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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
At a higher level, there’s a viewing platform, where you can see more levels through the trees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the end of the row of vendors is a view of the karst landscape.
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.
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.
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.
We head toward the far side of the river, where I get a different view.
Immediately some Vietnamese vendors approach our boat, trying to make some quick sales. They’re offering coffee and other Vietnamese snacks.
A cozy group of four young foreigners is climbing around on the Vietnam side. These are the only foreigners I see all weekend.
I find this girl’s expression hilarious as she takes a selfie.
A number of fishermen are busy at the top of the falls.
As we get closer we can hear the roar of the water. Everyone’s running around the boat trying to get good pictures.
We get closer, and closer….until we all get sprayed!
Then we head for the shore.
On the shore, we step off the boat, and I start heading back. By now it’s nearly 3:00.
I get one last glimpse of the waterfall before I head out of the park.
Outside the entrance, this huge poster shows Chinese movies that were shot at Detian Falls.
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.
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.