Sunday, April 5

Ba Ma, China

When my mum proposed the idea of going to China for a one month detox, I was extremely shocked. Let's be honest, the Chinese are well known for the extravagant spending of its wealthier classes and probably extreme air pollution. Nevertheless, after New Years, I was whizzed of to a place known as 巴马 (Ba Ma) in Guangxi, China. We flew to 南宁 (Nanning) before a 4 hour car ride to the rural areas of Guangxi.  Ironically, my car trip from Sitiawan to KLIA 2 was longer than the plane ride from KL to Nanning. It was only 3 hours and flights were so cheap ! 

Our hotel was situated at a town known as 坡月 (Po Yue) conveniently located outside the famous 百魔洞 (Bai Mo Cavern). As I was informed, we were close to the China-Vietnam border, explaining the scenery of the likes of Halong Bay in Vietnam   Click to read about my travel adventures at Halong Bay many years ago ! 

Detox here ?

Yes, as odd as it sounds, every year multitudes of city dwellers flock to this place, especially the old, sick and the weak. I am using flock figuratively but the locals actually call these people, and people like me, 候鸟人 Hou Niao Ren (Migratory birds - human). Not only is the air fresh (although declining due to development), the water, more commonly called 巴马活泉 Ba Ma Huo Quan (Living water of Ba Ma) is one of the main exports of this town. Mysteriously, those who drink this water find it tough to gain weight, not easily tired and there were stories of so many miraculous healing. The most evident in those who suffer from 
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

According to a study I found online, this area contains high amounts of geomagnetism and negatively charged oxygen ions. Not forgetting the healthy lifestyle and diet. Paired with the living water of Ba Ma, residents eat boiled and steam food more. Their staple is also corn grain porridge. One of the testimonies was an elderly man who suffered from lung cancer. Medical results show that he had a maximum of 1 years to live. He is now into his 5th year, healthy as ever. We met another 80 year old man who hikes up and down the mountains with no difficulty at all. As a personal testimony, my asthma did improve by leaps and bounds during my stay. I rarely went out of breath even when I was climbing up stairs ! 

Right outside our door steps. This road leads to the main street of the town and in the entire month, there wasn't a day it wasn't wet due to the lack of drainage systems. All throughout my stay, it was evident that this place lacked planned development and expertise. 

Most of the nicer looking buildings were for the city dwellers. Locals live in the shabbier buildings, or the mountains. Since rapid development, the environment has suffered a huge blow, not just in terms of the view but also air and noise pollution. I cannot imagine this beautiful place in 10 years time. 


Doesn't seem like a place to detox ? The surrounding mountains were absolutely perfect for bush walks and hikes. 


There is also a market that rotates between 3 towns in the area. 

That's a barber shop on the right. 

These were soo good I wanted to have them every morning

RM2 for a hearty meal. 
The local noodles, meat and produce were exceptionally tasty. Chicken that were fed corn grain were extremely delicious and oh, don't get me started on their eggs. The environment just made everything better. 

There is a beautiful river that flows through several towns. In winter it has a bight turquoise hue. The tall trees and bamboos along the banks makes it a popular spot in the morning and late evenings.
Everyone here is extraordinarily friendly. Maybe it is because most people are here for the same purpose - health. Many Chinese buy apartments here and plan to stay for the long run. You see the same people almost every day, at around the same time, although there are so many different people. I was the most easily recognised as I probably was the youngest visitor in the entire town. The bus driver, lady who sells drinks to the man who does tai chi by the river bank never fails to greet me when I walk past them. It felt good to get a way from the city, where everyone is always busy on their phones.
At the river head where people draw their water to drink every day. 

百魔洞 (Bai Mo Cavern)
For 10 days, we went into the famous 百魔洞 (Bai Mo Cavern). My mum did various breathing exercises while I simply sat in the atmosphere. We also went to draw water in the cave every day. The cavern blew my mind on the first day. Never have I seen anything like it. The entrance was dark and wet but all of a sudden you come to an opening like this : 
Sunlight spilling into a part of the cavern, where lush greenery was everywhere. Felt like I was in a Jurassic Park movie. The cavern also had three main levels, whereby only one level is open to the public. The Yao ethnic groups, once lived on the third level, but when it collapsed, they moved up into the valley. We spent most of our time in the cavern where there was an opening above us. There is probably a more accurate term for natural structures like these but when you look upwards, it is almost like we are enclosed at the bottom of a well. Yet when you climb the stairs to the top of the cavern, from above its a massive cave. 

At the opening, two Yao children running around. 

An ancient plant stands majestically in the middle of the opening. 
It was said that the atmosphere in this opening has plenty of negative ions (which is apparently great for you, I'm not sure), explaining why people would just sit around the entire day. 

Yet if you think that is all in this cavern, its not. When you come to the opening, there is an opening to another cave. This cave had more lightings for the consumption of tourists. 


This one in particular looks out to the opening. And doesn't that look like the pig from Journey to the West looking outwards ? 

From the opening, these steps lead to the Yao Village at the top of the cavern. Tourists of the Bai Mo Cavern could visit the village and come down the same way. However if you do not have a pass to visit the cavern, you will have to get to the village from a different route, which involves hiking up a steep mountain

What the top of the cavern looks like. We took the different route to get to the village, and into the cavern. The view was gorgeous. 
Yao Village. 

A 90+ year old grandma still actively working. 


I was shocked at how little their knowledge on hygiene and how limited their opportunities to education were. These kids were running around the village on a school day, and they were playing with glass pieces left behind by construction sites. On the first day I visited them, I also found a few of them, sitting in the muddy farm digging for sweet potatoes. They had snot in their noses and dirt all over them. Looking at their situation really hit a nerve. 

They were also trained to say the right things to tourists. This bunch of kids demanded I pay them if I want to photograph them. 

and they also had to sell goods for their families. 

This girl in particular was my favourite. When I first met her, she asked if I could give her some money. I didn't want to encourage them to beg, so I didn't give anything to her but I met her a few more times after that, and she always smiled and ran up to me to say hi. 

Eldest in her family and in charge of taking care of her young siblings when her parents are at work. 

They have only one classroom, and one teacher. So every student in the village shares the same classroom. 



From the other route to the village over looking the towns 百魔屯 (Bai Mo Tun) and 坡月(Po Yue).

Over the course of a month, there were times my mum and I were just sick of healthy food and the countryside. Easily, we could hop on a bus that brings us to 巴马县城 (Ba Ma County Town). There you can find cafes, KFC and McDonald's inspired restaurants, and various shops.
 

长寿村 (Longevity Village)
It would have been such a shame to travel so far and not visit the longevity village. This town has an unusually large amount of centenarians. Although lifestyle, as mentioned before plays a part, natural selection was also a key point. Hidden in the mountains and far from town centres, the strongest genes remain, eliminating the weak ones. Genetically, their body also produces a kind of protein : apolipoprotein-E that reduces excessive cholesterol // cite

I have no qualms that they are extremely fit. One of the older residents (who was also carrying shit loads of things on her back) commented about how weak I am, when she walked past me one day.

She got 99 problems but making me feel like a weakling definitely aint one. 


All the centenarians were all so small. They usually sit in their homes and wait for tourists to come visit them. Empty red packets were readily available for tourists to donate. 

The influx of tourism boosted the income of the residents, but compromised their diet. Centenarians and residents started to eat unhealthy food. There were 3 main local delicacies that every tourist must try.

First up would be the 香猪 (Braised Pork). Roasted over charcoal, this was mouth watering. I wouldn't blame them for wanting to eat this every day.

油鱼
These fresh water fish are usually served fried. This too, is something I've never had before. It tastes unlike the ones my mum used to fry for me when I was young. Very delicious, but by the looks of it, not very healthy.

火麻 
The English translation of this is - cannabis seeds but I'm pretty sure its far from the drug. 
Basically it is the white froth they put on top of the soup. The seeds were also ground into powder to make sugared drinks. It has plenty of properties ranging from maintaining cholesterol levels to helping people lose weight. Tastes kind of like sesame when blended into a drink, but with a little more texture. 

If you are getting bored of the town, and the hikes, there are also travel agencies around every town that offer packages to visit the surrounding tourist destinations. Here are some places we visited

命河 Ming He - The River of Life
Don't you think all the names here are so full of life ?

This river is called the river of life for two reasons.
1. From the top, the river looks like the word 命 "life" in Chinese 
2. This river is how the surrounding towns earn a livelihood. It waters the crops and provides the basic water needs of the towns. 

仙人桥 Xian Ren Qiao - Bridge of the Immortal Beings
I apologise if my direct translation is very off, but these areas simply don't have English names. 


鹰王山 Ying Wang Shan -  Eagle Mountain
The Chinese are very creative when it comes to naming things. They are very imaginative and always has such appropriate / quirky names but my favourite has to be this : 

阴阳山 Ying and Yang mountain

Couldn't fit both structures in one picture but come on, you don't need that much of a dirty mind to know why its called ying and yang.

水晶宫 Shui Jing Gong - Crystal Palace
Unlike the Bai Mo Cavern and many others which has rock formations, the crystal palace was filled with delicate crystals. 


凤山三门海  Feng Shan San Men Hai
This was a cavern with three major "doors". Very long ago, this cave was submerged underwater. Now, visitors can visit the cavern by boat depending on the tide of the water. 

This probably isn't the safest mode to travel, but it is the only way. 


This is undoubtedly my favourite cavern. It was extremely hard to take pictures in the cavern because you constantly have to dodge rocks above your head, but it was so beautiful. Especially when you come to the three doors, where sunlight spills into the cavern. Absolutely beautiful. 

Lastly, there is the 百鸟岩 Bai Niao Yan
Named after the hundreds and thousands of birds that flock the cavern during specific seasons, this cave was very similar to 三门海 San Men Hai, where it is only accessible by raft. In the warmer seasons, people actually swim and wash their clothes in these waters. You fancy cliff jumping ? What about swinging off a tree branch ? 


This is only a snippet of what I've experienced in China. Although most of the time I was complaining about the lack of fun activities, and the lack of people my age, this was the best travel experience I've ever had. So thankful for my mum. Not only did I manage to have a healthier body (and lose some weight), I also had the privileged to see these natural wonders of the world. For an entire month, I had my mum all to myself, and we bonded over many things. I've experienced kindness, compassion and love from random strangers, learnt about a new culture that changed my view of China forever. Not forgetting how inspired I was at how the elderly fight for the lives. I remember asking my mum once

"Why would a 70 year old uncle, diagnosed with final stage lung cancer with only one year left to live, move to this isolated place and try so hard to prolong his life ?"

and I remember mum's response like it was just yesterday

"There is so many things he could do if he prolonged his life ! Spend more time with his family, watch his grandchildren grow up, make new friends, do things he enjoy, there are so many more things in life to see and experience even at the age of 70 ! There is nothing in this world that is better than being alive."

and that is probably my biggest takeaway.
When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.