Wednesday, April 29, 2009

City 2: Guilin

Day 1

When I lived in China before I visited the little village of Yangshou. It's a foreigners paradise. By that I mean it's practically paradise and that's where all the foreigners go. It's a little more remote and since I'd been there before, I decided to stick to the city. Guilin has the same type of karst mountain scenery but more city conveniences like the train station and an airport. Overall, it's a lovely city and I saw a lot of nice things, but I still prefer Yangshou.

One of the highlights of this part of the trip was meeting Aretha or Liqing and her parents. They were on the same train as I was from Guangzhou and we took the same bus from the train station. We got to talking and I ended up spending most of the day sightseeing with them. We started with breakfast at this buffet place. Chinese breakfasts are pretty awesome. This was awesome times buffet.

Lesson Two: You are never alone when you are in China. In part because there are just sooooo many people there, but I found wherever I went I met lovely, kind people to hang out with or help me with directions or just to talk to for a bit.

First we were on our way to Xiangbishan (Elephant Truck Hill park), when a lady talked us into a boat ride instead. I had read that Elephant Truck Hill is best viewed from a boat so you can actually see that it looks like a giant elephant's trunk. Other than it was a bit cold in the headwind this was a great little adventure. Our boat actually ran out of gas at one point but luckily we drifted to shore where there were some other boats who refueled us.

Next we went to Jin Jiang Wang Cheng the palace of a Ming dynasty prince. There is a tree there planted by Dr. Sun Yatsen. If you don't know who he is, go brush up on your Chinese history. He's considered the father of modern China. Also look up his wife Song Chingling. Very interesting woman. The palace was very cool and the grounds are pretty. I think a lot of it is used as part of a University now so you can't see the whole thing. There's this cave that has engravings of all the different guardians of the different Chinese astrological birth years. There were like 60 of them. Mine was a pretty tough looking dude, so I was feeling pretty well protected. I did the kowtow how they guide showed us and slipped him a couple of Yuan (Chinese currency) so he'd keep looking out for me the rest of the trip.

Then we went to the Reed Flute Caves. If you've ever been on a cave tour with that had stalagmites and stalactites, imagine it with rock star lighting. Very nice. You can actually appreciate the details in the rock better this way. There were a couple of areas where a white light would turn on for a short time and then go back to the colored lights and the shadowing was just better to highlight the formations with the colored lights.

Finally we went to the main touristy street (it is blocked from regular traffic). We had mifan for lunch. Literally translated it means rice, but at least in the South it's actually noodles. Rice noodles though. Very tasty.


Did I mention how really cool and nice the Li family was? They were so sweet to let me tag along all day and then they paid for both my meals and most of the sights and were just really nice. Oh and the dad carried my big backpack a lot. Even up and down a hill. I got all choked up after we parted because I was so touched by how kind they were to me.

He carried that bag up and down a lot of stairs. Thank you!

Day two

The next day I took off for the Longsheng Longji rice terraces (Dragon's Backbone terraces). My recommendation here would be to do this for at least two days. It took 4 hours to get there and I was only there 4 hours before I had to catch the 2nd to last bus back. I could have explored more.

The terraces are beautiful. Fortunately the bus takes you most of the way up the mountain. You then walk from the entrance gate up a street lined with gift shops. Then you reach a minority village which is basically guesthouses, restaurants, and gift shops. Tourism is the new economy but the architecture is still cool and it's cool walking up and down stairs in these narrow walkways through the village.

The views at the top are breathtaking. They are just planting the rice now so it wasn't super green, but it was still pretty. I've heard its better in the fall, but there's also a lot more people. I'm happy with the trip.

Day 3

Went round and about Guilin for the scenery, hiked a tall hill, saw some lakes. You know, the usually morning stuff in a scenic city in China. Then I checked out of my hotel. I should have checked for a left luggage service because even though my backpack isn't super big or heavy, it starts to feel that way after a few hours of lugging it around.

I spent most of the day at the Qixing Gongyuan (Seven Stars Park). It's really big and really pretty. My tour guide was Richard. He's totally cool. He learned English hanging out with foreigners in Yangshou. He even traded kungfu lessons for English lessons. If you go to Guilin and/or Seven Star Park look him up. I have his cell number if you go.

I think I ate lunch in that building

Later I caught a taxi to the Guilin airport. It was rush hour traffic and my taxi driver is texting. Super. Do I put on a seat belt? No, I can't even find the seat belt. I made it to the airport and caught my flight to Chengdu. The best part, maybe the only good part, of the airport was I saw a full grown, Asian mullet. It was awesome. It came with long pointy sideburns too. A rare find indeed. I wanted to take a picture but it would have been too obviously. Bonus!!!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Trip Recap Part One: Guangzhou

After a 24 hour delay, I finally landed in Hong Kong. I pretty much walked off the plane, through the airport, and onto a bus. There is a CTS bus that goes from the airport to the middle of Guangzhou. My intent was to get there, get my bus/train ticket to Guilin for the next day, and check into a hotel. As it was, I got there when it was dark. I was tired, disoriented, tired, and made the executive decision to not wander the streets of Guangzhou in the dark.
Bonus! Baby almost mullet. Delight for the day.

Fortunately, I have kind, generous friends in Panyu (suburb of Guangzhou). I took a taxi to Clifford Estates and my dear old friend Robert met me. (Robert was one of the first people I met in China when I taught English at the Clifford Kindergarten. I hadn't communicated with him for 4 or 5 years, but a few days before the trip I decided I would try the old email address I had saved. Now, I can't believe I was going to just cruise through Guangzhou without contacting any of my old friends, but that was the original plan.) Robert took me to his brother's restaurant near the front gate of Clifford Estates, Old Man Zeng's Noodle Shop. This was the best Chinese food I had the entire trip. I strongly recommend going there if you're ever in the Guangzhou area. Get the fried dumplings (jin jiao), the Gong Bao Ji Ding, and this vegitable/tofu salad thing (don't know what it was called but it's fresh, healthy, and delightful). There's a subway stop not too far from Clifford Estates. Do it. Or they have a restaurant opening in Guangzhou soon. I have the address somewhere.

Lesson #1, Just because Plan A doesn't go according to plan, doesn't mean Plan B isn't going to be way more awesome.

I ended up staying with Robert and his beautiful, kind wife, Rosie, for two days because I couldn't get a train ticket to Guilin until the following day. I also happened to mention another good friend of mine from back in the day, Joey. We called her and I surprised her and got to spend the afternoon with her. This was probably the happiest day of my trip. It is an amazing, happy thing when you find someone you really care about but haven't heard from in about a decade and figured you'd never see again, but hoped you would.

I also got to eat at the Clifford medicinal restaurant. They serve really yummy food but every dish has plants or herbs that are good for you. My favorite was the mushroom dish as I recall.

I spent part of my last day in Panyu/Guangzhou with friends, and then took the Subway into Guangzhou and hung out at the Xuexiu Park (5 Rams park). It was such a treat to carry two backpacks all over the park. Ok, I did get sore some days from carrying three weeks worth of stuff around, but it was actually amazingly light for 3 weeks worth, and it was better than dragging 50 pounds of suitcases up and down stairs. The park is beautiful though. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.

Some culinary delights, and yes, I ate one of the chicken feet. Yummy, just hard to eat.

I found Guangzhou and the area changed quite a bit. Mostly all in good ways. I saw a lot more cars, a lot! Fewer bikes. Some of the bike lanes have been removed for more car lanes. I would say the area and many of the large cities in China have developed a very high level of sophistication. The cities were very modern when I was there before, but they seemed more polished and sophisticated now. The people are hospitable and kind as ever. One thing that did surprise me was that I still got stared at. I thought maybe people were used to foreigners by now, but I was stared at a lot and had a lot of people ask to take pictures with me. My ego is still reveling in delusions of grandeur. That's all for now. The Amy is going to take a Sunday afternoon nap. We are still overcoming the jetlag.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Final City

I arrived in Beijing (from Xian) this morning.  A quick word on Xian, I loved it.  I think I had lower expectations because everyone said it wasn't their favorite place.  I was there 3 days and I could have stayed longer.  The sights are nice, but there is so much history there.   Also I had some of the best food (best food was still in Panyu) of my trip.  I mostly ate street food in the Muslim district.  Fabulous.

I am looking forward to going home but I am also sad to go.  I am travelled out but there is so much I still haven't seen.  The week in Beijing will maybe be more relaxing. Maybe.  Knowing me, not as much as it could be.  I am here to visit my Swedish friends too so I wont be running around the city everyday.  

I may be posting pictures soon.  The little journal I brought came from my Spain trip.  I have maybe 20 pages from that trip.  I have almost finished it now from this trip.  Since I can't always talk to people I take it out on my journal.  I will be giving a partial recounting of each area soon as well.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Chinese think I'm crazy

It gets a little on the cool side and nobody eats ice cream but me. Everyone is bundled up to their eyeballs in coats and I'm walking down the street eating a Crispy Cookie Chocolate ice cream bar (3 yuan). Delicious. I eat one ice cream almost everyday. Got to get my calcium in.

I'm down from Mount Emei a day early. I walked all the way to the top and part of the way down but I was cold and wet and tired and the two Swedish girls I was with wanted to take the bus the rest of the way too. I'm ahead of myself though.

The trip so far has been spectacular. It hasn't gone entirely to plan but I've been having a great adventure.

Highlights so far (I'll outline everything in great detail when I get back):
Visiting old friends in Panyu
Touring the school I taught in......several years ago
The Longi Rice terraces
Saw a mullet in the Chengdu airport! Bonus!!!
Wenshu temple--best Buddhist temple I've been too yet
Hiking up Emei Shan with a Buddhist pilgram (we never successfully communicated in anything better than pointing and grunting vowel sounds but I could tell he was a very nice person).
Sleeping in a Buddhist monastery on mount Emei
Meeting tons of awesome people

Food highlights:
Old Man Zeng's Noodle shop in Panyu, everything was good, but the jin jiao (fried dumplings) almost made me cry, best Chinese food ever
Magnum bar in Guilin (only 4 yuan (about 50 cents compare that to 2 Euros ($3) in Spain)
Qiezi bao (spicey eggplant) in the Wenshu Temple
Bing (pancake) somewhere in Mount Emei
Shui jiao (boiled dumplings) down the alley in Emei City

Still can't upload pictures. Maybe in a few days when I get to Beijing.

For the count, so far I haven't lost anything vital. My jacket technically is in the lost and found in San Francisco. We switched planes and I remembered I left it on my seat after they took the plane to the bay and then we flew out before the lost and found opened. I left my bamboo stick in the monastery this morning, and today I dropped my contact on the floor and after searching for a few minutes didn't want to find it anymore and through the other one away. All and all, I'm feeling pretty good for not having my own personal keeper on this trip. :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The big trip Day 2

Still in San Francisco. Oh my gosh. :) Less than 2 hours from home and I'm stuck in the US. Long story and I've got to go catch the shuttle back to the airport, but after many hours in and out of planes that didn't move, my flight to Hong Kong was cancelled. Been trying to make the most of it. It's the journey that matters not the destination. Had a lovely evening in Palo Alto with a handsome gentlman so it was a pleasant change in planes. ;)