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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.

Yangtze River - Guilin #4

Qu Yuan Temple

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This morning we sailed past Wu Gorge and visited Qu Yuan Temple. Qu Yuan was a poet, political figure, reformer, diplomat and all-round Good Guy. The Dragon Boat Festival is a celebration in honour of him. He lived 476 BC - 221 BC. Below is a photo of one of his poems. It can apparently be read at least 2 different ways, then spiralling in from the outside, with the conclusion being the right hand vertical line. In any language that’s a pretty accomplished literary feat. To do justice to it would require a Chinese speaker.

Qu Yuan’s temple has apparently been restored a few times in latter dynasties. It looked very nice and we took a few photos. The mozzies thought it was very nice, too. The walls of the buildings were hung and painted with many of Qu’s works. After the viewing of the temple, we took part in a Dragon Boat race: one paddle each, no dunking / splashing. ) That was very fun. I’m sure the traditional rowers didn’t wear orange vests. There was a second boat which we raced. I’m not sure which boat won in the end. )

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There was a performance of Minority singing, dancing and playing a reed instrument very similar to an oboe (not a sheng or sona). The whole thing was way too loud. I had my fingers in my ears for all of it. With the digit muting it was very nice to listen to. There was some admirable male singing. But why the Chinese must have all performances so very loud is beyond my comprehension. The costumes were beautiful.

Yangtze River - Guilin #3

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This morning marked the start of the 3 gorges, which was photographed copiously. If the Chinese ever need to recreate Wuzhong onwards, there will be plenty of information to call upon. We were photographed too, being the only foreigners on the boat. Another boat that took the tour at the same time as us (there were quite a few of them) was predominantly of foreigners.

Andrew said that he gets the impression that the Chinese people stop smiling as soon as their face turns away from you. This is unlike other cultures, where the connection that 2 strangers make when they talk to each other seems to last a short time after they part.

Whatever the Chinese do, they do in a rush and then move on to something else. This is so true. For the first section of the gorge, everyone was outside taking pictures but afterwards it was practically deserted for the rest of the trip. This suited us fine, and we enjoyed time together outside, passing through gorges from the back of the boat.

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Funny story: At the back of the boat there are 3 levels of balconies; all offset. One man above threw the tea leaves from his drinking canister into the river, but some dripped onto a lady below. She had tea and tea-leaves in her hair and on her clothes. She was not happy.

For lunch we patronised the restaurant again, and had chilli pork and bok choy with mushroom bits in it. I’ve taken a liking to the chilli dishes, which is pretty unusual for me. These tend to be a bit on the sweet side, but that could just be a foreigner-menu thing (ie an English menu).

Going, Going, Gone

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The theme song from the trip has been Gone, by Switchfoot. This is because we’ve seen many 175m signs, and buildings below them. The family in the above photo can hardly ignore the fate of their house.

After lunch we joined everyone else on the ship and went on a ‘Mini 3-Gorges tour. We saw the Mini 3-Gorges from a ’small boat’ (only 250 people), and the first leg of the trip took 1 1/2 hours. And what do the Chinese do when they’re bored? That’s right, they smoke. Then then they smoke some more. Some people very kindly went outside to smoke, but not everyone was that thoughtful. We couldn’t stay outside to avoid it; it started drizzling then raining for just about the whole day. We were exceptionally glad of our goretex and spray jackets, as Andrew would’ve become far wetter without his. Mine had a bit of a hood. Neither of us had brollies on us, though we brought them. We’ll keep them on us tomorrow, though. )

After the 1 1/2 hours we all disembarked and transferred to small traditional-type boats, with a guy in front wearing an appropriate hat and top. He sang a few call-and-response songs, which we joined. He then handed out keyrings (2 to us) to everyone, went up the front and sang a few more songs. Then he came up the boat and asked everyone for Y5 for the keyring. He had to be joking!! But no, he wasn’t. He most definitely wasn’t, so I handed back the keyrings with pleasure. I object to something seeming seeming like a freebee then not being one, most strongly. It’s not the first time it’s happened in this part of the country. It seems to be the local way of ripping people off. (

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Did I mention the cigarette smoke? It’s really quite disgusting, foul, putrid, revolting, and bad manners.

Incidentally I seem to be a little more at home with the social norms and customs than Andrew, ie, you do what you want and ignore everyone else. With the exception of the smoke.

Doorless loos/ squats are normal now. On the smaller boat there were 2 open squats with a small glass partition between them. It must have been for show because I couldn’t think of any practical purpose for it. While I was using one there were a pair of feet pointing at me, about 2 feet away, belonging to a waiting patron. I hadn’t realised how hard it is to do your business when someone is waiting for you to finish. ) I’d like to assume that she wasn’t looking at me. I certainly wasn’t looking at her.

In the afternoon a native Chongching girl sat next to us. I thought she was Japanese because she had white, clear skin. She turned the fish she was eating over, too, which meant at least she was not from the south of China. She systematically, carefully and methodically ate the fish, then wiped her hands with a wet-wipe. She then cleaned her camera thoroughly with a soft cloth. Andrew thought she was from Taiwan. Anyway, she was an English major at University, and was pleasant and enjoyable to talk to. While we spoke to her, 2 kids (originally seated behind us) kept on waving rattling percussion toys in her face. Persistently. Their Grandma didn’t do anything about it but looked on benevolently. We’re used to this type of behaviour in children, now. The girl was travelling independently in China (unusual for a girl), and was frustrated at the short annual leave her company had. She said that she’d rather work less and travel more, and have fewer comforts in life than the opposite (much work, many comforts, no travel), which characterises most Chinese. I thought that was a good way of describing the Chinese work-ethic. If you think about it, Australians really are a travelling bunch at heart, for the most of us.

Sunken City

We went to see a Sunken City; recreated, of course, above the waterline. I’m sure the original was replete with people trying to sell things of limited worth and value, as this one was. And no actual life going on. There wasn’t much to see. The architecture was nice though. The city wasn’t finished though and some areas were off-limits. Andrew thought it was: unfinished, unprofessional and a bit comical. Fair enough. It was also raining, which put a damper on things. We bought 2 small potatoes on a stick (Y1), and 2 pancakes with egg inside with chilli seasoning (Y2) each. They were just the thing on a cold, wet afternoon.

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Getting on and off the boat was an intensely pushy experience. No-one pushes like the Chinese (unless it’s the Indians, according to travellers who’ve been to India). It was an enjoyable day, but we were also glad when we returned to the main boat at about 7pm to get warm and dry. We were given a ticket each to some sort of evening performance, but at the end of a cold, wet day didn’t feel the need to redeem it. Six hours with other Chinese was enough today.

I think I might be fighting some bug at the moment. Either that, or it could just be the excessive smoky air we’ve been breathing for the last few days. I’ve very much valued our private room; somewhere we can relatively escape from other people smoking. I feel dizzy every so often because of it. I’m sure we can even distinguish between the brands of the evil sticks now.

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