The second day started off really early. Our group was now half what it was yesterday (six versus three), but only two of us managed to get up when we decided. We had a Li River cruise to get to with a shuttle bus picking us up at 8:10 a.m., so in order to get out onto the street and get breakfast before then, we decided to be out the door by 6:30, meaning we had to be awake by 6:00.
It was cold in the morning with the air as fresh as ever. We walked a few blocks down the main street and turned into that sidestreet where we went before to get Guilin noodles once more--and once again, they were quite good. By the time we finished, it was still early, with about an hour and a half to go before needing to get back to the hotel.
I guess Guilin Riverside Hotel is pretty centrally located in the city. One of the main symbols of the city, Elephant Trunk Hill (象鼻山) was just a few main streets to the east, so we headed out there. used in many a Chinese movie, this rock formation is unique in that its face has a large hole in it, so that one side looks like an elephant and the other side looks like its trunk.
My friend couldn't see it, but in my opinon, it's like observing constellations--just take it as it is and know that it's not bad to have just a bit of imagination. If you recall, water levels are low at the moment in Guilin, so Elephant Trunk Hill wasn't quite like the pictures. And in a ploy to make more money, viewing spots along the city streets have been blocked by copious amounts of foliage, so the entrance fee of ¥30 CNY per person to the viewing areas within the park becomes imperative.
This entrance fee is by land I guess, because as we were walking to the gate, we got offered by one of the many, many people looking for money a boat ride to see Elephant Trunk Hill from the river. And at ¥30 for the two of us, so ¥15 each, it was a good deal.
The boat that we were taken on had a flat bamboo bottom and was powered by a loud motor. Set up for passengers were simple chairs on the deck. He dropped us off and waited for us on an island in the middle of the river as we took pictures--and that's all we could do without entering the park--take pictures.
Heading back to the hotel, we saw our friend who had just woken up. He was heading over to the Guilin noodles place for breakfast as well and looked like he was going to make it well in time for the shuttle bus to the Li River Cruise.
On the shuttle bus, we met a couple from San Francisco. They were in the process of travelling all around the central and east Asia. Already they had gone to Azerbaijan and some other places that I can't remember. They came in through China along the historic Silk Road and explored several communities around Urumqi in Xianjiang. Already they had been exploring China for a month or two and had a month or two left until arriving in India where they had family.
We happened to book the English tour, which meant that the hour-long bus ride to where the boat was docked, somewhere down the river, was narrated by an English-speaking tour guide. Ours was named Eda in English, though everyone called her Shopping, since her Chinese name was something like Sha-ping in Pinyin.
She gave us some history behind Guilin and explained to us some of the ethnic minorities. One of which, for an extra price, we were going to see.
Our boat sat around one hundred people, with the upper deck for viewing and VIPs with a third level opened mid-way through the cruise for additional viewing. The seats were organized linearly on either side of rectangular tables on either side of the boat. There were eight seats per table.
The boat ride lasted about four hours as we went from near Guilin to Yangshuo, a tourist town. The water leve was noticeably low, for as a majority of the journey the bed of the river was visible from above. In addition, the river was crowded with boats full of tourists much like ours, and for the majority of the cruise we were riding the tail of the boat in front of us.
Though the weather was sunny, it seemed that there was a haze in the air that distorted the iconic mountains. Looking back through my photos, it's prettier now that when I was actually there. Along the cruise, we saw various named sights such as Nine Horses and Five Finger Hill, as well as the scene on the ¥20 CNY bill whose name I can't remember.
Just like on land, people (on boats) were trying to sell us stuff. The would dock alongside the moving larger boats and advertise their goods. People could open their windows on the main deck to buy stuff. People like me on the upper deck could reach down to grab some goods. I bought a fruit from a guy on a small bamboo boat. It cost me ¥5 and when I bought it he took out his big cleaver and cut off much of the thick skin surrounding what I was to discover was a highly seedy, albeit ripe and sweet, citrus fruit.
Check out the pictures of the Li River cruise for more on that. Most of the pictures speak for themselves.Oh and there were lots of animals to be seen from the boat.
Arriving in Yangshuo, we were bombarded with hawkers. For the next part of the tour, we were to meet half an hour later on the other side of the town at the Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sha-ping had to make sure we met in front of the correct one, because half a block further was a look-alike KFC. During that half-hour, we strolled around the town. It was noticeably done up and had a variety of ATMs as well as a McDonald's with a private pond. I ended up buying a piece of rice put into a vial and decorated into jewelry. What was so special about this grain of rice was that the guy was able to write my whole name on it.
As the second part of the tour came around, I realized how glad I was to have stayed for the extra day. The first stop was a rural village way outside the city. They had just about finished harvesting their rice and as such their rice patties had grounded stubs of what remained in the fields instead of flooded terraces.
We were shown onto a historic bridge that was built by a scholar in memory of someone in a story I can't quite remember. From there we could see Lion's Head Mountain, which from the right angle took very little imagination to see. Also on the bridge, we were away from boat traffic, meaning the water was calm enough to get the reflections of the mountains in the water.
Heading back to the bus, the tour guide Sha-ping bought us tangarines that were quite sweet. While I was eating mine, I found myself having to get out of the way as a farmer with two bulls came through. My two friends didn't feel anything special about it they say, because one's been in Iranian villages and one's been in many a Taishan village. I, however, saw something in it than they did because it was just so different and so much more charming than anything I'd ever been to, seen, or done.
Continuing on, we went to see one of the ethnic minorities. It was obviously there for the tourists, as many members of these ethnic minorities live urban lives. Many are not discernable from Han members of society. I can't find the official name for these people, but Sha-ping kept referring to them as the Drum people.
This leg of the trip entailed a bamboo boat ride (four for our group to be exact). They had the same single layer of bamboo keeping us afloat, and with the river being so shallow, the people maneuvering the boats weren't so much rowing as pushing the boat with a long piece of bamboo making contact with the riverbed. After asking, we were allowed to try our hand at it, and, as expected, it required a lot of upper body strength to propel and a lot of practice to steer accurately.
As part of the entertainment, a woman from the Drum people sang serenading songs on the boats. According to Sha-ping, they have a courtship tradition in which young men and young women sing to each other, at which point the young woman gives the young man this ball-shaped ornament (for lack of a more precise word) to be worn around the neck. Our entertainer had five to give away as souvenirs, and to get one, one of my friends serenaded her with the old Iranian national anthem, which was anything but romantic.
Down on the other side of the lake, we alighted. Farmers had their water oxen out for us to intereact with. (I heard some people on the Li River cruise call them 水牛.) After a little walk to get there (and some pictures of the scenery), we were given bits of lettuce to feed them. After making sure than no cow was going to charge me (the animals were all quite docile) and seeing that other people were doing it as well without issue, I tried approaching one of the calves to feed a piece of lettuce to. After the third calf turned my piece of lettuce away, the farmer informed me in Chinese (I don't remember his exact words) that I can't feed it to the calves because they only drink milk. It made sense.
So I fed it to a bull, and my friend attempted to get a picture of me doing it, though neither the bull nor I was in the picture in any reasonable form. I settled on petting a calf, for which I got a few decent pictures. In short, they weren't as soft as I would have imagined.
Heading back, we were given a demonstration of the fisher using pelicans to catch fish. In case you don't know, the fisherman puts a tie around the pelican's neck (it doesn't appear to hurt it) and it goes diving for fish. It catches them in its mouth but finds itself unable to swallow it. As a reward, the farmer gives the pelican smaller fish that it can fit through its reduced esophagus.
I later had a small discussion with some people about the ethics behind exploiting an animal for such pursuits. Though I didn't think it was completely moral per say (and I'd like to go vegetarian when I get back to UCSD), I compared it similarly to using dogs for hunting, also saying that people do much worse things to animals that exploit them much further, putting them in much more danger.
After we got back to shore, we were taken back to Guilin. From there, we walked to the train station, along the way enjoying a lot of street food.
I guess it's regrettable that we missed seeing Seven Star Park, which is one of the main things that Guilin is known for. But what we saw instead I think made the whole trip worth it. And the sisters the day before told us that if you go to Reed Flute Cave, Seven Star Park is just bigger and worse. I'd say that Guilin was my favorite trip so far in this study abroad experience.
Copyright © 2009 James Philip Jee
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2 years ago