I returned from a partially successful trip to Hong Kong to find the tall poplars along the river bank turning golden and the rice harvest not yet underway.

A Chinese friend, not understanding the word Poplar, thought I said "purples". Nice to have trees in a complementary colour...

The weather has turned much colder but the rainy season, which started late, shows no sign of abating. Dusky brown heads of rice are bowed beneath the yellowing leaves and, worryingly, come loose at the touch. The livelihood of a great many households in the Shaxi valley is at risk as hundreds of hectares of rice will either fall, or mildew in the field.

And still it rains.


Rice drying in the fields

Hong Kong was warm and humid, but misty with occasional rain.

A necessary trip, to obtain a new visa, I took advantage of the plethora of familiar shops to buy new paint brushes (mine having lost their points about six paintings ago), indulge in some purchases at The Body Shop, and see if I could get my computer screen fixed at the Samsung repair centre – sadly not as it would have taken too long and I had already bought my flight back to Kunming.

Approaching Hong Kong Island

Shortly after I arrived in Los Angeles in 1980, I was invited to the Bona Venture Hotel in Down Town, where I experienced my first ever Pina Colada. I was absolutely thrilled to step into one of a number of  glass encapsulated lifts which soared up the outside of the building to the restaurant on the uppermost level. I may not remember how many floors, but the vision of such a vast new metropolis at Magic Hour was completely unforgettable.

The shopping centre in Times Square jogged this memory, as I rose some 12 floors through different levels of the shopping mall – but it was rather paltry in comparison. Just 30 years ago…

Shop 'til you drop...

The Youth Hostel I stayed in, however, was interesting: a converted military outpost overlooking West, it had much of the trappings of its origin in evidence – metal bunks and concrete. The views, however, were wonderful.

A room with a view

The biggest disappointment was finding that instead of the 3-month visa I had expected I could only obtain 30 days. Same price as three months, and no explanation as to their change of policy. Which leaves me uncertain now as to what the immediate future holds, and the need to consider how I might start earning an income.

One possibility is to teach English in China, as many accredited schools welcome native English speakers and can provide a work visa for the duration of the contract. Not a preferred option, but one certainly worth considering.

But for now I must catch the last of the fading flowers before winter really sets in.

I seem hardly to have ventured out of the hostel – apart from my lengthy journey right across China (12 hours on the bus, an overnight stop in Kunming, a 2-hour flight to Shenzhen, another long bus journey which took me through customs, and a wet and disorientated arrival on Hong Kong island outside the visa office, to find it closed: a surfeit of applicants to blame).

Geese at East Gate

But I find Shaxi as charming as ever, with fewer tourists now that the season is changing. On my return journey through Dali I encountered miserable travellers who had decided to just head south in search of sunshine.



Weeks and weeks of rain is no fun at all. Unless your a duck or goose.

This morning a thin sun glances off the mud-brick wall behind the neighbour’s courtyard – I watch from my window as the women sit on their haunches, chatting. Above them, under the overhanging eaves, long clusters of dark yellow corn hang drying on ropes woven from last year’s rice-stalks.

Corn drying under the eaves

They have been selling these ropes in earnest at the last few Friday markets, and I had occasionally seen an old women soaking the straw in the stream that runs alongside the entrance to the old town, and twisting them deftly between her gnarled fingers.

Rice straw and rope

Rope at Shaxi Market






Where rice is not grown other devices are used. On the road back from Dali I saw bundles of corn cobs hanging from a washing line – alongside a few t-shirts and pants. In a forested area, this also served to prevent a significant loss to the local squirrel population. Not so lucky were the cobs hanging from the branches of a fir tree nearby…

The interrelationship between crops, agricultural practices and animal husbandry is intriguing and has, no doubt, developed over many generations. And the introduction of new crops brings with it a new ingenuity.

Once the tobacco harvest is in, I have seen the defoliated stalks used as supports for a young beans; maize has been used in a similar way; soya is grown on the bunds of the rice terraces, or where these are left fallow, the weeds are grazed by small herds of goat or a few well-directed cows; dung is mixed with pine needles, collected in a huge mound during the year, then spread over the newly cleared rice paddies; straw from rice is often used in a similar fashion – if not twisted into rope, woven into mattresses or applied in a myriad other ways.

In true permaculture fashion, nothing is wasted here.