April 6, 2010
I picked the wrong morning to get up early — fog had returned on our last morning in Huangshan. The mountaintop was under a thick layer of white moisture. I took the short hike to Qianliangtai (清涼台) at 5 am and held a small glimpse of hope that somehow the sun might break through the fog. The fog brought the rain along, and it was clear another sunless day would be ahead of us. Later in the morning, we returned to the Rear Mountain cable car station. We left Huangshan just like how we arrived — under the same blanket of whiteness.
Aside from Huangshan, another popular attraction in Anhui Province is its ancient villages. The most famous one is probably Hongcun (useful link in Chinese), made famous by the Ang Lee’s film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, Hongcun is a classic example of how the Chinese concept of feng shui infuses with a settlement’s design and construction. The village is arranged in the shape of an ox with the nearby Leigang Hill (雷崗山) interpreted as the head, and the two trees atop the hill as the horns. The four bridges across South Lake (南湖) act as the limbs whilst the houses of the village form the body. Nanhu is not merely for decoration; it is where the Hongcun’s numerous waterways flow into. A network of water stream represents the intestines and various lakes such as the Moon Marsh (月沼) symbolize the other internal organs.
Upon paying the ridiculously expensive entrance fee and set our feet in the village, it was not hard to understand the appeal of Hongcun. The bridges, the residences, the reflections… there were ample photographic opportunities around, although it was close to impossible to get a clean composition without disruption from the constant stream of day trippers. Luckily, all of them only stayed for a short time to have their photos taken at Nanhu before boarding their tour buses to escape the rain; perhaps stopping by on a rainy day did have its merit.
We crossed one of the bridge across the lake and wandered through the maze-like alleys. Some of Hongcun’s buildings were converted to lodgings and souvenir shops, but many remained as the residences of the locals. Following a well-instructed sign, we reached the heart of the village — the Moon Marsh. The rain was falling harder by the minute, forcing us to take shelter inside Chengzhitang (承志堂), the former residence of the richest family in Hongcun. The Wang family accumulated their immense wealth through salt-trading in the late 19th Century. The highlight of the residence was the high quality of its wood carvings that took four years to complete.