Daxin

twenty-fourteen

In twenty-fourteen, I: Got waylaid in Denver after snow and de-icing delays on a flight from Washington to Burbank, California.  Shared Sunset Rolls and Fire Dragon Rolls, Sapporo and warm saké, with my little sister Stephanie, and then met The Invisible Woman in LA.  On foggy Venice Beach, wandered past muscle men, tattoo parlors, surfboards and funnel cakes, and contemplated the medical marijuana advertised for sale.  Caught glimpses of adorable houses, with secret patios and lazy cats, on a stroll through the Venice Walk-Streets.  Went window shopping on Abbott Kinney Boulevard.  Drove six hours to San Francisco from LA through a parched California landscape to meet my friend Jayne. Laughed at the antics of harbor seals at Fisherman’s Wharf and met Monarch butterflies that looked like clusters of densely packed brown leaves at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Monterey. Drove 17-Mile-Drive at Pebble Beach.  Sampled some wine on the Silverado Trail.  Saw the iconic cloud-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from the deck of the Sausalito Ferry. Laughed at the antics of sea lions at Pier 39.  On the way back to LA, vicariously lived the high life at Hearst Castle in San Simeon.  Dropped by Old Mission Santa Barbara, walked through fan palms and California chaparral at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and ate fish tacos on Stearns Wharf.  Visited the garden at Mission Buenaventura in Ventura.  Met Rosie of wandering rose and listened to the reverberations of classic rock at Bob’s Big Boy‘s classic car show.  Was inspired by a Poets & Writers LIVE! event in Los Angeles, where I embarrassed myself in front of Chinese writer Da Chen (My Last Empress) when he asked me the for the title of my book and a business card (I had neither).  Had cocktails at the Brig and ate dinner out of a food truck on Abbott Kinney.  Took a hike with Rosie around Corral Canyon in Malibu and ate more fish tacos at Malibu Seafood.  Left behind sunny California to head back to icy Virginia (nomad, interrupted).

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

Saw tundra swans and parchment-like leaves dangling like wind-chimes on American beeches at Mason Neck State Park. Was inspired by National Geographic’s 2013 Travelers of the Year.  Saw seagulls walking on water at ice-encased Annapolis Harbor.  Learned 20 things about Storytelling Photography from National Geographic photographers Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow.  Chased freight trains and photos along the CSX Main Line at Henryton, Maryland.  Suffered through snowstorm after snowstorm in Northern Virginia, and then searched for spring at Green Spring Gardens.  Heard the thundering roar of Great Falls while strolling with Alex, Bailey and Mike along the Patowmack Canal.  Took a photowalk through the hardscrabble part of Baltimore.  Found the gravesite of the patentee of the Ouija Board at Green Mount Cemetery.  Walked Richmond’s Monument Avenue 10k in the rain with my daughter Sarah.  Drifted with cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin in D.C.  Said “ahoy, matey!” to pirates at the Privateer Festival in Baltimore.  crisscrossed flowing streams & waterfalls at White Oak Canyon.  Stayed overnight at a sleep clinic to test for sleep apnea. Wandered through flowering trees at the Virginia Arboretum.  Was charmed by wisteria at Dumbarton Oaks.  Finally found spring, after a long and grueling winter, at Meadowlark Gardens.  Celebrated Sarah’s 30th birthday in Richmond by sipping wine with the whole family amidst Chihuly’s Red Reeds at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, topped off by a feast at Bacchus.  Cloistered myself at the Franciscan Monastery. Sampled wine and cheese with the family at Doukenie Winery.  Won prizes in photography competitions through Vienna Photographic Society and had my Hot air balloons over Cappadocia photo featured by National Geographic on Instagram.  Finished the third draft of my novel, Scattering Dreams of Stars, but never got around to sending out query letters.  Applied for 40 jobs stateside and didn’t get anything.  Applied for jobs in China and got an offer from Sino-Canadian International College of Guangxi University in Nanning.  Went on safari with sculptures of metal animals in the “American Metal” exhibit at the Corcoran in its last days.  Was awed by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Opened my heart to water lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.  Worked on joining hearts with Mike at Eastern Market in D.C. Saw “Words & Letters” made into art at the Athenaeum.  Felt general malaise at a Civil War Encampment at Sully Plantation. (nomad, interrupted).

Searched in vain for a happy 4th of July, as both my mother-in-law and my father were admitted to the hospital; my father’s problem was corrected without complications, but my 88-year-old mother-in-law’s health went into decline and she went into hospice care in early July.  Went with Alex on a road trip to New Hampshire, where we stayed in a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee, seeking a reprieve from Shirley’s illness and our sadness.  Drove the Kancamagus Highway through New Hampshire’s White Mountains, topped by a hike at the Flume Gorge. Stopped to buy a bird nest ornament in a garden shop in charming Woodstock, Vermont, where I was mistaken for Alex’s girlfriend (ha!). Admired painted “meeses” and mountain lions in Bennington, and scrambled over rocks at Kaaterskill Falls in New York.  Returned home to watch helplessly as my mother-in-law continued to decline; she passed away on July 17.  Went in search of light-crazed sunflowers in memory of Shirley, who loved gardening.  Visited the George Washington Masonic National Memorial as we waited for Shirley’s memorial service, which was on Thursday, July 25.   Took our 12 1/2-year-old border collie, Bailey, to the vet when he got sick the day after Shirley’s memorial service; he died the next day, sadly, at the human age of 88.  Searched for summer, and solace, at Solomons, Maryland, where empty boats conversed in a language of their own, groaning, clanking, lamenting and whining.  Hiked at Calvert Cliffs State Park where a kid told me: “My dad says your name is Stranger.”  Dropped off my passport at the Chinese embassy to get my work visa, and while in D.C., stopped in unannounced at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral for a brief tour in darkness. Came full circle and revisited summer at Meadowlark Gardens, as I did when I first arrived back in Virginia from Oman (nomad, interrupted).

Shirley and Bailey: both left us in July

Shirley and Bailey: both left us in July

Sampled rum & grapefruit juice with Mike at Mango’s upon our arrival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Was coated like a sugar cookie by a maelstrom of sand at Ocean Park.  Savored every bite of mofongo — mashed plantains — at Raices in Old San Juan.  Had a close encounter with the Baño Nazi on Paseo de la Princessa.  Took a self-guided walking tour through colorful Old San Juan, admiring views of Bahia de San Juan along the periphery of El Morro.  Came face-to-face with an iguana at Castillo de San Cristobal and together we enjoyed views of the Atlantic.  Climbed into a cloud forest on the Mt. Britton Trail at El Yunque rain forest.  Ate fabulous Caribbean Benedicts at El Convento.  Sought shelter from the rain at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.  Visited the “ghost town” of Aguirre in the south of the island.  Was disappointed at Hacienda Buena Vista to see only the historical buildings and not any actual coffee plants.  Got roared at by painted lions at Ponce and took pictures of the historic firehouse and famous landmark, Parque de Bombas.  Looked in vain for 007 (“Bond, James Bond”) and Jodi Foster at the Arecibo Observatory, the setting for Goldeneye & Contact.  Enjoyed a day at the Ocean Park Beach and gorgeous sunset at El Morro before returning home to Washington. Continued to work with Mike on our reconciliation after our seven-year separation and felt good enough about it to go abroad again.  Spent the next two weeks getting ready to move to China.  Left the U.S. on August 30 (notes from north america).

Arrived in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on September 1 and was installed in a gritty apartment with a view over a lotus pond.  Spent the first couple of weeks in Nanning getting a phone, internet, a medical exam, and the visa.  Took a walk with another new teacher, Caleb, on Qing Xiu Shan in dreadful heat & humidity, where we saw koi in Sky Pond and a 1350-year-old Cycas King in the Cycad Garden.  Climbed to the top of Longing Tower where we saw views of Nanning and the Yongjiang River.  Encountered communication problems when haggling in a Chinese market.  Experienced the fringes of Typhoon Kalmaegi as it brushed past Nanning. Spent a frustrating day trying to figure out how to buy train tickets to Guilin.  Finally acquired a bicycle after much rigmarole and rode to Nanning Zoo, where I watched Chinese visitors feeding junk food to the animals.  Began fall semester on September 22.  Encountered students with funny English names: Maleah, Kitty, Yuki, Albert, Hebe, Lancy, Shally, Amber, Azura, Nyako, Spring, and best of all: Yoyo, Echo, Coco, Smoothies and Evita.  Heard tell of other teachers’ students: Biscuit, Yogurt and Potato.  Was flummoxed when trying to find simple household products such as shampoo, conditioner and floor cleaner at Nan Bai Supermarket.  Learned how to say Xièxiè (thank you), Ní hǎo (hello), and Wǒ yào yīgè daizi (I want one bag).

Overcame numerous communication problems and made it to Yangshuo for the National Holiday.  Took a motorized bamboo raft with hundreds of other Chinese tourists down the Li River to Xingping, the scene of the picture on China’s 20 yuan bill.  Strolled around Yangshuo and Green Lotus Hill, where I was surrounded by magical karst formations.  Met Audrey, the niece of an elementary school classmate of mine, at Demo Tiki Bar and then ate Thai food together, accompanied by lots of wine, at Rock-n-Grill.  Bicycled with Audrey through the Yangshuo countryside, where we took an almost-skinny-dip in the Yulong River.  Ate a late lunch at a Passion Fruit Leisure Farm.  Went on a motorbike tour through kumquat orchards to Xianggang Hill, where we saw karst formations with names like Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Lad Worships Goddess, and Grandpa Watching Apple.  Traipsed through the Seven Star Tea Plantation.  Took my own private bamboo boat ride down the Yulong River.  Returned to Nanning, where I began teaching an English Interest Course on Storytelling Photography.  Got hooked on Mad Men and watched all the seasons.  Walked through artistic trellises at the Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden.  Encountered crazy communication problems on a trip to see Detian Waterfall on the Sino-Vietnamese border.  Straddled the border of China and Vietnam in a bamboo boat and was sprayed by the Ban Gioc-Detian Waterfall on my 59th birthday.  Received a cake for my birthday from the Student Union; I happily shared it with some of my colleagues, cherry tomato toppings and all.

Went to a student-teacher Halloween party on a sweltering night where everyone was sweating in their costumes.  Visited the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, where I saw excellent exhibits on Guangxi’s twelve indigenous ethnic groups.  Ventured to Nanning People’s Park where hordes of Chinese people were dancing, singing, and playing traditional instruments. Watched all 8 episodes of True Detective and began to watch Breaking Bad.  Took a trip to Ping’An, where a Zhuang guide led me on a hike to see Nine Dragons and Five Tigers and a Yao long-haired woman.  Posed in traditional costume at Seven Stars with Moon.  Took a 5-hour hike alone to the Longji Rice Terraces, where I got lost numerous times.  Spent an afternoon of disillusionment at Elephant Hill Park in Guilin.  Treated myself to a whole body massage, a foot massage and pedicure in Guilin to try to alleviate my four days of sickness while traveling.

Encountered a styrofoam lady on the way to Wal-Mart.  Watched a Chinese love story with English subtitles, Fleet of Time, that shed some light on the lives of my college students. Watched all 10 episodes of Fargo Survived another challenging Chinese bus ride to Yangmei Ancient Village. Spent Christmas day alone wandering downtown Nanning, sipping a Toffee Nut Latte at Starbucks, watching The Taking of Tiger Mountain at Wanda Cinema, and finally Skyping with my family in Virginia.  Went to a Christmas party arranged by my students, where I attempted to make proper dumplings, played and won a REAL game of Chinese checkers, and sang karaoke.  Went to a free acrobatics show in Nanning.

Happy New Year!  May all your dreams come true in twenty-fifteen. 🙂

Related posts:
twenty-thirteen
weekly photo challenge: my 2012 in pictures

Categories: 2014, Abbott Kinney Boulevard, Aguirre, Alexandria, Americas, Annapolis, Arecibo Observatory, Asia, Burbank, California, Calvert Cliffs State Park, Cherry Blossom Festival, China, Colorado, D.C., Daxin, Denver, Detian Waterfall, Dumbarton Oaks, El Yunque National Forest, Expat life, Golden Gate Bridge, Great Falls Park, Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden, Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Hearst Castle, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Longji Ancient Village, Longji Rice Terraces, Longsheng County, Los Angeles, Malibu, Maryland, Monterey, Nanning, New Hampshire, New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, New York, Old San Juan, Photography, Ping'An Village, Poets & Writers LIVE!, Ponce, Puerto Rico, Qing Xiu Shan, Reseda, Richmond, San Francisco, San Simeon, Santa Barbara, Sausalito, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Sino-Vietnamese border, Solomons, Travel, United States of America, Venice, Venice Beach, Venice walk-streets, Ventura, Vermont, Vienna, Virginia, White Oak Canyon, Wine Country, Xianggong Hill, Xingping, Yangmei Ancient Town, Yangshuo, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 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

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