Friday, February 10, 2012

Hong Kong

On the 9th, Laura and Elijah took a train to a city near the Vietnam border. That night I took a shuttle bus to the Guilin airport and I arrived at the Shenzhen (a city about 20 minutes away from the HK border) airport at around midnight. I tried to sleep on an iron bench but I probably only got one or two hours of sleep (sleeping right next to the doors probably didn't help, the temperature was surprisingly cold for how far south I was). In the morning I shuttled to the border, then trudged through immigration lines for about two hours. I then purchased an Octopus card which you can use to pay for public transportation and at 7-11s, it turned out to be really handy. After taking the MTR (HKs metro system) into the city, I tried to find the clock tower where I was supposed to meet Tyler and Emily that afternoon.

On the way I walked along Victoria Harbor and over the Avenue of Stars. The skyline across the harbor is absolutely amazing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

real bamboo

After a quick tour of the village, we got to take a ride on some legitimate bamboo rafts.
(See first video at the bottom)

At the first stop we made, some farmers brought their water buffaloes over for us to feed.

I took this picture from the near the water buffalos (from almost the same place where the Windows XP wallpaper picture was taken).

Then we stopped on the river and one of the guys from the village put on a cormorant fishing show for us. It only took the birds a few seconds to bring up a fish. (See second video at the bottom)

We went a little bit further down the river after the cormorant show. At one point one of the men paddling the raft lost his balance and fell in (and it was probably about 35 degrees out). The other drivers gave him a pretty hard time.

If I went back (which I would like to when it’s warmer) I would probably stay in Yangshuo over Guilin. Guilin was fine, but it was a lot of traveling to get to any of the scenic places. Yangshuo is much smaller and has many scenic areas close by for biking or hiking.


Following the Li River tour, we started another tour of a small village on another river. It was interesting to be in such a small village, it was really the first time I had been anywhere other than a multi-million person town. According to our tour guide a relatively recent law sought to establish a government subsidized medical clinic and a Communist Party HQ in every village. In this town one was right on top of the other.

We also looked at a traditional doorway in the village, our guide (looking like the goofball he was) explained that the red around the door and the mirror at the top were meant to keep evil spirits away (which I guess come around more during spring festival time). There is also a wooden plank that you have to step over when walking through the doorway which also blocks the spirits (they can’t step over stuff for some reason). Also, during spring festival, the Chinese people scare away the spirits with fireworks.

Raft ride

On our next excursion we took a "bamboo" (actually just pvc pipes) raft ride down the famous Li River to a smaller town called Yangshuo. It is pretty amazing stretch of river with mountains that rise out of the mist and tower over the river.

There is apparently a tradition with this mountain (below) that if you can see all 9 horses (shapes that look like horses, not actual horses) in the mountain than you will become the number one scholar in all of China. And as our tour guide told us repeatedly, Bill Clinton only managed find three. I really only saw one for sure and that was only after the tour guide pointed it out to us.

On the ride to Yangshuo, we also stopped to see the location that is on the back of the 20 RMB note used in China. The picture below shows me in the most cliché pose possible but everyone else was doing it so whatever.


While we were near the top of the rice terraces we were getting pretty hungry but because it was low tourist season none of the little restaurants were opened. So when a lady in a little village motioned out the window for us to come in, we blindly obliged. The house had wood, stone, and dirt floors with a fire pit right in the middle of the kitchen. There were few decorations and no lights or technology other than a TV with cable (which was super odd) living room.

They sat us down in a barren house around a fire and began making us food and selling us some "home-made" materials. They seemed nice so we didn't really agree on a price (being the trusting, apparently naive, people we are) for the food before she began making it for us. The one lady

said we could pay whatever, they were just glad to have us. When we finished and we needed to leave we gave them some money (more than what we thought it was worth, but we figured they were nice and hospitable). But then the old lady shook her head and said 5x what we just offered. It was about this time that I realized we been had. We finally awkwardly talked her down to 3x what we thought was fair and just decided to give up. Honestly we had a really fun time there and she only duped us out of a few dollars a piece, but that back-handed approach for some reason just really made me angry and kind of ruined the experience for me. The experience taught me 4 important rules. 1) Always make sure the price is understood before agreeing to anything. 2) Never trust anyone on a tourist path. 3) Never trust Chinese people 4)Never trust women.

And yes, I am still bitter about the situation and this post was difficult for me to write.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Since the Chinese New Year celebration began about 2 weeks ago, the periodic boom of distant fireworks has never really ceased. Today, on the other hand, there has been a constant roar from every alley in the city. Shijiazhuang today really does remind me of a warzone. All day today they have been setting off those massive fireworks that don't really have any color or anything but just make a huge blast. Anyhow, from what I could find really quick online, apparently today is the 15th and final day of celebrations for the holiday so everyone is shooting off everything they have. Its just getting dark so I expect that it will just get crazier from here.

Its also amazing just walking around the city because through the rows and rows of apartments buildings the echo of the bangs keep going.

Longji rice terraces

On the January 6th we got up early and took 3 hr bus ride to the Longji rice terraces. It was a crazy ride up a curvy hill, I joked that it would be fun to ride back down on a bike but it would be suicide. A few minutes later right around a turn we saw a broken helmet on the road and then a
body under a tarp. One of those China experiences that make you think.

We got to the entrance of the rice terrace area and we were instantly surrounded by old women trying to sell us all sorts of products (even though we were at the less touristy part of the mountain). That's the one thing about China, any beautiful or interesting area is turned into a park which you have to buy a ticket for which then attracts people who want to sell to or swindle every visitor. Its always a victory for us if we find a place that is outside of the rush and off the beaten (like really beaten (a small village outside of Guilin has about 17 million tourists a year (if I heard correctly), it kind of causes stuff to lose its magic) path.

Anyhow, the rice terraces were really amazing. It wasn't the best time of the year to visit the terraces because the was a mist that was pretty low and we climbed through it in not too long and missed a lot of the views. Also, as we climbed higher there was more and more snow on the ground and ice covering the bamboo leaves. You can see the difference between the top and bottom between these two pictures.

I would definitely like to come back here during a nicer part of the year but it was still a great time.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Guilin wine museum

The ticket for the Elephant Trunk Hill also included the admission to a "wine" museum in the park. Chinese sometimes refer to their traditional hard alcohol has wine, but don't be tricked. Chinese alcohol is called 白酒 (baijiu) and, as many a friend has told me, will "destroy your soul." (More because of the taste and aftertaste rather than Satan being involved) Somehow Chinese men love this drink and will sip it during lunch (which we affectionately refer to as baijiu lunches (after which the pink faced Chinese men stumble back to work)) and dinner. Anyhow, the museum showed how the production process developed and was a large part of the city's history.

The picture above shows the development of the character for alcohol (酒)and different ways it has been written. The evolution of Chinese characters is pretty interesting. The following picture shows a giant vat of traditional Chinese medicinal alcohol. This particular one contains a snake, fetal lamb, along with some other animals and spices.

The final food I tried at the park is a traditional food called zongzi (粽子) (I think). It is glutinous rice mixed with chestnuts (or something like that) and spices, wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. I have tried it before, but this one was pretty bad (and a mess).

Saturday, February 4, 2012


We were really surprised how cold it ended up being when we arrived in Guilin. I figured after a 24 hr ride due south, it should warm up a little bit. Even though it was so cold, Guilin was still pretty beautiful, it had a lot more green in the city, something I miss in the ShiJZ. There were trees lining most of the streets and lots of parks were you could get away from the rush. At the first restaurant we stopped at for lunch we tried a local staple that consisted of rice (of course) with spices, veggies, and meat all cooked together in a clay pot.

It was really tasty and that was one of our favorites in Guilin. Traveling in China is neat because every area will have similar kinds of foods but they will also have local foods that will differ a little bit. For example, every city I have been in has its own type of breakfast and lunch street food. In Xi'an it was spicy shredded meat in a steamed bread sandwich, in Guilin it was pickled cabbage stuff and fried dough wrapped in an egg and batter mixture. Obviously there were other things, but you couldn't walk a minute or two without seeing a vendor selling these favorites. The first two days we were in Guilin, we took it pretty easy and rested a lot. The second day we took a little trip to see a famous landmark called Elephant Trunk Hill. ( you can see why from the picture)

We climbed around the top for a while and got a great view looking over the city. What was really neat about the city (and I tried to show with the picture) was how the city was just kind of
built around the mountains.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sleeper trains

We (me and two fellow teachers) started out our trip on a 24 hr hard sleeper train to Guilin. The bunks were much more spacious and comfortable than I had imagined, there was plenty of room to sit up in the bottom bunk and read or whatever. In each cabin area there are three bunks on each side, I had the bottom bunk and my friends had the top two. In the three bunks across from us there was a family of five, a grandmother, husband and wife, and two young children. This turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The kids were really cute and entertaining at first, but of course that was bound to change. Aside from sporadic crying and fighting, the little girl was wearing split pants and twice during the trip decided that the main aisle of the train would make a nice toilet. Though the parents attempted to quickly clean it up, several passengers trekked through the puddle on the way to there seats. Thankfully once the kids fell asleep, they pretty much slept until we arrived in Guilin. On the ride there was little to see out the windows, just hours and hours of dead rice paddies and fields. Occasionally there would be a groups of about a half dozen massive apartment buildings under construction with nothing around them.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My travels

I got back to Shijiazhuang after 25 days of travel around China and southern Asia on the 28th. Aside from some small mishaps and frustrations, it was an amazing trip. The places I visited varied in temperature from the mid-nineties (in Bangkok) to the mid-twenties (at night in Xi'an). I was stumped for a while on how to pack for these climates and any souvenirs I would pick up along the way in one backpack. I made it work, however, and aside from some missing toes and sunburn, I'm no worse for wear. Anyhow, I have some cool pictures and stories from the trip and I will try to share them over the next few days. Its hard for me to start writing about this trip because it brings back the sickening feeling I used to get right before I would start writing a research paper.
(and so the volume of posts are not overwhelming, I am going to schedule them to be published daily (I think I can do that))