Tuesday, December 21, 2004


[New photo album: Yangshuo]

As I mentioned before, Mom insisted that we see some of China's countryside. This isn't the easiest thing to do in China, because renting a car and driving out of the city just isn't done. Mom found a little resort town called Yangshuo (pronounced Yang-shoo-Oh) and we fit it into the schedule. Yangshuo is basically a backpacker's village- one main road, a couple little hotels, outdoor cafes, and lots of rock-climbing/bicycling "adventure tours". The closest airport is Guilin (pronounced Kway-lin) about an hour or so down the road. Guilin was the main resort a few years ago, but it has gotten overrun with tourists (so they say), so Yangshuo is the new Guilin.

We arrived at the one-terminal, two-gate airport to find it nearly deserted. It was about 6pm or so, well past the time when most Chinese work. There were a few girls in tour-guide looking uniforms standing around the baggage claim so we sought their assistance. They spoke very little English, but generously helped us into an unmarked minivan. We drove around Guilin a bit, which reminded me a LOT of the streets of Ixtapa- square concrete buildings, painted white once upon a time. Instead of colorful awnings advertising Corona, these advertise Tsingtao. The driver stopped at some little place, I have no idea what it was, and honked his horn. A girl, apparently his girlfriend came out and jumped in the back of the van. And away we go, down a lane and a half highway in the dark. We stayed at the Paradise Resort which, once we saw the other hotels in the daylight, we were very happy to have booked. Not that they're bad, but air conditioning is optional out here.

Day 1- Gonna see me some countryside!
We walked down the main street, West Street, and had a little breakfast. Every little place has a sign or chalkboard up advertising tours, so we stopped in one place and set up a bike tour of the area. We didn't want anything strenuous, no mountain biking, just a leisurely tour of the countryside. It was still early, and the temperature was in the mid-80s, the tour arranged for about 11 am. If you see where this is headed, you're WAY ahead of where I was...

As you can see in some of the photos, the area is mountainous. These particular mountain formations are unique to this part of China, and they're called Karst mountains. The Chinese are rightly pround of these mountains and paint them on everything. The roads are relatively level, so if you guessed we were going mountain-biking, you're wrong. A few miles down the dirt road, I'm now sterile, and sweating profusely. We're riding at a leisurely pace, but these bikes suck ass and it's approaching 90 degrees-F now. We're now well outside the village biking past rice paddies, little streams, and long-abandoned cinderblock outhouses. Every so often we pass someone with a big wicker basket of something...Ni Hao! (trans: Hello!) Friendly people.

We pull off the dirt road following literally tire tracks in the grass, when we arrive at a little hut serving as dockhouse to a couple dozen bamboo rafts. We're immediately surrounded by 3 little old ladies who want to sell us squirt guns made from a piece of bamboo. Wo bu yao. (trans: I don't want to buy.) Our cycle-guide arranges a 2-hour float down the river we've arrived at, saying she's not coming with us, but she'll meet us at the other end. The rafts are only big enough for 2 people, and up close they don't look all that seaworthy. We haven't had any trouble yet, why would this be any different? The raftsmen lash our bikes to the back of the rafts and begin to pole us down the river.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves here, except to say this is a fantastic country. Every mile or so there's a tiny little waterfall. They must be manmade as they're too "perfect". Just pick your feet up as you go over, everything's fine. In the 2 hours we only went over six or seven of those, so it's not too disturbing to the overall serenity.

Our guide met us at the other end as promised, and we biked away from the relative comfort of the river into the high-humidity of the countryside now in the low/mid-90s. It was also about 1:30 or 2 pm and we hadn't eaten much breakfast. Our guide led us to a TINY village of maybe 75-100 people where she said her uncle lived. We arrived at her uncle's house (not much more than 1 room, though I didn't see the inside) and she sat us at an outdoor table while she proceeded to cook for us! A salad of cucumber and tomato, white rice, a little diced chicken, and a mound of stir-fried pumpkin chunks. Delicious when you're starving, and not too terrible otherwise. We tried to stay cool, but there was absolutely no breeze whatsoever and the humidity was stifling. The picture of the waterbuffalo up close was taken at uncle's house.

Back on the bikes and back to town. It's now approaching 3:30 pm and the temperature has got to be solidly in the mid-90s. Granted, we're all Houstonians, where the temperature is in the 90s well into November. But we're INDOOR Houstonians. The ride back to town was beautiful, but I was so miserable I really couldn't enjoy it. By the time we got back to town it was well after 5 and I was visibly pink. I dropped my bike at the rental place and let Dad sort it out while I walked back to the room. Dad thought it would be fun to see the local song and dance production, which I had told him all along I wasn't really keen on seeing, so he bought 3 tickets for that evening anyway. I was collapsed on the floor directly under the A/C vent and told them to go without me. They went back to where they bought the tickets and gave one to some toothless 90-year-old woman who the ticket agent said would never have been able to save enough money to see the show on her own. They said it was a great show and the little old lady held onto them and pushed the crowds away like my parents were her own children. That I would like to have seen.

[Note: I'm pausing here for the holidays. Tomorrow's entry will be a Christmas card for you all. Travelogue to resume next week.]


At 9:40 AM, Blogger Tasty said...

Yeah, INDOOR Hustonians. I SO get that. I'm an air conditioning whore, myownself. I'd rather have air conditioning than an actual bed most of the time. Once again, a fab entry. You must try to be published on paper (as you already are on web, obviously.)

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

I saw those mountains from the train! Thanks for putting a name to them.

I saw the countryside the easy way - a train trip. Three days to go approximately the distance the bullet train goes in 3 hours, except that we didn't go from A to B, we went from A to B via C through Z, apparently. I didn't know where I was most of the time. The train schedule I was given, which showed where the train would be stopping, had about eight stations on it. We'd stopped at eight stations within the first half hour, none of which were on the schedule. And I didn't have a decent map. You could not buy maps. (Why didn't anybody warn me of that before I left?)

I recommend train travel. It's leisurely, eventful without you actually having to do anything (perfect for lazy people like me), the scenery is brilliant, and the food is utterly shitty. (The food has probably improved. Most other things seem to have.)

Oh, and I did a bit of cycling, too (and got to experience a canal FROM THE INSIDE). Cycling is a good way to see the countryside, but it was October. From what you say I don't think I'd want to do it in summer.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

Merry Christmas Tinyhands!

See you on the other side.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Stacey- When asked, "What kind of dog is that?" it's not an uncommon response in Texas to hear "an outdoor dog."

Theic- If you've looked at a map of our itinerary (Beijing-Xi'an-Shanghai-Guilin-Hong Kong) you've no doubt noticed that we're criss-crossing the country back and forth, which would have taken forever by train. I agree, it's a great way to see the country.

Your train story reminds me of the express train from Narita to Shinjuku. I was massively jet-lagged and alone in a VERY foreign country. I really wasn't sure I was even on the right train, especially since we approached Tokyo and kept on going.


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