Sunday, August 17, 2008

Guilin Vacation: Day 2

Li River Boat Ride
Originally uploaded by jimwink

On the second day of our Guilin trip, we first headed out for a motorized raft ride on the Li (pronounced Lee) River. After the 45-minute bus ride to the destination, we found that the scenery before us is featured on the back of the 20RMB bill. The raft ride was advertised as being a bamboo raft, but the Li River has a stronger current than the Yulong, so for sturdiness sake (and probably ease of construction) they use PVC for the raft and furnish it with bamboo chairs.

Lawnmower engines that were converted into boat engines powered the boats; the drivers would steer by placing the engine left or right in the water. This ride was not as peaceful as the ride when we had a gondola-like driver. The scenery was awesome, we saw: magnificent landscapes, people on the shores washing clothes, ducks on the water and banks, and water buffaloes swimming to name a few.

At the southern most point on our raft ride, there was a small market place set up on the shore. The neatest thing here was the fishermen who had cormorant birds on bamboo poles. The men (we saw only fishermen, no fisherwomen) tie the birds to bamboo poles and let the birds do the fishing. Jim was upset because after we took pictures, the man started asking for money. I told Jim we should just pay the 4RMB ($0.58) and be done with it, which we did.

Buddha Cave
Originally uploaded by jimwink

We ate a late breakfast back in the town and then headed back to Yangshuo to go on a cave tour. The cave we toured, features two paths a dry cave and wet cave. The cave is called the Buddha Cave and it gets its namesake from one of the first formations you see, a large Buddha. When we entered the cave we were told to put hard hats on (understandable) and take our hiking shoes off and put house slippers on (what?!?!). So we did as the Chinese do and put on our vinyl slippers. A French couple was also on the tour with us, and they were as stunned about our required cave apparel as we were. After about 5 minutes in the cave, we realized this was a very Chinese experience, as this type of tour would never be approved for tourists in the states. OSHA, the ADA, or some other governmental agency, would have major objections to tourists crawling through tunnels 2.5 feet in diameter, scaling down formations 5 feet tall with only a rope.

While conquering these feats, the tour had a photographer who would snap photographs. So for instance while trying to navigate down a stair-like rock formation, the flash would go off and blind us at the most inopportune time. When we reached the end of the dry cave, we found out that the tour was not circular in nature, but an out-and-back course. Thus, we now had the opportunity to do the opposite of every action we just did.

Eventually the slippers made sense, when we started the path into the wet cave and we were walking through waters anywhere from ankle-deep to upper calf-level. The water was clear and cold. Not sure if we would drink it though.

Jim slipped at one point, while telling Rachel to be careful of her footing. He scraped his elbow and knee, but the camera was OK!! At the end of the wet cave, there is a mud pit; the locals call it a mud bath and claim it’s good for your skin. They jump in with their bathing suits; we decided not to.

Of coarse at the end of the cave tour they tried to sell us pictures. Jim did a little bargaining and was able to buy the whole set for 30RMB ($4.36). Instead of burning a CD though, they put it on one of our memory cards. Click on the pictures to see the whole set. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Guilin Vacation: Day 1

Yangshuo Vacation
Originally uploaded by jimwink

The aforementioned mistery vacation was to Guilin, China. We left Thursday evening and returned Monday afternoon, which left us three days for intense Jim & Rachel play time.

Guilin is in the province of Guangxi, and the area where we stayed is called Yangshuo. Our hotel was the Li River Retreat, and was about 2km out of the town of Yangshuo.

So the first day after breakfast, we met up with our tour guide, YuLing, and headed out. We rented bikes, rode through Yangshou and made our way to the Yulong River. The bike ride was nice, even though the sun was already scorching. We stopped along the ride for photo oppurtunities.

At the Yulong shore, we took a bamboo raft ride downstream. The raft driver (who navigates the raft like a gondola driver does a gondola) put our bikes on the back of the raft, and we sat in rinky-dink bamboo lawn chairs in the middle of the raft. There were some small 'waterfalls,' and on two of these the embankments we were passing over was too long for our driver to just push us over. So Jim & I had to step off the raft and help edge the raft over the edge and hop back on before it went over. The guide would hop on at the last minute. Anyways, on our first hop off the raft, I almost had a nice swim in the Yulong because I started to slip on the algae present.

At the end of the raft ride we met back with YuLing and rode our bikes to Moon Hill, a scenic outlook spot. You can see Moon Hill from various parts of Yangshuo, but we heard it was great to see from the top. So we walked up the 800 steps to see it. The funny thing about this is when you pay to go to the top of Moon Hill, you get a 'dedicated' tour guide to go with you. From our observations, the prerequisites for becoming one of these tour guides listed below:

1) female.
2) at least 65 years old.
3) able to scale 800 steps faster than most Westerners/toursists.
4) able to carry a 1 cubic foot styrofoam cooler full of assorted beverages while completing #3.
5) constantly fan your tourist while completing #3.
6) some conversational English (desired in order to sell goods from #4 and offer rest brakes to the whimpy tourists).

The guides were very polite and helpful, teaching us various Chinese words for things we didn't know: bird, butterfly, tree, etc. An interesting note about the beverages they carried: the price varied with where you wanted to buy it. Two bottles of water at the top of Moon Hill was 20RMB, whereas two bottles back at the bottom at the end of our trip was only 10RMB. I guess that's a pretty basic lesson in the Law of Supply and Demand.

After Moon Hill, YuLing took us to a local restaurant where we sampled the local fare: beer fish. We enjoyed the meal, especially after the busy activities of the day. After our late lunch, we headed back to the hotel to get some R&R before our plans that evening.

Impression Liu Sanjie
Originally uploaded by jimwink

In the evening we headed to the Liu Sanjie lightshow, which is performed at least once every night, employs 500+ people and showcases how the local minorities live off the land. The entire show takes place on bamboo rafts or floating docks. The man who choreographed/directed this show was also responsible for the opening ceremony at the Olympics. Needless to say the show was fascinating; we tried to take pictures to capture the moments but this is one of those experiences that photos cannot fully encapsulate. That said, if anyone wants to go see it, I think we would both be game on going back.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Coast Bike Ride & Craving Comfort Food

The last weekend in July we headed off on a bike ride for the coast. The roundtrip was about 52 km, or 32 miles. The ride took longer than we expected, but we didn't really have a clear path laid out. Rather we just found our way around different neighborhoods as we went. The Shanghai summer heat may have slowed us down too, but we took plenty of water breaks to stay hydrated.

We have more pictures from the trip, click the picture to the right to see more.

After the bike ride, we were both pretty famished and craving a good 'ol home cooked meal. But I was not about to lift so much as a finger in the kitchen. So that evening, we hopped on the metro and headed to the far west-side of Shanghai, HongCiao. We had set our eyes on a restaurant called Bubba's Bar-B-Q. We reasoned that even though the restaurant caters Texas-style BBQ, it would be hard for it to measure up to our standards, but still worth a shot.
The food was good - Jim had brisket and I devoured a half-rack of pork ribs. ... The real reason we made the journey: we heard rumors that Bubba's served bottles of Shiner Bock Beer. Jim said if we could find Shiner, he would even drink one. Those who know how little alcohol my husband consumes, know how much of a statement that is. :)

Alas, the Shiner beer at Bubba's was fictional. Later while surfing some expat websites, Jim thinks he may have found a venue that serves the dark brew, so we plan to investigate this claim as well. If we are unsuccessful, it will be one of my first indulgences when we return for 2 weeks in late August. Heck, I'll probably indulge even if I do find it over here.

This is a photo of a little boy who was riding the metro on our way home from Bubba's. He was a cute youngster, even with his mini-emperor haircut. He would stare at us, but look away whenever we looked at him. Eventually, we were able to start a game of peek-a-boo with him. Obviously, I am wanting to show of my ever-increasing Photoshop skills with this photo too.