Fenghuang: "The Siege"


Hunan Province


July 1, 2010

Dear Fellow Tourists and Travelers,

Here's what the guidebook says about Fenghuang Ancient City, a popular tourist destination:

"In a round-the-clock siege from domestic tourists - the Taiping Rebellion of the modern age - this riveting town of ancient city walls, disintegrating towers, rickety houses on stilts overlooking the river and hoary temples can easily fill a couple of days.  Home to a lively population of the Miao and Tujia minorities, Fenghuang's architectural legacy shows distressing signs of neglect, so get to see it before it crumbles away under a combined onslaught of disrepair and overdevelopment aimed at luring marauding tour groups." *

Do you see what I have to put up with here?  I must tolerate "distress," "disintegrating," "rickety,"  "disrepair," and "overdevelopment."  Then I must navigate "siege," and "marauding tour groups."  And finally, I have to endure such guide-book prose, opaque and contradictory, that my head is throbbing!  Will this place be "riveting" or "crumbling"?  And what, in the name of all that's holy, is a "hoary temple"?


The bus ride from Jishou to Fenghuang was slow but pretty - through the mountains, and slower still through Jixin, a busy market town in the middle of nowhere.  "A market in the middle of nowhere" is usually one of my favorite spots and I was tempted to hop off the bus.

I have to admit that Fenghuang was fun.  The marauding tour groups must have dissolved into only throngs of visitors; many were giggly school girls.  The shops were busy and the old homes were nicely renovated.  Several attractive minority girls, dressed in their traditional outfits, happily posed for photos, for only a slight fee.  Or you can rent the costume.  And armed with the latest camera equipment, a mob of ladies was on hand to take a shot, for a slight fee.

The city walls and the hoary temples were impressive.  The restaurants along the river served good, if somewhat unrecognizable food.  I avoided the stepping stone bridge across the river; with my ear problem/wobbly gait, I surely would have ....

Back by bus through the hills to Jishou to wander around town once again and to prepare for my long train ride to Changsha - a ride of 482km/300 mi and who knows how many hours.

I am anticipating this trip with a mixture of equanimity and dread.  Previous train rides here in China have run the gamut from high-speed and air-conditioned to the poky and open-windowed-everybody-is-smoking variety.  

Regardless of the comfort level, the train itself will be besieged by an onslaught of marauding groups of Chinese tourists. (Sixteen to twenty cars, each holding about 125 passengers.  You do the math.)

I just can't wait!


* China. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd 2009. page 516.


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