Monthly Archives: October 2014

my english interest course {3rd stop: the university main gate}

Tuesday, October 28:  Today is the third and last outing for my English Interest Course.  My choice would have been to go to the place called Dog Hole, a rough and grimy area on campus where vendors sell food, household items, keys, and bicycle parts.  There is a bicycle repair lady there who keeps perpetually busy servicing all the bicycles on campus.  It would be a great place to take pictures.

But my students don’t want to go to Dog Hole.  I don’t know why because I know the students spend a lot of time there in their off hours.  Some tell me it’s too stinky.  Others may just not want to run into their friends.  I’m only guessing.  They vote that they want to go to the main gate of the university.  I think that will be pretty boring because there really isn’t much between the Experimental Building, where our class is, and the main gate. Nothing much except gardens and the view of the building and the actual gate through which people enter the university.

At the next two sessions, each of my 22 students must present a 5-minute, 10-slide presentation telling a story of some aspect of their lives.  Eleven will present each session.  That will take up the last two of the six total classes.  Then I’ll get another batch of students to do another 6-week session of the class.

We go outside to walk around the main gate area and we see some pretty pots all lined up in rows.

pots in front of the Experimental Building

pots in front of the Experimental Building

Two of my prettily dressed students go wandering off on their own.

two of my students walk along the path

two of my students walk along the path

Looking back we can see the huge Experimental Building where I teach every day on the 9th floor.

The  Experimental Building.  I teach classes here on the 9th floor.

The Experimental Building. I teach classes here on the 9th floor.

Some nice street lamps line the wide walkway, which looks almost like a boulevard.

street light

street light

The flowers are losing their summer luster.  It’s still hot and humid here, but the nights are getting cooler and it’s raining more frequently.  Maybe a change of weather is around the corner.

fading flowers

fading flowers

is fall arriving?

is fall arriving?

summer fades to autumn

summer fades to autumn

fading flowers

fading flowers

a bud in a bud

a bud in a bud

petal droop

petal droop

white on white

white on white

I like the conical hat on the gardener’s vehicle.

the gardener

the gardener

As we approach Daxue Lu (Road), we can see cars entering the main gate and a bunch of students dressed in blue T-shirts.  I ask them what they’re doing and they tell me they’re advertising a hotel.

a group advertises a hotel

a group advertises a hotel

Hotel advertiser

Hotel advertiser

Out past the entrance, we nearly get run over by bicycles and motorbikes.

Motorbikes

Motorbikes

bicycles and motorbikes

bicycles and motorbikes

A crowd of them are waiting for the light to turn green.

Waiting for green

Waiting for green

As we walk back inside the main gate, we find some circular garden features.

I spy

I spy

And we end up right back where we started from.

pathway

pathway

Later as we all go our separate ways, I walk past the lotus pond, which was nice and green when I arrived in September.  It’s now drying up and turning brown.

the browning of the lotus pond

the browning of the lotus pond

I actually find these photo walks a little boring, and I imagine if I do, the students probably do too.  I am now reconsidering whether to do my original idea of “Road Trip American Style” for my next six-week round of this class.  It will require more work on my part, but maybe it will be a little more interesting. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, English Interest Course, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning | Tags: , , , , , , | 16 Comments

returning from daxin to nanning & a surprise cake delivery

Sunday, October 26:  I have to catch the three-wheeled taxi to the Daxin bus station this morning for the 9:00 bus to Nanning.  I don’t eat any breakfast or drink anything again because I don’t know if the bus will make any stops for bathroom breaks along the way.  I flag down the taxi on the street and ask the for the bus station in Chinese and the taxi driver seems to understand.  Success!

Here’s my view out the back of the three-wheeled taxi.  As you can see, it’s actually a sunny day today with some blue skies and white fluffy clouds.  Too bad it wasn’t like this yesterday while I was at the waterfall!  Sadly, we can’t always choose our weather when we’re traveling.

view of Daxin from the back of the three-wheel taxi

view of Daxin from the back of the three-wheel taxi

And here’s my view over the taxi driver’s shoulder.

looking over the shoulder of the three-wheeled taxi driver

looking over the shoulder of the three-wheeled taxi driver

The bus station in Daxin is quite nice as far as bus stations go.  I’m surprised to find it nicer and newer than the train stations in either Nanning or Guilin.

Daxin Bus Station

Daxin Bus Station

I found it strange that my ticket to Nanning was only 52 yuan, while the ticket FROM Nanning TO Daxin was 74.  It made me question whether the bus ride was DIRECT to Nanning or one that makes a million stops along the way to pick up local passengers.  After I bought the ticket last evening, I had texted a photo of the ticket to Angela to have her confirm it was direct.   She said it was.

Soon after we get underway at 9:00, the bus makes a stop to pick up a bag of merchandise, which the driver puts in the compartment under the bus.

Within another 10 minutes, we stop to pick up some more passengers.  Uh-oh.  It’s quite a long stop, about 10 minutes, as we sit doing I don’t know what.  Some woman has gotten on the bus with a receipt book and is questioning various people.

Soon after that, we make ANOTHER stop where some kind of official-looking fellows in blue shirts walk up and down the aisles, checking out the passengers. At this third stop, within a half hour on what is supposed to be a DIRECT bus ride, I can’t help but call Angela to question the bus driver.  He confirms to her that it is a direct bus, but it had to stop for an inspection to make sure the number of the people on the bus didn’t exceed a certain number.  He didn’t address the other two stops.  He says the bus is due to arrive in Nanning at 12:30.  So the bus ride TO Nanning will be 3 1/2 hours, while the ride TO Daxin from Nanning was only 3 hours.  Hmmm.

After the bus driver talks to Angela, he doesn’t make any more stops to pick up passengers.  Thank goodness.  It would be a VERY long ride back to Nanning if he continued to do this.

I sit back and relax and enjoy the scenery out the window.  It’s beautiful.  I attempt to take a few shots of the rice and sugar cane fields and the karst landscape out the bus window with my iPhone.  Not great pictures, but you can get an idea of what I see.

Karst landscape out the bus window

Karst landscape out the bus window

flowering trees and farmland

flowering trees and farmland

out the bus window

out the bus window

karst and farmhouses

karst and farmhouses

rice fields

rice fields

During the bus ride, I’m getting more text messages from Lacey about the birthday cake delivery.  She tells me she’s figured out where I live.  She asks if she can bring the cake on Monday at the 20 minute break between my classes.  I tell her I’d prefer she bring it AFTER my classes end, at noon.  We agree on that time.

I also continue to get happy birthday text messages from a few of my student stragglers.

At 11:00, I’m happily surprised when the bus stops for a bathroom break at a highway rest area.  So maybe buses don’t stop for a three-hour trip but they stop if the trip is 3 1/2 hours or more!

I arrive in Nanning as planned at 12:30.  I take the 76 bus back to the university front gate.  I’m happy to be back home after that challenging journey.  Late in the afternoon, after I’m all settled in for the evening, I put on my pajamas and start looking through my pictures.

At 7:30 p.m. I get a phone call from Lacey.  “We’re here at your apartment with the cake!”  I say, “I’m in my pajamas!  I thought you were bringing the cake Monday after my class.”

I go out to the door and welcome them in.  They have a huge cake!!  They ask if they can take pictures.  I tell them I’d prefer they didn’t since I’m in my pajamas!!  It’s really awkward because after all those text messages and our final agreement that she’d bring the cake on Monday, I wasn’t at all expecting a delivery by three students, two girls and a boy, at my home while I’m sitting around in my pajamas!!

Monday, October 27: Today I invite my colleagues in the Experimental Building to come by my apartment for a piece of cake if they feel like it.  My friend Erica takes some pictures of me with the cake before I cut into it.  As you can see, it’s enough for an army!

Me with the cake box

Me with the cake box

I get her to take one picture of me sitting on the new Chinese bedding I bought myself for my birthday. 🙂

You can see the new Chinese bedding I bought for myself for my birthday

You can see the new Chinese bedding I bought for myself for my birthday

Here’s the cake.  Notice the tomato off center.  The Chinese consider tomato a fruit, which it is of course, and they add it to their fruit cakes.

The birthday cake!  Notice the tomato in the middle!

The birthday cake. Notice the tomato near the center.

Later in the afternoon, several other people come by to share the cake.  Here’s my friend Gavin.

Gavin helps me eat the cake!

Gavin helps me eat the cake!

On top of the visitors coming by to share my cake, the university also decided to replace many of the teachers’ computers and televisions.  I had one of those ancient box-like TVs that barely worked, and my computer didn’t work at all.  This afternoon, Chen, our man on the ground, brought me a brand new Sony flat-screen TV and a new Lenovo flat screen computer that works!  (I’ve been using my Mac since I got here.)  Even though of course these things belong to the university, they’re mine to use for this year.

I’d say overall it’s been a pretty memorable birthday for my last celebration before I hit the big 6-0.  One more year to go!

Categories: Asia, China, Daxin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Travel, Xi Xiang Coach Station | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

ban gioc – detian falls on the sino–vietnamese border

Saturday, October 25:  I originally intend to get up early and catch either the 7:15 or 8:00 bus to Detian Waterfall, but as it’s my birthday and I’m feeling lazy and comfortable, I sleep in a bit and then take my time getting ready.  Later I come to regret this.

I debate whether to wash my hair as I never managed to successfully communicate my desire to borrow a hair dryer.  I wash it after all because I’ll feel dirty all day if I don’t.  My hair looks horrible when it dries naturally, so I have to choose between feeling dirty or ugly.  I choose ugly!

I’m ready to leave the hotel with enough time to catch the 9:00 bus when I decide to ask one more time about a hair dryer.  I point to my wet hair and make the blow dryer gesture and whooshing sound again.  The receptionist is clueless.  I don’t know why the Chinese don’t get gestures.  I’ve used them to good effect all over the world, but here I find they generally don’t work.  In a last-ditch attempt, I look up “hair dryer” on my Pleco dictionary and show the girl.  Then I type in the word “borrow.”  Ah!  Her face lights up and she picks up the phone to housekeeping.  She knows enough to say, “Your room,” so I go upstairs to find the elusive hair dryer waiting patiently for my arrival.

Now I don’t have to live with my horrible hair all day!

Because of this delay, I’ll now miss the 9:00 bus.  I tell the three-wheeled taxi driver “qichezhan,” which sounds like “tsi-cho-jan,” which means “bus station.”  I have practiced this multiple times.  I have it on my Pleco dictionary too, just in case, as even when I try to pronounce Chinese words, people often don’t understand me.  Chinese is a tonal language, and if you don’t have the tones just right, you’re just as incomprehensible as if you’re speaking English.  The driver seems to understand me, but when we’re underway he asks me again: “qichezhan?” I show him the word on the dictionary and we both nod in agreement.

I have the same breakfast dilemma while traveling in China as I had when I traveled in Korea.  I never know what to eat for breakfast.  I believe the Chinese eat some kind of porridge, but I don’t know where to get it or if I’d even like it.  Luckily for me, the three-wheeled taxi driver stops at a street vendor to buy a kind of pancake-looking thing.  I buy one too.  It’s filled with some kind of cinnamon flavored stuffing, like a layer of icing, and the whole thing is rather like chewing on a piece of rawhide.  I guess it’s pastry, Chinese style.  This is the only thing I have to eat all day until dinner.

At the bus station, just as I feared, I have to go through the same hassle again of communicating my desire to buy a bus ticket to Detian.  I get the same treatment as last night.  I feel bad calling Angela at this hour of the morning, but I have no choice.  She straightens it out for me, and I buy a ticket for 10:00.

The bus is advertised to be 1 1/2 hours to Detian.  Because we stop to pick up every Haofan, Junru, and Yong along the way, and then stop again to drop them off, it takes nearly 2 1/2 hours.

During the bus ride, I get a text message from one of my students named Michael: “Happy Birthday!” with 20 cake icons.  He then tells me, “I give you a surprise you will receive our class the classmate’s blessing,” with three frog-smiley-faces.

At the same time, I’m getting multiple messages from a girl named Lacey from the Student Union. On Friday, I had gotten a message from her saying she had a cake to deliver for my birthday; she wanted to bring it Saturday. I told her I was going away and wouldn’t be back until Sunday.  Simultaneous to getting Michael’s message, I am exchanging multiple messages from Lacey trying to arrange the time and place to bring me the cake.  The time keeps changing, the date keeps changing.  She doesn’t know where I live, the cake shop has a problem, on and on for about 20 messages!

Soon after Michael’s message, I start getting buzzes on my phone as each of the 36 students from that class sends me individual happy birthday messages in turn.  I start to answer “Thank you!” to each of them and then I notice my battery power is quickly dissipating.  I cannot be without my phone; I desperately need my Pleco dictionary and my lifeline to Angela! I immediately turn off my phone so I won’t use up the battery.

By the time I arrive at Detian, it’s almost 12:30.   I buy the entry ticket for 80 yuan (~$13) and, confused, try to determine where the entrance is.  It’s not in the logical place, behind the ticket booth.   I finally make my way up the street shown below, across and catty-corner to the ticket booth.

walking up the road to Detian Waterfall

walking up the road to Detian Waterfall

I’m disappointed in the weather today.  It’s gray, hazy, and very sticky.  I’ve always been lucky to have great weather on my birthday.  I can’t even remember a time when I’ve had bad weather.  But today is not a pretty day.  I’ve seen pictures of Detian Waterfall with beautiful blue skies behind it.  I won’t get pictures such as these.

I walk down a steep stepped path to the river’s edge.  As I descend the path, I see my first view of the waterfall.  The one on the right is Detian Waterfall.  The one on the left is Ban Gioc, on the Vietnam side.

First view: Ban Gioc Waterfall on the left (Vietnam side) and Detian on the right

First view: Ban Gioc Waterfall on the left (Vietnam side) and Detian on the right

The Guichun River originates from Jingxi County in Guangxi province, China; it is more than 150 km long, winding 35 km through Vietnam, then back into Guangxi.  The local residents call it “Guichun River”, which means “return back.”  When the Guichun River arrives at the bluff in Detian Village, Daxin County, it culminates in Detian Waterfall.

First view of Detian Waterfall

First view of Detian Waterfall

Detian Waterfall is a three-drop waterfall, 70 meters in height. During the monsoon season, the waterfalls on both sides connect into a waterfall that is 200 meters wide.  The average annual flow is 50 cubic meters / sec. It is the fourth largest cross-border waterfall in the world, following the Brazil-Argentina Iguazu Falls, Zambia- Zimbabwe Victoria Falls, and the United States-Canada Niagara Falls, and the first in Asia (China Travel Guide: Guangxi Detian Waterfall: wonders on the border line).

the fabulous Detian Waterfall

the fabulous Detian Waterfall

I see that some people are taking bamboo rafts right up to the base of the waterfall.  I see a sign for 30 yuan and I ask the fifteen or so boatmen sitting around what time the boat goes and how long the ride takes. I’m a little concerned about time because I’m hoping to also visit Mingshi Scenic Area after the waterfall.  I don’t want to pay the money, and then go sit on a boat waiting forever for the boat to collect enough people to go out on the river.  Of course, I can’t get an answer from any of the boatmen sitting around.  In frustration, I say, “NEVER MIND!”  and continue to walk along the path.

Bamboo rafts and Detian Waterfall

Bamboo rafts and Detian Waterfall

peek at Detian Waterfall

peek at Detian Waterfall

boat rooftops and Detian Waterfall

boat rooftops and Detian Waterfall

Detian Waterfall

Detian Waterfall

As I walk along the paved path, I pass lots of Chinese tourists and I get closer to the falls.  The Chinese are posing for pictures everywhere.

right side of Detian

right side of Detian

Detian Waterfall with a raft in front

Detian Waterfall with a raft in front

side view of Detian Waterfall

side view of Detian Waterfall

One young lady asks if she can take a picture of me with her husband and daughter.  I agree to do it, and while I have her attention, I ask if she’ll take a picture of me with my camera.

me at Detian Waterfall on my birthday 2014

me at Detian Waterfall on my 59th birthday

the Chinese view of Detian Waterfall

the Chinese view of Detian Waterfall

Steep paved steps lead up along the side of the waterfall, where I get a close-up view of the water pouring over the rocks.

a hidden gem

a hidden gem

walking up the side of the waterfall

walking up the side of the waterfall

further up

further up

At a higher level, there’s a viewing platform, where you can see more levels through the trees.

a peek at another waterfall coming into Detian

a peek at another waterfall coming into Detian

closer peek

closer peek

Going inland, there are more streams and waterfalls feeding into Detian.  At each one of these scenic spots, I have to wait for a pair of Chinese girls to take photos of each other before I can take my own pictures.  It seems those two young ladies are on the exact timetable I’m on, so I have to wait for them at every spot along the way.

another tributary

another tributary

and another stream still

and another stream still

As I walk further up, I come across a little Buddhist shrine.  A Chinese man speaks to me in English.  “I’m a Buddhist,” he says.  I’m surprised because I don’t think there are any Buddhists in China, at least not any that would admit it.  He asks where I’m from, what I’m doing here, etc.  It’s nice to speak to someone in English.

As I continue up the path, I pass yet another waterfall flowing down to merge with the bigger falls.

another waterfall flowing into Detian further up the path

another waterfall flowing into Detian further up the path

Finally I reach a long paved road where white ponies are lined up.  I guess the handlers are selling rides, but there are no takers.  The ponies look a little bored.

a line of white ponies all decked out

a line of white ponies all decked out

As I continue up the road, I see a long line of stalls with vendors selling Vietnamese goods.  Some of the things look enticing, but I don’t want to spend my money.  Besides, I was warned by one of my colleagues that everything sold by these vendors is fake or a knock-off.

pretty little vessels for sale by Vietnamese vendors

pretty little vessels for sale by Vietnamese vendors

Vietnamese vendors lined up on the way to the border

Vietnamese vendors lined up on the way to the border

At the end of the row of vendors is a view of the karst landscape.

view near the border

view near the border

And suddenly, a hive of activity in a colorful market is all around me.

Next to the bustling market is the legendary No. 53 boundary tablet that demarcates the border between China and Vietnam in French and Chinese.  It was established by the French colonial government and the Qing government in 1888.  The tablet is engraved in Chinese and French: “China Guangxi border.”  There is a huge crowd around this marker, and I don’t feel like waiting for the crowd to part, so I don’t get a picture.

The border line was confirmed in mid-June 2006. The Chinese government re-established a No. 835 boundary tablet in 2008; now that has replaced the old boundary marker No. 53. Near the tablet are the Vietnamese bazaars.

Vietnam 835 marker

Vietnam 835 marker

I make my way back down the row of stalls and follow the same path back down to the river that I took when I came.  I have decided that my visit won’t be complete unless I can take the boat up to the waterfall.

At one point I come across this lady doing a silly curtsying pose.

Chinese poser

Chinese poser

Finally, I get to the boat dock and hand over 30 yuan because I can see a boat is almost filled, meaning it will pull out soon.  I hop on that boat and we’re off momentarily.

All of my boat mates are busily snapping photos.  I am right there with them.

on a boat full of Chinese tourists

on a boat full of Chinese tourists

We head toward the far side of the river, where I get a different view.

view of Detian from the raft

view of Detian from the raft

Immediately some Vietnamese vendors approach our boat, trying to make some quick sales.  They’re offering coffee and other Vietnamese snacks.

Vietnamese vendors with Ban Gioc in the background

Vietnamese vendors with Ban Gioc in the background

A cozy group of four young foreigners is climbing around on the Vietnam side.  These are the only foreigners I see all weekend.

Ban Gioc Falls on the Vietnam side

Ban Gioc Falls on the Vietnam side

Ban Gioc Falls

Ban Gioc Falls

Getting closer to the falls

Getting closer to the falls

I find this girl’s expression hilarious as she takes a selfie.

Love the look on this Chinese girl's face as she takes a selfie! :-)

Love the look on this Chinese girl’s face as she takes a selfie! 🙂

approaching the falls

approaching the falls

A number of fishermen are busy at the top of the falls.

fisherman

fisherman

As we get closer we can hear the roar of the water.  Everyone’s running around the boat trying to get good pictures.

feeling the power of the falls

feeling the power of the falls

We get closer, and closer….until we all get sprayed!

we close in and all get sprayed

we close in and all get sprayed

Then we head for the shore.

floating to the right side

floating to the right side

looking back

looking back

the raft following behind us

the raft following behind us

last look at the falls from the boat

last look at the falls from the boat

On the shore, we step off the boat, and I start heading back.  By now it’s nearly 3:00.

view over the boats again

view over the boats again

I get one last glimpse of the waterfall before I head out of the park.

View of Ban Gioc

View of Detian as I leave the park

Outside the entrance, this huge poster shows Chinese movies that were shot at Detian Falls.

Chinese movies filmed at Detian

Chinese movies filmed at Detian

more Chinese movies filmed at Detian

more Chinese movies filmed at Detian

When I get back to the bus parking lot, I have no idea how to find a bus that will take me back to Daxin.  There are about 15 buses and numerous vans sitting around in a huge dirt parking lot.  Many of the buses are for tour groups. I have no idea where to go or what to do.  I ask a few people but no one speaks any English.  Again and again, I find that if someone I approach doesn’t speak English, they don’t want to help at all.  They pretend I don’t exist, blatantly ignoring me or simply walking away.  I’m really surprised by the amount of rudeness I encounter this weekend.  It’s not like traveling in Yangshuo, which thrives on tourism.

Even though it’s getting late in the afternoon, I still have it in my mind to go directly to Mingshi Scenic Area, which we passed on the bus ride to Detian this morning. It looked like a picturesque and charming spot.   I know it’s on the road back to Daxin.  I get a few offers by van drivers to take me to Mingshi for 100-150 yuan.  I know this is a rip-off because I paid 17 yuan for the bus all the way from Daxin this morning. I continue to look.

Finally, I give up and call Angela.  I don’t even know who to let her talk to as there is no central bus station, just a parking lot.  I see a tourist information booth and take my phone to a guy who hunches down behind his desk when he sees me approach, looking down at some papers as if he’s too busy to deal with me.  I thrust my phone (with Angela on it) at him and he jerks back as if I’m trying to attack him.  I say, “Please, talk to my friend!”  Of course that’s all gibberish to him, but I don’t back away.  Finally, he takes the phone and talks to Angela.  She finds that I need to look for a middle-sized van to take me directly to Daxin.  If I want to go to Mingshi, I will need to pay the private van the 100-150 yuan.

I find a van going to Daxin that charges 15 yuan and I hop on.  As we start to drive, I have the brilliant idea that I can just ask the driver to drop me at Mingshi on his way to Daxin.  Thus I will be paying only 15 yuan rather than 150.  When I call poor Angela back again to have her arrange this, I’m told that the van takes a different route back and does not pass by Mingshi.

I guess I have to resign myself to the fact that I’ve traveled all this distance and I will only see one thing on this trip: Detian Waterfall.  I already this morning purchased my return trip ticket to Nanning for 9 a.m. tomorrow, Sunday, morning.  Even if I hadn’t, I’d be too nervous about going to Mingshi and making it back to Nanning all on the same day, with the complicated and unreliable transportation issues.

The van driver luckily doesn’t make any stops.  Though normally I would take issue with someone who drives like a crazy man, I’m happy that he drives this way because it means the ride back is short!  At times like this, I don’t worry enough about my safety.  There is such pretty scenery to look at on the ride back. White birch trees lining the road interspersed with flowering trees.  Sugar cane fields. Rice paddies and rice terraces.  Karsts all around.  And even one karst in the shape of Casper the Friendly Ghost, waving happily away.

When I arrive back in Daxin, I take a short walk down a random street and, not seeing much of interest, I head for the hotel restaurant.  I’ve hardly eaten a thing all day, so I’m famished.  I order the same greens with yellow flowers on them, rice and a beer, and sit at a table in the cavernous and empty restaurant.  This time I’m seated at a smaller table near the window.  A pretty lonely birthday party, I have to say.

Dining out at the hotel

Dining out at the hotel

In my room, I get comfortable and settle in to watch a Chinese station with various musical artists.  Most of the music is quite pleasant.  I also watch some kind of American Idol-type show where I get to see a Chinese Michael Jackson.   Not exactly my most exciting birthday ever, but at least I had an adventure and avoided getting lost forever in China.

 

Categories: Asia, China, Daxin, Detian Waterfall, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guichun River, Míngshì Tiányuán, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

a trek to daxin ~ in transit to detian waterfall

Friday, October 24:  I have done a lot to prepare for my weekend trip to Ban Gioc – Detian Waterfall on the Sino-Vietnamese border.  Many of my colleagues have warned me about the various challenges I’ll encounter: “It’s not like Yangshuo; no one will speak English!”  “It was a nightmare!  It took us 7 hours to get there, we had 50 minutes to see the waterfall, then we had to be back on the bus for another 7 hours!” (This was on a one-day tour). “It’s not easy, the roads are bad.” “Most of my friends take the one day tour.” “Don’t take the one-day tour!”

Of course, I’m not to be deterred.  I spent last weekend making a list of all the places in the south of China and southeast Asia that I want to visit while I’m here, and as you can imagine, the list is extensive.  I have to get busy!  Plus it’s my birthday weekend, and I want an adventure to break up the drudgery of work.  I know the waterfall is only 245 km from Nanning, which doesn’t seem that far.  I think of how in Oman I’d drive 170 km from Nizwa to Muscat in a day, and sometimes even come back the same day.  I really can’t imagine how it can be that bad.  Of course, Oman is a country of only 2.7 million people whereas Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region alone has 46.8 million!

I have class until noon today, and my amazing student assistant Angela has secured a 2:00 bus ticket from Nanning’s Xi Xiang Coach Station to Daxin, a smallish town on the way to Detian.  Angela also did the research and booked a room for me at the Elido Hotel.  She wrote down in Chinese a lot of the information I would need along the way, such as the name of the bus station in Nanning (there are 3), the name of the bus station in Daxin, the name of the hotel, the onward ticket information from Daxin to Detian, etc.  She’s also told me to call her any time I need for her to talk to someone in Chinese.  Little does she know what she’s signing up for!

Vital information in Chinese from Angela

Vital information in Chinese from Angela

During the week, I also had some of my students write various places in Chinese in a little notebook, including the Langdong Bus Station on the east side of Nanning (where the one-day tour originates); Tongling Grand Canyon,  37 km from Detian, and Mingshi Scenic Area, also known as “Little Guilin,” which sits between Daxin and Detian. This is just in case I have time to see some other things.

Since my class ends at noon, I rush home, drop my books, pick up my already-packed bag, and walk to the front gate of the university, about 0.6 miles. There Angela has given me a list of buses to take to the bus station.  I walk across the huge street to the side where buses go into the city center, but luckily I don’t just get on one of the buses she’s listed.  I show random people the name of the bus station on my phone, and everyone points to the other side of the street, where buses head to the western outskirts of Nanning.  That makes more sense.  At the bus stop on the other side of the road, closest to the university, I ask around and people point out buses #76, #207 or #222.  Those numbers don’t match with Angela’s numbers at all.  I get on the #76 and arrive at the Xi Xiang Coach Station about 30 minutes later.  By this time it’s about 1:15, so I have about 45 minutes to spare.  Step one, done.

Since I don’t know the routine with the buses in China, and I’ve gotten mixed reviews, I have no idea if the bus will really take three hours, as scheduled, or if it will take longer, with numerous stops along the way.  I also have no idea how often, if at all, the bus stops for bathroom breaks.  As I tend to worry that I’ll have to go to the bathroom and won’t be able to, I don’t eat or drink anything for lunch today.

After we’re about an hour outside Nanning, the karst landscape magically appears.  It seems the karsts are everywhere in Guangxi except in Nanning.  In the Expressway median strip are tropical flowering bushes and trees in yellow, pink, and lavender.  Spiked leafy green plants jut up like wild hairdos between the flowering trees. The scenery is beautiful, but being on a bus, I can’t take any pictures that will be worth looking at.

This karst landscape surrounds us all the way to Daxin.  I imagine being on a bicycle here.  It’s just as pretty as Yangshuo, but less touristy and less crowded.  Fields of rice and sugar cane spread out in tidy patches around the towering limestone karsts.

When we leave the Expressway for two-lane rural roads, the flowering trees continue to line the roads all the way to Daxin.  It’s such a welcoming sight, this landscape.

It turns out the bus ride is exactly three hours, as advertised.  The bus makes no stops at any rest areas for general bathroom breaks. However, at one point during the drive, a mother drags her little girl to the front of the bus and the bus driver pulls over to let the little girl get out, squat in an open field, and pee into the grass in plain sight of everyone.

When I traveled by bus in South Korea, I finally figured out that bus drivers stopped every 2 hours for bathroom breaks.  This seemed to be a predictable schedule.  At this point in China, I still don’t know:  Do the buses EVER stop for bathroom breaks? How much time has to pass before they do stop?

When I arrive at Daxin bus station, I’m surprised at how nice and clean it is.  I was told Daxin is a small town, but somehow these towns in China don’t ever seem small.  Compared to Nanning it certainly is small.  But compared to what I think of a small town in America, like Bennington, Vermont for example, Daxin is not small. 

Getting off the bus, I head to the ticket window to buy a ticket for Detian Waterfall tomorrow (Saturday) morning.   I want to know the timetable and have my ticket so I can plan my morning.  I have “Detian Waterfall” written in several places, which I show to the ticket person.  She shoves my Chinese characters back at me and starts babbling in Chinese.  I wonder why she thinks I can understand her when I just showed her what I wanted in writing and obviously can’t speak any Chinese?  When I continue to stand at her window and point to my Chinese writing, she waves her hand as if to brush me away, and beckons to the person behind me to approach the window.  I’m shoved aside just like that.  There is no attempt to help me at all.

I don’t leave the window, so the people behind me crowd and slowly push me to the side.  I’m frustrated and angry at the woman’s rudeness.  I do what I had hoped not to do:  I call Angela.  At the next break in the tide of people, I push my phone at the woman and she and Angela have what turns out to be quite a long conversation.

Angela tells me that I don’t need to buy the ticket for Detian ahead of time.  The buses leave starting at 7:15 in the morning, and every hour thereafter, so I just show up and buy the ticket then.  Of course that means I’ll have to go through the same rigmarole in the morning.

I head outdoors to where the three-wheeled taxis are lined up.  I still happen to have Angela on the phone, so she tells the driver the name of the hotel, and I sit in the back of an open-air canopied truck bed on a side bench, behind a driver sitting on what looks like a motorbike.  I get dropped at my hotel for 5 yuan (less than a dollar).  I pick up the business card at the reception desk so I’ll have it in Chinese.  It says “Elido Hotles.”

I settle into my room, which isn’t too bad for 128 yuan a night, or less than $22.

My room at Elido "Hotles"

My room at Elido “Hotles”

The bathroom is simple and modern.

Fancy bathroom at my Daxin hotel

Fancy bathroom at my Daxin hotel

Since I haven’t eaten all day, I go out in search of a restaurant.  This is not Yangshuo, or even Nanning.  Yangshuo has most menus written in Chinese and English, with pictures as well.  Nanning sometimes has pictures, and sometimes things are written in English.  But here in Daxin, there are no pictures or English words.  I have no idea what to order.  It’s frustrating because I’m starving.  Of course I could eat; I could just sit at a table and point to something and hope for the best.  In China, that’s risky business.  You don’t know what you’ll get.  I try to ask one restaurant owner about a picture over her door that looks like it has vegetables and tofu.  My Pleco translation dictionary says it’s “doufu” in Pinyin.  I say the word, I show her the word.   All I get is a string of incomprehensible Chinese words and then she turns her back and walks away.

Finally, I return in defeat to the hotel.  There’s a restaurant on the second floor.  It’s a huge banquet restaurant with round tables covered in gold tablecloths.  The tables are huge, seating 10 people.  The restaurant is empty except for me, and I ask the hostess if I can eat.  She nods and shows me a menu.  Using Pleco, I ask if I can have vegetables.  She and another woman pull me back to the kitchen where all the vegetables are stored in refrigerators and plastic bins.  They pull out various vegetables to show me.  I point to some greens with tiny yellow flowers at the ends and some eggplant.

The ladies seat me at a huge banquet table all alone, bring a beer at my request, and then bring out the two cooked dishes.  A small sinewy Chinese man in a chef’s hat plops down at my table.  “Hello!” he says with a huge grin. I say, “Hello!  You speak English?”  “No, no,” he says, waving his hand back and forth. He just looks at me and smiles.  I guess it’s like me when I say “Ni hao.”  Because I say Hello in Chinese, people think I can speak Chinese, and start babbling away.

This meal is too much food for just me!  I’m hungry, and I make a grand effort, but I can no way finish all that food on my own.  In China, to not eat all my food always feels wasteful, and I hate leaving most of it behind.

After dinner, and before heading up to my room to relax, I try to ask the hotel receptionist if they have a hair dryer I can borrow.  I make a gesture like I’m drying my hair, and the woman pulls me outside and points down the street.  I say, “No, no, I don’t want to buy a hair dryer, I just want to borrow one,” but of course she can’t understand me.  She continues to point down the street.  Maybe she thinks I want to buy one, or maybe she’s pointing to a hair salon.  Who knows?  I should have thought to use my Pleco dictionary, but I didn’t.  I just thought she should be able to understand my hair-drying gesture, but I’m obviously not very good at Charades!

I head up to my room to relax and read and check out the array of strange Chinese TV shows. There’s nothing on of any interest, so I drift off in the cloud-like bed. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese language, Daxin, Detian Waterfall, Elido Hotel, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Míngshì Tiányuán, Nanning, Sino-Vietnamese border, South Korea, Tongling Grand Canyon, Travel, Xi Xiang Coach Station | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

my english interest course {2nd stop: the athletic field}

Tuesday, October 21:  This afternoon, my English Interest Course on “Storytelling Photography” goes on an outing to the university athletic field, a sprawling concrete area with a track, outdoor basketball courts, exercise equipment and people doing all manner of exercise from playing baseball to doing yoga to running / walking around the track to taking dance / aerobics classes.  I gave this outing as an option last week and the students picked it.

I think it might be interesting, but it’s not.

Exercise class

Dance class

I’m not a big fan of sports in general, and it’s quite a hot day.  We wander around taking pictures of some of the various activities that are going on.  It’s actually the most boring outing I could have ever devised.  The 45 minutes or so that we are there seems like an eternity.  I think when I do this course in the second half of the semester, I’ll cross this one off my list.

Exercise class

Exercise class

classes on the athletic field

classes on the athletic field

One of the other English Interest Course teachers is teaching an exercise/yoga class, so we stop to take pictures.

another English Interest Course

another English Interest Course

Squat!

Warrior 1 pose!

The track

The track

Yet another English Interest Course teacher is teaching baseball as his subject, so we stop to watch his class. The girls are fashionably dressed, as they always are, which surprises me when I see them involved in sports activities.

the pitcher at the baseball game

the pitcher at the baseball game

running for home

running for home

a hit!

a hit!

up to bat

up to bat

pitcher

pitcher

Here are some random pictures.  It’s not great or even interesting photography, but I’m trying to document some of my life in China.

One of the students tells me that in order to pass the physical fitness exam, they must do 10 pull-ups on the pull-up bars, lifting the upper part of their bodies above the bar. I ask my students how many they can do, and most say 3-4.  Doing 10 is the passing score.  To get 100%, they must do 18.  I tried to do one pull-up and I couldn’t even do that.  I’m such a weakling.

One of my students has an interesting tattoo.  He says there’s a story behind it, but he doesn’t really want to share the story.

tattoo

tattoo

This afternoon, I walk out of my classroom building to find a group of girls practicing a dance routine with sticks in their mouths. One explains, as she takes the stick out of her mouth and laughs with embarrassment, that they hold the sticks in their mouths because it reminds them, or forces them, to smile!

I mention to a fellow teacher that when I first came, I was fascinated by all the group sport and dance activities on every street corner. But now I don’t see it as odd anymore, just a matter of routine. It’s amazing how quickly strange things become normal when you immerse yourself in a foreign culture!

When I first arrived in September, I would often walk by the athletic field in the evening on my way to the campus supermarket.  At twilight, I would see hundreds, maybe thousands, of bats, flitting about in the sky.  It freaked me out a little. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, English Interest Course, Guangxi University, Guangxi University Athletic Field, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Sports, Teaching English as a Second Language, Travel | 27 Comments

a pensive walk around the agricultural college of guangxi university

Sunday, October 19:  I spend this entire weekend not talking to a soul.  So, I feel pretty depressed and lonely as I go out for a bicycle ride and a walk around the East Campus this Sunday morning.  I want to walk around the grounds of the Agricultural College because there’s a lot of farmland on this part of the campus.  The residences look different as well, and several somewhat scenic ponds dot the area.  I already made a long trek yesterday to the Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden, so today I want to stay close to home while having a little change of scenery.

farmland around the Agricultural College

farmland around the Agricultural College

Luckily I did speak by Skype to Mike, plus I had some nice back and forth “comment” banter with fellow blogger Dai of An Englishman’s life in Kathmandu and Jo of Restless Jo.  I also shared some Facebook comments with people.  That’s kind of sad when your only communication is through a computer screen.

a house overtaken by nature

a house overtaken by nature

I’ve found it hard to connect with anyone here in China, other than on a superficial level, for several reasons.  The other teachers certainly seem friendly enough.  That’s not it.  It’s more just an inability to find people with the same interests and energy level as me.

wall & foliage

wall & foliage

farmland

farmland

It seems that the younger teachers gravitate toward their cohorts; I can’t say I blame them for that.  I did the same when I was their age.

more farmland

more farmland

a farmer wearing a reflective conical hat

a farmer wearing a reflective conical hat

All of the other teachers, bar none, have been in China for years; I am the ONLY teacher here who has just arrived in the country.  Those expats have traveled extensively and seem to be content to just hang around close to home on weekends.

greenhouses

greenhouses

a glimpse of a pond

a glimpse of a pond

reflections

reflections

A lot of people work part-time jobs outside of the university, doing online teaching or teaching kindergarten or private students.  Other people are involved in work that doesn’t involve teaching English.  Many of the older men here have Chinese wives and the younger men have Chinese girlfriends, so they’re occupied with their partners.

storage sheds behind apartment buildings

storage sheds behind apartment buildings

a murky pond

a murky pond

Sometimes I ask my colleagues what they did on the weekend, and they say they worked all weekend or they “did nothing.”  Or they are trying to complete a graduate degree and had a paper due. Some people have told me they’re here to make money and don’t want to make any friends or go out spending money.

more brick storage units

more brick storage units

If someone is trying to make money, I honestly can’t figure out why on earth they came to China.  I make less than half of what i made in Oman. Even Korea and Japan pay better than China, if the Middle East is not someone’s cup of tea.

apartment buildings

apartment buildings

laundry peeking from behind shrubbery

laundry peeks from behind shrubbery

Because of this lack of connection with anyone, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated.  I feel isolated and disconnected.  It doesn’t help that we have offices at the university that no one uses.  Sure, I can go use mine, but no one else will be there.  We go to class and then we sometimes go have lunch after class, and then everyone disappears into their own worlds.

apartment building on the East Campus

apartment building on the East Campus

another apartment building

another apartment building

It’s a paradox that I’m happy to NOT have to keep office hours, yet I’m disappointed that I’m missing the socializing that often occurs in the office.  At this college, much like at Northern Virginia Community College, no office hours are required.  We do our preparation and marking at home, show up for class, and go back home.  In Oman, I had to come into the office every day from 8-4.  Though I hated having to keep office hours, especially when I didn’t have enough work to fill my time, I did like the opportunity to socialize.  I made my closest friends in the university office:  Mario, Kathy, Anna, Tahira, Mona Lisa.  We became friends by hanging out and chatting in the office.

isolated house along the pond

isolated house along the pond

peeking from foliage

peeking from foliage

In Oman, it took five months before Mario and I became friends.  And it took even longer to become best of friends; of course every friendship needs time to develop.  I keep reminding myself it took that long.  I don’t even really hope to find a friend like Mario; friends like him in life are very rare indeed.  But I do keep hoping to find a partner in crime, someone who is not desperate to save money, someone who likes to go out and explore, someone who enjoys photography, someone who guards their free time and doesn’t let work encroach on it.  Someone laid back, yet with a sense of adventure.  It hasn’t happened yet.

a lonely road

a lonely road

I don’t understand people who say they don’t want to have friends while here.  That makes for a lonely existence.  Sure, it’s great to be here to save money, but what about a life?  I’ve always been a person who likes to balance work and pleasure.  Just like everyone else, I have a lot of preparation and marking to do, but I’m determined not to work on weekends.  I’m certainly not interested in taking on extra work.

I could be happy here, despite missing my husband and family.  My job is actually one of the better jobs I’ve ever had.  The students are sweet and hardworking, and I like the way the teaching schedule is set up.  I don’t have much of a commute.  I’m finished at noon three days a week, and one day I don’t go in until 2:40 and finish at 5:00.  I only have to prepare four 80-minute classes a week, because I repeat the same classes for different students.

The only negatives really are the isolation, the hot and sticky weather, and the oily food that sometimes makes me sick.  Oh, and the fact that sometimes the air conditioners don’t work in our classrooms; this makes me very grumpy.  🙂

cheery flowers

cheery flowers

This weekend, even though I had work I could have done, and I had plenty of free time on my hands, I didn’t do any work.  I went on two outings, I took and edited a lot of photos, I wrote 3 blog posts, I watched Mad Men, which I’m now addicted to, and I spent hours researching places I could explore in Guangxi province over the coming weekends.  I don’t have a long break until February, but at least twice a month, I could go on a weekend trip.  If I have to go it alone, then so be it.  I’m no stranger to traveling alone.

keeping shop

keeping shop

Tonight, I am feeling pretty melancholy, and it doesn’t help that I had a big glass of wine and watched one of my all-time favorite movies, Cairo Time, which tends to make me cry.  I have no idea how many times I’ve watched this movie.  I love it because it reminds me of my time in Cairo during the month of July in 2007.  That was the first time I’d ever been to such an exotic place alone, and I never felt so alive, so aware of every moment.  In all of my travels since Cairo, 16 countries in 5 years, I’ve always hoped to recapture that feeling of overwhelming awe that I had in Cairo.  I’ve never experienced anything to match it since.

wispy flowers

wispy flowers

pretty pond

pretty pond

I just have to keep in mind my goals of travel, and forge ahead alone if necessary.  I have plenty to blog about and plenty of pictures to take.  I can watch TV series like Mad Men, watch movies, and read.  I have a lot of books on my Kindle.  And I can keep going out for walks and bicycle rides.  I’m also due to start a free Basic Chinese class this Wednesday evening.  That will be a fun challenge.

And of course I’ll look forward to having Mike come to visit in February, when we can travel around together.  Though he’ll only be here for two weeks, I really hope someone else will come to visit, like my sons, or any of my friends.  Anyone is welcome to visit while I’m here in China.  I would love to have visitors!

I doubt I’ll never find a partner in crime like Mario, but at least I hope there’s someone here in China who I can connect with on a deeper level.  Otherwise my time in China will be an awfully lonely time.

Categories: Agricultural College of Guangxi University, Asia, Bicycle tour, China, Chinese language, Chinese language class, East Campus, Expat life, Friendship, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Teaching English as a Second Language, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

the guangxi medicinal plant garden

Saturday, October 18:  This afternoon, I go on an expedition to The Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden.  My apartment at Guangxi University is on the northwest side of Nanning, and this garden is on the northeast, so it is quite a haul to get there.  I showed the Nanning map to my students on Friday to ask about a bus, and they told me it would take an hour on the 66 from the university main gate, or 1 1/2 hours on bus 44.  I checked out a map and figured out if I went to the university’s west gate, I could catch a taxi and take the expressway.  That would be a lot faster and thus worth the extra cost.

Little do I know the expressway will be clogged.  We’re stuck in traffic much of the way, and of course the meter is running the whole time.  It costs me 45 yuan (~$7.34) to get there.  Oh well, if I go back again, I’ll try the bus.

The taxi driver doesn’t know where the entrance to the garden is; he drops me in the middle of conglomeration of garden shops.  I have to walk quite a distance from here to get to the entrance.  On the way, I pass these crazy sea urchin sculptures.

some crazy statues I pass as I make my way to the Medicinal Plant Garden

some crazy statues I pass as I make my way to the Medicinal Plant Garden

I pay the entry fee of 15 yuan (~$2.45) and go in.  There are apparently all kinds of medicinal plants in the garden, but I don’t bother to read most of the placards, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to give much information.  Surprisingly the signs are written in Chinese and English, so at least I could read them if I wanted to.  I’m more interested in just walking around in a park, away from the city, enjoying nature and taking pictures.

First I come to a long flight of steps with blocks balanced on their points.  I think the middle steps are supposed to hold a waterfall, but no water is running today.

I see some tall stands of bamboo beside a pond.

bamboo

bamboo

striped bamboo

striped bamboo

I try to get my bearings by studying a signpost, while a Chinese girl poses for her boyfriend in the background.

Vain Medicine Section Herb Section

Vain Medicine Section Herb Section

This sign calls the garden to the left the Vain Medicine Section, but another sign says it’s the Ethnic Medicine used by minorities in Guangxi such as Zhuang, Yao, Miao, etc.

Ethnic Medicine Section

Ethnic Medicine Section

Ethnic Medicine Section

Ethnic Medicine Section

pathways under trellises covered in vines

pathways under trellises covered in vines

It seems to me that this place is really just a big botanical garden that’s a little scruffier than ones I’m used to seeing in the West.

Entrance

Entrance

red buds

red buds

colored leaves

colored leaves

Click on any of the pictures below to see a full-sized slide show.

I walk under a really cool arbor tunnel covered with flowers and vines.

arbor

arbor

side view of the arbor

side view of the arbor

from inside the arbor

from inside the arbor

outside view of the arbor

outside view of the arbor

the arbor from afar

the arbor from afar

The far end of the arbor opens up to a butterfly garden.

There are a lot of beautiful plants and pathways and arbors to see, and although the garden is not perfectly manicured and maintained, it is quite pleasant.  It must be tough to exert control over a garden in a tropical climate such as this.  The garden just wants to grow wild.

rock carving

rock carving

pretty path

pretty path

It’s quite warm today, nearly 88 degrees and 75% humidity.  Earlier this week we had some cooler days, so I was hoping that summer was over.  I guess I was wrong.

curvy path

curvy path

girl with umbrella on curvaceous path

girl with umbrella on curvaceous path

dry creek bed

dry creek bed

The Rattan Gallery consists of a vine corridor 1000 meters long adjacent to a woody garden and an artificial lake.  Four hundred meters of this is paved with ancient boat wood.  More than 200 species of medicinal vine plants including flower vine, fruit vine, and vegetable vine are displayed on the corridor.

Rattan Gallery

Rattan Gallery

the artificial lake

the artificial lake

wood garden

wood garden

pretty flowers along the lake

pretty flowers along the lake

coral flowers

coral flowers

vine corridor

vine corridor

vine corridor

vine corridor

from behind the vine corridor

from behind the vine corridor

bridge back from the lake to the forest garden

bridge back from the lake to the forest garden

purple and green leaves

purple and green leaves

pathway bordered by whimsical white flowers

pathway bordered by whimsical white flowers

whimsical white flower

whimsical white flower

pretty colors

pretty colors

the pathway out

the pathway out

By this time, I’m hot and tired from all that walking, so I head out to the road and flag down a taxi.  This time there’s hardly any traffic and I make it home quickly for only 31 yuan.

Little by little, I’m learning about what Nanning has to offer.  It’s a huge city, so I doubt I’ll ever learn it all, but hopefully I can become familiar with a few areas.

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

my english interest course: storytelling photography {1st stop: the market}

Tuesday, October 14: Before I came to work at the university in China, I was asked to prepare an English Interest Course (EIC), which I would teach to about 20 students for 6 one-hour sessions.  I was told the course should be something about Western culture, or anything that you would teach in an English Corner.

Taking the assignment seriously, I went to great lengths to prepare a course called “Road Trips American Style.” I found several movies from which I would show excerpts:  Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Thelma & Louise.  I also found a lot of great literature about road trips. I planned to use excerpts from some of these: an essay by Ann Patchett about a trip in a Winnebago, “My Road to Hell was Paved;” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig; American Nomads by Richard Grant, Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon; and Travels with Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck.  I also prepared a Power Point presentation about different modes of travel, using photos of everything from bicycles to Airstreams to Volkswagen buses.  I planned to prepare more presentations on types of hotels, sights to see, types of roads.  The final goal was to have students research and present their own one week road trip, deciding on which vehicle to use, what roads to take, what sights to see, what hotels to stay in and what restaurants to eat in.

Way too ambitious!!

So much for my great plans.  When I got here, I was told that the EIC courses are meant to be fun and light.  Some of the courses taught are yoga, sports, photography, etc.  My course would have involved too much reading and preparation, too much work.  The literature excerpts would have been too difficult and too time-consuming.  Thus I had to rethink my course.

In Oman, I had prepared a course for an English Corner about places to visit in America.  In Oman, the English Corner was voluntary, and thus no one ever showed up.  Here, the students are required to attend one of these courses for a course credit.  Their attendance and participation are mandatory.

Adjusting my expectations, on a whim, I decided to teach a course on Storytelling Photography.  For my first class, I presented great photos that tell a story, using examples from Steve McCurry and other photographers whose blogs I follow.  Then I told the story of my life, including my family and home in Virginia, and my travels to 16 countries over the last 5 years.  In total I had over 140 slides.  The poor students were probably ready to tear their hair out!

green grocer

green grocer

...and his greens

…and his greens

I told the students that for the next three sessions, we would visit places on campus and take photos which they can use for a 5-minute 10-slide presentation telling a story about some aspect of their lives.  They can use any of the photos we take on our outings, or they can use photos they take on their own time.

green and orange oranges

green and orange oranges

Our first outing today is to the market on the campus.  We meet first at the Experimental Building where I take attendance, since attendance is mandatory.  Then we walk to the market together.  Who knows if some of the students sneak off; I can’t keep track of them all.  On the way there, one of my students tells me he would have enjoyed just spending the whole semester seeing pictures of all the places I’ve traveled.  So I guess my slide show didn’t bore them after all.  At least this student enjoyed it. 🙂

On the way to the market, a rat runs out in front of us, and one of my students stomps on and kills it, picks it up by the tail and disposes of it.  I’m a little shocked by this but not too much, as I find rats disgusting.  I’ve heard of some apartments on campus where rats have been a problem.  If I found one in my apartment, I would really freak out.  I already killed a 3″ cockroach on my kitchen counter one night in the middle of the night.  Now I’m always wary when I get up for a drink of water.

It’s really great having my students with me on this trip to the market.  I came here before by myself, and I’m sure the market vendors were wondering why I was walking around snapping pictures of them.  At this time of day (3:00-3:40), the market is quite slow and not even all the vendors are open.  I ask my students to explain to the vendors what we’re doing, and actually most of them seem quite happy, I think even flattered, that we’re there to take their pictures.

It’s great to have my students, who are in the second year of their studies, along because they can explain what things are.  They tell me these men are playing Chinese checkers.  The game is quite rousing, with a lot of yelling and slamming of game pieces on the board.  I have seen men sitting around playing this game everywhere I’ve been in China.

a crowd gathers for a rousing game of Chinese checkers

a crowd gathers for a rousing game of Chinese checkers

a game of Chinese checkers

a game of Chinese checkers

Chinese checkers

Chinese checkers

The market is a rough and tumble place where business is of primary concern.  These are hard-working people who take pride in their merchandise and aren’t afraid of the nitty-gritty.

pipes

pipes

camo boots

camo boots

cages

cages

I ask my students what this vendor is doing with his torch.  I stupidly say, “Is he cooking the meat?” One of my students tells me, “No, he’s burning off the fur.”

burning off the "fur"

burning off the “fur”

torching the "fur"

torching the “fur”

I’ve always wondered what these fruits are, and they tell me, after looking it up on their Chinese-English dictionary app, that they are jujube.

jujube

jujube

the jujube grocer

the jujube grocer

I’m told these are persimmons.

persimmons

persimmons

umbrella

umbrella

fruit stand

fruit stand

Some of my students make this vendor happy by buying some of her fruit.

business transaction

business transaction

peanuts

peanuts

I’m sure the vendors enjoy this slow time of day when they can socialize and play cards.  I don’t know what game they’re playing.

card game

card game

Chinese dates, etc.

Chinese dates, etc.

In Oman, I used a drying rack in my apartment to dry my laundry.  Here, we have either a balcony or, in my case, an outdoor laundry room with a high pole on which we hang our laundry on hangers.  These poles are used to reach up high to hang up the hangers.

Poles used to hang up laundry to dry on a high bar

Poles used to hang up laundry to dry on a high bar

colorful clothes hangers

colorful clothes hangers

Someone just washed their tomatoes.

dewdrop tomatoes

dewdrop tomatoes

We find this colorful cardboard lantern and some of my students point out the various motifs such as dragons.

Chinese lantern

Chinese lantern

Another of my students pulls me over to a garden shop to show me what he calls a fly-catcher.  I look up Venus flytrap and it doesn’t look like this, so I’m not sure what it is exactly.

Venus flytrap

Venus flytrap

garden shop

garden shop

Some of the children’s umbrellas are sparkly and goofy.

children's umbrellas

children’s umbrellas

And I believe this is some kind of rubber ducky vehicle.

rubber ducky vehicle

rubber ducky vehicle

This man is fanning the flies off of his meat.

fanning the flies away

fanning the flies away

And these are a couple of my students who picked up some produce while here.

some of my students

some of my students

One of my female students is wearing some very interesting shoes.

funky shoes

funky shoes

I stop to study this notice board outside of the market, but I can’t understand a word.

notice board

notice board

And here’s someone who’s ready for the market, either a vendor or a buyer.

motorbike geared up for market day

motorbike geared up for market day

At 3:40 our class is over and I tell the students they’re dismissed.  Next week we plan to go to the sports field.  I’m not sure where the third place will be.  Stay tuned to find out. 🙂

 

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese markets, English Interest Course, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Photography, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

a bamboo boat ride down the yulong river & home to nanning

Monday, October 6:  The Yangshuo River View Hotel must truly be a family affair, because today Vivian’s husband drives me in his van to the launch spot for the bamboo boat ride down the YuLong River.  It’s supposed to be a two-hour drift down the river to a bridge near town.  Sadly I don’t remember either the launch site name or the bridge.

When we arrive at the bustling spot, the boats are all jumbled together waiting for customers.  It’s nearly 11:00 a.m.  I need to leave Yangshuo this afternoon around 3:30 or 4:00 to head to Guilin for my 6:10 p.m. train.  I’m not ready at all to leave this place, but my holiday ends tomorrow and it’s back to work on Wednesday.

Starting off on the bamboo boats

Starting off on the bamboo boats

I’m guided to my own private boat by a young man who will be my boatman.  I have to climb unsteadily over a bunch of bobbing boats to get to mine.

a jumble of boats

a jumble of boats

special viewing seat

special viewing seat

I guess the river must be really shallow because the boatmen use long poles to push the boats down the river using the river bed for leverage.

heading down the river

heading down the river

traffic jam

escaping the traffic jam

We finally break free of the other boats and drift down the river.  The views again are stupendous, with the karsts around us in every direction.  Everyone is cocooned in bright orange life vests and shaded by rainbow-colored umbrellas.

karst backdrop to the YuLong River

karst backdrop to the YuLong River

my boatman

my boatman

another boat

another boat

cruising

cruising

My boatman has to work hard with his pole.  He doesn’t speak any English and of course I know no Chinese.  There is no need for words, so we drift silently.

my boatman in his conical hat

my boatman in his conical hat

The boat passengers and boatmen on the other boats are pretty friendly, saying greetings of “Hello!” or “Nǐ Hǎo!”  I enjoy taking photos of the Chinese on the boats around me, and they equally enjoy taking pictures of me, the only foreigner in their midst.

there are moments of peace

there are moments of peace

pretty scenery

pretty scenery

I love the karst scenes

I love the karst scenes

floating

floating

beauty along the way

beauty along the way

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide-show.

I enjoy watching these little girls standing at the end of their rafts in pretty dresses.

Little girls stand on their rafts

Little girls stand on their rafts

i see some farmers and water buffalo along the shore, framed by picturesque haystacks.

water buffalo on the shore

water buffalo on the shore

We pass another launch site that looks a little deserted.

another launching point along the river

another launching point along the river

bamboo rafts

bamboo rafts

shady passage

shady passage

the karsts are ubiquitous and ephemeral

the karsts are ubiquitous and ephemeral

YuLong River

YuLong River

Peaceful cruise

Peaceful cruise

We pass by the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.  Audrey and I stopped here on our bike ride and saw the boaters going down the river.  Now I’m one of the boaters.

I like their sign for “Romantic Riverside Dinning.”

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, where I stopped on my bicycle ride: casual "dinning"

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, where I stopped on my bicycle ride: Romantic Riverside “Dinning”

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

The water here is very shallow.  The grass rippling in the water is a little hypnotic.

flowing grasses

flowing grasses

There are some places where people are stopping to eat, but my boatman just keeps pushing us downriver.

lunch stop for others but not for me

lunch stop for others but not for me

This little bridge is a cute one.

pretty little bridge

pretty little bridge

passing under the bridge

passing under the bridge

At another stopping place, I see this young lady checking her cell phone.

checking that cell phone

checking that cell phone

On the way downriver, we cross a lot of dams, going down chutes and landing hard at the bottom, with water washing up over our bow.  It adds a little thrill to the ride.

geese on a dam

geese on a dam

I don’t think this couple is very thrilled at being stuck on the dam.

stuck on the dam

stuck on the dam

looking back at the dam and the hotel on the shore

looking back at the dam and the hotel on the shore

We pass some more pretty hotels along the river.

pretty peak

pretty peak

Finally we come to this bridge.  I look at my watch and see we’ve only been on the river for one hour.  I figure my boatman is taking a break or letting me out to buy souvenirs, but then I realize he’s telling me this is the end.  I was told this is a two-hour ride, so I don’t want to get off the boat, but the boatman keeps gesturing for me to get off.  I’m not very happy about this as I paid for two-hour trip, so I call the hotel to talk to Matthew, the English-speaking manager.   He talks to the boatman and then explains the situation to me.  Apparently, the two-hour boat ride is for people who make stops along the way, like for photos or for meals.  My boatman never offered me any stops, probably because he couldn’t speak English, but also partly because he could finish early and go upriver again to pick up another customer.  I’m not very happy about being misled.  I really did expect a full two hours of a BOAT RIDE, whether I made any stops along the way or not!

the bridge where we disembark

the bridge where we disembark

I call Vivian to have her husband pick me up, and he comes shortly and takes me back to town.  My Rough Guide to China had recommended the Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant.  I had tried to eat here another evening, but something was wrong with their cooking facility when I stopped by.  Now I ask Vivian’s husband to drop me off here.  I sit on the lovely patio and order some grilled eggplant.

sitting on the back deck of Pure Lotus Vegetarian

sitting on the back deck of Pure Lotus Vegetarian

When the eggplant comes, I don’t recognize it as eggplant; it looks like the mushy fringe of a damp mop.

Grilled and fringed eggplant

Grilled and fringed eggplant

The eggplant tastes good, but it’s cooked in a lot of oil, and immediately I can feel my stomach churning.  Again I’ve made the mistake of assuming that if I’m eating vegetables in China, my stomach will be okay.  I’m going to have to face the fact that if the food, meat or vegetables, is cooked in oil, I’m possibly going to get sick.  I don’t know why sometimes the oily food makes me sick and sometimes not.

Pure Lotus Vegetarian

Pure Lotus Vegetarian

Feeling sick from this meal makes for a long trip back to Nanning.  I don’t feel like taking a bus this time to Guilin, so I hire a taxi for 260 yuan (~ $42).  I get to the train station way too early, and the whole time I’m sitting there, my stomach is churning.  On the 2 hour 40 minute train ride home, my stomach continues to churn.

When I finally arrive back at the Nanning Railway Station, the crowds getting off the train are unbelievable.  We move like cattle off the train platform and are chuted into two stairwells.  We are so packed that I feel claustrophobic.  I have a lot of anxiety; television shows I’ve seen about stampeding crowds flash before my eyes.  I imagine getting crushed in a tired and irritable crowd of people anxious to get home.  Finally, after what seems like an interminable time, we are released outdoors.  It doesn’t end here. At the bus stops, the crowds are pushing onto the buses that come up to the train station.  I don’t want to be packed on a bus with all those people, so I look in vain for a taxi.  There are none to be found; every one seems to be taken.  I’m tired and I just want to get home.

Finally, an older guy on a motorbike asks me where I’m going.  I tell him Guangxi Daxue (university).  I must not be saying it right because he doesn’t seem to understand me.   In desperation, I pull out the Pleco app on my phone and show him the word.  He repeats what I thought I said, and then he sticks my suitcase between his legs on the motorbike and tells me to hop on.  In some countries this might be dangerous, but I don’t think it is in China.  I’m so happy to be back on a motorbike again and on my way home.  It’s quite cool tonight and the breeze feels incredibly refreshing on my skin. I love the sense of freedom that riding on a motorbike brings.

We ride directly to the university gate, where I hop off and pay him 20 yuan (~ $3.26) and walk back to my room. There, I collapse on my bed after a long day.

What a fabulous holiday.  I’d say my first solo trip in China was a great success. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Language barrier, Nanning Railway Station, National Holiday, Pleco app, Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant, Translation, Travel, Yangshuo, Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

the seven star tea plantation and return to yangshuo

Sunday, October 5: After Vivian and I finally leave her brother’s house, we zoom down a dirt road along a steep drop-off at what I think is a perilous speed.  No matter.  Vivian is an excellent motorbike driver at any speed.  She tells me that when her husband rides on the back of her motorbike, he’s always chastising her for going too fast.  When she rides in his van with him, she’s always haranguing him about his speed. We both agree that when we’re not in the driver’s seat, we always think the driver is going too fast, no matter the situation.  That being said, I don’t get too nervous with Vivian even when she does go fast, except on the one little stretch as we leave her brother’s house, where it’s a downhill bumpy dirt road with that vertical drop-off.

We’re heading back the way we came because Vivian had earlier pointed out a tea plantation on a distant mountain and I asked if we could go there.  We head toward Yangshuo but take a side road to get to the plantation entrance.

Before we get to this detour, Vivian stops on a short stretch of road and asks if I’d like to drive the motorbike.  I’d liken it to learning to ride a bike for the first time.  I start in fits, not accelerating enough, and then accelerating too much. I don’t topple over, but I don’t feel comfortable either, especially not enough to drive on these mountain roads with Vivian on the back.  I hand over the handlebars to Vivian and we continue on our happy way.

According to the Yangshuo Insider, Seven Star Tea Plantation is about 12 km north of Yangshuo “on the scenic and hilly village road to Husband Mountain and ancient Stone Village with views across the Li River Valley, rice fields, and kumquat orchards and lots of fresh air.”

Finally, the mystery of the small oranges with edible peels is solved.  The orchards all over the mountains north of Yangshuo are covered not in orange orchards but in kumquat orchards.  I’m so glad I stumbled upon this piece of information in Yangshuo Insider, because I was quite perplexed about the fruit that Vivian was describing.

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

The Seven Star Tea Plantation offers a tour and the opportunity to pick and dry the tea in the traditional way followed by a tea tasting and introduction to the Chinese tea ceremony.  I’m not really interested in all of that today.  I just want to walk around the plantation.  There’s a huge tasting room filled with Chinese families, but I just buy the ticket to the plantation and we hop on Vivian’s motorbike to go up to the top of the mountain by dirt road.

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation outside of the tasting room

We hop off the motorbike and head up a stepped walkway to the top of the hill.  Vivian makes herself comfortable on one of the steps and tells me to take my time.  I walk around looking for good vantage points.  The views are marvelous.  The tea bushes are lined up in neatly trimmed rows on the mountainsides and, down below, I can see farmland, mountains and the karst landscape in every direction.

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Some people have donned the conical hats offered by the plantation and are picking tea.  Vivian has shown me that only the most tender shoots are the ones to be picked.

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

I come upon a gazebo that has seen better days.  At the top of the decrepit steps is a hole in the floor, and the structure is leaning like the Tower of Pisa.  I wouldn’t make the mistake of climbing in for a view, although it’s tempting.

the leaning gazebo at Seven Star Tea Plantation

the leaning gazebo at Seven Star Tea Plantation

I pass whole families picking tea in their cute little hats.

Tea pickers in conical hats at the tea plantation

Tea pickers in conical hats at the tea plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation with karst landscape in the distance

Seven Star Tea Plantation with karst landscape in the distance

I love tea plantations.  They’re so picturesque.  This is the first plantation I’ve seen in China, but I visited the Boseong Tea Plantation in Korea two times:

digging deep: edgy korean bus culture, tea bushes & wetlands, & the surrendered

alex in jeollanam-do: suncheon bay, tea plantations,& songgwang-sa

Finally, Vivian and I make our way back to Yangshuo and the hotel.  At the end of our tour, she tells me her odometer measured our trip at 80 km.  My behind and my back are feeling every bit of those 80 kilometers, so I’m happy to get off that bike.  It was great fun all around though.  Though I was a little annoyed by the stop at her brother’s house, it was an experience to see how rural Chinese families live.  And on top of that, I got to watch some Chinese daytime drama on TV. 🙂

After our tour, I return for an early and quiet dinner to Rock-n-Grill, where Audrey and her friend Sarah took me on Friday night.  The food doesn’t seem nearly as good as it was that night; without the wine and the great company, it paled by comparison.

Tomorrow evening, I have to head back to Nanning.  Before I go though, in the morning, I’m planning to take a bamboo raft down the Yulong River.

Categories: Asia, China, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Motorbike tour, Rock-n-Grill, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Travel, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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