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Yangtze River - Guilin #10

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We got up and packed, since it was checkout day. The previous night I’d heard the music playing at reception, and it was a gospl chorus. Very recognisable tune, regardless of the language of the lyrics. I asked the girl behind the counter if she was a Believr, and she responded in the affirmative! ) Another one in China!

We walked up to the top of a mini mountain which commanded a spectacular view of the city. We’d seen it from our viewing place yesterday, but we hadn’t found the entrance steps. It was a good place to chill and talk. Afterwards we moseyed around and had one last look at the town. And I got to answer a questionnaire about my stay! Great! I love doing those, because the feedback will help the next people who go through there.

We caught an air-conditioned bus back to Guilin. There was another Jackie Chan movie (how many has he made?!) This one was how he was twins, and what happened to one affected the other.

Guilin cityscape

In Guilin we stored our packs at the train station and then went to the big Guilin Palace, with gardens. It was Y50. We mainly needed somewhere to get away from things and to relax for a few hours before the 9:50pm train. It was quite nice and we strolled around the gardens. There was another mountain which commanded a good view of the city. They said it was 306 steps, but I only counted 275. It was very steep but at least we got a good view. Guilin and Yangshuo are like Halong Bay in Vietnam; limestone peaks amongst otherwise flat surfaces.

Guilin cityscape 2

We found some pineapple on a stick and had a pe-dinner munch. I’d been looking for some ever since Wuhan.

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Tea was very nice, and we learned the word for dried yellow tofu, but pronounced with a Guilin accent (ze2zhu2). Then we wandered down to the river and enjoyed ourselves by experimenting with long exposures on the cameras. They can go up to 30 seconds, which is quite fun, and useful for capturing the bright lights across the river.

Guilin waterfall hotel

As we wandered back through the Guilin central square we stumbled upon a pretty speccy water fall display that went over the front of a hotel. Water poured over the front of this 10 storey hotel in time to music and lights. The waterfall was divided into 6 sections which turned on and off independently. Apparently the hotel was quite dilapidated and the owner wanted to do something special that fitted with the local area. I can’t imagine there being anything like this in parched Australia!

The train to Shenzhen was like a soft sleeper but with no door and 6 bunks to a cabin. I think they used a nice one because the Guilin - Shenzhen (via Guangzhou) is frequented by many foreigners.

We’ve had a lovely time. It wasn’t exactly as I expected it, being far more touristy than remote, but was very nice to relax at the end of the Yangtze cruise and all the ciggy smoke that that involved. After this I won’t be too disappointed if we don’t see more of China before we go back; it will be only 7 weeks (at time of writing), after all.

Yangtze River - Guilin #9

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Today was wet, drizzly and showery (or drizzly, showery and wet, as it is usually termed ) ). Before it got too wet we wandered the street next to the river. I t was relatively early and people were only beginning to set up their stalls. So we were only lightly hassled by foot-sellers. I think most other foreigners were out the night before, then hit the bars afterwards. We could hear them from our room. They sounded a bit like Gibbons at times (ooh, ooh, ooh, oooooh). And if the foreigners were out, so were people trying to sell them things.

Yangshuo work vehicle

The mist played havoc with photos so we mainly strolled. As the weather set in, we went back to he hostel for some reading/ writing and cups of tea. We headed out for a late pizza lunch (Very nice, homemade and all. The only thing was there was some Chinese sausage, which was a bit yuk, but removable), then back to the hostel.

Yangshuo small waterfall Yangshuo city Yangshuo West Street

Later, when it had stopped raining, Andrew and I went out to the People’s Park in central Yangshuo. It’s one of the few things inside the city. All other things you ride or catch a bus to, or do as part of a day-trip. We climbed to the viewing platform of a limestone pillar (they are everywhere!) that’s part of the Park, and had a good view of the City from it. I got a jin (500g - it’s a standard measurement for fruit/ veg) of mandarins which were a pit past their prime, but a mandi is a mandi, and not to turn one’s nose up at. Tomorrow night we need to be on the bus to Guilin for a 10:00pm train to Shenzhen.

Yangshuo cityscape

Before lunch we had an espresso and banana milkshake, and I finished off the postcards.

Meiyou taste

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For tea we went to the ‘Meiyou Cafe’. In Chinese, meiyou means ‘don’t have’. It purports to have ‘Meiyou bad service, bad food, overcharging’ etc. Andrew ordered a New Zealand steak. He said that any New Zealander would be ashamed of it. I had some. It was tasteless. The pepper sauce was ok though. My meal was Chinese veges. It was what I expected and tasted fine. I also ordered a chocolate milkshake. It was not what I would call a milkshake. To the best of my ability, I think it was made of: a little bit of cocoa dissolved in milk (not fully dissolved; there were bits around the top. That’s how I tasted it was cocoa), the rest (4/5 or less) of it was water. It didn’t taste like milk or chocolate, but water and imitation vanilla essence. I smelled and tasted it carefully. Definitely imitation vanilla. Before you question this, I have done enough cooking with the stuff to know what it smells and tastes like. There’s even currently some in my cupboard. An so yes, it most definitely was that. I asked the waitress if she could add a little bit more milk to it, as a ‘good enough’ measure, but she didn’t understand so I didn’t press it. It seems like the Meiyou Cafe has gone down the same path as many other good food joints. They’ve been started by foreigners, run successfully then sold to locals. The owners then employ lots of cost-cutting measures, so the place no longer retains the original recipe but becomes Chinese-ified. I think the Lonely Planet needs to update a few things. )

On the other hand, we found a place called Drifters that sold apple crumble, of all things! In China! So we sat down with a drink and waited. 3/4 hr, but it was most certainly worth it. We couldn’t finish them, but took the remainder away and had it as part of breakfast the next day. ) Minute and dedicated evaluation still ranked it lesser to Mrs Newman (senior)’s, but not by much.

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Photos: someone else recommended the apple crumble via the wall, the empty apple crumble take-away container, Drifters frontage.

Yangtze River - Guilin #8

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A local delicacy is fish cooked with beer batter. More specifically, fish cooked in a light sauce, with beer used late in the cooking process. It seemed on of the most palatable table delicacies, and since it didn’t involve eyeballs and only a remote chance of gizzards I wanted to give it a go. We don’t eat fresh fish in SZ because we’ve seen not to mention smelled the rivers. This fish was a bit muddy but it was fresh (it had been caught from a tank just after we ordered it) and tasted fine. Quite tasty. Not sweet or salty. We had to hurry and had a fair bit of veg beef and rice leftover, so took them away for breakfast the next day.

We had to meet at 6:40pm that evening to go to the light show, but at least we were checked in, abluted and fed. There was an American middle-aged couple in our minibus, and a young Danish couple too. We chatted to the Danes. They were a welder and a shop decorator who had both quit their jobs and had been travelling around the world for the last 6 months. They’d just been to India.

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The light show was spectacular and nowhere near as loud as I thought it was going to be. They showed 8 or so different scenes, based on the river-life of the area. During the time, a soprano was singing while being rowed along in a boat, a group of fishermen were pulling in their catches from long nets, fishermen were pulling themselves across the river using their ‘nets’; reams of red silk. At one stage they completely covered the lake. It took 90 men in all. Fishermen also threw their circular nets overboard and pulled them in again. The girls did their thing on the riverbank, too. A few cattle were brought onto the makeshift stage along the river, with people guiding them. There were children singing traditional songs, harmonising in minor 3rds. Fantastic. You could hear the resultant harmonics buzzing in your ears. There were young girls with Tolkienian-length wigs doing their own things, young men singing songs together in comradeship, courtship rituals and more. There were people with firebrands rowing out onto the river while some stayed along the shore and the groups of these made an impressive sight in the dark. The end sequence featured more people than I could easily count (above middle photo), who were wearing dresses with lights that turned on/off at various times. Andrew said that it was all externally controlled because of the precision. To all of this their were lights on the lake, on the people and spotlights, all of red, green, yellow, blue or an absence of lights.

The mountains surrounding the outdoor theatre were spotlit with either white, red or green. They were the type of scenery that gets painted on backdrops to operas, and there they were in real life. Their presence dwarfed everything else and, for me a least, they stole the show.

Yangtze River - Guilin #7

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It was a relief when we arrived in Guilin at 6am, from the overnight train. We took a 6:30am bus to Yangshuo. At the bus depot at Yangshuo there were some touts who tried to convince us that the hostel we were staying at was dodgy, and that we should go to theirs instead. We had been warned about this. When we refused but persisted in walking rather than taking their friend’s taxi, they pointed us in the wrong direction.

There were a couple of kilometres to walk to West (Foreigner) Street, where our lodgings were. At present it is peak season, so the pre-booking was useful. There was a mix-up with the dates though. The hostel thought we were a day early but they had another room we could use instead, so in the end everyone was happy. We left our bags there and went in search of 2nd Breakfast (1st had been a very early apple on the train). There were no pineapples on sticks, alas, which I’d been looking forward to, but we found many foreigner places with set breakfasts. There’s no difference between price for Chinese or Western food around here, and they do a genuine Western.

Yangshuo Li river

Afterwards we hired bikes Y20 each for a day and rode to the Moon Mountain, a natural phenomenon. To it is an eight kilometer ride one way, but it went fast. The bikes had adjustable seat heights, which was good, but ours were racing seats; long and slender and very hard, which was less comfy. They were especially uncomfortable on the bumpy road. We were a bit sore the next day.

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The walk up the mountain was long but satisfying to clear the lungs, even though we hadn’t showered for a while and still stank of cigarette smoke. There were many persistent little grandmothers here, who followed you up the mountain in the hope that you’d feel sorry for them and buy a drink from them. We explained gently in Chinese that we had all the water/ beverages we needed, didn’t want anything and would like to walk up by ourselves, thanks. The view from up the top really is stunning. We took some photos. I stood under the Moon shape and saw water dripping from the stalactites around me. Big drips, they were. Eventually one dripped on my arm. Hooray! ) Having a drip come down at you from directly above looks a little weird but fun because they drip slowly, and are big, so you can see them coming for a considerable time.

We rested near the top of the mountain where it was cool and there was a stone table and seats. I wrote a few postcards. If we’d had one offer of a drink-seller, we’d had 25. They were most persistent. Down again, then we got on our bikes and headed back.

We stopped off at a Dragon statue-something, but not many people were there and it looked very shut-up, so we went to a park where there were people. And an admission charge. Everything remotely desirable to do or view has one. If the air were any better there’d be one on that, too. So we paid and went in. It was 2:30 and I’d seen locals with noodle bowls so we had a bowl each. I, er, mistook the strength of the chillis, and put some on our bowls. Bad idea. Very bad. Terrible, actually. It was hot as anything. Andrew suggested pouring the broth off, which helped a great deal.

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After lunch we grabbed an ice cream and went to explore the place further. There was an 150 year old tree. It looked like the original died long ago, but the extra bits and offshoots formed a second trunk. This had happened about 3 times. It was rather large. There was also a boy with cormorants with rings round their necks, just like The Little Golden Book’s ‘Ping’! but he wanted money to take his photo.

Big Banyan tree

There was an ancient water wheel that we sat and watched for a while, interesting limestone rock cutouts, caves and rock formations. There were peacocks, 2 donkeys and 4 performing monkeys, (3 of which were dressed up with the 4th being about 6 foot tall). They were dressed up. Altogether it had a festive atmosphere.

Yangshuo toilet

Do you know which side to go to?

The only quandary was when we came to unlock the bikes and couldn’t find the key. We retraced our steps, searching but to no avail. So we called Amy, our hostel owner who suggested we try someone else’s key. I was sceptical, but these are Chinese locks, after all. After trying a hairpin, Andrew managed with a key that the ticket attendant had. I strongly suspect we weren’t the first to have this little trouble. We called Amy back, explaining the situation, then rode the bumpy 6km remainder back home to check-in and a shower. The bathroom was mock-stone, very Robin Hood Castle-esque.

Yangtze River - Guilin #6

Wuhan

Having less than a day in Wuhan, we didn’t venture far. There is a speccy pagoda though, whose beauty contrasts the stark concrete grey of the rest of the city. Being only a few hundred kms from Shanghai has influenced the feel of the city, but it really is little more than the train centre of the province. They have a ‘mini Bund’, along the river, which makes for an enjoyable walk. Along the river with the sunshine and slightly blue sky, we felt like we were in Adelaide for a little bit.

Wuhan is like Taiyuan in many ways; nothing of note to see, just a junction of train lines. We tried to find chilli pigeon on a stick, a local delicacy (’prooo!’) but to no avail. We walked along the Mini-Bund, or what they’d like to think of as The Bund; Shanghai being 600km away. Wuhan also has Concession buildings of foreign architecture, and the Yangtze and another river going through it.

We actually walked quite a way but didn’t find anywhere to cross the river. Maybe the ferry systems have been suspended now that there are 3 bridges over the river.

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We ended up taking a taxi over the river to an ‘Hube Alley’, mentioned in the LP as a source of meat on sticks. Someone was selling chilli meat-inna-bun, but since no-one had touched them between the time we saw them and the time we left, we didn’t, either. We sampled the produce for lunch, knowing that it was going to be deep-fried and unhealthy in the extreme. I had: an omelette surrounding vermicelli chilli’d noodles, a roast chicken leg, yoghurt & fruit & gelatine cubes in a bowl and a soy milk. Andrew had the local ‘hot - dry noodles’ (Re Gan Mian) which tasted really good, but a touch too hot for me, chilli potato chips, deep-fried dough with something sweet (date paste?) in it, and a fried rice & egg slice that looked different to how it tasted. They like their chillis around here. In truth, we didn’t eat much of the chips or rice & egg fried slice because they were pretty bad. But we got a taste of the local snack cuisine.

Yellow Crane Pagoda

Yellow Crane Pagoda

We walked a short way from the alley to the Yellow Crane Pagoda, which was striking in its colour and beauty compared to the greyness of the surrounding city. It had a lily pond. It featurd 2 cranes. There were Song dynasty paintings, very old, and turtles and wood carvings. The originals burned down a while ago but the pagoda was restored in the last 20 years.

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After the Pagoda we went ot the train station. We caught the evening 5pm overnight train to Guilin. It was an unremarkable evening, with smokers smoking a lot, and about 2metres from the non-smoking sign. They stank out the carriage. Our stomachs were feeling sick before the end of the trip. A common theme here. People were smoking during the night, too. I was despondent when I saw 5 small bottles of spirits walking past, because drinking, cards and smoking go hand in hand.

Yangtze River - Guilin #5

The 3 Gorges Dam

Yangtze River cruise boat

We disembarked (again! but for the last time) and went on a bus to the 3 Gorges Dam Wall. It was really boring. A concrete wall, with more water on one side than the other. Hmm. Andrew’d been looking forward to it all trip though, and since he’d do it much more justice than me, here’s Andrew’s account: …

Click me to make me grow!

I’d been waiting to see the 3 Gorges Dam wall and, to be honest, it was slightly disappointing. It’s a massive thing. It’s hard to get an appreciation for it’s size because you’re never allowed to go out on it, or get up close to it on the lower side. It’s positively huge. No photo can ever to justice to the scale of the construction, especially when most of it is hidden under water. It just fades off into the haze. It’s definitely no “Great Wall” though.

The engineering is seriously super-sized. At full capacity, the dam can output 22 Gigawatts of electricity. To put that into perspective, most nuclear power plants are 1 - 1.5 Gigawatts. There’s 26 turbines and over 1Km of wall that’s more than 200m high.

3 Gorges Dam top side

The ship locks take boats from the top to the bottom in 5 steps. It takes the best part of a day for a ship to get from the top to the bottom, or vice versa. They’ve built a slot in the wall for a “ship lift” that they hope to use to take smaller boats from the top to the bottom in one shot. Trouble is, no-one has yet figured out how to do it. They’ve just built the place for it in the wall. When they figure it out, they’ll let you know ) .

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Standing on the shore line on the low side of the mountain left me with a similar feeling to flying. No, not the “like, wow, man” flying, but the feeling that logically everything is fine but there’s always a “what if” niggling away back there somewhere. Apparently the nearest big city would have 1 hour to evacuate if the dam wall failed before being completely destroyed.

3 Gorges Dam with Andrew

In the end, I recall looking up at the mountain over my left shoulder, looking back at the “little” dam, back up at the mountain and again back to the wall and thinking that man’s best efforts will always fall short. Dimensionally and statistically it’s a massive thing, yet it shrank in the context of it’s surroundings.

So, to sum up, definitely worth seeing but I don’t think I’d be in any rush to come back again. Back to Gail:

… The bus got to Yi Chang, and we grabbed some small nibbles (boiled eggs and 2 minute noodles). There are virtually no vendors here! What’s up with that?! We caught one of the Yichang- Wuhan buses: 4 1/2 hours, and it really felt like it. The driver and others didn’t feel the need to avoid smoking, and we both reeked and felt slightly nauseous by the time 11:30pm rolled around and we were at the hotel.

The scariest part of the trip happened about half-way to Wuhan. It was night and we were just about to overtake a truck, about a bus length behind it and in the next lane, when the left rear tyre exploded. I mean it didn’t just deflated but it blew itself to smithereens, showering the front of the bus (and the windscreen right in front of us) with flying rocks, dirt and bits of blown up tyre. A scary moment, to be sure.

They played 2 funny films on the bus, the first of which was a China vs Japan war movie with comic stereotypes, the second with the American Marines vs Japanese, but the American captain was a short-sighted leader, so the day was saved by the Chinese. Humour abounded. Earlier in the day Andrew and I’d been discussing submarine movies, and Andrew said that the line ‘Descend to periscope depth’ crops up in all of them, without fail. I was sceptical - until the first line of the film - ‘Sergeant! Descend to periscope depth!’ )

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The above little critter was discovered minding its own business near the Three Gorges Dam Wall.

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