The Magic Mountains of Guilin

guilinAn eminent poet and scholar-official during the golden age of Song dynasty China, Fan Chengda was also something of an early travel writer. One of his diaries recounts a four-month journey from Suzhou to Guilin on what was then the Middle Kingdom’s southwestern frontier, where, in the spring of 1173, he took up a post governing the mountainous and ethnically diverse Guangxi region. Though banditry and a backward economy plagued his time there, Fan couldn’t help but be inspired by the surreal scenery around him. “I often sent pictures of the hills of Guilin which I painted to friends back home, but few believed what they saw,” he wrote. “There is no point in arguing with them.”

It’s easy to see why Fan’s pals in the Song literati were incredulous. There is something almost supernatural about Guilin’s craggy karst landscape, even to a modern-day traveler armed with the knowledge that these limestone pinnacles were created by millennia of water erosion. When confronted with the magic of the region, I swiftly fell into a more poetic state akin to what Fan must have felt when he described the topography as “like jade bamboo shoots and jasper hairpins, forests of them extend without limit.”

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Holistic Haven

One enters Baimo Cave through a small, water-curtained orifice. Once inside, a lofty vault in the limestone is revealed – an illuminated chamber decorated by evocative natural rock sculptures. While our tour guide points to a tangled stalagmite, observing with classic Chinese symbolism, “This one is called Peacock in his Pride Worshiping Avalostesvara,” I find myself distracted by the sound and sight of water bursting out of every crack and vent. It drips from the ceiling, while subterranean streams surge underfoot, suggesting just how Bama County’s cragged landscape has been shaped, inside and out.

Deep inside the cave’s sanctum we come upon several people sitting on rocks, some meditating, some merely lazing around, others bartering prices for local produce from nagging Bama farmers. But all, my companion explains, are bound by a belief in the healing properties of the cave stone.

“They buy monthly passes,” says Zhang Xingyuan, a kindly local businesswoman who is showing me around, “and come here daily from nearby Poyue Town. Sometimes they even hold events in the cave.”

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Shenzhen’s craft beer brewing scene takes off

In July, Shenzhen independent craft brewery Bionic Brew celebrated its second anniversary. A horde of thirsty expats and local beer enthusiasts descended on Bionics’ tiny backstreet bar to listen to live music and down made-in-Shenzhen lagers, ales, stouts and pilsners, as well as a commemorative pink ale, created by master brewer Dmitrii Gribov.

Although American owner Joe Finkenbinder recalls little of the evening, what his hangover cannot obscure is that he, above all others, has succeeded in fermenting a Shenzhen beerscape. And when one winds the clock back, it becomes apparent that it took far more than yeast, hops and malt to turn this mercantile migrant town on to a quality brew.

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