Li River

a short weekend in yangshuo (& another li river boat cruise) ~ the third time’s a charm :-)

Friday, May 29: This weekend, only one of two times that I have traveled with a friend in China, I go to Yangshuo with my friend, Erica.  She has lived in China for seven years, but only started working at SCIC in Nanning at the same time I did, in September, 2014. Though she’s traveled all over China, and around southeast Asia, she has never been to Yangshuo.  This is my third time:  the first time I stayed four days during the National Holiday in early October, and the second, I stayed three days with Mike in January.

This weekend, we only have about 1 1/2 days, as it’s not an extended holiday weekend and we have to spend about 6 hours traveling at each end.  Erica decided long ago she was done traveling on China’s public holidays; I only just came to that conclusion after my last trip to Shanghai.

Erica and I leave directly from our classes at noon and spend the next 6 hours in transit, by bus, by train and by bus again.  The time goes by quickly though as Erica and I chat nonstop about anything and everything, and we share a lot of laughs.

Finally, at the Yangshuo bus station (well, not really a “station” but a dusty parking lot where we get deposited), we search for a vehicle to take us to our hotel, the Cosy Garden.  We try several drivers in vehicles of every make who want to charge us what we think are exorbitant sums, and finally, this gentle man takes us in his bumpy vehicle, where we sit on a plank of wood placed across the truck bed.  It’s a very bumpy and noisy ride through town and down a long pavilion over a cobblestone walkway to our hotel, which is quite a distance outside of town; in the end I think we got him at a great price!

Erica sits on the wooden bench in our transport to Cosy Garden

Erica sits on the wooden bench in our transport to Cosy Garden

As Erica is normally much thriftier than I am, I asked her to choose the place, and this is what she found.

Cosy Garden

Cosy Garden

The Cosy Garden allows free use of their bicycles after 4:00, and since it’s about 6:00 by the time we arrive, we hop on the bicycles and ride into Yangshuo for dinner at the Rock-n-Grill, and then we take a walk around the streets of the town.

Mangoes in Yangshuo

Mangoes in Yangshuo

Gentle vibes

Gentle vibes

It’s a little more difficult riding our bicycles back to the Cosy Garden as the long pavilion is quite dark and the road after we leave the pavilion is even darker.  We can hardly see a thing in the black night!  I don’t know how, but we somehow make it safely back to our hotel without riding off into the Li River.

Saturday, May 30: To optimize our condensed time in Yangshuo, we’ve arranged to go on the Li River boat ride first thing in the morning.  At the hotel, we can have breakfast, but we have to cook it ourselves; this turns out to be quite challenging as it’s always difficult to cook in someone else’s kitchen.

After breakfast, we ride our bicycles into town where we catch the bus to Xingping.  Our boat ride begins here.  Below is Erica with the boats and the Li River and karst landscape of Xingping behind her.

The boat dock at Xingping on the Li River

The boat dock at Xingping on the Li River

Erica at the Li River in Xingping

Erica at the Li River in Xingping

Of course Xingping is known as the most scenic area along the Li River, and because of that, it is on the 20 yuan bill.  Erica holds up the bill in the front of the bamboo raft.

Erica holds the 20 yuan bill at Xingping

Erica holds the 20 yuan bill at Xingping

And then we’re off.  We’re sharing the boat with two young Chinese men; Erica and I go directly for the front seats as this is her first and last time to do the Li River cruise.  She’s planning to leave China for good at the same time I am.  I do feel a little guilty for grabbing the front seats, but I also figure the Chinese tourists can easily come back.

Heading up the Li River

Heading up the Li River

The scenery is breathtaking as always; each time it brings tears to my eyes, it’s so stunning.  I can see Erica is quite moved by the experience too.

Li River Cruise

Li River Cruise

The Li River

The Li River

upriver on the Li

upriver on the Li

Ever since we arrived in Yangshuo, it has been threatening rain, but we’re lucky it doesn’t rain a drop while we’re on the cruise.

grassy patches in the Li River

grassy patches in the Li River

islands of grass

islands of grass

boats on the Li River

boats on the Li River

Moving up the Li River

Moving up the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

boat jam

boat jam

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

overwhelmed by beauty

overwhelmed by beauty

Li River scenery

Li River scenery

Li River karst scenery

Li River karst scenery

karst scenery along the Li River

karst scenery along the Li River

The Li River

The Li River

Li River cruise

Li River cruise

looming karst scenery along the Li River

looming karst scenery along the Li River

up close & personal

up close & personal

We can see the Li River boats that come from Guilin go zooming past toward Xingping.

still heading upriver

still heading upriver

The Li River

The Li River

We stop at little pebble beach, where our boat driver gets out and eats something with some friends.  Meanwhile, we’re left to wander and take pictures while we wait.  Here’s Erica with our two boat mates.

Erica and our two Chinese boat mates

Erica and our two Chinese boat mates

And Erica at the beach.

Erica at the pebble beach

Erica at the pebble beach

As always, I like to take a few pictures of Chinese girls posing in ridiculous poses.  I just missed this woman with her hands in the air.

posing for pictures

posing for pictures

Chinese girls doing a silly pose

Chinese girls doing a silly pose

We could go on a pony ride if we so desired, but we don’t. 🙂

two bedraggled fellas

two bedraggled fellas

Finally, our driver finishes eating, and we’re back in boat, heading back to Xingping.  The light isn’t so great in this direction.

back on the river after our break

back on the river after our break

heading back to Xingping

heading back to Xingping

Below, you can see (and hear) a video of our trip down the Li River in our motorized bamboo rafts.

cruising down the Li River

cruising down the Li River

View at Xingping

View at Xingping

The Li River at Xingping

The Li River at Xingping

Xingping

Xingping

Soon, we’re back on shore and Erica and I each pose with the 20 yuan bill.  This is a chubby time for me; after being in China, it turns out I picked up 7 pounds, which I don’t realize until I return home!

Erica at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

Erica at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

a chubby me at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

a chubby me at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

Finally, we head back up the path to meet our driver and head back to town.

fruit vendor in Xingping

fruit vendor in Xingping

When we get back to town, we’ll have some lunch and go on a bike ride in the afternoon.

Categories: Asia, China, CNY 20 Banknote View, Cosy Garden, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Li River, Rock-n-Grill, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Xingping, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , | 32 Comments

mike’s reflections on china

In late January, my husband Mike traveled from Virginia to visit me here in China.  We went to Hunan province, where we visited Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie, and to Guangxi, where we visited Guilin and Yangshuo.  I was disappointed for him because we had horrible weather for nearly the whole time he was here.  His one and only experience of China was a rainy, fog-enshrouded, cold and gloomy one.  In his reflections below, you can see that despite our hardships, he managed to see the experience as a positive one.  This was more than I could say for myself, but then I’ve seen better days in China.

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Here are Mike’s reflections, along with some of the photos he took.

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After Cathy decided to go to China to teach this year she suggested that I should plan on visiting and traveling with her on one of her breaks. My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. My first inclination is to plan relaxing, stress-free, outdoorsy vacations away from crowds and the fast-paced life I deal with in the DC suburbs. After giving the idea some thought and talking more with Cathy, I committed, leaving the planning to her, providing feedback on trip options when asked. I am an avid reader, like Cathy, and have an interest in cultural anthropology and world history, which I get from a fictional and non-fictional perspective. In addition to having the opportunity to spend some time with my nomad wife, I would see firsthand how one in five people on our planet live.

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

I knew from the outset that this trip would be a challenge, starting and ending with the long time-zone crossing flights halfway around the globe. From Cathy’s early travel experiences in China I knew that our in-country travels would not be easy. Neither of us are much on tour groups, preferring the freedom to move about at our own pace, surrounded by local folks, being forced to figure things out on our own. That‘s half the adventure. The apprehension we felt every time we ventured out to our next destination was rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and relief upon arrival. I came with no expectations other than to relish the uniqueness of China. Cathy put a lot of time and energy into our itinerary, hoping to show me the picturesque and historic side of Guangxi and Hunan provinces. You seasoned travelers understand the tenuous balance between trying to visit as many places as possible within a tight time window and allowing oneself the time to soak in the essence of each layover, and recharge, before diving in to the next adventure. I felt like we achieved that balance.

Fenghuang

Fenghuang

Cathy was very honest on her blog in describing her disappointment with the cool damp weather during my visit. Besides yielding a series of fog shrouded photos for her blog, she was sad for me. I am sure that many travel bloggers portray only the positive aspects of their trips, which is not reality. You have to accept and learn to deal with weather and other circumstances that don’t go your way. I like how Cathy freely shares her personal frustrations in her blogs.

Yes, I would have enjoyed some clear sunny days, but I was so alert to the sights, sounds, smells and the way of life wherever we went that the weather had much less of an impact on me than Cathy. The mist encased quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie and the limestone karsts of Yangshuo looked whimsical and mysterious. The one rainy day where we didn’t go trekking was spent lounging in bed reading and treating ourselves to a muscle relaxing massage. That was just what we needed, some down time to recover.

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

I was constantly fascinated by assorted modes of transportation, the unified flow of scooters, bikes and buses on the crowded streets and dusty rural roads, the lack of heat throughout, the family way of life in the shops, service bays, and eateries, the variety of critters and body parts offered on the menus, the placid acceptance of a quality of life that few westerners could imagine, the third world toilets, the often derelict trains and train stations, the rural communal hamlets we cycled through, the villagers laboring in the never-ending fields, and the general friendliness of the people we encountered.

I wanted to see where Cathy lived, where she worked, the students she taught, where she shopped and ate, how she traveled, the soul and spirit of the bustling cities, the steady march of the rural farms, so I could get a sense for the environment she moved about in during her life in Guangxi. Thankfully those impressions will now be with me for the rest of her stay in Nanning, sensory impressions catalogued and brought to mind as she shares with me her weekly recap on Skype. Instead of her face and the stories she tells in words, I will see much more.

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

There are so many memories and images that come to mind from our two-week excursion, all fascinating to me, many of which Cathy has already shared in her blog. Some of these memories can’t be captured by pictures and words. They were moments of interaction, on some level, with others, in a land where one feels so isolated, despite being surrounded by 1.3 billion people. The thirteen hour plane ride seated next to a mother and her young son from Mongolia on their return trip from studying at the international school in Miami, Florida, the respectful sharing of a small train compartment for twelve hours with two young strangers, the prideful smile on the face of our dumpling lady in Fenghuang who was thrilled to see us show up for breakfast three mornings in a row, the conversation with a young woman, employed in international sales, on our boat ride on Baofang Lake, the engaging conversation with Duco, the young Dutch backpacker, on our bus ride to Yangshuo, the family we traveled with on our Li river bamboo raft, and the many challenging interactions arising from the language barrier at every twist and turn.

the town of Yangshuo

the town of Yangshuo

In one of Cathy’s blogs about Alex’s time in China she mentions a tension-filled afternoon. This is to be expected, in less than ideal travel situations and close quarters, as individual expectations collide with circumstances and each other. I suppose the key to traveling with someone else, successfully, is to recognize that this will happen and what to do when it does happen. I think in Alex and Cathy’s case, space and time was all they needed, and by the evening they were fine. It was surprising to me given all of the traveling we did and the inclement weather we encountered that we didn’t really encounter any moments of tension. Perhaps I’ll chalk that up to my laid back nature; HA! Just joking Cathy, I know it takes two to make this happen.

In looking back on my two weeks in China, followed by Alex’s two weeks, followed by Cathy’s trip to Myanmar, I am amazed at Cathy’s stamina, especially in light of the cough she came down with on our trip. Both Alex and I were exhausted after our short journeys. I can’t even begin to imagine doing that for six weeks. Cathy is like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going and going!!!

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

As I left China I realized that this was truly a once-in-a-life experience. It is an experience that for myself, and for Alex, will resurface in years to come as we put global events into perspective, as a result of having the opportunity to glimpse a way of life so different from our own. I am thankful for that opportunity.

Categories: Airplane, Asia, Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot, Bicycle tour, Bus, Changsha, China, Fenghuang, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Hunan, Jishou, Li River, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Spring Festival, Train, Transportation, Travel, West Street, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Xi Jie, Xianggong Hill, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

the yangshuo countryside & xianggong hill

Friday, January 30: After leaving the tea plantation, we head north, passing through boundless farmland.  The kumquat orchards sprawl over rolling mountains, less sharp around the edges than the karsts; these mountains are clustered in the midst of the karsts between Yangshuo and Guilin.

Here are two views of the same valley, but in the first one you can see the karsts in the distance, and in the second you can see the road to the village.  For some reason, I love that little road, snuggling up to the edge of that mountain.

view of a farming village along the way

view of a farming village along the way

the view of the road to the village with karsts in the distance

the view of the road to the village with karsts in the distance

Along the way, we stop at a view-point where we can see, to our north, the famous karsts of Xingping, and beneath us, the Li River winding its way through the jagged peaks.

view of the Li River

view of the Li River

View of the Li River

View of the Li River

me with Mike at a stopping point overlooking the Li River

me with Mike at a stopping point overlooking the Li River

View north to Xingping

View north to Xingping

View south to farmland and karsts

View south to farmland and karsts

We continue our drive with Vivian’s husband.  He knows all the same places to stop that Vivian stopped with me in October.  I don’t even need to ask him to pull over.  This is a gorgeous valley filled with villages, kumquat farms, forests and other farmland.

valley of karsts

valley of karsts

I love how the karsts fade into the mist the further away they get.

karst landscape

karst landscape

to infinity and beyond

to infinity and beyond

stunning landscape

stunning landscape

final view of the valley

final view of the valley

Finally we end up at Xianggong Hill, where we climb hundreds of steps to the top; here we can see Xingping to our south, with its CNY 20 Banknote View and Chaoban Hill, among many others.  To the north, we can see Nine-Horse Fresco Hill.  Other peaks around Xianggong Hill have names such as Wave Stone View, Lad Worships Goddess, Grandpa Watching Apple, Chicken Cage Hill, Lion Hill, Pen Holder Peak, and Carp Wall.

Looking south to Xingping

Looking south to Xingping

The view north of Nine-Horse Fresco Hill

The view north to Nine-Horse Fresco Hill

Looking west to Lion Hill and other peaks whose names I don't know

Looking west to Lion Hill and other peaks whose names I don’t know

Northerly view

Northerly view

Village across the Li River form Xianggong Hill

Village across the Li River from Xianggong Hill

Mike atop Xianggong HIll

Mike atop Xianggong HIll

Looking across the Li River from Xianggang Hill to the villages

Looking across the Li River from Xianggong Hill to the villages

Me atop Xianggong Hill

Me atop Xianggong Hill

Looking northeasterly

Looking northeasterly

After we leave Xianggong Hill, we continue on our way to Guilin, making one more photo stop along the way.

Green fields and karsts

Green fields and karsts

marching orders

marching orders

as far as the eye can see

as far as the eye can see

Back in Guilin, which is just another sprawling Chinese city, we head directly to our hotel, The Guilinyi Royal Palace, where we pamper ourselves on the last night of our holiday together.

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Travel, Xianggong Hill, Xingping, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , | 20 Comments

a cloudy day boat ride down the li river

Wednesday, January 28:  We go through a bit of an ordeal with our guide Esther today.  She has lured us into a boat ride down the Li River for a lower price than our hotel offers. She says she has connections.  I don’t understand how she can give us a better deal than the hotel, as the boat operators on the river charge generally the same prices, so she must be getting a deal on the transportation to the boat launch in Xingping and back.  She has already told us that the ride will be upriver from Xingping to Yangdi (east to west), and I told her I wanted the ride downriver from west to east, from Yangdi to Xingping.  This is the way I did it in October.  What’s so amazing about the downriver direction is that you end up in Xingping, where the jagged mountains are clustered together in such a fantastical array that a painting of them graces the 20 yuan bill.

Esther leads us through the streets to different spots, where she stops and looks all around for some mysterious person who’s supposed to show up.  She’s on the phone the whole time.  I still don’t like that she won’t guarantee the downriver boat ride, and she’s not telling us any details about who we’re going with.  She’s not planning to come along with us, and she’s being generally evasive.  As we move from one spot on the street to the other, with her on the phone yapping in Chinese and looking all around impatiently, I start to lose it.

I say, “Esther, you’ve had since yesterday to plan this!  How much longer will it be?” She keeps pacing up and down, searching for some vehicle that never materializes, and she has no answers.  Finally, I get fed up.  “I’m sorry, Esther.  You’ve had since yesterday to arrange this and you still don’t have it arranged!  We’re going back to the hotel.”

We walk away and leave her on the street, still talking on the phone.  Nearby, we stop into a travel agent, and we arrange the boat ride for the same price Esther was offering.  It seems however, that the downriver route is not available and the only way to go is from Xingping upriver a bit, but not all the way to Yangdi, and then returning to Xingping.  I guess the Li River must be lower at this time of year.  We pay the travel agent for the trip, wait about 20 minutes in the agent’s office, and then hop on a bus for the nearly one hour drive to Xingping.

On the bus, I’m squeezed in next to a Chinese lady who speaks excellent English.  She’s here in Yangshuo for the Spring Festival holiday with her husband and daughter.  She tells me her English name is Julia.  We have a long conversation about our holidays and her life in her hometown.  When we get to the boat launch, it ends up we all five share a bamboo raft together.

At the boat launch - waiting and waiting

At the boat launch – waiting and waiting

For some unknown reason, we have to wait quite a long time at the boat launch.  There are some boats lingering about, but no one seems to be manning them. Things are so much more disorganized than when I took this boat ride in October: a raft trip down the li river: yangdi to xingping

Finally, after at least a half-hour wait, we get on the boat with the lovely Chinese family.  We agree with the Chinese family that we’ll start in the front seat, which offers the best views, but we’ll switch places with them from time to time.  Sadly, the views today are not great anyway.  It’s a dark and cloudy day, but at least so far it isn’t raining.  We find out quickly that it’s quite cold on the river, with the cold wind and the spray from the river, and we realize we haven’t dressed warmly enough.

the Li River

the Li River

the boat launch at the Li River

the boat launch at the Li River

a dark day on the Li River

a dark day on the Li River

the cloudy Li River

the cloudy Li River

a river surrounded by karst landscape

a river surrounded by karst landscape

the Li River

the Li River

mysterious mountains

mysterious mountains

trees and karsts

boats, trees and karsts

For yet another day of our holiday, I’m disappointed in the dreary charcoal skies and the fog that nearly obscures our view.

a dark day on the Li River

a dark day on the Li River

the Li River

the Li River

the Li River

the Li River

The boat driver makes a stop at a little island where people are selling handicrafts, but none of us wants to buy anything.  While we wander about, the Chinese girl spends her time throwing heavy stones into the river.  Meanwhile, the boat driver sits with his friends and eats a snack.  We take turns taking pictures of each other.

our Chinese companions

our Chinese companions

Mike and I on the Li River

Mike and I on the Li River

It’s so funny, Julia reminds me so much of my Korean friend Julie.  Even her haircut is similar: my two closest korean friends

me with the Chinese girls

me with the Chinese girls

We pass on the opportunity to ride this little pony.

a ride on a pony, anyone?

a ride on a pony, anyone?

Finally, when our boat driver finishes eating his snack and chatting with his friends, we’re on our way again.

back on the boat

back on the boat

a boat with a view

a boat with a view

Soon after we get back on the boat, it starts to spit rain.  This continues for the rest of our ride.  Argh!!!!

Me, mother & daughter, and Mike on the bamboo raft

Me, mother & daughter, and Mike on the bamboo raft

heading down the Li River

heading down the Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

continuing down the river

continuing down the river

more picturesque views

more picturesque views

another boat on the river

another boat on the river

beach

beach

one of the larger boats for the Li River Cruise

one of the larger boats for the Li River Cruise

the Li River

the Li River

The Li River

The Li River

mother and daughter

mother and daughter

on the Li River

on the Li River

Li River views

Li River views

the Li River looking out over the end of our bamboo raft

the Li River looking out over the end of our bamboo raft

Cruising down the Li River

Cruising down the Li River

By the time we finish our ride, we’re all shivering and wet from the rain and the spray from the river.  We squeeze into the bus again and ride back to Yangshuo.  We go back to the hotel to rest and get warm and dry for a while before we head out to dinner at Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant.

The restaurant has two huge wooden sliding doors at the front.  Mike doesn’t realize they’re sliding doors and he pushes one of them inward, lifting both of them dangerously into the air.  He realizes belatedly what he’s done and he steps back, letting the doors clunk back into place.  Meanwhile the people in the restaurant run to the front to stop him from knocking down the two huge doors.  They’re so heavy that they probably would have crushed him if he had knocked them off their tracks.  He causes quite a stir!

at Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

at Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

Luckily after dinner the rain has abated so we take a short walk around the town again.  We run across some funny characters in the street.

characters on the streets of Yangshuo

characters on the streets of Yangshuo

We decide to warm up a bit in Mango by sharing a refreshing mango and ice cream dessert.  It’s really yummy, but that ice cream makes us shiver all the way back to our hotel.

Mike at Mango sharing his mango dessert

Mike at Mango sharing his mango dessert

the walls at Mango

the walls at Mango

Inside Mango

Inside Mango

We get cozy again in our hotel and read a long while.  There’s never anything on TV to watch as all the shows are in Chinese.  After our day on the river, we’re both feeling really sick, with coughs, sore throats, runny noses and general head colds and shivers.  We can see the forecast for tomorrow is for rain all day.  We decide that if it is actually raining, we will get massages in the morning and just stay in our hotel room for most of the day, trying to recover from our miserable colds.

 

 

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant, Rosewood Cafe, Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Yangdi, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

leaving ping’an for guilin: an afternoon at elephant hill park

Saturday, November 22:  This morning I wake up in Ping’An to blue skies, the first I’ve seen in China in weeks.  Unfortunately, I’m checking out of the hostel this morning as I have a hotel for this evening in Guilin.  I suppose I could have stayed longer, but I already made up my mind to see some sights in Guilin.  It’s too bad I made that decision, because in retrospect I would have loved another day, especially a sunny one, in the rice terraces.

No matter.  I leave the hostel around 8:30 to walk down to the parking lot, along with the little Chinese lady carrying my bag on her back, to catch a local bus that leaves at 9:00 a.m.  When I get to the parking lot, I find a small bus that will take us down the mountain to Heping.  It costs 10 yuan, rather than the 70 yuan I paid that driver to bring me up here on Wednesday.  I tell the bus driver I am going to Guilin, rather than to Longsheng, where this bus goes.  The hostel receptionist already told me that the bus driver would help us out in getting situated to catch the bus to Guilin.

On the bus ride, I have a long talk with a young man named George from England who is traveling around the world for a year.  By the time we’re on the bus, the blue skies have disappeared and there is a haze in the air.  He says, “Is this constant haze in the sky pollution or is it humidity?”  I say, “I’m not really sure.  I used to think it was humidity because it is very humid here all the time, but now I’m beginning to think it’s pollution.”  He has a disappointed look on his face that I know all too well.  Sadly, I do have to admit that I rarely see really clear blue skies in the south of China, although I hear the south is better than the north.  Some days in Nanning we get blue skies but they always do seem to be hazy as well.

At the main ticket office in Heping the bus driver motions for George and I to stay on the bus.  I figure he knows we’re going to Guilin and will do right by us.  The bus continues on up the hill to where I got dropped off on Wednesday, but the driver bypasses that spot.  About a quarter-mile later, he drops us off in the midst of some shops and a gas station and motions for us to stand on the opposite side of the street.  We hop off and within minutes, we get on a local bus to Guilin, paying 21 yuan for the trip back.

I finally arrive back at Qin Tan Bus station, and I catch a taxi to the Sapphire Hotel, getting ripped off as usual by the taxi driver for 30 yuan.  It should be about 15, but the taxi drivers waiting at the train or bus stations in Guilin, since it’s such a tourist destination, nab foreigners and brazenly rip them off.  I check into the hotel, ask about a dumpling place, and walk down a pedestrian street to enjoy a lunch of dumplings with pork and chives.

Then, with a tourist map in hand, I head to Elephant Hill Park, as it’s one of the tourist spots listed for Guilin in The Rough Guide to China.

On the street, I pass some pretty buildings.  I love this red one.

pretty red building in Guilin

pretty red building in Guilin

It doesn’t take me long to find the park as luckily my hotel is centrally located in town.  I can tell this is just another of China’s touristy attractions, which have been done up to the hilt.  I really do prefer the off-the-beaten path places in China, like being out in the countryside around Yangshuo or hiking through the rice terraces, which are more natural.  Although these are also tourist places, they don’t seem as commercialized as this.

Entrance to Elephant Hill Park

Entrance to Elephant Hill Park

Elephant Hill Park

Elephant Hill Park

pretty little bridge

pretty little bridge

Elephants galore

Elephants galore

tree of lanterns

tree of lanterns

riverside lanterns

riverside lanterns

elephant relief sculpture

elephant relief sculpture

Close up of elephant sculpture

Close up of elephant sculpture

I come to a little shrine, but I’m not sure if this is a Buddha or what.  One of the statues is of the god of wealth, or at least I was so informed by one of my Chinese students.

Little shrine

Little shrine

Little shrine

Little shrine

The god of wealth

The god of wealth

pagoda at the shrine

pagoda at the shrine

I walk up Elephant Trunk Hill on some very steep steps, where I get increasingly better views of the Li River and Guilin.

bamboo boaters in the Li River

bamboo boaters in the Li River

I think this must be the boat launching dock for the long cruise down the Li River.  I will have to do this entire cruise in the spring.  I hear the water on the Li River dries up in spots over the winter, and the entire cruise is impossible at this time.

boat launch on the Li River

boat launch on the Li River

From this viewpoint, I can see some of Elephant Hill Park and the city of Guilin.  Guilin is a big sprawling city similar to Nanning, but a little smaller in population.  Where Nanning has about 6.7 million people at the Prefecture level, Guilin has a population of about 4.7 million.  The main draw to Guilin is that it’s a hub for trips down the Li River to Xingping and Yangshuo and trips to points north such as Longsheng and the Longji Rice Terraces. As you can see from this picture, the karst topography surrounds the city, but I can barely see it today because of the haze.

view of Guilin and some of Elephant Hill Park from Elephant Trunk Hill

view of Guilin and some of Elephant Hill Park from Elephant Trunk Hill

On the top of Elephant Trunk Hill sits a pagoda named Puxian Pagoda. It is 14 meters high, and was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The pagoda looks like the hilt of a sword sticking out of the back of the elephant. According to legend, in the ancient past, the Emperor of Heaven set out to conquer Earth commanding his troops from the back of the elephant. The elephant worked so hard to provide transportation for the Emperor of Heaven, that it became seriously ill. The local farmers nursed it back to health. The elephant being extremely grateful, decided to desert the emperor and stay on earth to help the farmers plow their fields during a time of famine. The Emperor of Heaven was so angry, that he thrust his sword into the elephant’s back and turned the elephant into the rocky hill. The pagoda erected on top of the hill stands for the hilt of the sword. (China Odyssey Tours: Guilin Elephant Trunk Hill)

Puxian Pagoda??

Puxian Pagoda

view of Guilin down the Li River with karsts in the distance

view of Guilin down the Li River with karsts in the distance

Guilin and karsts

Guilin and karsts

In typical Chinese fashion, a girl cheerily says hello and plops down beside me at this spot, where I’m trying to catch my breath after climbing a million steps. She gets her boyfriend to take multiple photos of her hugging me, leaning her head against my shoulder, holding my hand. I feel like I’m a famous statue, existing for the sole purpose of being a prop for her photo. The Chinese seem to have a different concept of personal space than we do! Another funny moment in China.

viewpoint with pretty fences

viewpoint with pretty fences

As I usually do when a Chinese person wants to take a picture with me, I ask the photographer, in this case the girl’s boyfriend, to take a picture with my iPhone.

my new Chinese best friend

my new Chinese best friend

After the photo session, I continue along the path.  I love the old fences along the path.

I love these fences

I love these fences

At the bottom of the hill, I come to these brightly painted bells with ancient Chinese characters on them.  I’m still looking for the elephant-shaped hill, which, though I was on top of the hill, I haven’t been able to see.

colorful bells?

colorful bells?

Chinese guy

Chinese guy

Ancient Chinese character

Ancient Chinese character

colorful tourist rafts

colorful tourist rafts

colorful rafts reflected

colorful rafts reflected

Chinese bells

Chinese bells

Chinese bells

Chinese bells

Finally, I see there is a footbridge across the Taohuajiang River and a path that looks to be a continuation of the park.  I head across that, and finally I see the shape of the elephant hill emerge.

Elephant Trunk Hill is situated at the junction of the Li River and Taohuajiang Rivers. Rising over 55 meters above the water, it is a limestone karst hill with a naturally shaped cave at the bottom. The hill, standing on the western bank of the Li River looks like a huge elephant dipping its trunk into the Li River to quench its thirst.

Finally, the view of the elephant of Elephant Trunk Hill

Finally, the view of the elephant of Elephant Trunk Hill

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a country where so many people love to take photos of themselves in front of anything and everything. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people who brazenly love to take selfies, after much primping and puckering of lips and seductive smiles.  I have seen girls sitting on buses or standing along the side of the road or in front of a tourist attraction taking ten or twenty selfies, with all kinds of coy smiles and fluttering of eyelids.  They have no embarrassment at all about doing this.  I hate selfies and only rarely take them, preferring instead to find some stranger to take a photo of me, or to do without.  But the Chinese will take selfies, and hundreds of them, in any situation imaginable.

Chinese tourists posing with the elephant

Chinese tourists posing with the elephant

Elephant Trunk Hill

Elephant Trunk Hill

Bamboo boats waiting for passengers

Bamboo boats waiting for passengers

last view of Elephant Trunk Hill

last view of Elephant Trunk Hill

I continue walking along the walkway through the park, where there are pretty little bridges to little islands along the Li River.

pretty bridg

pretty bridge

I don’t cross every bridge, but I do go over one to find the Mysterious Village.

bridge over a canal

bridge over a canal

flowering trees over the canal

flowering trees over the canal

Mysterious Village

Mysterious Village

It is very mysterious as to exactly what this Mysterious Village is supposed to represent.

lovers in Mysterious Village

lovers in Mysterious Village

I wonder who these hands belong to.

a handshake instead of a kiss?

a handshake instead of a kiss?

strange creatures

strange creatures

Finally, I leave the extensive Elephant Hill Park and begin to make my way back to my hotel.  My legs are getting tired from all this walking.  I pass by Shan Hu, one of two tree-lined lakes that originally formed a moat around the inner city walls of Guilin’s medieval city.  Shan Hu is overlooked by forty-meter-tall twin pagodas named Riyue Shuang Ta, one of which is painted gold and the other a muted red and green.  I have trouble distinguishing the colors in the poor hazy light.  Apparently they’re supposed to be attractively lit at night, but I don’t make the effort to come out at night to see them.

Twin pagodas called Riyue Shuang Ta on Shan Hu

Twin pagodas called Riyue Shuang Ta on Shan Hu

Finally, I walk back along a wide walkway among the Osmanthus trees after which the city is named.  According to The Rough Guide to China, Guilin means “Osmanthus forest.”

walkway along the Li River, bordered by osmanthus trees

walkway along the Li River, bordered by Osmanthus trees

I pass by one modern hotel that looks very fancy.  It’s probably way out of my price range.

a fancy modern hotel

a fancy modern hotel

Earlier in the day, when I was eating at the dumpling restaurant, I noticed a massage place near the restaurant.  Because I have felt so rotten during this entire trip, I think I need some pampering.  I go there for an hour-long whole body massage and a pedicure; together these cost me 100 yuan ($16.25).  I’ve had Chinese massages before and they’re not relaxing but very painful, but I do feel afterward that it does me some good.  This Chinese pedicure only involves cutting my nails and taking care of my feet, but my old nail polish isn’t removed, nor do I get any new nail polish.  I still have yet to find a place in China that does pedicures like I can get in the U.S.

As my stomach is still acting up, I forgo dinner and relax in my hotel room, reading and going to sleep early.  My train back to Nanning doesn’t leave until 2:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, but I don’t know if I feel like doing any more sightseeing in Guilin.  I think a foot massage sounds appealing, but I’ll have to wait till 11:00 a.m. as the massage guy told me he doesn’t open until that time on Sunday. 🙂

 

Categories: Asia, China, Elephant Hill Park, Elephant Trunk Hill, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Puxian Pagoda, Riyue Shuang Ta, Shan Hu, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 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

a motorbike ride through orange groves to xianggong hill

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.

Life on the back of a motorbike

Life on the back of a motorbike

Farmland north of Yangshuo

Farmland north of Yangshuo

view from a mountain road

view from a mountain road

Orange groves on the mountains

Orange groves on the mountains

orange groves

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.

green oranges

green oranges

neat rows of orange trees

neat rows of orange trees

mountain views

mountain views

more farmland

more farmland

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.

a pretty little valley

a pretty little valley

I love the neat little road that hugs the bottom of one of the mountains.

the winding road into the valley

the winding road into the valley

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.

a glimpse of the Li River south of Xingping

a glimpse of the Li River south of Xingping

Li River view

Li River view

me the motorbiker!  haha!

me the motorbiker! haha!

Li River

Li River

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!

crazy rock formations

crazy rock formations

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.

Dalingtou, or not!

Dalingtou, or not!

another stunning view

another stunning view

peaks as far as the eye can see

peaks as far as the eye can see

another stunning view

another stunning view

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.

Scenery to die for

Scenery to die for

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 from Xianggong Hill

looking north and west from Xianggong Hill

view north from Xianggong Hil

view north from Xianggong Hil

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.

view south toward Xingping

view south toward Xingping

We can see the busy boat traffic on the river below.

Looking across the river to the village of Mashan

Looking across the river to the village of Mashan

northerly view again

northerly view again

Mashan view again

Mashan view again

last view toward Xingping

last view toward Xingping

Vivian and me on Xianggong Hill

Vivian and me on Xianggong Hill

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.

Xianggong Hill marker??

Xianggong Hill marker??

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.

Vivian's brother's house

Vivian’s 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.

snack time :-)

snack time 🙂

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.

Vivian's brother's property and their village

Vivian’s brother’s property and their 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.

Chinese daytime drama on a big screen TV

Chinese daytime drama on a big screen TV

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.

sitting with the children while the adults enjoy their cauldron of fish stew

sitting with the children while the adults enjoy their cauldron of fish stew

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.

cock-a-doodle-doo!

cock-a-doodle-doo!

I happy to be back on the motorbike again.  Next stop, the Seven Star Tea Plantation. 🙂

 

 

Categories: Asia, China, CNY 20 Banknote View, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Motorbike tour, Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Travel, Xianggong Hill, Xingping, Yangdi, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

a morning walk & breakfast in yangshuo

Sunday, October 5:  I’m supposed to meet Vivian at the hotel at 10:30 this morning to go on a private motorbike tour of the countryside north of Yangshuo.  Before our meeting, I walk into town to find some breakfast.  I’m pleasantly surprised to find the town is just waking up and the streets are practically deserted.

on Xianqian Jie

on Xianqian Jie: The Yangshuo Climbing Festival

Deserted Xianqian Jie

Deserted Xianqian Jie

the cute little coffee shop with a gecko server

the cute little coffee shop with a gecko server

Even Xi Jie, better known as West Street, normally packed with people, has just been washed down and is practically empty, except for a few early birds like me.

Xi Jie, or West Street.

Xi Jie, or West Street.

I decide to indulge in the breakfast buffet at Rosewood Cafe.

Rosewood Cafe

Rosewood Cafe

Breakfast buffet at Rosewood Cafe

Breakfast buffet at Rosewood Cafe

Still life over the buffet

Still life over the buffet

little pond in the center of town

little pond in the center of town

pretty little bridge

pretty little bridge

I continue to stroll through the town, enjoying the peace and quiet.  I even find some people walking around in their pajamas.

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

Heading back toward the hotel, I pause along the Li River’s edge to see what’s happening.

waterfall

waterfall

the bamboo boat man

the bamboo boat man

The Li River on a Sunday morning

The Li River on a Sunday morning

over the moon

over the moon

Li River

Li River

stepping stones

stepping stones

Li River & karst landscape

Li River & karst landscape

I’m excited about my motorbike tour.  When I get back to the hotel, I gather up my camera and my bag, and meet Vivian for a full-day of exploring.

Categories: Asia, China, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, National Holiday, Rosewood Cafe, Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

a raft trip down the li river: yangdi to xingping

Friday, October 3:  I’ve been told by Matthew at the hotel that I should be in the lobby by 6:45 a.m., but when I go down, the guard is asleep on the hard bench chair, and none of the other staff is in sight.  I panic a bit because I already paid for the raft trip down the Li River (220 yuan, or ~ $36) and was told it was non-refundable.  I’m supposed to be picked up by a moto-taxi to be taken to some park to catch a bus, but I have no idea where that park is.  I look all around and call out “Hello!” and finally one of the hotel staff wanders out of a back room in her pajamas and says, “It’s so early!”  I say, “Sorry, I was told to be down here at 6:45.”  She rubs her eyes and mumbles again, “It’s so early!”

She calls a moto-taxi and instructs him to take me to the park.  She also gives him a phone number to call because the Li River Raft guide has never called her back to confirm and she isn’t really sure where I’m to meet him.  Finally, after all is said and done, I get on a bus at Yangshuo Park and we’re on our way to Yangdi.

At Yangdi, I’m instructed to get on a particular boat with three young Chinese people, a man and two women. There are two small benches sitting on the raft which are not even attached to the boat.  I take the front seat, since I’m first on the boat, and since I didn’t come all the way to China to sit in the back on this boat ride!  We all put our life preservers on and take off from the shore.

I’ve come to the Guilin area to see its amazing karst landscape, which I’ve seen in pictures and in the movie The Painted Veil. I’ve dreamed of coming here for a long time.

Getting on the boats at Yangdi

Getting on the boats at Yangdi

According to Geotimes: Exploring karst in Guilin, China, “Guilin’s more than 5,180 square kilometers of karst landscape is the result of a perfect alchemy of geological conditions…Rising sharply at odd angles, limestone peaks look like giant teeth growing out of the green plain.”

Boats in Yangdi

Boats in Yangdi

Says Geotimes: Specific conditions for forming the magnificent topography of Guilin “are fourfold,” according to Ray Beiersdorfer, a geologist at Youngstown State University in Ohio. “First, you need hard, compact carbonate rock. In Guilin, it’s Devonian limestone. Secondly, you need strong uplift, in this case provided by the collision of India with Asia to form the Himalaya. Third, you need a Monsoon climate of high moisture during the warmest season. Finally, the area must not have been scoured by glaciers, which this region wasn’t.”

Boats in Yangdi

Boats in Yangdi

pushing off from Yangdi

pushing off from Yangdi

It’s a gray and foggy morning, but then as long as I’ve been in the south of China (a little over a month), it’s been foggy nearly every morning.  The humidity is very high, so it always seems to be hazy.  I’m a little disappointed because it seems we’re heading into the sun, and thus it will be a challenge to get good pictures.  I keep turning around and trying to take pictures behind us, but they don’t seem to turn out much better.

Heading down the Li River

Heading down the Li River

It’s quite noisy, as there are scores of the motorized rafts around us.  No peaceful quiet ride, this one.

fellow rafters

fellow rafters

Li River

Li River

Waterfall along the Li River

Waterfall along the Li River

Closeup of the waterfall along the Li River

Closeup of the waterfall along the Li River

My Chinese boat mates are snapping pictures in every direction, and naturally, I am captured in some of them.  They end up in some of my pictures too.  They don’t speak English and I don’t speak Chinese, but we do seem to enjoy each other’s company.

me taking pictures ~ what else is new?

me taking pictures ~ what else is new?

We cruise along for about two hours. I find myself getting choked up as we bounce along.  I can’t believe I’m here in China in this place I’ve dreamed about for so long.  I’m in awe of this scenery that looks so spectacular and, with the fog, ephemeral and dreamy.

Li River

Li River

At one point we stop at a little gravel beach where I get my picture taken with some cormorants (for 10 yuan).  The girls and I pose for a picture together, taken by their friend.

Back on the boat again, we continue to make our way to Xingping, where we’ll end our cruise.

Approaching Xingping

Approaching Xingping

Arriving at Xingping

Arriving at Xingping

view as we get off the boat

view as we get off the boat

view with a beach

view with a beach

Xingping is famous for the scene depicted on the back of the 20 yuan bill.  Of course, there are photo opportunities everywhere.  The prime spots are reserved for those commercial photographers charging a fee (15 yuan).  As hokey as it is, I stand along with everyone else holding up the 20 yuan bill and getting my picture taken.

I snap this shot of the male Chinese boat mate holding the 20 yuan bill

I snap this shot of my male Chinese boat mate holding the 20 yuan bill

some kind of momunent, probably to the landscape of Xingping

some kind of monument, probably to the landscape of Xingping

my Chinese boat mate, who took some of the photos of me

my Chinese boat mate, who took some of the photos of me

me in Xingping, holding the 20 yuan note depicting Xingping's landscape

me in Xingping, holding the 20 yuan note depicting Xingping’s landscape

Xingping

Xingping

monument mimicking mountains

monument mimicking mountains

karst landscape of Xingping

karst landscape of Xingping

After posing for our pictures in front of the magical landscape, we hop back in the boat to cross the river, where we disembark.

Crossing over to disembark at Xingping

Crossing over to disembark at Xingping

My 3 boat mates on a memorable cruise

My 3 boat mates on a memorable cruise

In the town, we have to trek quite a long way to get to where we’re supposed to catch our bus back to Yangshuo.  At the top of a steep hill, we have to wait in an interminable queue to take a mini bus to get back to the bus terminal.

souvenir stands in Xingping

souvenir stands in Xingping

After getting off the mini bus, we still have more walking to do to get to the bus terminal.  It’s packed, as you can see from these pictures.

Making our way to the bus terminal at Xingping

Making our way to the bus terminal at Xingping

Making our way to the bus terminal at Xingping

Making our way to the bus terminal at Xingping

When we arrive at the bus terminal, our bus is nowhere to be found.  Luckily our tour guide gave us his telephone number, so one of the girls calls to find out the bus will be another ten minutes.  While waiting, we see this young lady on her cell phone.  This is a common sight in China.  The little flower arrangement on her head is typical of those made and sold by elderly Chinese women to tourists.

Oblivious

Oblivious

My two female boat mates buy some fruit. They offer me some of what they bought.  I think it might be taro fruit, and after chewing on a piece of it for a bit, I return the remainder.  I’m not too keen on it, whatever it is.

Fruit snacks near the bus terminal

Fruit snacks near the bus terminal

While waiting at one corner of the bus parking lot, we see our bus pull in and circle around.  As it settles into an outward-facing position, several frantic young men come running and carrying something between them.  They lay their bundle down on the sidewalk directly in front of our bus and, shocked, we see it is a young man covered in streaks of blood.  It looks like his head has been horribly cut all over the top.  Our bus driver gets out of the bus in a leisurely fashion and talks to the young men standing around the victim.  We can’t get a good look at the bloodied man, but it appears no one is doing anything for him.  They’re just standing there looking at him helplessly.  He’s obviously had a very bad accident and I’m not sure whether he’s alive or dead.

We’re all shocked by this turn of events, but none of us knows what to do, and his friends don’t seem to know either.  Finally, after standing there for a while, waiting for something to happen, we get on the bus.  As a foreigner who can’t speak Chinese, I know I have nothing to offer to the situation.  This is my third time living abroad, and every time I’ve arrived in a new country, I’ve been warned not to get involved in any problems.  A foreigner on the scene will surely be blamed, I’ve been told.

Later, when I relay this story to someone, they say that we as foreigners can’t begin to understand the complicated issues involved in a situation such as this.  I am told that if an ambulance is called, the victim or his friends must make sure they have enough money between them to pay the ambulance.  Also, there are superstitions about saving a person and owing a life later.  There are probably more cultural issues about which I don’t have a clue.

scene at Xingping

scene at Xingping

We are quite shaken by this violent turn of events, and we’ll never know what the victim’s fate was.  By the time our bus leaves, it appears he has been moved somewhere, as he’s disappeared from our sight.

We make our way slowly out of the town.  It is so crowded that it takes us a half-hour to get out of Xingping alone, and it is a small town!  After crawling through the traffic, we make better speed to Yangshuo, another half hour.

It is a wonderful experience to float down the Li River through such a fantastical landscape, and even though the journey is marred at the end by this upsetting and mysterious accident, it remains a memory I’ll cherish forever.

Happy moments. :-)

Happy moments. 🙂

When we arrive back to Yangshuo, I go immediately to eat some lunch, as I never ate breakfast this morning.  I spend the rest of the day exploring bits of the town, and having dinner with Audrey and her friend.  Post to follow. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Xingping, Yangdi, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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