‘He who travels in the Guilin hills finds himself in a fairyland.’
The mist-shrouded cliffs and winding rivers of southern China's Guanghxi province inspire poets, artists and adventurers
So go the lines of one ancient writer. A fairyland is as good a way as any to describe this area.
Beyond talk of a brand-new Beijing and its Olympics this summer, the Guilin area of China's Guangxi province has long been an inspiration for poets and artists.
The rocky crags and steep karst hills rise dramatically from the flat plain. The Li River wends its way among them, small bamboo rafts float lazily by while villagers harvest wild greens from the banks.
My friend Xu Zhiyuan told me as we rode the bus to Yangshuo, a small town near Guilin, "You can't translate Chinese poetry into English. It won't sound right. Sure, you might be able to say, 'Mist-hid, clouded hamlet, a mild, tranquil place.' But that's just a sentence trying to translate Yuan Mu (a Qing Dynasty poet). It doesn't sound the same or even mean the same in Chinese. So why try?"
Although Zhiyuan was no doubt right, I still think a translation is better than nothing, and during my visit I found myself frequently thumbing through the pages of a bootleg book of poetry that I picked up from a street vendor.
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Jordan Clary is a California-based freelance writer who recently returned to the U.S. after living in China for three years.