The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Three — Tianjin, China, Hiking in the Rice Terraces

The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Three — Tianjin, China, Hiking in the Rice Terraces

By Erin Monroe, Update 11: Hiking in the Rice Terraces

When I was in Guilin, the international hostel I stayed at organized a trip to the rice terraces a three-hour drive outside the city. My two friends were not able to go so I traveled with four other enthusiastic travelers from the hostel. All together there was one American (me), an Australian couple, a man from Portugal, and a woman from Spain. We rode in a van driven by a friendly Chinese man who knew the area.

We left at eight o’clock in the morning. As it turned out, the driver didn’t speak a word of English, and the rest of the group didn’t speak Chinese, so I became the interpreter for the day. The three hour drive from the hostel to the rice terraces was windy and bumpy and felt like a roller coaster. We drove through hills and past streams and rivers until the driver dropped us off at a village and told us he would pick us up at another village called Ping’An in four hours. We bought some water from a vendor and went on our way up the path.


The rice terraces are beautiful, and not even a high-quality panoramic camera would be able to capture the magnificence and intricacy of the rice terraces and the hills embedded with small villages. The trail mostly consisted of steep stone stairs winding up and down. Paths would fork in different directions, each leading to different villages. As you can see in the picture, multiple small villages can be seen from one viewpoint. The villages looked very similar to each other, each containing large buildings constructed of wood. It rains often here and the rice fields were blanketed with a hazy mist.

After hiking on the trail from village to village for about two hours, we stopped for lunch at a hostel set into the hill. We continued hiking after lunch and continued to follow the signs from village to village, until there were no more signs. It was left up to us to ask for directions from people walking the opposite way and this is how we discovered we were going in the wrong direction. Once we realized we were lost, we had no choice but to return the way we came until we got back on the right track to Ping’An. This was a little frustrating for the group and added an additional 2.5 hours to our trek for a nearly 7 hour hike. Frankly, it was exhausting, and although I exercise regularly, I was not in this kind of hiking shape.


Furthermore, the sandwich I packed from the hostel had egg in it, which evidently does not keep well stashed in a bag for half a day because I experienced some food poisoning. I felt much better after it was out of my system. I debated leaving this gross detail out, but all the details of the day added up to the total feeling of accomplishment at the end of the trek. (Also, let’s admit it, everyone’s been there.) There was a point in the trip everyone reached when we were all tired and aggravated and wanted to quit and stop. Still, there’s no quitting in the middle of the rice fields, and the only option was to push through and persevere. I knew if I was hiking with my dad that day, he would’ve said this kind of thing “builds character”, though I’m pretty sure I have enough character to last me a while.

Upon accepting the idea that we just needed to keep going until we got there, and that we would eventually reach Ping’An, I was able to enjoy myself much more. The farther we went, there were less and less tourists on the path and more locals. There was a traditional hairstyle that women in the area wore where they grow their hair long and wrap it around their heads multiple times. Along the way they call out to tourists that they’ll let down their hair and let you take a picture with them for a fee. Although I was curious at just how long their hair actually was, I opted to save my money that day and didn’t fall into that particular tourist trap. Honey sugar was also sold along the way, as were beautiful handmade embroidered hand bags and jewelry.


When you read about places to travel, you hear about the tranquility of the scene, the feeling of being one with nature, etc. While it’s true, the scene in front of me was beautiful, I believe what makes an experience great is the people you spend it with. This applies to school and work as much as it applies to travel. Good traveling companions make food poisoning, exhaustion, and getting lost seem insignificant in an otherwise great day. Surrounded by the quintessential rice terraces of China, I learned a lot about Australia, Portugal, and Spain from my traveling companions. We got to know each other well for formerly being complete strangers and spent a total of thirteen hours together that day. If I hadn’t spent the day with Carrie, Tony, Maria, and Manwell, I wouldn’t have felt the same sense of achievement and joy that evening as I watched the sun set over the rice terraces.

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.

1 Comment

Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

One response to “The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Three — Tianjin, China, Hiking in the Rice Terraces

  1. Jonia G

    It certainly sounds like you had a wonderful adventure – it also sounds a bit tiring (7+hrs of hiking… ah). Looking at the pictures is already amazing and to think that it’s even more-so in its intricacy and beauty; makes me very interested in one day seeing it. Though, hiking is not my thing; not my thing, at all. It must have been a bit of pressure to be the interpreter; however, it sounds like you had a memorable time with your companions. Thank you for sharing, it was a lovely read.

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