Sunday, January 11, 2009

In Guilin

Right now I am in the city of Yangshuo in Guangxi province. This city is amazingly beautiful and one of the best places I have been to so far in China. The city is very flat but has these large, steep mountains popping up all over the place. They come out of nowhere and are really hard to explain. When I get back to Harbin and settled in I will start putting my photos onto here for everyone to see. The view is really breathtaking, definitely the most beautitful city in China that I have ever seen.

I will give a recap of what I have been up to since I was in Wuhan a few weeks ago. My companion, Andrew, and I took a train from Wuhan to Shanghai a few days before New Years and spent about 4 nights there. Shanghai is an incredible city. It is developing new skyscrapers everyday and as you walk around you cannot help but keep staring up at the sky. But for some reason I was not too keen on Shanghai. Shanghai has a lot of foreigners and does not feel like China. It is also does not feel like it has a whole lot of culture. And it is a lot more expensive than "real China" so I was pretty happy to get going from Shanghai.

We spent New Years there and it was also a little disappointing. Chinese people dont really celebrate real New Years at all, they have Chinese New Years or the Spring Festival that is coming up at the end of the month. It is based on the lunar calendar and so is on a different day every year. Anyway, we went down to the Bund, which is a popular place along the Huangpu River, that houses a lot of European architecture. It also across the way from the Pudong area where the tallest skyscraper in China and second tallest in the world is located. Anyway, there were thousands of people congregated down there around midnight and I was expecting a pretty spectacular fire work display, seeing as it is one of the biggest cities in the world. But the when the clock struck 12, they began a pretty pathetic show. It reminded me of the displays we would do in AK out in the woods during New Years eve, not the stuff of a major international city. Afterwards we went to McDonalds and pretty much called it a night.

After a few days in Shanghai we got on a train to Nanjing, which only took about 2 hours. In Nanjing our main goal was to relax for awhile and not spend money. We found a hostel that had dorm beds starting at 30 yuan a night, pretty cheap and for the first two days just hung out at the hostel in the day, eat cheap jiaozi for lunch and dinner, and maybe go to starbucks in evening, come back to the hostel and watch a movie and then go to bed. I felt we had just been going and going so much it was nice to relax for awhile.

In Nanjing we also hung out with two of the hostel workers a few nights which was a lot of fun. One of the girls could speak English incredibly well so it was cool to have some lucid conversations for change with Chinese people. We toured some of the lakes as well as old city walls from the Ming dynasty and also checked out some of the muesums. The most impactful one was the Rape of Nanjing musuem. It chronicled Japan's occupation of Nanjing from 1937 to 1945 when an estimated 300,000 people were slaughtered by the Japanese. Some of the worst atrocities of WWII were commited in Nanjing but do not get a whole lot of attention for some reason. A lot of historians refer to it as the forgotten holocaust. The pictures and images from that museum were incredibly disturbing and it really got you thinking how massacres like this can possibly happen.

After Nanjing, we took a 24 hour train to the city of Guilin in Guangxi province. The train ride was not as bad as I was expecting it to be. We had a hard sleeper where you have these little room like holes where three beds are stacked on top of each other on both sides. I was concerned that it was going to be an awful trip but Andrew and I slept for about half the way and the rest of our time was taken up by eating, talking, reading and looking at the scenery. So it was not so bad. As soon as we got into Guilin we hopped on a bus to Yangshuo and that is where we currently are. On the bus, we were also lucky enough to meet two other Chinese travelers and we hung out with them in Yanghsuo on our first day. We rented some bikes and ride about 8 km down to whats called Yueliang Shan, or Moon Mountain, and had a fantastic dinner of hot doufu, this pork and vegetable dish called huiguorou, and the Yangshuo speciality pijiu yu, or beer fish. It was one of the best meals I had had in a long time and it was relatively cheap.

I have also discovered our travels are a lot more fun when we make some Chinese friends to hang out with. The ones we met in Yangshuo were also good because they could not speak any english so we had to use Chinese the whole time. So it is good to continue practicing and improving your Chinese. Life is also a little easier with other Chinese people because people dont try to cheat them as much as all the foreigners. For example, we were in this chinese painting store where they had these scenic drawings on Chinese scrolls. I was not seriously thinking about buying some but I asked how much and the guy told me 80 yuan. I knew this was way to expensive so I said how about 30 yuan and after a few minutes he actually met my price. 30 yuan is less than 5 US dollars, not very much money at all, but my Chinese friend said I should pay no more than 15 yuan, about 2 dollars. And later I actually saw him offer roughly this price to other Chinese tourists. But I would not be surprised if other foreigners are paying incredibly high prices for stuff Chinese people are paying pennies for.

This morning we slept in and later rented bikes again and toured the countryside a little bit as well as hiked up a mountain. Yangshuo is quite the tourist town and everywhere you go people are trying to sell you some kind of trincket or touristy item. It reminds me a lot of being in Mexico this summer, I dont really like it. I think we will spend a few days here and then head back to Guilin for a few days and after that I am not sure where I will go . Andrew is planning on going to Hainan, apparently the Hawaii of China but I think I will either go to Yunnan or perhaps Chengdu again. Not sure at the moment. The Spring Festival is coming up and I have heard things get pretty crazy in China during that time, especially hotels and trains. So I really just want to settle down some place and not have to deal with the craziness.


Catie said...

I want to hear more about this spring festival!! In S. India there was a spring festival in January called Pongal. I figured out the tradition was eat this rice dish, Pongal, paint all of the cows and goats in bright colors, and sit around all day eating sugar cane. It was a pretty sweet deal, I'll have you know!

I think you're so right about people trying to rip you off less when you're with someone who at least looks local. I think you have a good start, at least, by knowing the language. In India people would learn that I lived there and spoke Tamil so they would give me a "reduced fare". I remember once this man offered to sell me a pillow case for 50 rupees instead of 120 like he sold to normal tourists. I didn't buy it and later asked my tailor about the same pillow case. He offered it to me for 15 rupees! that's about 30 cents! Anyway, it was an upsetting realization to find that even when I was getting "deal" I was still being ripped off. Luckily it's never for That much money

Catie said...

ps, i just love reading your blogs about China. If you published a book I would buy five copies and read each one. I think it's safe to say I miss traveling.