Sunday, October 5: I hop on the back of Vivian’s motorbike at 10:30 a.m. for our tour of the countryside north of Yangshuo. It takes us a while to make our way out of town, but we’re soon out in the midst of rolling mountains covered in orange groves.
Vivian tells me these are small green oranges that you eat without peeling them, but I can’t think of what kind of oranges those might be. She tries to think of the English word and comes up with clementines, but I know clementines to be orange and they have to be peeled. I’ve seen green oranges here in China; the peel is green but the insides are orange, and they’re a little more sour than your typical orange. But they have to be peeled and they’re not that small. When I look up Yangshuo fruits online, I do find Mandarin oranges. Maybe that’s what she means, although Mandarin oranges I’ve seen have orange peel which must be removed. I’ll have to keep an eye out for these “small green oranges that you don’t have to peel.” I’m not sure if this is simply a communication problem; maybe she doesn’t know the words to say what she means, or maybe there really are oranges such as these. Look hard and you can see the oranges on the trees below.
The mountains in this area north of Yangshuo are not quite as jagged as the karst peaks that are ubiquitous throughout Guilin. Nonetheless, the karst landscape is always in the distance.
I have so much fun riding on the back of the motorbike, feeling the breeze in my hair. Most of the time I hang on to the bar behind my seat, but Vivian tells me it’s okay to hang on to her waist sometime. She’s so tiny, I feel more secure hanging on to that bar.
Vivian stops the bike at a pretty valley for some amazing views. Another young Chinese couple on another motorbike stops to chat with Vivian. They offer us both drinks and cookies, a welcome snack.
I love the neat little road that hugs the bottom of one of the mountains.
We continue on zipping along the curvy and hilly road. Luckily out here in the countryside there aren’t many people. It seems we’ve escaped the crowds for the second day in a row! I love being out in the middle of nowhere.
Vivian stops at yet another scenic spot for pictures. Here is a stunning view of the Li River and the surrounding karst landscape south of Xingping. Studying the map after our ride, I can see the general area where we were, but I don’t know the exact names of the viewpoints. I wish I did.
We hop back on the motorbike again. It’s so strange on this holiday how I feel no fear. I love this feeling of freedom, of the wind rushing over my skin, through my hair. I don’t have a helmet on and I don’t care. I’m actually glad to just feel the air on my face without the burden of a helmet. I don’t even know Vivian, but I’ve put my life in her hands. I feel like I’m 20 years old and I’m wild, like Easy Rider. Ha!
We come to yet another scenic view. It might be Dalingtou, it might not. I don’t know but it’s gorgeous. Every time we get back on the bike I think I can’t possibly see a better view than the one we’re leaving, yet, we find another one around the next corner. If I made Vivian stop the bike every time we saw a view, I’d still be making my way through the mountains weeks from today.
Finally, we arrive at our destination, Xianggong Hill. We pay a fee to get in. I can’t remember how much it is but for sure it’s more for me than it is for Vivian, I think around 40 yuan. Vivian decides she’ll accompany me to the top of the hill. Maybe it’s a mountain. I’m not sure; I’ve seen it called both. There are hundreds of stone steps to the top, and as it’s now afternoon, we get pretty heated up as we make the climb.
According to YangshuoChina.com: Xianggong Hill: “Xianggong Hill is located on the west bank of the Lijiang River between Huangbu Shoal and Nine-Horse Mural Hill. An ascent of the hill is rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the Lijiang River winding through countless peaks.”
The brochure says: “Xianggong Mountain is named because it looks like a xianggong who wears official costume.” I’m not exactly sure what a xianggong is, but I can imagine some officious looking Chinese character.
At the top, we can see a fabulous view of the Li River as it makes its way from Yangdi (north of us) toward Xingping, to the south.
Below is the view to the north and east. To the north and across the river is the Nine Horse Fresco Hill, which I think is a cluster of nine peaks. Maybe it can be identified better from the boat.
Looking north and west from the hill are peaks with legendary names such as Lion Hill, Chicken Cage Hill, Grandpa Watching Apple, Pen Holder Peak, Carp Wall. Across the river to the east and north are hills such as Lad Worships Goddess and Wave Stone View. All of these fanciful hills are between Yangdi and Xingping, where I went on my raft trip on my second day here. I think if I had gone on the English-speaking cruise, I might have learned these names, but since I had only a Chinese-speaking boatman and Chinese boat mates, I was left clueless.
Looking south down the Li River from Xianggong Hill is what the map calls the “CNY 20 Banknote View,” which you can see in my previous post about my raft ride down the Li River: a raft trip down the li river: yangdi to xingping.
We can see the busy boat traffic on the river below.
We enjoy the breeze at the top of the hill. I must take nearly a fifty photos that end up all looking alike. Finally we walk back down the hundreds of steps to the bottom where we find a huge rock which must be some identifier for the hill.
Vivian has been telling me about her family as we’ve been riding. Her hometown is in this area. She grew up here and walked an hour each way to school every day. She and her husband made the choice to live in Yangshuo because the job opportunities are better in town. Her brothers, however, have remained in the countryside. Because it’s so much cheaper to live outside of town, her brothers can afford to build new houses. Vivian wants to take me to the newly built home of one of her brothers, which isn’t totally completed. Below is Vivian in front of her brother’s house.
I thought we were just dropping by the house briefly, but apparently Vivian has plans to eat lunch here. I don’t know this is part of the deal. We have a seat around a table in a big open-air room, sort of like a garage, where her sister-in-law, some neighbors, and some children are gobbling down what Vivian calls soy beans but what I know as edamame, as well as peanuts, pomegranates and oranges. They’re tossing the shells and peelings all over the floor. I follow suit and do the same, tossing my shells on the floor. The soy beans are quite good but hot, so I burn my fingers a bit.
I can’t help but think of the saying, When in China, do as the Chinese do.
Everyone is engrossed in a dramatic Chinese daytime drama on a big screen TV. There’s a lot of moaning and groaning and crying in the show, as well as overly dramatic gestures. Of course I don’t understand a thing that’s going on. It’s taking place in a hospital and someone seems to be in a coma. Many of the characters are wearing hospital gowns but some are in street clothes. One of the women keeps getting on her knees and pleading with an older woman who might be her mother.
I get a little break from the daytime drama when Vivian gives me a tour of the new part of the house. The walls aren’t painted yet, but the floors are all marble and seem lovely. However, there are food peelings and rubbish strewn all over the house, which people are living in while it’s being constructed. I don’t want be rude by taking pictures inside the house, but I do take an outdoor shot overlooking the brother’s farmland and the village.
Back in the open room, the daytime drama is my only entertainment as Vivian and the others are chatting with each other and bustling about. No one speaks any English and of course I speak no Chinese. My fingers are rather raw from the hot edamame, so I’m sitting in the midst of all the shells and peelings. The folks are laughing and talking around me in Chinese, and I smile at them when they look at me. I feel like some idiot child in their midst.
After we sit for what seems like an interminable time, Vivian tells me we’re going to have lunch here. Warily, I ask what they’re having. She says seafood. I usually like seafood, but not calamari or octopus or anything chewy. After a bit, I ask if I can use the bathroom, and I walk through what looks like a big open room with pots and pans and squat stools placed around two huge cauldrons of boiling stew. I get a glimpse of the stew and realize as soon as I see it that I won’t be able to eat it. I have no idea what kinds of meat or seafood are in that stew, but it looks and smells like something I won’t like. I’m very picky about my meat and seafood. I always want every bit of fat, skin, or gristle cut off, and I want the meat removed from the bones. Some of the seafood I’ve accidentally eaten in Asian countries, such as Korea or China, has been like rubber; I’ve spit it out after gagging on it. I think there is some of that rubbery stuff in the stew. I have to make an excuse to get out of the meal, so I tell Vivian I’m sorry I can’t eat the stew because I’m a vegetarian. I’m not really, not as a matter or principle anyway, but I do eat a lot of vegetarian meals in China just because of the quality of the meat.
I’m sure Vivian must wonder if I’m telling the truth, because I didn’t mention my “vegetarianism” when she first mentioned the lunch of fish. I feel bad but I simply cannot sit around that cauldron with people spooning that soup into a bowl and expecting me to eat it. So I sit quietly with the children in the big room while the adults eat around the cauldron of stew in the other room. I watch the daytime drama and wait. And wait.
Finally, the lunch is finished and Vivian says it’s time to go. Thank goodness! I take a farewell shot of the brother’s property and his rooster, and we’re on our way.
I happy to be back on the motorbike again. Next stop, the Seven Star Tea Plantation. 🙂