Three weeks. We’ve hit the end of the line. Today was a nice end to the trip.
The day started off with everyone in the group going to a special shopping street with Yoyo and some other Chinese kids. I chose to stay back at the hotel on account of being extremely tired and having to write my blog update from yesterday. As such, I hung out for a few hours and did just that. Around 11:30, I headed out to get some lunch and do something I’ve had almost no chance to do in Chengdu between the last two years: explore on my own.
I found a little hole-in-the-wall place about 15 minutes from the hotel. The menu was all Chinese, so I ordered off of intuition and basic knowledge of food characters. The waitress was very nice, though. I ended up with some cold spicy beef and a plate of lamb with noodles, which was not spicy at all. It was delicious and filled me up more than enough.
After that, I checked out the surrounding area, finding a spot I’ve never once noticed in this area (where we also stayed last year) that seemed to be a local hotspot, with dozens of restaurants and tons of tables outside for eating at. I wish we had one more day here so that I could go eat there. Next time.
After this, I got a flurry from Pete’s Tex-Mex and went back to the hotel. The rest of the group eventually came back. They wanted to go to the Sichuan Music Institute to just look around and also potentially buy some instruments in the area around the campus, as there were a multitude of music stores. I ended up checking out some guitars but didn’t buy anything.
After about maybe an hour there, we went back to the hotel and hung out a bit more. At 6:15, we disembarked for dinner. We ate, and then a bunch of us went to Peter’s (second time in one day) for desert. I got a Texas brownie. It was delicious. ‘Nuff said.
At 8:00, Zhenyan took us to her friend’s house for tea. This house was insanely nice. The guy is an interior designer, and as such had wicked nice furniture, include many items which were upwards of 200 years old. The tea was also delicious, nearly perfect. April showed up as well, and I got her email address. I also said goodbye to Yoyo and thanked her for everything.
So, with that, it comes time to say farewell to China once again. I have no doubts that I will be back soon. It was a great trip, and I want to say thank you here too all the people who helped to pay for it. I couldn’t appreciate it any more. I hope this blog is a sufficient way of saying yes to you.
I’ll see you all (well, a few of you) tomorrow! 再见中国。
What an exhausting day yesterday. Phew.
I woke up at 7:00 for the third day in a row. After showering (and drying without a towel; that was a bit of a chore) and packing my bags once again, I went downstairs to meet my guide. I left the bags in the hotel and took only my camera and swimsuit with me, preparing for a pretty taxing bike ride.
We walked a little down the street to a bike rental place. There, we grabbed two bikes with baskets. I ended up on a nice pink fixie and threw the swimsuit into the basket. We headed off.
Essentially, we just biked around the countryside in the region around Yangshuo. We went by lots of farms (there is not a single square foot of land there which is not either being cultivated in some way or a craggy mountain) and LOTS of rice. It’s amazing how much of it they grow, really. I want to see the stats of how many grains of rice you can get out of one plant, because it must be miniscule. My guide said that pretty much of it that they grow there is used only to feed the farmers with the occasional small amount left over to sell.
We biked to Moon Hill, which is the most famous single structure in the region. From there, we biked to a cave nearby and I got a nice tour of it while my guide waited outside. In the cave, we got to take a mudbath (in very cold water) and then jump into a hot spring, which was extremely relaxing. It felt great, and was also awesome to see the stalactites and such. To make things even better, I took my tour with the most fascinating group of travelers I’ve met yet. They were a family of Brazilians (father, mother, two daughers, two sons) who have essentially been everywhere. They used to live around Sao Paulo, then moved to Florida for a bit (they actually visited Vermont for a day while in New England on vacation), jumped all the way over to Japan for about five years, and are now living in Malaysia, taking a summer vacation to tour Asia. We talked for a while about a number of things, including their excitement in Brazil having the World Cup soon.
The cave tour ended around 12:30, so I got dressed back up again and we biked back to Yangshuo, about 45 minutes. We went to grab a bit to eat and then my guide showed me the local food market, which was very cool. Everything was fresh and local, with items ranging from live chickens to snail shells (they make stuff snails here which I haven’t tried yet but sound great) to tofu to tea to almost anything else you can imagine buying that can be grown/raised in their climate. Oh, and I saw dog for the first time. One of the stalls had a carcass that was hanging up to dry and behind the counter were several dogs in cages, ones they were raising to slaughter and eat. I still haven’t had the opportunity to eat it, though. I’m quite curious.
Following this, she took me back to the hotel, I gathered my bags, and we met the driver to take me to the airport. I flew to Chengdu and arrived here around 8:30 last night. Got to the hotel around 9:45 and ate dinner at 10:00. As such, I’m a bit tired and exhausted.
Today is my last day in China. I’m not going to do anything special, though. Just gonna hang out, explore, and then have dinner with everyone in the group. I’ll see many of you very soon.
The sun is always hot, no matter where you are in the world. I have been reminded of said fact only three times on this trip, one of which was today.
I started off in the hotel, showered, packed up all of my things, and checked out. At 8:30, the driver (same one as on Thursday night) met me in the lobby. He then proceeded to take me to the pier for the Li River cruise. There, I met my guide (loosely using that term on account of the fact that she didn’t exactly do anything but get me on the boat) and group (again, loose because I only sat with them, it wasn’t like we had to stay together or anything like at the rice terraces). Once again, I was with foreigners both to China and the U.S.: there was an Israeli mother and son and two Russian women. I got the impression that they were traveling together, considering that everyone spoke fluent Russian, as did the guide, who consequently knew very little English.
The cruise was fantastic, though. The karst mountains of Guilin have always been near the top of my list of Chinese landmarks to see. The karst formations here are unbelievable. They rise up out of the earth all around like pillars reaching to hold up the sky. Just as with the rice terraces, I will say that the pictures speak for themselves.
The cruise last for about 4 hours, from 9:30 until 1:30. We landed at Yangshuo, a little town on the river where I am currently spending the night. The guide I was with was pretty clueless about my situation, so after about a half hour of fumbling around, I finally found Mr. Huang, who runs a little tour company in the town and who set up my accomodations for the night. He took me to the hotel and got me all checked in and everything. It’s certainly far from being the nicest place to stay in the world, but it works and that’s all I really care about.
Once settled in, I went out for a stroll around the town. By this point, the sky had cleared up (it was cloudy earlier) and the sun was beaming down amidst humid, 90 degree weather. I didn’t let it stop me, though.
I am staying right near West Street, which is essentially the tourist hub of the city. There are all kinds of bars, restaurants, and cafes along it (it’s also pedestrian only). Oh, and hotels. Lots and lots of hotels. Like, more hotels than I can fathom being in one place. Because of all this, and the copious amounts of white people present, I tried to veer away from this part of town and see what the more authentic Yangshuo is like. It’s a great little town with beautiful scenery all around. Parts of it are all but built into the karst formations, an awe-inspiring site. After about five hours of just walking around, I got hungry. I ate dinner at a restaurant on West Street (in retrospect, I wish I’d gone somewhere else, but such is life), went to check out what things looked like after sundown, and retired to my hotel.
It was great to finally have some time entirely on my own. I’ve mostly been with at least one person for the whole trip. Being let loose felt great. It’s the kind of traveling that I like best.
When I got back to the hotel, I weeded through my pictures, of which there were about 340. I’ve trimmed that down to 159 in the interest of space. I’ll try to get some up tonight.
Well, today started off less than promising. I met my guide and group for the day at around 8:45 and we headed off for the Ping An Zhuang terraced rice fields in Longsheng County. It was about a 2 1/2 hour drive, with a little stop at a minority village on the way. The village was just a tourist trap teeming with people from all over the world. The guide took me to go watch a show which demonstrated the local people’s traditional dance, music, food, etc. The majority of the show was for their marriage ceremony, though. The way they did this was by pulling four men out of the crowd to go on stage and get “married” to a woman. Despite its Disney-esque tackiness, I can’t deny that it was quite entertaining to watch.
After that, however, it started raining. While this didn’t make me happy exactly, I had made a last minute decision as I was walking out the door this morning to grab my umbrella and rainjacket–just in case. I was totally prepared to get wet and didn’t suffer have any problems, even though it was pelting down at some points.
We left the village and headed off for the rice fields. Now, the reason I said the day started off unpromising was the fact that visibility was insanely low and rain was coming down. As we drove up the mountain to where we would start hiking for the terraces, we could see absolutely nothing. It was a choking mist that mimicked my experience last year at Mt. Emei, which was certainly not flattering, considering that it was so foggy that we could not even see the top of the iconic Buddhist monument at the summit. I was getting myself ready to be disappointed by having no view of any of the rice patties.
After hiking for about a half hour, we stopped at a place on the way to get lunch. Curiously, it was named the “Meiyou Cafe” (meiyou, or 没有, means ‘do not have’ or ‘does not exist’ in Chinese). They had a sign saying “Meiyou bad service; Meiyou poor food,” and other similar bad things that they “meiyou.” I found it… interesting. For those who didn’t know the meaning of the word, I can’t imagine that would be encouraging for the restaurant, but I guess they’re in business. Anyway…
At the restaurant, we all pondered what our view would be without mist, on account of the fact that there was clearly something spectacular in front of that was hidden. None of us were really happy about it. But then, literally in seconds, it cleared up. Not completely, no, but suddenly we could see parts of mountains in the distance and the rice patties we were walking alongside. It was spectacular, but only lasted a few moments. The fog rolled right back in.
We kept trekking up, being only halfway to the top. When we got there, it was shockingly clear, with still just enough fog to make everything look dramatic. We were staring straight down into one of the most iconic images of not just China, but all of Asia. It was hard to believe, and I think the pictures should speak for themselves.
Our group consisted of three Australians, a German, and two French. Two of the Australians said to our guide that they wanted to wait at the top for all of the fog to lift for a picture-perfect view, as if what we had wasn’t good enough. After waiting about a half hour, they’re dream had still not come true. So, they said that everyone else could go down and they would meet us at the bottom, because they “walked faster than everyone else.” Our guide was apprehensive, on account of the fact that the way down has a lot of forked paths and one could easily get lost. They sharply replied, “we’re not stupid. All tourists aren’t stupid.” They got their wish.
We all headed down and I asked the other Australian, who was friends with the other two, where they were from. He said Australia and I said I thought so (because of the accent). He said, “oh, was it the complaining?” On the way down, we chatted about lots of stuff, mainly U.S. vs. Australian politics and such. It was cool to hear his views on issues like universal health care. I’ve never really had the chance to get a perspective like that from a democratic country other than the U.S. and Canada.
When we made it to the bottom, the other two Aussies met us and we headed off (they made it down safely). As we left, it was clearer than ever, and for the drive back, which is through lots of high mountains, we were able to see everything. I was gleeful.
After the 2 1/2 hour drive, I was taken back to my hotel, where I decompressed for a bit and headed out to get dinner. There’s only one restaurant near my hotel, named, once again curiously, McFound. I went there and the food was good (tried donkey), but I’m still baffled about why that name is thought to be appealing. Same with the cafe. Oh well, some things will always stay mysteries.
After eating, I came back here and now I’m writing this. Tomorrow, I check out of this hotel and embark on a 4-hour cruise from Yangshuo on the Li River. More iconic Chinese images.
My last regular day in Chengdu. It ended up going well.
As a start, I was no longer feeling sick. I got up at 8:00 and, despite some lethargy, was feeling overall pretty great. Firstly, I had to pack up all of my stuff as I would be leaving later that night. So, I did, and Yoyo and I left to go to the hotel everyone was staying at. I put my stuff in Zhenyan’s room and she gave me her key so that I could get everything later.
The plan for the kids was a “homestay,” but not really; that’s just what they called it. Basically, they spent the day together hanging out with April, Yoyo, and her friend, then went over to a family’s house for dinner, split up into three groups with different people.
I joined them for the bulk of the day. Firstly, we all went to the Kuanzhuai alley again, as Zhenyan didn’t tell April that the group had already been there. This leg was a bit short, but we quickly headed off to get lunch around 11:30. It was a restaurant that I vividly remember being in last year. I also remember some pretty crazy shenanigans erupting in there between Ben, a teacher, and Joey, a student. No, not angry shenanigans, just ridiculous stuff. I won’t explain it for their sake. Needless to say, I felt like every member of the waitstaff likely had a deep-rooted, furious hatred for Americans. Our food was good, though, so maybe I was wrong.
Following lunch, we all headed of (still together) to a teahouse so that we could play Majiang. Apparently the Chinese kids didn’t know how to explain it, so my extremely limited knowledge was used to teach the game to everyone. I got across the basics, but eventually, a non-English-speaking player came in and helped us out greatly. Eventually, we figured out some of the nooks and crannies of the game and placed ¥1 wagers to put on a little pressure. I have to get a set somewhere. It’s immensely fun to play.
We stayed at the teahouse for close to three hours. There were only two tables to play at, so the people who weren’t playing would be getting foot massages. I went last, with three others, and it was fantastic. My feet definitely needed that and I feel much more loose today. It lasted for a solid 45 minutes, as well.
After everything at the teahouse, we all split up into separate groups and went to people’s houses. I went back to Yoyo’s with four other kids. I stayed for about an hour and left at 5:30. From reading Peter’s blog update for the CVU kids, they had fun.
I took a cab back to the hotel, picked up my things, got a ride from Zhenyan’s friend Homer, who is a travel agent in Chengdu, to the airport and got on a flight to Guilin. I arrived here at about 10:40 last night and made it to the hotel around 11:45. I’m now settled in and ready for my first day in another Chinese city. Expect some awesome pictures tonight!
Got up around 10:00 this morning and did my routine. Come about 12:00, Jennifer got here and took me to the hotel where the group is staying at. I arrived, chatted with everyone, grabbed some lunch (basically a cup o’ noodles; ramen) and ended up deciding against going with everyone. They were all going to a school we visited last year which a.) wasn’t the most appealing activity, and b.) didn’t really seem like much fun for the still somewhat sick me. As such, I just crawled into Zhenyan’s room, turned on the AC, and watched TV. Their room got the Discovery Channel, so I watched a show about people getting savage animal bites, and episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive about a man trapped at sea for 76 days, and half of Moment of Impact, which was just a bunch of car crashes and similar stuff. Yes, it was all in English.
Eventually, the group arrived back at the hotel. I sat down with Zhenyan and her friend Wendy, who has organized a trip for me to Guilin from tomorrow until Sunday. She went over the itinerary, told me what I need to do for checking into the hotels, and let me ask any questions. Whether or not I would go has been up in the air this whole trip. It’s nice to finally have a set idea of what I will be doing.
After talking over the trip to Guilin, we all went out to get dinner, which was at the esteemed Peter’s Tex-Mex Grill. This place serves the best American food you will ever find in China and was our go-to restaurant last year, as it is basically right across the street from where we stayed. I indulged in a bowl of chili, plate of nachos, vanilla milkshake, and “Texas brownie.” After feeling like a starved African child for the past 48 hours (which was by choice, so don’t worry about me getting proper nourishment), it felt amazing to just fill my stomach with whatever delightful pleasures I could. I still feel full and it is, to put it simply, fantastic. Yum.
After dinner, we retreated to the hotel. Shortly after arrival, however, the power went out. This was at about 8:00. Around 9:45, I left, with the power still out. At this point, I don’t know if it’s back or not. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.
I may not have Internet access in Guilin. I still don’t know. As such, if you hear nothing from me tomorrow night (morning for anyone reading this), then don’t worry. All is well.