The ancient Jingjiang Princely Mansion in Guilin is surrounded by a rectangular wall, which for a frustrating time I followed before
encountering, at last, the 'South Heavenly Gate'
and then an equally heavenly path
and celestial steps
and heavy great doors in yellow walls, opened for me by quietly jovial guards
leading to a museum with an incomprehensible display and a theatre where I eavesdropped on a raucous dress-rehearsal
until, at last, Solitary Beauty Peak, over 150 metres high.
Beneath there are caves where, 1,500 years, during the Southern Dynasty, a poet called Yan Yanzhi used to read and compose his poetry
and having climbed the 396 steep steps
I encountered the Mountain Spirit Temple with brashly-painted deities, incense and worshippers (and therefore seemed intrusive to photograph) and animal spirits.
From the top can be seen all the other peaks which circle 'like past feudal officials worshiping their monarch', and in the Ming dynasty, only Jingjiang seigniors could climb this royal hill,
but today, in China, there is no aristocracy (at least of the conventional kind), and the Princely Mansions is now the home of the Guangxi Normal College, which trains teachers, and so, after 2pm I can join the comrades to look out and wonder at all the houses, all the people, and the way we cover everything that can be covered with our concrete, and then our gardens, as if in guilt,
and then, inspired and overawed by the enormity of it all concentrate instead on the single yard I can see
with its weekly wash, and the woman on a balcony with a bucket, and know that even though our lives will never touch, at this moment she occupies my thoughts completely.