Posts/December, 2008/

Biking around Yangshuo, China

Friday, December 12th, 2008
Nik on the Li River

Nik on the Li River

Nik and I have spent the last two days wandering around Yangshuo, China by foot and bicycle.  The town is touristy and for the first night we slept at the Yangshuo International Youth Hostel on the main street, and it was so noisy that we had to leave first thing the next morning.  We found a great little riverside hotel that is still close to all the restaurants with a balcony, free internet, clean linens and it’s quiet after dark.  It was our perfect night time retreat.

We left the town around 10am both mornings to bike through the countryside.  We depended on the free tourist map that the hotel provided, and in hindsight, I wish we had splurged for the 2¥ detailed map that showed all of the major attractions and bike destinations.  Our free map got us where we needed to go, but on the second day we got turned around and I think we could have taken a better path.  Oh well.  Since the days were simple, I don’t have many stories to tell, but here are the photos….

West Street, the tourist center before breakfast

West Street, the tourist center before breakfast

A bamboo raft on the Li River at dusk

A bamboo raft on the Li River at dusk

Water boot

Water boot

Crops with Karsk mountains beyond

Crops with karst mountains beyond

Scarecrow in the field of greens

Scarecrow in the field of greens

Our road through beauty

Our road through beauty

Wheat drying in front of a village home

Wheat drying in front of a village home

Me.

Me*

Wooden wheelbarrow

Wooden wheelbarrow

Nik leads the way

Nik leads the way

On our first day, we stopped for lunch in the small village of LiuGong.  The owner was a fairly young Chinese man whose daughter spoke very good english and took the orders for all of the foreigners.  The dining porch overlooked the river and was full of casual reminders that all of the food served came from the land.  A huge pile of potatoes was tucked into one corner, fresh sausage dried along the hand rails, fresh greens sat in a basket waiting to be washed, and bushels of mandarin oranges and pomellos sat off to the side.  Our lunch of pork with green peppers and pumpkin was delicious.  After we finished we arranged for a boat to take us back to town, and while we waited for it to arrive, the owner took us on a short hike through the town to see a couple caves, the temple and a couple vistas of the river.  We could tell that he was proud of his village and this was an opportunity for him to show off.  I think he enjoyed our short 45 minute outing as much as we did!!

Potatoes

The view from my seat at lunch: chili sauce and coke on the table, hundreds of potatoes waiting to be eaten, home made broom resting on the wall, bike lock dangling, fake snakeskin jacket draped over the rail, and Nik's new favorite hat

The friendly restaurant owner demonstrating his skills on his bamboo raft.

The friendly restaurant owner demonstrating his skills on his bamboo raft

Much of the farmland we passed through were citrus groves.  This is the kumkwat tree we snacked from...don't tell!

Much of the farmland we passed through were citrus groves. This is the kumquat tree we snacked from...don't tell!

Nik and I follow

Nik and I follow

Our river chariot...ours was not the authentic bamboo raft...instead it was made of PVC pipe shaped like bamboo

Our river chariot...ours was not the authentic bamboo raft...instead it was made of PVC pipe shaped like bamboo

The mystical river

The mystical river

Me and the citrus.

Me and the citrus*

The mountains at dusk with a hot air balloon in the distance...Mom, you would have loved it!!

The mountains at dusk with a hot air balloon in the distance...Mom, you would have loved it!!

If I could, I would bike through fruit trees and mountains and along rivers every day.  China, you are a beautiful country.

*Photos taken by Nik. Visit his blog: Riding Bikes in Beautiful Yangshuo, China

Long Ji Rice Terraces in Central China

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

First, I need to add a disclaimer to this post.  Nik took all but two of the photos shown below, so if you think they’re wonderful…let him know on his blog.  My camera battery died shortly after we arrived in Li Jong and I was unable to take many photos….and his are just better than mine anyways.  And to hear his side of this story, go here.

Motorbike looks up as our bus passes dangerously close

Motorbike looks up as our bus passes dangerously close

Sunday afternoon, Nik and I went to the Guilin bus station to purchase tickets to the Long Ji rice terraces.  Five minutes later, we were sitting in seats 9 & 10 and the bus was rolling away from the station.  The two hour trip costed 24RMB each ($4) and took us to the town of Heping where we boarded a second bus that took us up the mountain to the village of Ping’An.  This one took about an hour and cost only 7RMB ($1.20).  The transfer was smooth…we got off the bus, walked across the street, and got on the other bus.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but our first bus driver had actually flagged down the Ping’An bus driver just for us.  If we had missed that transfer, we would have been waiting on the side of the road for over two hours.  Thanks bus driver!!

When we arrived in Ping-an, we still had to hike up a narrow stone path through handicraft shops and local women before we reached the village.  Normally this wouldn’t be anything to worry about, but we were carrying 6 months worth of luggage and we were exhausted.  To add to the excitement, we didn’t have a clue about where we should stay.  We stopped at the first decent looking hotel and booked a double room for 60RMB ($8).  The manager walked us up to our room, and I really thought the building might collapse under our combined weight.  Everything was wood.  The walls, stairs, hand rails, floors, ceilings.  Everything.  Everything was very thin wood that creaked and moaned.  I swear that the floor sank at least two inches every time I took a step.  Luckily, we appeared to be the only guests, so we wouldn’t have to worry about being disturbed by neighbors.

The red lantern on our teeny tiny balcony

The red lantern on our teeny tiny balcony

Local ladies play cards on the porch

Local ladies play cards on the porch

Me sitting in our rickety wood room

Me sitting in our rickety wood room

After spending the past two weeks in big cities, we quickly dropped off our bags and headed out on our first hike.  View Point #2, also known as Seven Stars Accompanying the Moon, was only 30 minutes away, so we had just enough time before sunset.  We walked through the village to reach the trailhead and discovered that there are quite a few farm animals in this little town.  We saw dozens of hens and roosters, pigs large and small, horses, ponies and ducks!  There was also evidence of the crops being grown…corn hanging from eaves, red peppers spread out to dry in baskets and barrels full of rice stowed under porches.  Oh, and the view was pretty nice too!!  Mountains covered with rice terraces surrounded us and seemed to go on forever.

Stone path through the village

Stone path through the village

It is a farming village after all

It is a farming village after all

The view from Platform #2

The view from Platform #2

Before calling it a night, we walked over to the Countryside Inn & Cafe to check out their rooms and have dinner.  The rooms were twice the price (120RMB, $16) and twice as nice.  We reserved a room for the following night, and enjoyed a nice meal of greens, kung-pao chicken and a beer.  Satisfied and tired, we headed back to our wood heaven to relax before a long night’s sleep.

As we approached the hotel, we could tell something was different.  A few people lingered on the porch, and the entire place seemed to be buzzing.  We walked through the dining room towards the stairs and found that we were not the only ones staying in the hotel.  In fact, every single room and hallway appeared to be filled with college students chatting and laughing.  Every door in the place was open for the coeds to find their friends, except for ours.  We quietly walked to our door, unlocked it, went in, and quickly shut it behind us.  Nik and I looked at each other, and said so long to our peaceful evening!!

Five minutes later we heard a knock.  I figured it was someone looking for their friend, but it was actually one of the students inviting us to come to a party with them.  We said sure since we weren’t going to get any sleep anyways, and how often do you get to hang out with 48 Chinese University students?  Not often.

The fire

The fire

We joined the group on the porch a little bit later, and were instantly the circus attraction of the night.  All of the guys wanted to practice their English skills with us while all of the girls shyly stood off to the side.  We learned that they were all business students from a university near Hong Kong, and that this was their graduation trip.  When they learned we were from Portland, Oregon, they asked us about the Trail Blazers.  I was impressed with their knowledge of the NBA, which far surpassed mine. We also learned that the party was a bon fire about a fifteen minutes from the hotel.  Of course, I pictured a good-ol’ american bon fire in the middle of nowhere soaring 15-20 feet in the air with everyone sitting around roasting marshmallows, singing campfire songs and telling ghost stories.  The party we went to was not like this.  Instead it was on the outdoor basketball court of the local primary school in the middle of town.  The fire was contained in a small iron stove and we all sat on one side while 8 women from the local minority tribe performed traditional songs and dances on the other.  I thought it was a little bland but interesting, even though I didn’t understand it, but it was obvious that the students were bored.  After four or five songs, the women asked for volunteers to dance with them.  For some reason, everyone looked to us to make the first move, and since we didn’t have any reason to be embarrassed, Nik and I stepped up and everyone else followed.  All 50 of us circled up and joined hands for a traditional dance that turned into a strange form of Red-Rover-Red-Rover.  Now that everyone was riled up to play games, the women brought out ten long bamboo poles to play a jumping game.  It appeared that this was typical in China, as everyone seemed to know exactly what to do.  As the women moved the poles in unison, everyone else formed a line to jump through the rhythmic maze one, two or three at a time.  Nik asked me to hold his camera, and he joined the line.  He watched everyone ahead of him go, and when it was his turn, he stepped up proudly.  He made it through the first four poles without any problem, but then something happened, and he lost his balance and fell flat on his butt!!!  It was obvious that he wasn’t hurt, and everyone got a good laugh out of it, including Nik.  He was grinning ear to ear the entire time!

Traditional Dance

Traditional Dance

Attentive Students

Attentive Students

After a little while, they started dismantling the fire and that’s when we decided it was time to go.  The novelty of having foreigners in the group had worn off, and it was time for us to leave the college students to their own devises.  We kindly thanked our hosts for inviting us and journeyed back to our temporarily quiet room while everyone was still at the party.  We didn’t get very much sleep that night, but it was worth it.  This was a once in a lifetime thing, and we relished in it.

The following morning, we woke up pretty early and immediately packed our things to move to the other hotel.  We had a relaxed breakfast and took off for the 5 hour hike to the JinKeng Terraces around 10am.  The weather was brisk, but sunny and clear.  For the first half hour we were the only ones on the trail.  As we left View Point #1, also known as Nine Dragons and Five Tigers, another group of foreigners was coming up.  We said hello, and went on our way.

Rice Terraces

Rice Terraces...

...rice terraces...

...rice terraces...

Nik

...Nik...

...a lake...

...a lake...

...grave...

...grave...

...rice terraces...

...rice terraces...

...rice terraces...

...rice terraces...

...farm animals...

...farm animals...

About ten minutes after that, we passed a small shelter where a few local people were sitting and as we passed, three of them stood up and joined us.  I had expected this, but it still annoyed me.  After a little bit, we asked the man in the group to pass, and he did so and never turned back.  Then we asked both of the women to go ahead.  One of them turned around and went back to the shelter, but the other was persistant.  When Nik and I stopped, she stopped.  When we walked faster, she walked faster.  When we pointed at a good view, she said “Good View”.  I understand that this is what she does as her living, but I told her we didn’t want a tour and that we didn’t want to go to her house.  We wanted to be the only two people on the path for as far as we could see, and we did not want a shadow.  But she continued to follow us.  I eventually resigned to the fact that she wasn’t leaving, and engaged her in simple observations here and there.  Once, I pointed a bright red berry out to Nik, and then she stopped to pick the plant out of the ground.  She held it up to me and told me it was tea, and offered it to me.  I must admit that it was a nice gesture, but I still had a little grudge that she had followed us for over an hour so she tucked the plant into her basket and continued to walk behind us.  Eventually, she followed our lead and was quiet and kept to herself.  The hike was still pleasant and absolutely beautiful.

...our shadow...

...our shadow...

...red peppers drying in the sun...

...red peppers drying in the sun...

Around noon we passed through a small village and stopped for a drink of water.  At this point, she started asking us if we wanted to go to her house for lunch.  We said we didn’t know, and tried to avoid the subject.  But the fact was that we were neither here nor there, and we were hungry.  We were approaching the Zhongliu Village where she lived, so Nik and I decided we would eat with her.  I expected her to take us to a small inn or restaurant fit to feed many people, but instead she took us to her private home.  We were both very reserved about the whole thing, and didn’t know what to do with prices.  What if it was really expensive, and really bad?  We decided we should negotiate a price before we ate so that there weren’t any missed expectations, and we settled on 20RMB/person ($3.50).  We had no clue what she would cook for us, and most main dishes in the restaurants we’ve visited have been between 15-30, so 20 seemed reasonable.  As we sat on one side of the large room of the empty house, our hostess and her son washed, cut and cooked vegetables on the other.  I watched as she peeled potatoes and washed greens.  Then another woman that appeared to be our hostess’s mother joined them and sat by the wood-burning stove and kept the fire going while everything cooked.  An hour later, she brought a small square table over to Nik and I, then set the table with bowls and chopsticks.  Next she filled our bowls with rice and brought over three vegetable dishes: fried sweet potatoes, fried spinach-like greens and boiled turnips with onions.  All three were delicious and way too much for the two of us.  Then she brought over a fourth dish of stir-fried greens with garlic.  We all laughed that it was too much food, and she insisted that we eat more because we had lots of “walky walky” ahead of us.  She was right, we did have at least three more hours of hiking to go, so we weren’t shy, and we ate and ate and ate.

...lunch...

...lunch...

...our guide's home...

...our guide's home...

...the Zhongliu village...

...the Zhongliu village...

As we finished our meal, she offered to guide us to the DaZhai Village where we would catch the bus back to our hotel.  We refused her guidance and thanked her for the wonderful food.  We walked away from her house satisfied and thankful for her persistence earlier in the morning.  Ultimately, we were glad that she followed us, and we ate the best Chinese food yet at her table.

With a pep in our step, we continued our journey through the rice fields and we finally had the path to ourselves.  We comfortably lingered longer in some places while we skipped and ran through others…just to be silly.  It was like we were little kids and our parents finally trusted us enough to leave us home alone.

...the path...

...the path...

...our real shadow...

...our real shadow...

...rice terraces...

...rice terraces...

...me in the rice terraces...

...me in the rice terraces...

...rice terraces...

...rice terraces...

...DaZhai village...

...DaZhai village...

...beast of burden...

...beast of burden...

...government issue green canvas sneakers...

...government issue green canvas sneakers...

...and now it's time for everyone to go home...including the goats.

...and now it's time for everyone to go home...including the goats.

We made it to DaZhai around 4:30pm and caught one of the last buses down the mountain, then hitched a ride with a mini-bus up to Ping-An and were back to the hotel just before dark.  Once again, a situation that we thought would be terrible turned out to be pretty good, and actually made our day.

What a week in Shanghai does to a Girl

Saturday, December 6th, 2008
The newest area of Shanghai, otherwise known as Pudong

The newest area of Shanghai, otherwise known as Pudong

It makes me think about what is next.  It makes me happy to be alive.  It makes me thankful for great people.  It makes me want to know who in the heck is living in all those apartment buildings.  It makes me wish I had seen this city 30 years ago.  It makes me wonder what it will look like in another 30 years.  It makes me curious to know why the Chinese culture doesn’t embrace foreigners that much.  It makes me want to shop.  It makes me wish cars and factories didn’t polute our world.  It makes me dread re-entering the design seen.  It makes me miss Thai food.  It makes me cold.  It makes me want to live there.

The Gallery Room at Quintet B&B

The Grand Cathay Room at Quintet B&B*

As you can tell, our week in Shanghai was eventful to say the least.  For the first three nights, we splurged on an expensive room at a little bed and breakfast called The Quintet.  They have only 5 rooms and each is designed slightly differently.  The owner, Fay, is super sweet and was a great hostess.  And let me tell you…the breakfast is wonderful!!!  Especially the French Toast with berry compote and link sausages.  The place has the perfect blend of traditional and modern to make it a cozy temporary home.

The balcony of Klara & Gerhard's amazing apartment*

The balcony of Klara & Gerhard's amazing apartment

For the last two nights, we had our first Couchsurfing experience.  We stayed with a Swedish/German couple, and they really made our trip ten times better.  They invited us to join them with several friends for dinner Wednesday night, then we met up at their office Thursday before going over to Pecha Kucha, and then Friday night we joined them after dinner for dessert and drinks before heading back to their place for some Swedish Glögg.  They and their friends gave us a great peak at what life in Shanghai would be like, and they have all but convinced us to move here in January.  Now all we need is a job offer…and we’re there!!

When we weren’t spending QT at our temporary homes, we were walking around town, navigating the Metro system, sipping cocktails at the Park Hyatt bar on the 91st floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center, browsing through the World Exhibition 2010 exhibit at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, climbing the Lupu Bridge for an amazing panoramic view of the city, eating sweet potatoes on the streets, and gawking at all of the HUGE construction sites.

Old Art Deco Buildings

Old Art Deco Buildings

HSBC and WFC Towers

HSBC and WFC Towers

Nik with cocktails 91 stories up

Nik with cocktails 91 stories up

WFC at night

WFC at night

Christmas Tryke

Christmas Trike

The Danish Pavillion for the World Exhibition 2010

The Danish Pavillion for the Shanghai World Expo 2010

"Old" apartments...they were built 15 years ago, but look 50 years old

"Old" apartments...they were built 15 years ago, but look 50 years old

Trash Trolleys

Trash Trolleys

Nik climbing the Lupu Bridge

Nik climbing the Lupu Bridge

The view from the top...multiply this by 30, and you'll get the impression of the entire city

The view from the top...multiply this by 30, and you'll get the impression of the entire city

Our days were relaxed but busy, and it was an amazing week.  After Beijing, we weren’t too thrilled with the polution and lack of history in Shanghai.  But as the week went on, we liked and appreciated the city more and more.  If we had left after three days, we would have placed the city low on our list, but since we stayed for six, it grew on us.  Of course, it helped that the sun came out on Friday, and the city sparkled.  If this is where we end up next year, I think we’ll be happy.

Nik did a much better job of documenting Shanghai than I did, so take a look at his blog to see more.

Nik’s Blog: First 3 Days in Shanghai, China

Nik’s Blog: Last Days in Shanghai

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