Life in Old China

Trip Start Aug 03, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
This Old Place Int'l Youth Hostel

Flag of China  , Guangxi,
Thursday, December 16, 2010

We've survived our first excursion to rural China! Our limited Mandarin proved to come in handy on many occasions, although I can't say it would help us in a real bind. The adventure started out a little rocky. We missed the ferry out of Zhuhai so then we missed the ferry that we needed out of Macau. Instead of waiting 3 hours we took another ferry to a different city but then had to pay a driver for an hour long taxi ride. This was just to get to Shenzhen, where our flight left early last Saturday morning. We arrived in Guilin and from there took 3 different buses to our destination of Xingping, about 3 hours away.

As soon as we landed in the Guangxi region we could tell that this place was special. It finally feels like we are seeing real China and not just the middle of another huge city. The villages and towns we are visiting this trip are on the Lijiang, or Li River. It is famous for being one of the most beautiful places in China. The scenery is simply stunning, unlike anything you will ever see. The countryside surrounding the river is packed with karst peaks made of limestone. They just rise straight up out of nowhere like earthen high rises and reach majestically towards the sky, one after the other. Some of the taller peaks reach more than 1000 feet, but their width is less than a quarter of that. Both of us thought separately that it reminded us of a strange level from Super Mario World. There go our 21st century digital brains in action.

Sadly, it rained nearly the entire time we were there. This is the driest month in the region on average. We left warm, sunny Zhuhai for temps in the 40's and 50's and nearly froze our toes off. It doesn't take long to become acclimated to a mild subtropical climate, however, we were feeling homesick and enjoyed the chill in the air that reminded us of December back home in Oregon. I know, I know, the temps there are way colder now. Anyway, the rain did not deter us from having a fabulous time. The misty clouds added to the allure of the landscape, and we were afforded occasional, shockingly beautiful glimpses of the hills.

Xingping, itself, is a wonderful little village. It was established around 1800 years ago. There are only 2 main roads, and only one of those is wide enough for car traffic. The streets are paved with cobblestones and the people look as if they lived the way they have for hundreds of years, besides the occasional wide-screen computer in the back of the shop. Much of the architecture is from the Ming and Qing dynasties which began in the 1300s. We amused ourselves for two rainy days by shopping for handmade goods such as beautiful scarves made by the locals and trying out the little Mandarin we know.

The first night surprised us with a power outage just after sunset. We actually had a lot of fun in that unexpected event and hung around the hostel for the evening. The staff handed out flashlights and extra blankets and we all stayed in for a cozy night in the candlelit, yet dark, hostel. There were only a handful of guests and almost an equal number of staff so we all huddled around a little, portable coal-burning stove playing cards and 20 questions. That game can be much more entertaining when playing with people from at least 5 different countries. The most amazing part of the night was meeting a man from Bend!! Well, he was actually Venezuelan but his daughter was born in Bend and he moved to China from there only 3 months ago. He now lives only a few hours from us. So crazy! It is such a small world.

The power ended up being out for about 15 hours! It didn't come on until after breakfast the next morning. Since the weather was still a little rough we put off a bamboo boat cruise for yet another day. Instead, we decided to hike up to the top of Laozhai Hill just in case the clouds would part enough for us to get a view of the area. Our new friend at the hostel suggested it, saying only that it was a little slick on the way down. Wow, that was the understatement of the century. Not only was the "trail" a slick pathway of extremely steep and ancient steps, it was very, very, very long. There were more than a thousand steps and they zig-zagged back and forth in a small area on one side of the hill. Close to the top it got worse and worse, with ladders and switch-backs and faulty railing. The view from the Friendship Pagoda was worth it, though, and we hung out there in the eerie mist snapping pictures every time the clouds parted. As you might imagine, the way down was even worse and we held hands nearly the whole way to hopefully keep each other from slipping down the side of the mountain.

On our final morning in Xingping the weather was even worse, and to top it off, the river was closed to boat traffic all morning. We didn't find out why until later that day. So, we packed our bags and jumped on the bus to Yangshuo. Check back later to read about stage two of our trip!

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Dean on

Great Pix!
Pass the "Does the Pot Duck" please.

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