreds of young girls dressed in LED enhanced ethnic garb – plus some water buffalo and cormorants- plying the river as their stage.  It’s pretty wild.

The karsts more than held their place among the dancers, singers and assorted animals though. These are similar to the beachside mountains in Tonsai, Thailand and the bayside ones in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.  And yet different (just as each country we’ve visited has had its own flavors despite many communalities, like horn honking, sidewalk welding and fruit vendors).  For climbing, there are more vertical faces, allowing for more technical moderate climbs (as opposed to overhanging jugfests).  And there’s somehow a tranquility to these peaks; away from the battering sea air, they are less wild and deformed.