Travel Journal

When you look like your passport it's time to go home.

Pagoda Hike

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After breakfast we took a small hike up to one of the peaks in Yangshuo. The rain made one of the higher hikes too dangerous to take, but the short walk up to the pagoda was easy. From that perch we got a panoramic view of Yangshuo. There are about 350,000 people living here and it's growing due to all the touring foreigners. Hey, that's us.

We met a business man from an outside province, a very friendly guy. He wanted to practice his English, so on the way up we helped him learn how to say "No." At first he was saying: "Lo."

"It's not 'Lo' it's Nnnnno."


"No, say 'Nnnnoooo'."

We got him to touch his nose to feel the vibration and we drew him a picture of the nasal passage to explain how the air needs to flow through the back of the throat and up the nose. The sound doesn't come from the back of the teeth like an "L" but from the back of the throat.

By the time we reached the top he was saying "No" very well.

He found an osmanthus (guihua) tea flower and showed it to us. The fragrance is like a spring day.

"Do you know where it came from?"

"No." He said correctly.

So we told him.

We parted after exchanging phone numbers. He was very happy to spend his first day in Yangshuo with us foreigners, learning how to say "No" in English but he wanted to learn more.

We had some pizza and beer at Malcolm's restaurant. The pizza wasn't as good as a New York pizza, but it was respectable for the middle of China.

Yangshuo is the home of a Chinese calligrapher and bicyclist. The noteworthy thing about this man is that he has lost his right arm and left leg in a car accident back in the 80s. At first despondent, he felt useless. There were no facilities in China for the physically challenged. Life was very hard for him. Before the accident he loved to cycle, so after getting a prothesis he decided to cycle throughout China. After some practice he learned to write beautifully in Chinese calligraphic script using just the stump of his right arm. Soon he was famous, not for his handicap but for his beautiful writing and his long cycling journeys throughout China. He now lives in Yangshuo with his family. We saw him painting fans while we were in the silk shop just across the street.

The silk shop has a wooden tub of silkworms in their cocoons. The cocoons soak in water until the silk shop lady removes them from their cozy homes. Next, she stretches the silk pad over a two foot bamboo arch to dry. The worms are left in the tub and are later eaten. I watched her work while Tim bought a beautiful red and blue checked tie with matching cufflinks.

Earlier in the day he found a very interesting purple sand teapot. After firing, the purple clay becomes almost indestructible. They come in all shapes and designs. Tim found a mushroom pot that looks like something out of Alice and Wonderland. I also saw a t-shirt drawing of a galloping zebra that was going so fast it lost it's stripes.

We leave Yangshuo tomorrow and head for Pingan. Yangshuo is magical for it's karst peaks pushing up through the flat land, but I'm looking forward to a more peaceful place.

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. - Martin Buber

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Sanbu in Chinese means to "go for a walk." We decided today would be a great day to just walk around, snap some pictures (paizhao) and chat with folks in Yangshuo. It's been a busy week and a half in China. It seems like we've done so much.

Tim and Maite had their own plans today, and the arrangement was to split up. They do their thing and we do ours. We are not tired of each other or anything...and we want to keep it that way. So we decided that Sunday would be the day we'd do stuff separately. Even if we saw each other (which is hard not to do when you're staying in the same hotel) we would NOT to communicate.

I will confess that I saw them in the restaurant downstairs and I forgot and said: "Hi." I hope THAT was okay. And they did invite me to look at their pictures, and so I sat down. I actually sat down next to Tim while viewing their images. And I feel so badly about it. Ruth saw me confabulating with them and gave me a vexed look. But I soon mended my ways and left their table. I didn't even shake their hand or hug them goodbye.

And so we went sanbu-ing. Here we are sanbu-ing among the doushou (itinerant vendors, peddlers). We found a group of Chinese students that wanted us to be in their picture. We'd never met them before but they insisted that we pose with them. They wanted a big nose guy in the frame I think. So we posed with the Yangshuo mountains as our backdrop.

We hung around not really doing much, which was a welcome relief. We ate on the second floor of Cloud Nine on Xijie street. We had a wonderful eggplant dipped in egg batter and slightly fried. We also had minced meet with green beans and mapodoufu. (Toufu with minced meet.)

Tim ate at the Treasure Island Fish Pot. The restaurant provides a chicken broth and a hot plate on each table. You dump your vegies and meat into the boiling cauldron. He says it was good but of course he didn't invite us, because he wasn't allowed to. If Ruth caught us together we'd be sent to our room. She doesn't think we ought to spend too much time together. Both Ruth and Maite try to keep our association to a minimum.

And that's all I can really say about that.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do... Explore. Dream. Discover. - Mark Twain

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1000 Year Old Towns

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It's 5:50 a.m. Saturday the 12th. I'm writing about yesterday.

The birds are waking up and they have decided to sing to me. I hear the steady waterfall outside in the distance. The sun is trying to push through our light-tight curtains but it's only having limited success. I can't open them yet as Ruth is still sleeping. I think I'll go out and journal from the balcony.

I have just made a cup of fresh Starbucks Italian Roast coffee using the water boiler in the room and my light plastic thermal plunger cup. I can get two excellent cups (or one big mug) of coffee from it. There is nothing better then journaling while drinking Starbucks Italian roast on a Yangshuo hotel room balcony.

It rained yesterday afternoon. The weather has been very good up to now. It's been 70 and overcast, which is perfect for vivid pictures. We rented a small van that seats about eight people including the driver and drove through some of the old towns. Tim and Maite loved the views and short walks. Sometimes we'd have the driver drop us off for a short walk and picture op. Then we'd meet him again up the road and we'd hop in for another short distance. At one point in the bumpy dirt road we had to stop to allow farmers to load their fresh picked oranges into their tiny truck. Their daughters stood along the road in their luminous pink jackets that contrasted in complementary color against the rich green backdrop of rice fields. I squeezed off a frame through the van window before they had a chance to see me. The colors you see are untouched. The overcast provides the even lighting, perfect for saturated colors.

At one old town we just walked along the cobblestone courtyards and peeked into some of the living quarters. It's so strange to see TVs and radios in dark, dank rooms with hardly a stick of furniture. We heard music up the way and rounded the corner to see an old man by the doorway sewing. He had to use the doorway as it was too dark inside. He had no electric light on in the house. There were no windows. He was sitting on the floor sewing by hand. Perched on an old wooden cabinet was a new CD player echoing Chinese tunes through his 500 year old stone hovel.

There were old men outside the town and one followed us into the courtyard to show us his hand carved tobacco pipes. He lit one up to demonstrate. We admired his beautiful work and the exquisite detail. The mouthpiece and tobacco reservoir were made of brass and buffed a golden hue. These pieces of the pipe accented the wheat color of the polished wooden shaft. Each pipe was uniquely crafted. He tried to sell us one but we told him we didn't smoke, that it was bad for the body. (Bu chou, bu hao shenti.)

The restaurants that you find out in these old villages don't look like anything you'd see in the States. In fact, you can't really tell it's a restaurant. You just have to know where it is. And we don't order from menus but instead tour the kitchen to select what is fresh. We found pumpkin squash, eggplant, bokchoy, tomato, eggs, and fresh fish (still swimming in the tank). So that's what we ordered. Every bite discharged a rainbow of flavor. The deep yellow eggs and ruby red tomatoes tasted as a fresh as a new day in springtime, the chocolate brown color fish with garlic and onion was almost boneless, the squash was piping hot and had a buttery cheese smoothness. It all disappeared in my mouth before I had a chance to register the tastes. I reached for more. The local beer, Liquan, came in 500 milliliter bottles and was delivered with four small 10 milliliter glasses. It was cold and it's fragrance was like fresh hay in the sunshine.

The tab, including the two beers, was 156 yuan ($20 for 7 of us, or just $3 per person).

Out in the middle of the fields we found a kindergarten, playground, and brightly painted wall. Later we watched some children come home from school each carrying their colorful umbrellas. They had to cross a makeshift bridge of planks and 500 gallon drums, all lashed together with bailing wire and twine. The Dragon Bridge we saw last time is crumbling and needs repair. Dragon Bridge provides a panoramic view of the unique Li river mountains.

We got back in time to have fresh coffee and cakes and watch the pouring rain outside wash the streets.

We had pizza for dinner.

Hmmm...seems like all we do is walk and eat. Yeah, that is all we do.

We had some great discussions together with all our friends too.

I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine. - Caskie Stinnett

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Beer on the Balcony

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8:00am: We had breakfast on the 3rd floor of the SSAW hotel before heading to the airport and on to Yangshuo. The breakfast at the hotel is an all you can eat affair for just 38 yuan ($6.50). I always order eggs over medium, toast, red bean dumplings, and coffee.

A friend we met in Hangzhou decided that we were too inexperienced to go on our own to Yanhshuo so decided to cancel plans for the weekend and come with us. At least that was the reason she gave us. And I agreed, we should not be left alone in China. So get this, she cancels her plane ride back home, books the same flight as we had to Guilin/Yangshuo on the way to the airport. It's only when we get in the plane we realize that she has been assigned the seat right next to me. That's really weird.

12:00pm: Since there were five of us we decided to try to get a mini-bus direct to Yangshuo. On our last visit here two years ago, we took two buses and a taxi to our hotel. This time we haggled and bargained and finally got two taxis for just 400 yuan total (about $56) for an hour and a half ride to our destination. That's a deal. That's about $11.20 each. We verified with the drivers that it was 400 total and she gestured pointing to her heart to trust her.

About 20 minutes out of the airport she is honking waving madly at a bus to pull over. She swerved in front of him and stopped. He had to stop. She pulled our bags from the trunk and started loading them into the bus. She kept saying that it was too much money for us to pay to go to Yangshuo by taxi. We should take the bus, much cheaper. Besides, she said, she drives too slow. Well if she'd stay off the phone! We noticed that each time it rang and she answered it, she'd slow to a crawl. It's just like the drivers in America. I yell at them: "It's a car, not a phone booth!"

Tim and I were in the other taxi and we didn't know what was going on. But when we got on the bus our friend explained to us that she thought that the two woman drivers realized that they wouldn't be able to get a fare going back from the hotel to Guilin and that we made too good of a deal with them. But our troubles were not over. The bus lady was coming down the isle.

She wanted us to pay full fare. We explained that we had already paid the taxi for our ride to this point, but she wouldn't have it. She marched up and down the isle fusing and fuming, screaming and shaking. Before we got on the bus our taxi driver had negotiated 10 yuan, but now that we were on the bus and in the middle of nowhere the bus lady wanted 14 yuan each. It's only a difference of 50 cents, she was not seeing it our way. She threatened to throw us off the bus. Then I kind of got to thinking, it's her bus and her country. It would be challenging if I had to find a ride here next to this paddy field and water buffalo. I was starting to see it her way.

In the end we forked over the extra 4 yuan each. I was glad for peace. She returned to the front of the bus, steam rising from her horns.

3:30pm: I'm sitting on the balcony of Riverside Hotel sipping some beer and munching on some beef jerky we still have left over from our travel snacks. Our balcony is on the third floor and looks just above the street trees at the Yangshuo mountains.

It's nice to have made it out of the city and into rural Yangshuo. Although Hangzhou was clean and beautiful, it is still a city. Yangshou is rural, but we still have access to some of the comforts of home. It's one of our favorite places to visit.

6:00pm: We ordered brandied chicken, garlic broccoli, and eggplant and took it up to the open air 4th floor of Malcolm's restaurant. The top floor overlooks Xilu (West Road) where all the booths are. They call it West Road because this is the place all the westerners go and buy stuff. Our friend said if the price is 100 yuan then 25 yuan is about right. You need to keep that in mind when you shop. It's a beautiful view from the top. It's somewhat noisy down below, especially as it gets closer to the drinking hour. Lots of hikers and backpackers come to Yangshuo and they can get a bit rowdy.

8:00pm: Wine tasting. We met a guy who sells South African wine to the local restaurants and businessmen. He offered to give us a taste. He also has a top open air floor where the breezes come through. So we enjoyed a good Cabernet by candlelight. He loves Elvis Prestly so we gave a listen to one of his CDs. What a great capper for the night.

9:30pm: We walked out and said goodbye to our new friend. We met another group visiting from England staying at our same hotel. They were downstairs eating banana pancakes. Banana pancakes sounded so good so I had one with Columbian coffee.

I think I'm tired.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu

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China 2008

Hanging Out

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Hanging out is cool.

We spent today just exploring Yangshuo town. We tried out another restaurant in town that served huge plates of American breakfast food. The food is always good but the "coffee" is instant. It's horrible. Choose tea or get the 20 yuan ($4) Blue Mountain brew. Just don't expect refills.

I do love the free wifi Internet in every restaurant. It's very cool. I can upload images to the blog or while having breakfast. It takes some time to get the images up on the Net so why hang in the hotel room when you can upload at the restaurant, have breakfast, and people watch from the second floor?

It's great to spend time in one area. I can really get to know the town. And there's a rhythm to Yangshuo. The vendors set up in the morning around 8:00, the tours begin around 9:00, the kids get out of school at 11:30, the tours end at 5:00, and the vendors break down their booths at 5:30. It all begins the same the next day. It's a fairly enterprising approach.

The tour boats come up the river full of, well, tourists. The boats dump them off upstream and the people cascade into town, passing through the narrow path of vendor booths on either side. Nearly everyone of the tourists I saw carry a bag of trinkets so I guess it's profitable for the townspeople. Electric open-sided buses take the people back to their boats for a few yuan. This is the worst time to try to get a deal from the vendors. Wait until the last tour boat leaves.

There must be thousands of booths made of rusted L-channel and corrugated iron. I counted a hundred within a few minutes of walking. They were setting up this morning. Some were pushing heavy carts up the hill to their assigned booth, others tried to ride their three-wheeled bicycles weighed down with heavy goods. Some of the vendors sell onyx spheres, Chinese chops, and large wooden or stone Xiangqi (Chinese chess) games. Try pushing that up a hill! They sure are industrious.

Since Yangshuo is a backpacker's haven it can get kind of crazy at night. Every restaurant opens into the street and blasts music at you as you pass, trying to coax you in at happy hour time. Some teens are hanging out in the street wearing hiking shorts and hemp sandals batting a hacky sack between them.

Last night we found one restaurant with a second floor and enjoyed an empty, quite place all to ourselves. At least until the Birthday Party showed up with a DVD of a live rock concert. The watered down drinks of happy hour didn't help us any.

Afterward we walked down the relatively empty streets. Since it was Monday night, it was great to stroll down the street without fighting our way through hordes of people.

Oh I almost forgot to tell you, a very old person died and there has been a wake that has lasted parts of three days. It started Sunday afternoon and has run through Monday evening (tonight). I'm not sure when it will end. Someone told us they will take the body out tomorrow. There's a dead woman inside the shop. A Chinese wake is a street full of old men sitting at makeshift tables eating and singing a mournful sound.

The instruments they use are drums, cymbals, and two ear piercing reed horns. The musicians play the same tune over and over with intervals of rest of about 30 minutes to an hour. When I left them Sunday night they looked pretty good. By Monday evening they looked pretty bad for they have been playing continuously all night and all day. The hotel agent told us it's a happy time for them but they didn't look happy. They were slumped over leaning on the table when I walked by Monday morning to go to breakfast. As I passed they startled me because suddenly, as if someone wound them up using a key in their back, they popped up, played their tune, and then slumped over again. The crowd out in front of the store front swelled to 40 our so men by this evening. They are eating and drinking and singing. There is trash everywhere. It better end soon because I think it's going to kill one of the players before it's over. And I don't think I can take another one of these wakes.

So last night at the restaurant we could hear the wake next door, the Birthday Party and DVD live rock band on our same floor, and the Chinese flute player in the street. I think the Chinese really like noise, or at least don't mind it.

A day of sorrow is longer than a month of joy. -Chinese proverb
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Village Tour

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We were able to hook up with a great tour guide who took us on a village tour in Baisha.

The first hurdle was to hire a driver. It's hard to walk up to a string of mini-vans and negotiate a good price when cameras are hanging around our necks.

The advantage of hiring your own driver is that you can have him stop anywhere you want. "Ting yi xia!" (Stop here!) We'd say it when we found a good spot. Often we stumble across people planting rice in their fields. They take a large bundle of sprouts, separate a small bunch of roots and toss them like darts at a board into the shallow water. The seedlings would land with a plop and send water ringlets out in concentric circles. It was graceful to watch them.

We found a water buffalo off to the side and a little shy boy tending to him. The buffalo wandered into the street and he pulled him back by the rope attached to it's nose. (There are no animal rights activists here in China.) We carried some candies and tried to give him one but he wouldn't take it. I guess a parent's warning about taking candy from strangers is universal.

We drove further back into the valley along the Yulong river. Right next to the river is a restaurant. Before we sat down we checked out the "kitchen" which consists of a small shack. There is no sink in the kitchen, the sink is the river. We took a seat on folding chairs gathered around a table positioned on a floating bamboo raft. The view was grand.

Crossing the river is a concrete bridge that the farmers use to move their vegetables to the market on ox back. If you just sit here long enough, something interesting crosses and makes for a good picture. The locals sell water pistons so that you stand on the bridge and spray people coming down the river on bamboo rafts.

We ate a wonderful meal of hot beef, vegetables, and pumpkin. A cold local beer went down smooth. The beer is only 3% alcohol so it's really like drinking clean, pure water. It's very good. We paid 55 yuan ($7) to feed all five of us. That covers four dishes, rice, tea, and beer. I think I've spent as much in America on a beer at a carnival! Ruth and Lynn gave the owner's children some candies and they rapidly devoured them, tossing the wrappers on the ground.

We walked through villages and narrow walkways, into homes, and into courtyards of the local people. One village is 1600 years old.

We spoke briefly with an older woman sitting out in front of her home. We asked her age (in her 70s) and then she invited us to take pictures of the inside of her home. Blue smoke shafted through the holes in her roof as she had just finished cooking. Her laundry was hanging on a bamboo pole suspended by rope from the rafters. There was no furniture but an old wood rice thresher was leaning up against the mud brick wall. A few "rooms" were connected by a doorway from the courtyard but I couldn't determine where one room ended and the courtyard began. I took a few pictures through the windows. Instead of glass, cobwebs filled the openings. The roof lines met at odd places and I couldn't imagine how anyone could keep dry when it rained in a place like this. What does she do in the winter? There was no electrical outlets but there was a single bulb hanging from above. It was very dark inside and yet this was a sunny day. The floors were made of tamped dirt warn uneven by centuries of traffic.

One old man told us his home was 300 years old. I believe him. Some houses in the village, like the old woman's, are made of mud bricks. (I took one picture of a manure cart in front of a mud home.) Out in the courtyard is a stone well, it's edges grooved by ropes.

We found a bridge 800 years old, a teen's age compared to the village of 1600 years, but still four times older than America. We rented bamboo rafts with chairs and floated under it's arches and watched the sun dip behind this unique landscape.

Near the river the Chinese are building a highway. The builders will come and level whatever is in the path. The Chinese residents will move on and find another place. Meibanfa?

We went back to a restaurant near our hotel and ate hot "Gong Bao" meat and vegetables.

It's Sunday evening and most of the tourists have left. The streets are quieter. A Chinese man plays a flue below our second story balcony.

Be not disturbed at being misunderstood; be disturbed at not understanding. -Chinese proverb
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