They’re far too busy planning other eco projects, such as an electric community bus, an eco house for volunteers, producing biodiesel from old chip oil and growing vegetables in polytunnels. You can, of course, travel between the two by road, but far more appealing was the four-hour boat ride, which led us and a flotilla of other tourist boats along the Li River through some of the most beautiful countryside in China. Green tea is ubiquitous in China — hence the phrase “not for all the tea in China”. I had wondered for a long time why people in China did this. It was only after I had moved to Shanghai that I had the chance to return to Guilin, this time with the desire of taking time to enjoy the scenery rather than having to do business, however pleasant that first day might have been. We also had the chance to lay our hands on a tortoise, which was claimed to be over 100 years old.
In addition to my other experiences in Guangxi, travelling to the capital city of Nanning to see my clients gave me the chance to experience a local tea ceremony. Each raft was crewed by one local guide, punting his way down the river as he had learned at Cambridge. I brought up the rear, in the vain hope that then no one could see me if I crashed. The client then boiled the water; in fact the true connoisseur will have different temperatures for different types of tea, e.g. 95 degrees for wulong (black dragon tea) and 100 degrees for puer, which is a specialty tea in the south, but I was happy to go along with whatever he thought necessary here. I found out later that to make the tea correctly, you need a tea “platter” or “boat”, which is the flat board the client had brought out. We found a little wind at 1400 metres, and started floating gently along. Thankfully, in a little while the wind started blowing a bit harder, and it gave the pilot an excuse to lower the balloon to a more reasonable altitude.
I still hold out that I like ballooning — as long as nobody lets the pilot get carried away. Our balloon pilot soon had us up and running, so that before long we were floating up in the air … but not moving. This was something I had been looking forward to, the opportunity to cruise in a balloon over the hills and see the whole landscape down below us. When the water boiled, the client poured some into the teapot but then also all over its outside and into all of the cups. At the same time, the tea leaves went into the teapot, more excitingly known as “the black dragon enters the palace” if you are drinking wulong, and then the client added more boiling water until the teapot was overflowing. Making tea with efforts, indeed. On top of all that, the winds usually blasting across the island have dwindled to pathetic breezes, leaving the wind turbines useless and the locals on bread and cold tea for breakfast. He also rotated the lid, to prevent bubbles forming and to scrape away any debris — “the spring wind brushes the surface”. Traffic meant cars — big, fast cars.
Big, wide-open highways with few cars, the sun out, and hills and rivers on either side of me — this was a bit more like what I had had in mind. Eventually, though, both the traffic and the buildings thinned out, and we were moving towards the countryside. Unfortunately, we had to cycle our way out from the town centre, which meant travelling along roads that had traffic on them. We had gone a long way in a short period of time; I was feeling light-headed and not entirely comfortable. The cloth can then be washed in the usual way. At this level I was much happier and started enjoying the ride again in the way that I had hoped to. In and around Guilin, the elusive erosion process has had two effects: firstly, the creation of very large subterranean caves through which you can wander, enjoying the tasteful lighting that now illuminates the rocks, and secondly, a landscape dominated by the hills I mentioned earlier.