Friday, September 6, 2013

Guilin, China

There is a popular Chinese saying about Guilin -  桂林山水甲天下 - "Guilin's scenery is best among all under heaven." I would have to agree.

Gary (British) and I had met at the Mr. Panda hostel and trekked through town with our packs to the station. Mr. Panda said we could leave at 2:40 for our 3:13 train. We should have asked more questions but we trusted him and decided to be safe we would leave an hour early. Thank God we did! We made it to the train station at 3:00 to see our train number with status in red Chinese characters. Oh no! Red means last call, departing or something critical. We started to run with our packs and a bag of groceries. I heard him say "no way." I looked ahead and saw a security line. Ugh! We were going to have to wait in line and take off all our stuff for the x-ray. Damn security! We got through security and put our packs back on and ran for the gates. Our red Chinese characters were flashing now! We ran and ran and finally arrived at the gate. We were the only ones and a Chinese man yelled "hurry, hurry!" We passed through and had a staircase to go down and then to find car 9. We stepped on board and the staff picked up the ramp and the train rambled off. Whew! That was close! We were covered in sweat and tired! As we settled into the soft sleeper cabin, we chatted with the Chinese girls. The train ride was not too bad. I guess I am a seasoned traveler since 25 hours was nothing to worry about. It is much easier on a train than a bus or airplane.

I had upgraded to a soft sleeper and was disappointed. It was double the price of a second class sleeper but not much more private. It was freezing and slightly quieter. I was sharing the cabin with a  British guy and 2 Chinese girls. Gary and I would close the door and turn down the Chinese music and 5 minutes later the music was loud and the door was opened. People stopped by to chat and play cards, smoke filled the room and the children were running up and down the halls.  I am not sure why you pay double the price and then open the door to a smoke filled and noisy hallway. Gary and I kept closing the door. Yes, we were antisocial and wanted some quiet and fresh air. Locking the door seemed to help. Random people stopped walking in and we actually had a little peace and quiet. It is amazing how lazy you get on a 25 hour train ride. I slept, read, ate, and slept some more. I just kept repeating the same things over and over again.
Gary and I arrived in Guilin and he decided to follow me to my hostel. We followed the directions to take a bus and got off at the right stop. Then everything became a mess.  Both of us stink at following directions. I can not tell you the direction I am walking unless the sun is setting or rising. All directions were given and turn north/south/west/east. Really? Isn't left and right easier? We got lost and made a 6 minute walk take 30 minutes. We finally arrived at the Old Place International Youth Hostel. I was never so happy to take off my backpack and take a shower!! It was hot and humid in Guilin. I showered and cleaned up and was ready for something other than noodles. I walked around town and back to the youth hostel for a salad and wood fired vegetable pizza. Yummy! I stayed up talking with people and realized it was late. I had decided to take a tour to the Longsheng Rice Terraces in the morning. Time to hit the sack. Gary decided to go out on the town and I never saw him again. I guess he had a lot of fun!

The worse accident on the trip to the rice terraces.
The bus arrived and I was off on my next sightseeing tour. You know how I hate tours. But in China it is costly to hire a taxi. They make it cheaper to do a tour unless you can find 6 people to share the cost of a van. The journey to Longsheng Rice Terraces was the most dangerous I had experienced in my 5 months of travel. As we climbed into the mountains, we passed 9 accidents in 5 miles. I looked for my seat belt but as usual, nothing. I wasn't confident the bus would arrive safely. He did the usual and just honked and went around the cars in front. As we all looked forward and saw traffic coming around the corner, the driver just honked his horn more insistently. I prayed I would survive this trip safely! 

Our first stop was the Longhair village. It was everything I hate about a tour. When we stopped, the bus was bombarded with 10 women pushing postcards, purses, wallets and scarves. I said no and then ignored them the remainder of the time. I have learned say no once and forcefully and never acknowledge them again. If you make eye contact, they never leave. We were shown their homes and then taken to a show where the women dance and sing about their traditions. The village is known for the woman's long hair. They only cut it once in their entire life, at 16 years old. The hair is kept and added to their hairstyle over the years. Young girls never show their hair until they are married. The girls cover their heads with a scarf. When they reach adulthood, the women have different hairstyles depending on if they are married and have children. At the end of the show the women let down their hair and it is about 2 meters long. Then they put it back into the hair the style using only a comb, no hair fasteners. It was interesting but I just wanted to hike the rice fields. 

After lunch, we finally headed to the rice terraces. We parked and started the 1000+ steps up to the 7 stars and sun point. The walk took us through a village and then along the rice fields up to the lookout. The views were breathtaking. I passed men carrying people in chairs to the lookout, old woman hauling 2 or 3 suitcases on their backs and women hiking in 3 inch heels. When I was 70% of the way up, I stopped counting the steps.

I kept walking until I finally reached the top. Yippee! I sat and drank a water and rested for a few minutes before hiking back to the bus. The rice fields were beautiful and I would have enjoyed spending a night in the village. Unfortunately, the 30 day visa has kept me moving across the country. It was a beautiful day and I met some nice people so overall, the tour was good.
Breathtaking rice terraces of Longsheng
The next morning, I awoke for my 7AM van ride to the Li River cruise. I was ready and in the van. Then, I waited for 30 minutes for 2 guys to finish brushing their teeth. When "emperors" final we're ready at 7:35 they graced me with their presence. Ugh! There are those people that I meet and know immediately that I will not like. These were 2 if them. China has a "little emperor/empress" syndrome and many Chinese teachers complained that it is a serious problem. Some families raise their children as the emperor or empress of the family. They are doted on by the parents and grandparents.  They do nothing wrong and have no rules...spoiled, narcissist brats. These two fit that mold. After making me wait for 35 minutes there was no apology. Then they asked the bus driver to stop at an ATM and a grocery store. Ugh! We were scheduled to be one of the first boats down the river but now we would be mixed in with all the tourist boats. We arrived an hour and a half behind schedule. When we got to the boats, I was irritated with them and decided to take the front seat. But they got me in the end because they just stood at the front of the boat. I asked them to please sit down and one pretended he did not understand. It was irritating and one of the few times I have met someone I really did not like. Each time I took a photo, he would stand in front of me. I wanted to push him off the boat. Rather than being angry about it, I started laughing aloud and shaking my head in disbelief every time he did something stupid. He and his friend would look at me. The boat captain finally told him to sit down. The little emperor actually sat his butt down the rest of the trip.

I arrived in Xingping and wandered the old town. It was quiet. I would have stayed here a few nights if I had more time. There were less tourists and plenty of restaurants and hotels. I took a public bus to Yangshao and explored the city. I had planned to rent a bike and explore the area but changed my mind. It was 42C and I was dying. I had a fruit popsicle and then found a shaded spot in the park. I decided to get a bus back to the hostel. It was another beautiful but hot day. 

I was headed north to Xian the next night and decided my last day was a good day to rest. I had gotten a cold on the train and it was setting into my lungs. With air pollution issues in the cities up north, I decided I needed some rest and cold medicine. I found a pharmacy that sold me some disgusting tasting cough syrup. It seemed to be working. I spent the afternoon in the hostel working on my blog and travel plans for Eastern Europe. It was 43C and everyone decided to stay indoors. People were lying on the couches reading or surfing the Internet or playing Wii. Nobody wanted to be out in the heat.
I packed my belongings and was ready for my 4:30 taxi. I waited and waited. At 5:00, I asked about the missing taxi. I was told he was stuck in traffic and would be arriving in 10 minutes. At 5:30, I asked if we could get another taxi and I was told he was almost to the hostel. At 5:50, where there was no taxi I was told the taxi broke down. I was going to have to walk and find a taxi. I should have done that in the beginning I guess. I found a taxi pretty quick and was headed to the airport. I watched my time as I had been told the traffic was bad. I realized it was all a story because there was no traffic. The trip to the airport was 40 minutes and I arrived in time to check in without running. I had been warned to always add an hour or 2 hours to the time the Chinese tell you it takes to get somewhere. I was glad I had done that! I checked in and grabbed a bowl of noodles for a quick dinner before my flight. As I sat waiting, a family sat down next to me and asked their 12 year old son to practice his English. He was cute and shy about speaking. I encouraged him to try and with the use of my translator app, we had a good conversation. Luckily, I had made friends with him because they changed the gate. He stood up and translated it to me. I boarded my plane and was headed north to Xi'an.

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