We arrived in Guilin and our guide (English name Angela) and driver for the region met us at the airport. We were struck by the incredible humidity which felt like July in Atlanta. The hour or so drive from the airport to downtown Guilin reminded us a bit of India but on a less terrifying level. Nonetheless, there were vans, buses, bicycles, scooters, pedestrians and more engaged in some kind of organized chaos on the roads. Though we were supposed to go to the hotel and relax for the night, Angela recommended we go to a river cruise around downtown Guilin. We arrived a bit early and enjoyed a beer by the water overlooking the Sun and Moon Pagodas. While there, a girl came up to our guide and asked if she could take a picture with us! We had heard about this happening sometimes in China when someone has never seen a Westerner before. She was very cute and of course we complied. The river cruise took us through the new Guilin town, which they rebuilt in 2002 using the ancient motes and was very beautiful and colorful. They modeled their bridges after such international places as the Oxford bridge, Golden Gate Bridge and the Arc de Triumph. After the cruise we gathered outside the nearby Waterfall Hotel to witness their nightly 30 minute waterfall which is in the Guinness book of World Records as the highest and widest manmade waterfall! After checking into our hotel, we had a late Chinese dinner in the hotel (ordered a much more appropriate amount of food) and were offered tea, which we accepted. When the man went to pour water into our cups of leaves mixed with red dates, we were surprised that the water pot was more like an oil canister with a 2 foot spout! He stood way back from the table with the end of the spout at least a foot or so away when he poured and we still can’t believe he managed to get the water into the cups!
The next morning we checked out of the hotel and met our guide and driver for a short drive to the Li River for a 4 hour cruise to Yangzhou. The cruise was amazing- we went down stream through endless spectacular scenery that’s difficult to describe. In short, we were treated to hundreds of limestone mountains that rose up from the ground like nothing I’ve ever seen. With every turn in the river it only got better. As we cruised down the river we passed a number of villages as well as the bravest (or reckless) fisherman on tiny bamboo boats that would approach the large river cruiser we were on in order to hook on and try and sell some jade (or likely fake jade) to the tourists.
We really enjoyed the town of Yangzhou, which is a tourist destination but more so for Chinese tourists than Westerners destination . While there, we strolled through the market, saw an absolutely fantastic outdoor cultural show (same director as the 2008 opening games in Beijing), had our first foot reflexology, went on a bamboo river boat, and took a long bicycle ride through villages The Chinese tourists were hilarious on the river boats because they all bring preparations to have water fights with other boats, whether they know them or not. For some reason, we seemed to be off limits and were spared numerous times from being sprayed. The bike ride was great because it gave us better insight into some cultural ways and how the more remote people live. We had the opportunity to meet a old man who allowed us to see his house without warning… he had a mirror above the door, as almost all the homes did, which is there to ward off evil. His home was incredibly simple and bare, and yet he had a TV! We also encountered village women who carried their babies in baskets for the purpose of finding tourists (like us) to take pictures for money. BTW, the majority group (92% of the population), or Han, are only allowed one child while the many minority groups are allowed two children. The exception to this rule is if a Han farmer has a child and it is a girl; in that case, they can wait two years and try again to have a boy.
Back in Guilin we saw the Reed Flute Cave, Elephant Hill, a Tea Ceremony, Silk Factory, and Pandas at the zoo. The cave was interesting not only for the natural wonder but because there were clear differences between the limestone caves in NZ and the limestone caves in China that illustrate some of the cultural values of different societies. For example, in NZ, the emphasis on the caves was on conservation of the environmentally fragile aspects of the cave and was presented in a such a way as to allow the cave to speak for itself. Alternatively, the cave in China, which was equally as impressive, was lighted with many colors and all around were signs pointing out naturally occurring shapes that invited the viewer to use their imagination to see animals, people, and other scenes. We found this tendency in many places (the hills along the Li River all had names based what “might” be seen in them, etc. camels, apple, horses…) and realized that the Chinese culture emphasizes amazing imagination and interpretation of scenery.
So far, the people are great, the scenery is beautiful and the food is, well, interesting. After such a good start, we are looking forward to seeing what else China has to offer. The only negatives so far is the pollution, humidity and mosquitoes. In 2 days, Tovah received 28 mosquito bites 9 including one on her eyelid!) despite using bug spray. Apparently Asian bugs prefer Western blood, as our driver joked about, but unfortunately, Tovah seems to have a mild allergy to them and they swell up like hives on her. It is giving her the opportunity to sample Chinese medicines.
At the time we originally went to publish this blog we realized that access to the blogger site we use is blocked by the gov’t here. So, sorry this is late but better late than never. Now that we have figured out a hack and a way to proxy, we will post more soon.