Milky Way tumbles

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After arriving in Beijing on Friday night and staying up til nearly 3 am catching up with my friend Jon, the China correspondent for the Guardian, we made our way from his house at 6:20 to catch a flight to Guilin in Guangxi province. Huang Lisha (Lisa), Jon's able assistant, expert interpreter and government spy, was waiting for us with the tickets.

Stepping off the plane, we still had a 180 km trek to Jiang Yong, the Yao county village over the border in Hunan province, where Jon was doing interviews on the Nushu story, so Lisa hired a taxi and driver at the airport. We were blessed to get Mr Fong, who just happened to be at the head of the queue. He turned out to be the most useful resource and a kind man with a sense of fun. Not only did Mr Fong know the way, he knew all the sights and points of interest along the way. He was with us for the whole time we were in the area, always at the ready with the car when we needed him as if reading our minds. He bought us bananas, shared his mosquito spray, joined in our activites and meals. If you ever need a driver in Guilin, he's the man to call.

The day was a full one, meeting our guide, Huang Yuan, and having a feast of a Hunan lunch before making with visits to some of the important Yao cultural sites. We met the local Yao king, Zheng Shiqiu, elected ten years ago, who accompanied us and explained some of the local history and how the village is hoping to promote tourism with Nushu as a key aspect of the plan.

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Jon & I after our swim. Photo by Lisa.

The highlight of my day was climbing a mountain to the base of a 110 meter waterfall. It was getting near dusk and the light was fading quickly when we reached our destination. Against the advice of our guide, Jon and I ducked under the barrier and ran towards the pool at the base of the waterfall. We shucked off our outer layers and went for a paddle.

I think it was the best swim of my life. The scenery was unbeatable, the water clear and cold. I glowed and bubbled with overflowing joy for the rest of the day. Even now, I smile broadly when I think of how the spray felt on my face as I stroked across the pool.

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Cook prepares local fare in the glare of a bare bulb. Photo by Jon.

Dinner was at a family-run Yao inn. The kitchen was dark and above the smoky wok hung the carcasses of rats, chickens, ducks, and unidentifiable creatures. I don't think the smoky meat in our dinner was rat, but I couldn't tell what it was.

Jon watched the kitchen girl kill our chicken by slitting its throat, draining the blood for a minute, then whacking it against the side of the building until it stopped moving. The chicken soup was delicious, but I'm glad I stayed in the courtyard having a beer with Zoupi.

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government spy? do tell... I smell intrigue.

Lisa's only a spy in that the government requires her to make official reports on Jon's activities and conversations. This is part of the job description for all foreign journalists' assistants. China's not too keen on press freedom.

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