Xingping

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.

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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

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

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

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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 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

buying train tickets for the national holiday: nanning to guilin & onward to yangshuo

Saturday, September 20:  My student assistant, Angela, goes above and beyond the call of duty this morning when she offers to help me get train tickets from Nanning to Guilin for the upcoming National Holiday on October 1-7.  My ultimate destination is Yangshuo, where I will be in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery in the south of China.

The niece of a former classmate of mine lives in Yangshuo; Audrey has offered to meet me in Yangshuo.  She even has gone so far as to offer to let me stay with her, but as I enjoy my privacy, I have decided to get a hotel in Yangshuo.  It will be outrageously crowded during the National Holiday, and I’m fully prepared for that.  It’s the only extended holiday I have until February, when I have about 5 weeks off, so I must take advantage of this time to travel, even if the rest of China will be coming along on my journey.

I’ve communicated with Audrey through Facebook and by WeChat, and she tells me while in Yangshuo I must take the boat ride down the Li River, and I also should visit Xingping, the picture of which is on the back of the 20 Yuan bill.

The September 2014 issue of Wanderlust & Xingping on the back of the 20 yuan bill.

The September 2014 issue of Wanderlust & Xingping on the back of the 20 yuan bill.

I’m excited about my trip, but also nervous, especially because of the crowds that I’m likely to encounter everywhere.  As this is my first time traveling in China alone, I’m worried about not being able to communicate, not catching my train on time, not being able to get a bus to Yangshuo, or not having the proper documents I need for travel.

On September 17, three of us teachers who need a resident visa were escorted to the police station, where we had to turn over our passport, medical results and the application for the resident visa.  All of us believed when we went there that we’d have our passports back from the police by October 1.  After all, the police had nearly 2 weeks to get our documents back to us.  However, we were all shocked and upset that our passports would not be returned to us until October 13, well AFTER the National Holiday.

One of the teachers had already bought a plane ticket to Indonesia for the holiday.  The university administration had full knowledge of her plans, and had even allowed her to rearrange some of her classes.  When this teacher found out our passports wouldn’t be returned until October 13, she took her passport back and said she would not turn it over to the police.  As we don’t have multiple entry visas in our passports at this point, she wouldn’t be able to return to China.  This created some very tense moments.

the 20 yuan bill with Xingping on the back

the 20 yuan bill with Xingping on the back

The other teacher and I have plans to travel within China, but this is also problematic as hotels always require a passport.  The police assure us that within China, all hotels, trains, etc. are required to accept a copy of our passport and the receipt issued by the police as identification.  We’ve heard mixed stories about this from teachers who have been here awhile.  It makes me nervous, but at least I do know Audrey in Yangshuo and she has offered me a place to stay if I have a problem.  Hopefully I won’t be sleeping on the sidewalk.

Today, when Angela comes to help me get my train tickets, she’s surprised to find that I don’t have my passport.  She tries to book the tickets online, on a Chinese-only website 12306.cn.  But then she finds out that she needs my actual passport to book online.  She makes a phone call to see if she can buy my ticket at a ticket office right outside the main gate of the university and she explains the situation.  They tell her we must go to the train station to buy the ticket if we don’t have the original passport.

So we get on the bus and head to the train station where every queue is about 30 people long.  First we stop at an information booth, where Angela has to fight her way to the front as there is no queuing here.  She’s told to go to the English-only ticket line and talk to them.  We go wait in line.  And wait.  And wait.  What I don’t understand is why these non-English speaking Chinese are in the English-only ticket line!

When I get to the front of the line, the ticket person tells Angela that she cannot sell tickets for Guilin until 3 days before the date of travel.  As I want to travel on October 1st or 2nd, it’s too early for her to sell the tickets.  However, she says there is a way around this.  Angela can buy the tickets by phone and then pick them up at the ticket office within 24 hours.  We’re not sure at this point if I have to come back to the train station or if I can go to the ticket office directly across from the front gate of the university.

All of this takes several hours in the heat and humidity, as of course, no place is air-conditioned.  Angela and I agree to go by bus back to the university, where I’ll treat her for lunch at my favorite dumpling restaurant.  We enjoy a leisurely lunch at my expense.  She deserves to be treated for all her patience in dealing with my dilemmas and for spending half of her Saturday helping me.

Finally we return to my apartment; by this time it’s 2:00.  We started this process at 9 a.m.  At my apartment, Angela calls the train office and orders my tickets.  She tells me I must pick them up by midnight of the 21st since they haven’t been paid for.  The round trip tickets will cost me 222 yuan ($36.23).

We head back out again into the heat.  Angela walks with me to the ticket office across from the front gate of the university, but there is another long queue.  I tell her she should go home and relax and I’ll return by myself early tomorrow morning to pick up the tickets.

After 5 hours, I still don’t have my tickets in hand!

Sunday morning, I go to the ticket office across from the university, hoping they’ll let me have the tickets without having my passport.  I have the copy of my passport, my Chinese entry visa, and the police receipt.  When I get to the front of the line, I phone Angela and she speaks with the ticket lady.  I have already shown her the confirmation number and my documents.  For a nervous few minutes, I dread her telling me she can’t sell me the tickets, or almost worst, that I have to return to the train station to pick them up.  Luckily it goes without a hitch, and I leave with my two train tickets in hand.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly on my first trip alone in China! 🙂

 

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Nanning, Nanning Railway Station, National Holiday, Xingping, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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