Wednesday, January 3

Among the peaceful clouds

Garry and I have just returned from a business trip to Mainland China.  We flew out on 1 January so our first night of the new year was spent in Beijing.  We were in China to inspect and review the factories that make the toys we distribute; before heading to Hong Kong for its annual Toy Fair.

Our first factory visit was to the town of Yunhe.  It located in Zhejiang Province about 150kms inland from the coastal city of Wenzhou.  The town promotes itself as the wooden toy capital of China.  Visitors are left in no doubt as to its claim to fame.  As you enter the town you pass through an enormous gateway crowned by a row of giant wooden toys.

The neighbouring Yunhe County is also famous for its hills layered in rice terraces.  They're called the most beautiful terraces in all of China.  Many of them have been farmed since the early Tang Dynasty which means the oldest ones are almost 1000 years old.  They're also among the highest terraces in China.  The lower layers start around 200 metres above sea level then climb to an extraordinary to 1200 metres.  Yunhe actually translates as peaceful clouds.  The name pays tribute to these incredible structures which are often shrouded by early morning mist and low cloud.

Our factory hosts took Garry and I see the terraces before our first meetings of the day.  The drive itself was an incredible experience.  We had no idea we'd end up winding higher and higher along narrow country roads. We certainly got to see rural China up close. It was extraordinary to see entire hillsides covered in cascading terrace layers literally descending from the clouds.

It also a rather confusing and often nerve-wracking drive. I don't think we'd have ever had made it not been for our hosts.  Apparently, during the peak tourist season, you can catch a dedicated bus into the mountains from Yunhe.  However, it's fair to say that driving this route felt a heck of lot safer in a car than tackling it in a local bus.  As we climbed the road progressively narrowed to a single lane, only widening again briefly on blind, hair-raising hairpin turns.

Entrepreneurial locals have established a view platform along the edge of one of the area's more scenic spots.  A modest $15 entry fee (80RMB) gave us access to a series of well-maintained facilities.  A well-paved walking track traced a hill ridge for several hundred metres before finishing at a series of stepping stone pavers that led you down to the terraces themselves.  Along the way we watched ducks foraging in the mud and saw the stream that feeds water into the area.  It was fun to trace the water's journey from this entry point along numerous channels and pipes that direct its flow down the hillside into individual terraces.

Unfortunately, our visit coincided with the least scenic time of year.  At this time of year everything is looking rather drab, brown and muddy. However, the spectacle itself was still rather breath-taking.  It also meant that we had the entire viewing area to ourselves.  Apparently, in Summer the area is often overwhelmed by traffic and people; effectively ruining its refreshing rural vibe and serenity.

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