Upon My Arrival Home

Pile of ticket stubs from China

This post has been long overdue! I wrote this when I got back, then had grand plans to upload it with a collage of all my ticket stubs from my vacation… but then life got in the way. So, much delayed, here is my last China post:

On the flight home, I reacquainted myself with Canadian culture by watching the imagineNATIVE reel on the Air Canada flight in addition to a slew of short Canadian films from the National Film Board. I quite enjoyed myself.

My plane arrived early, and I was on the platform for pick-up by 1:30am. Yehuda met me at the airport and drove me back to his apartment. Once home, he fixed me up a bowl of homemade chili and I gave him the souvenirs I’d bought for him in China. We then settled ourselves down in front of the television with a glass of red wine to watch a BBC production of a Shakespearean play before falling asleep around 4am in the morning.

I must say, jet-lag upon returning from a trip is far worse than going on vacation. I was pretty much incapable of doing anything productive for 3 days. However, on my first day back, I did manage to go see with Yehuda the two Edward Burtynsky exhibits that were up. His show was only on until Oct. 12 and I wanted to make sure that I saw it!

After seeing the show and dreaming about one day having an Edward Burtynsky piece on my wall (for a mere $25,000+ that is), Yehuda and I went to Aroma to sit on the patio and have a coffee. It was a beautiful autumn day: sunny, blue skies, the smell of crisp fallen leaves in the air. It wasn’t so bad to come home to this from palm tree weather!

Cup of coffee next to a catalog for Watermark

Sitting in the car with Yehuda and looking out the window, what struck me most about coming home was understanding the true meaning of ‘standard of living.’ It was surprising to see that such a country like China with some of the best technology in the world, with all its factories, a strong export and manufacturing industry, and power had most of its people living in squalor, must worse off than Canada’s impoverished.

To see such poverty at such a large scale in an economic powerhouse like China was an eyeopening experience. We really do have it great in Canada – even if we’re living well below the poverty line. Yes, I may not have an iPad, a Mackage coat, or a pair of United Nude shoes, but do I have glass in my windows, safe water to drink, plumbing and utilities in my apartment with a rented room all to myself, access to clean public facilities and commercial buildings, an education, an identity card, government support programs and healthcare I can depend on, and come from a rural area that uses contemporary farming methods (where old women with permanently bent backs don’t need to go out everyday to tend to the crops with a machete).

For my first four days home, the sky was blue and sunny. For me, it was a great joy to experience that again. During my 13 days in China, I didn’t see one blue sky. The sky was always white and hazy with just a few glimpses of colour through the cloud – but never a true clear sky, even in the countryside. Either we had bad weather, or the pollution is that bad in China from all the factories. I suspect the latter.

Nicole told me that sometimes reverse culture shock is the greatest. I don’t think I had culture shock in China or coming home, but I do feel more grateful for what I have. I now understand the meaning of a ‘high standard of living’ and even though it may sound wishy-washy and patriotic, I do appreciate being Canadian so much more now. We’ve got it pretty damn good here.

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Last Day in China

view of downtown hong kong from window

view from window, looking out on high rises in Hong Kong

I didn’t sleep well last night. I kept waking up in the night, finally waking up and staying awake sometime before 6:00 AM. I lay in bed chatting with friends on Facebook and Skype hoping I would eventually fall back asleep, but no such luck.

I had a shower and packed. It was 8:30 by then, so I left the hotel in search of breakfast. I wanted something green, but thought maybe I’d try some congee as it was my last day in China. I wasn’t a fan of it when I’d had it in Toronto, but thought I’d give it another try here.

I found a breakfast place called Cafe de Cora. The cashier was in a cute yellow outfit and looked like a 1960’s stewardess (which pretty much sold me). I ordered K1 which included vermicelli with veggies, turnip pudding, and congee for $21.50 HKD (about $3 CDN). I sat down at the one two person table available, before noticing that there was no serving staff. Everyone was taking their receipt to the back counter. I followed suit and immediately got my morning combo. The table I had been sitting at had been taken by then, so I sat at a four person table all by myself and ate my breakfast.

The noodles were very oily with lots of cabbage mixed in. The turnip pudding tasted very fishy so I pushed it aside on my plate. The congee was edible, but unknown substances were floating around in it. One of these unknown substances was a green-grey gooey thing that at first I thought was a boiled dried mushroom gone goopy, but when I ate it, I was absolutely clueless what it could be. It was kinda gross, so I avoided the rest of them with my spoon. There were also slivers of meat that I guessed were salted pork, but I wasn’t sure about them either. Breakfast was a culinary adventure to say the least!

baskets of pontikege pastries

Across the street was a sweet little bakery. I thought I could maybe get something sugary or a milk tea to compensate for my unsavory breakfast. The bakery had a mix of European and Asian desserts. I gravitated towards a sesame pontikege, which I’d never heard of before. It was like a sweet Yorkshire pudding and I ate it in two bites!

During my wanders on my way home, I past a Chinese diner that had regular milk tea and lemon tea. I had seen lemon tea at a variety of places, so decided to try a Hong Kong lemon tea. To my surprise, they gave it to me tied up in a little bag just big enough for the coffee cup, two packets of sugar and a tiny spoon. Inside my cup was half a lemon sliced up, bobbing round in hot water. As I was on holiday, I added sugar to my cup of lemon tea and got the simple pleasure of using the tiny spoon to stir my tea-in-a-bag. It was a thrill.

bouquets of flowers outside a florist

Walking home proudly with my petite bag of tea, I passed a flower shop on the way. They had tiny little bouquets- sized for a child! I was tempted to buy one just because they were so pretty, but my better judgement got the best of me. What was I going to do with a bouquet of flowers hours before boarding a plane?

When I got home, I checked out of my hotel and left my baggage with the concierge. Before going downstairs to wait for the complimentary shuttle to the tram station. Good thing I went when I did as it left ten minutes early! I was the only person going to the peak and had the bus all to myself too.

When I got to the tram station (which was the same place Google Maps was calling the Ngong Ping cable car yesterday) I discovered the tram did not take you to Ngong Ping Village, but Victoria Peak– the one place Nicole had advised that I skip in Hong Kong. However, I was there now, so decided to take the plunge.

The Peak Tram was $40 HKD. I found myself in a tour group of seniors from the US and UK. The tour guide told us the tram was Swiss made and a hundred years old which I found to believe as everything looked new.

Taking the tram up the hill felt like going up a roller coaster. You could feel gravity push against you! There was lots of greenery and nice houses to look at though.

cloudy city scape

The view from the peak was blocked by the clouds/pollution. There wasn’t much else to do- just luxury shops and rich tourist priced restaurants, so I took the next tram back down the hill.

On my way to the tram station, I stopped in at the tourist centre where a woman outlined how to get to Ngong Ping Village. I had to get down to the piers, take a hour long ferry then a half hour bus. When I said the shuttle bus I was taking to the airport left at 3:00, she advised that I keep the Village for my “…next visit to Hong Kong.”

I noticed there was a market and arts & crafts district relatively close to my hotel on the map she gave me. So I decided to check that out before taking the bus to the airport. I got on a double decker streetcar (the interior was wood!!) in the direction of Western Market and sat with my map.

I really missed the TTC stop announcements like we have on the public transit in Toronto. I missed my stop, so had to get off and go back the way I came. Turned out you didn’t pay when you got on, but when you got off buses. So, I had to pay twice before getting on the eastbound bus.

I sat on the top level of the streetcar this time which was fun! It was lovely listening to the clang and squeaks on the train as the breeze caressed my face. There’s always something so comforting about the sound of a streetcar on the tracks.

The text on the streetcar stop signs was very hard to read from the streetcar window, so I asked a woman if I was close to the Western Market. She nodded and said I should get off, so I went down to the driver to verify with him that it was the right stop, but when I got off, I found I was at the Bowrington Road Market, not the Western Market.

busy market in Hong Kong

The Bowrington Road Market had clothes and food mixed together which was unusual in comparison to other Chinese markets I’d been into. Outside the market I found streets of luxury brand stores and camera shops. As Hong Kong was suppose to be one of the shopping capitals of the world, I decided to tour some of the shops.

I went fantasy lens shopping, looking at landscape and portrait lenses for my camera. I had been told by quite a few people that Hong Kong was the place to get good deals on camera gear. Without bargaining, I saw nice, light tripod for $250 HKD and a Canon 10-22mm lens for $4840 HKD. I wandered into a shop with a talented hard seller, who saw all my camera gear and freaked out that I was using EF and L-series lens on a Canon T3i then did a wonderful job at trying to sell me a Fujiyama fisheye lens to go on top of my 50mm lens to compensate for the shortened attributes of my camera, taking photos of then same thing with my different lenses and then the fish eye. It was $3800 HKD, but when I said it was too much he went down to $2800 HKD, which was still too much for an unemployed post-grad such as myself. I found the whole experience quite interesting, both from a selling perspective and from having an interest in camera gear. However it was unnerving being told that all the lenses you have are for pro cameras and not for your hobby camera they are structured differently! I’ll have to check with my techy friends when I get home to see what they say. (I was later told that I had nothing to worry about with my current lenses and that lens extensions are a waste of money)

On my walk back to the hotel, I found the Western Market. It was very small and boring. A girl interviewed me for a school project on the market within the first 5 minutes I stepped into the building, asking about my observations. If she’d given me time to look around, I would have said the signage within the building was unclear, misleading, and they needed better curation of the tenants. According to my tourist map, there was suppose to be art and artisans there, but all I found were jobbers and tacky souvenir sellers.

cup of tea on a table in a diner

I walked back to the hotel, stopping in a diner for udon noodles in a red bean and soya sauce and a ‘Hong Kong style’ milk tea. Back at the hotel, I ate a green tea and chestnut mouse cake while I waited for the bus.

The shuttle bus to the airport was quiet, with most seats filled by senior citizens with strong American and British accents. I didn’t know Hong Kong was such a popular destination for retirees!

It was really neat driving by the docks. There was a plethora of cranes, boats, and shipping containers – I’ve never seen so many boats in one place before! It was an incredible sight.

Now I am at the airport. Check-in and security was a breeze. In less than 24 hours, I’ll be home! Yay!

  • Photos taken and post written on an iPhone 4S.
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Hong Kong

Door and steps to a building.

Nicole and I got up at 6:00 AM to have peanut butter and jam on toast for breakfast. She had a cup of coffee and I had coconut milk while he cat played a game of pounce with us and a hair-tie on the floor. Nicole was singing the whole morning- I admired her energy. I was not a morning person- even with the jet lag.

Nicole walked me to the hotel where I was catching the bus to Hong Kong. We hugged goodbye and she hopped in a cab to go to school. I sat in the lobby and Skyped my mum. Two more people joined me in the lobby to catch the bus. One was a very tall foreigner in a bright green t-shirt. I figured he’d be easy to spot after the transfer at customs to find my bus.

I boarded the bus and sat in the wrong seat. Fortunately the other foreigner explained to be in English that I had a seat number an showed it where it was on the ticket. We had to get off the bus at customs and get in a long line up. Fortunately the line moved quickly, but there was some drama with a shouting match between a woman and a customs officer.

When it came to my turn, the customs officer looked up and down between me and my passport picture about four times. Then he asked for my arrival card, which I wasn’t quite sure what that was. Then he showed me a little chit of yellow card that I remembered I got at the airport. Fortunately for me, I kept all my papers in a folio with me so was able to find it and give it to him.

There was a cluster of people outside of Chinese customs. I wasn’t sure where to go, but saw the foreigner in the green shirt and went over to him. He didn’t know where to go either! Looking around like lost lambs, someone came up to us saying we were on her bus and for us to follow her. Once at the bus, she said “You must remember your bus number!” pointing at the Chinese character on the nose of the bus.

I got all comfy on the bus, only for us to stop 5 minutes later at Hong Kong customs! We all got off with our baggage and lined up again. I had to fill out a new arrival card, but fortunately my bus was much easier to find this time as all the coaches were lined up together.

The bus was suppose to make stops at 3 hotels and I was suppose to get off at the last stop. However, once in Hong Kong, the bus made a couple stops on the street with no hotel in sight, and then stopped at a corner where everyone got out. I presumed this was the last stop, but in hindsight I think this was just a courtesy stop at a Currency Exchange outpost as everyone was huddled around one when I got my bags and left the bus. I could not find the subway entrance I was suppose to take to my hotel. So decided to take a cab as the bus stop that I thought I was at was not far from the hotel on the map I had.

The cab driver had no idea where my hotel was. After he looked it up in a book, he took me to a taxi station where I was transferred to another taxi. This taxi then took me through a $50 HKD toll road and to my hotel. I was shocked, watching the meter go from 20 to 50, to a grand total of $100 HKD, but fortunately that just turned out to be $14 CDN.

The staff at the hotel were very welcoming. My room was nothing out of the ordinary, but still nice and looked out on a set of thin, high rise apartment buildings. I arrived just as smiling staff were doing what looked to me a bed bug check of the mattress I was to sleep on that night (I checked the seams after they left and thankfully didn’t see any).

city scape

Once I dropped off my bags, I decided to go explore my neighbourhood a bit and try to find the subway. The area my hotel was in reminded me a lot of the New York fashion district. There were little coffee shops, wholesalers, people pushing carts overlaid with boxes… but also dried fish and reptiles everywhere.

dried lizards in a cardboard box

I was hungry so went in search of a bakery. I was hoping to find a café with ginger honey milk tea (which is my favorite Chinese drink now) and some sort of Chinese pastry. However, I couldn’t find any café or bakery that appealed to me enough to sit down in and eventually I settled for a walk-in bakery where I got a croissant and three fried red bean patties. I gobbled them down- all tasted delicious. However I was unable to find ginger milk tea anywhere. Perhaps its a mainland China thing.

I went home and worked on my Dongguan blog post, eventually falling asleep in the hotel bed. I woke up a couple hours later when housekeeping knocked on my door. I was so sleepy, but forced myself to get up as I had so few hours to see Hong Kong.

I contemplated whether to go to the Natural History Museum or the Ngong Ping Village. I decided to go to the Village as I was told there was a temple there where you could enjoy a vegetarian meal prepared by monks. I could do some sight seeing, take some photographs, and have a healthy meal all in one place, which sounded lovely to me! There was a cable car to the island too, which was only 15 minutes away by foot according to Google Maps.

wall and steps in Hong Kong

What was suppose to be a short walk or a 17 minute ride by bus turned into a two and a half hour ordeal. As I had my phone on airport mode, my GPS was not updating with my current location and the streets of Hong Kong were windy, scattered, and layered. At one point, I walked back to the hotel to take the public bus that stopped out front, but I think I must have gotten off at the wrong stop. Then I tried to get in a taxi, but his shift was done for the day, and the second taxi refused to take me to the entrance to the cable car.

zoo signage

Everyone I asked gave me different directions. When I found myself on Upper Abbey when I thought I was on Caine Rd., I gave up on trying to find the cable car and opted to follow a sign to the zoo and botanical gardens. It was a terraced garden with  trees growing out of a concrete wall. The walkway eventually led up to a zoo with reptiles and monkeys in large cages I was more interested in the palm trees and bamboo however and took photos of them silhouetted against the white sky.

Photos taken, I began my meander back home, eventually finding the number 12 bus that would take me back to my hotel. It was dark by then and the city was a rainbow of lights, making for an alluring ride.

I thought it would be smooth sailing home once I got on the bus. However the bus took me all around town. When it got to the end of the line, everyone got off. I too got off, thinking that there would be a transfer. When I realized that I didn’t need to get off, I went back on the bus, but the driver did not recognize me so I had to pay again.

Once back at the hotel, I booked my bus to the airport for the next day. I went up to the pool with the hope that I could relax in a sauna or hot tub before going to bed. Unfortunately, the pool and gym were closed for the evening.

Now I lay in bed. I feel defeated by Hong Kong. I had imagined wandering the night market and walking along the water tonight, going camera lens and bag shopping during the day in addition to visiting the museum and having a meal on Ngong Ping Island- but none of this happened. I really should have done more research and printed out maps before coming here (and the funny thing is – the hotel has a free shuttle to the cable car I could have taken).

I am now going to curl up and get some sleep. I’m hungry, but am too tired and I don’t want to get lost trying to find food again. Le sigh…

back alley

  • Photos taken on an iPhone 4S.
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The Final Days: Dongguan

Cobalt blue tile roof and telephone wires.

Dongguan: Final Day 1

Bared window on a bare concrete wall.

Nicole made bacon and eggs for breakfast. Chinese bacon is a lot fattier than Canadian bacon. It was tasty but left me feeling a little ill.

We took a taxi to Nicole’s school in the afternoon. The father of the school’s owner kindly lent us his bike and key to the school to pick up Nicole’s bike which she had stored there. He invited us in for tea and lunch but we graciously declined. We then biked (well, I biked, Nicole was on her roller blades) along the canal and through the city square to the Pullman Hotel.

One of Nicole’s friends was living at the Pullman Hotel in Dongguan and had offered us access to the pool. We thought it would be the perfect thing to do on a lazy day in Dongguan!

The hotel was very swanky, especially in comparison to the places we’d been staying the past few days! The staff were very abiding and checked Nicole’s bike and roller blades for her. There were multiple pools. We choose the one outside that was surrounded by palm trees. I went for a short swim with my parasol to protect me from the sun. There were butterflies and dragonflies flying overhead with the sound of falling water and guitar music to enjoy.

To our delight, the hotel had VPN Internet. So Nicole left me to check Facebook while she went on a beer run to the depanneur. She returned with 4 Tsingtao, prawn chips, cucumber flavored lays, and an unknown three dimensional chip. We didn’t have a bottle opener, so Nicole went inside and asked staff to open them for us. To my surprise, they obliged! I feel like that sort of thing would never be allowed at a 5 star hotel in North America.

There was a naked boy swimming in the pool who eventually joined his grandmother to eat sugar cane in the shade. After they left, two men came to sunbathe. One wore a Speedo in the Italian colours with ‘Italy’ written across the back and the other rolled up his swim shorts listening to music on his iPad. A group of four young boys came to play in the pool, followed by their family. It was a quiet but active place!

Around 3:00, we went inside to use the sauna before heading over the the tailors to pick up my suit and blouses. The blouses looked very nice, but gathered a bit in areas as they weren’t made in the same material as the Theory blouse I’d brought to be copied. The blazer fit nicely, but the pleats in the back fell funny and the seamstress had put big faceted buttons on it. The pants looked like they belonged in a marching band. They were really big in the hips and front, and sort of tapered in. I couldn’t wear this to a job interview!

Nicole helped me communicate to the seamstress we needed standard buttons, and that the pleats and pants needed alteration. While I stood for the tailor to write on the garment with chalk, my vision went funny and I felt dizzy. Nicole encouraged me to stay standing until the tailor had finished, then I finally sat down, feeling really weird. Nicole gave me water and once we left, we walked my bike for awhile before getting back on. We guessed it must have been the combination of the pool activities and the sauna.

Nicole took me out to the local Indian restaurant, Little India, for a change of food for dinner. We ordered my favourite: saag paneer, a vegetable dish, naan, and butter chicken. The naan and butter chicken were very different than I’d had before. The naan was condensed and the butter chicken had a very different taste and texture than I was used to.

The restaurant had Bollywood music videos on the television. They were very interesting to watch with the English subtitles below. They were all about drugs, love, espionage, and alcohol with very lavish sets and choreography. I am getting such a kick out of foreign television.

We met Nicole’s friends at an Irish pub nearby for a drink. Although it was a Saturday, there was only about ten people there. The didn’t have bijou, which I had yet to try, or the Brazilian or Chinese cocktails I asked for from the menu, so the bar maid made me a ‘surprise’ cocktail instead. Nicole and I could not figure out what was in it.

To my great amusement, this Irish bar in China had poutine on the menu. I of course had to order it! It was nothing like real poutine however. It was a Southern gravy sauce with cheese on potato wedge fries. It was satisfying though!

interior of a Chinese nightclub

Nicole wanted to show me a couple nightclubs in China, as they were very different to the ones we went to in Montreal. The first one we went to wasn’t busy, so then we went to one across the street… and it as crazy! The entrance was all these laser beams and inside we found a mass of people bathed in red light. There was a female DJ in front of a huge screen of psychedelic videos, a cat walk with dancers, and people playing dice games at every table. We went up on the catwalk to dance and were instantly embraced by a group of girls screaming “We love you!” who danced with us for 2 minutes before leaving us for someone else.

Soon after, the security guards started clearing the dance floor for a performance. Nicole told me that Chinese nightclubs had multiple shows every night of the week. This one was a Tron themed dance piece to dub step with the dancers wearing futuristic suits that lit-up with sunglasses and gloves that shot lasers out into the smoke of the room.

The Tron inspired piece was followed by a fashion show with the Ukrainian ‘party girls and boys’ Nicole had told me about. Apparently a lot of people from Ukraine come to work at the clubs to do shows or stand around and look pretty. These Ukrainians walked up and down the catwalk in various skimpy outfits that glowed in UV light, reminding me more of a drag queen show or male model underwear competition than anything else. The people around the stage loved it and everyone were taking pictures and video with their phones.

After the show, Nicole and I decided to go check out another club. The show at this one had just ended and the Ukrainians girls were just coming off the stage wearing little black dresses. We got on the catwalk to dance and a Chinese girl full of glee immediately came to dance with us. Her male friends soon came to join her and soon edged their way to us to dance. I didn’t quite know what to do- guys never try to dance with me at home! Either I went to clubs that I didn’t fit the aesthetic for or went to dance bars where everyone just danced in a circle amongst their friends or by themselves. I have no idea how to dance with other people and I felt incredibly awkward even though I knew they meant nothing by it.

I made an escape to the bar to get some water. Nicole followed and we were handed two cups of boiled water, still warm. We went to sit in the lobby where it was quiet. A tall Chinese man who was obviously drunk came out to talk to us in English, saying he enjoyed watching us dance and asked where we were from. After the standard pleasantries, we somehow got in a conversation about the future of China and Chinese politics. It was very interesting to hear him talk about his fears for the future of China with its lack of human rights. I asked what he thought a possible solution could be and he whispered in my ear “Revolution.” I then asked if he knew of Ai Wei Wei as he was having a large show at the Art Gallery of Ontario, but he did not.

Then the conversation took an unexpected turn. It had been intellectual with not a hint of flirtation or disrespect when he asked out of the blue, “Will you have sex with me?” I was shocked! I politely declined saying I had a boyfriend. He then asked if we could make-out to which I laughed, saying “No! I have a boyfriend!” He then leaned over to Nicole who had been on her phone during this and asked her “Do you want to have sex?” And Nicole went straight into teacher mode.

“That is a very impolite question to ask. You do not ask women that type of question.” She then asked him what he asked Chinese girls when he wanted to go home with him. He struggled with an answer, eventually saying “I ask it they want to go out with me… My place, their place, or a hotel.” Nicole then explained that it is similar with Canadian girls. You just let things happen or ask “Do you want to get out of here?”

The three of us then had a conversation about culture and once Nicole and I had finished our glasses of water, we said a cheerful goodbye and went home, giggling to ourselves.

Dongguan: Final Day 2

Sunday was a warm and sunny day. We started off our day by going into all 4 banks around Nicole’s apartment trying to draw money out with my CIBC debit card. However, none of them would take my card even though it had the VISA attribute. We eventually figured out that not all “Cash Recycling Machines” were ATMs and found an ATM that would take my card. Finally I had money again!

We went to Tommy Boy Coffee to sit outside with our bike and roller blades. They didn’t have ginger honey milk tea, but had sesame milk tea, coffee jelly milk tea, and brown sugar mango smoothies! I ordered a wheat flavoured red bean smoothie and Nicole got a peanut smoothie. Both our drinks were really yummy!

After we had finished our drinks, we went to the tailors to pick up my suit. The pleats sat much better than they did yesterday and the seamstress had changed the buttons to a more standard choice. The pants fitted better too but still looked a bit funny. However, I wasn’t about to get them to change them again, especially as I left for Hong Kong in the morning, so paid for them and went to the park.

The park was one of Nicole’s favourite parts of the city. It indeed was beautiful, with palm trees, a green pond, and bamboo. I hadn’t seen a temple during my trip in China yet, so we went to the temple that was in the park. I was surprised how big it was and how many people were there, lighting incense and candles, and paying their respects.

Dog sleeping on stone steps in the sun.

It was a beautiful temple. The roofs were made of cobalt blue and bamboo green glazed tiles with flowers engraved in them. There were painting on the wall in the old section of the temple with a friendly dog snoozing on the steps in the sun. It was a very peaceful place.

It was my first time visiting a temple outside of North America, as I had been to Buddhist temples in Canada and the States before. However, this one, as one would expect, was very different. Firstly, I found it fascinating how well attending this temple was in comparison to places of worship back home in Canada. The temple and its courtyard had a fairly consistent trickle of people leaving offerings. Everywhere I went, there were people!

Cobalt blue tile roof and telephone wires.

After the park, Nicole took me to the South China International Hotel to buy my bus ticket to Hong Kong. It cost 120¥ and would drop me off at the subway line which I could take to my hotel. I was excited!

Nicole and I then went home to wait for her friend, Fly, to drop off her cat, Milo, who he had been cat-sitting while we’d been away. While we waited, I packed, having great trouble fitting everything in my knapsack. We deemed I’d need a second carry-on bag.

Nicole’s friends were going out for a massage that afternoon, so after Milo came home, we went to meet them. The massage centre they went to was the whole top floor of a mall. Like many places in China, it had elaborate interior decoration that had fallen victim to disrepair and grime. You could tell it had been quite nice at one point within the last ten years.

As it was the National Holiday, many of the masseuses were away, so we couldn’t get Nicole’s friends’ all-time favourite, the foot massage, or the massage pedicure that appealed to Nicole and I after our travels. Instead, we opted for the Chinese medical massage. None of us knew what this would entail.

We were led into a room with four chairs- one for each of us. There was a TV with a Chinese news program on and A/C. We each ordered a complimentary drink and waited for our masseuses. They filed in one by one, smiling and greeting us in Cantonese, wearing lab coats.

The massage involved much more pressure than any of us had experienced in a massage before. They started with your head and worked your way down. It was painful at times but still felt good. It was great to have all the knots in my back and neck worked out after carrying a backpack and bus travel! The most painful parts were the sides of my hips and upper arms- who would have thought! My right thumb also started to go numb during the calf massage which was interesting.

The massage was an hour and afterwards I started to wonder how I could move to China so I could have massages every week like Nicole and her friends. It felt so good… and so cheap!

After our massage, we all went to a nice Chinese restaurant for dinner. Nicole wanted me to eat some unusual Chinese dishes before I left, so we ordered a black rice pancake, jelly fish, and tiny shrimp in their shell. I liked the black rice pancake best! It was yummy.

We went to Walmart after dinner were I got a little carry-on luggage piece and some Chinese candy to bring home as souvenirs. We went home where I finished packing before sitting down to watch the Canadian romantic comedy, My Awkward Sexual Adventure. It was an entertaining film – so we ended our last day together in China with many laughs.

  • Photos taken and post written on an iPhone 4S.
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Fenghuang, Zhi Jiang, & Huiahua

Two street sellers with wicker hats. One has a cart of cured meat while the other has fresh produce in two large wicker baskets.
window

We woke up to piano music coming from the courtyard below our window. The sun was shining through the curtains of our window- it felt like the first time we’d seen the sun in days!

We packed an checked out of the hotel, leaving our bags behind to go for breakfast. We went to go have yoghurt topped with mango for breakfast. We had seen many places advertising it the day before. We each got a small bowl for 12¥, but it left us wanting. So, we went into a stationary cafe next to the river and ordered a Mandeling coffee with green tea cheese cake.

cake an coffee on table

The coffee was really strong and the cake was tasteless and had the texture of creamy jello. After adding 3 coffee mates to my coffee, I resorted to diluting it with water… I can’t wait to get back to my americano and croissant at the Common!

Despite the disappointing drinks and cake, we enjoyed the ambience of the cafe. They had post-it notes and train tickets all over the walls from people who had passed through, lamps in crevasses in the cafe and little wooden table and chairs, with Nora Jones was playing on the speakers.

Two street sellers with wicker hats. One has a cart of cured meat while the other has fresh produce in two large wicker baskets.

By Day 2 in Fenghuang, I found the smells of the city intolerable. The garbage, the sewers, the cured meat, and smell of urine on the streets made me want to wretch. Whenever I passed a cured meat shop, I had to discretely hold my sleeve up to my nose- I couldn’t take it! Although the city was small, I felt as if it smelled 10x worse than any large city I’d been too.

three small wooden boats on blue-green water

We spent the rest of our time in Fenghuang walking around taking pictures. We bought some kiwi wine and a thank you card for the receptionist who had helped us so much at the hostel and have it to him when we went to pick up our luggage. He was very surprised and reciprocated with a can of Coke and an orange drink from the hostel fridge.

We walked to the South Gate of the city to catch a taxi to the bus station. We took one bus to Huaihua then another to Zhi Jiang.

Bus to Zhi Jang took us through all sorts of little farming villages where it would pick up and drop people off at the side of the dirt road. We had to sit at the front as our legs were too long in fit in the regular seats. It amazed me that the driver constantly passed cars and scooters on the road- even when going around a bend.

All the farmers seemed to be burning things in their fields at this time of night. I had noticed it around Yangshuo, but not to this extent. I wasn’t sure if it was fog or collected smoke that hazed the landscape after awhile. There were also lots of gondolas on the water and big ghostly boats with extensive machinery on them, but looked forlorn and abandoned on the placid green water with the fog around them.

We were feeling a bit concerned as we neared Zhi Jiang as it didn’t look like the type of place that would have an airport and there were no signs for it either. Nicole asked the girl sitting behind her about the airport and was told to get off at the next bus stop as the airport was only a 10 minute walk away. So, we did just that.

We were dropped off in what looked like the middle of nowhere. In the fog and the growing dark, we could differentiate a construction site to our left and farmers fields to our right. As for what was up ahead, we could not tell due to the fog.

What was suppose to be a 10 minute walk turned out to be more than double. With some reassuring gestures from pedestrians we asked along the way, we eventually found ourselves on an air base. It too was dark but we followed cars to a small terminal that was hidden around a bend.

Once there, Nicole inquired about our tickets. Apparently all we needed was the text the booking company had sent Nicole and our passports. It was quite straight forward. We went and sat in the airport cafe where I had a Mongolian milk tea and Nicole and I shared a box of chicken salad flavoured chips.

Security was a breeze. When our flight was called, we waited until the last few passengers approached the gate before heading up. However, when Nicole went to get her ticket, it wasn’t there!

Nicole looked everywhere: her wallet, her pockets, her bags, but her ticket was no where to be found. All the other passengers had boarded the plane by now, and the tarmac was empty except for two airport staff, standing there waiting for us. Frantic we’d miss our flight home, I searched through my belongings, checked the washroom and waiting room floor… but still no ticket!

After a few phone calls, an attendant ran up with a green card with a number scrawled across it. This permitted Nicole to board the plane- we were so relieved! Thank goodness this had happened at a small airport!

On board the plane, we got a free box of Chinese desserts and a tetra-pak of Wanglaoji Herbal Tea to enjoy on the flight. Nicole and I both ate what looked like a brownie and saved our teas for later. I had encouraged Nicole to take some of my cold-symptom medication for the flight, which sent Nicole right to sleep, leaving me worried that I’d rendered the only person who could get us home helpless!

The descent into Guangzhou was beautiful with all the lights aglow in the darkness. I was particularly intrigued by what looked like various roofs or land masses lit up by tightly knit Christmas lights everywhere. Either than was the fashion here or it had a purpose that was skewed by the distance.

The landing was smooth, just like the take-off. In my mind, I’d planned out a plan to get us home while studying Nicole’s Mandarin phrase book, but fortunately, once we landed Nicole was awake! Nicole and I picked up our bags and went to the bus service station to inquire about buses to Dongguan. The next bus home was in two hours, but Nicole met a couple in line who were willing to split a taxi with us, so we hopped in a cab with them instead.

When we finally got home, I collapsed into bed. It felt so good to be home after so many days traveling!
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Fenghuang

girl wearing a garland writing a postcard by a window

The bus from Jishou to Fenghuang dropped us off in a parking lot at the edge of town. We were a bit confused, but eventually made our way into town. Fenghuang was a crowded, busy, and grey city. I had trouble believing it was the same place we’d seen pictures of online.

The first two hostels we’d looked at online were full, so we wandered around checking out hotels. The first one we went to out of downtown was 500¥, dark, dirty, with mould on the walls. The second we went to was 620¥ but had a pile of garbage in the lobby. I was not impressed by either. We did some more research online and found an International Youth Hostel that had a room available. The receptionist said it was really complicated to get to so said he’d meet us at a gate nearby. So we took a taxi to what we thought was the gate he meant, but it wasn’t, but he kindly came to find us.

I was absolutely exhausted after the train and bus ride. My knapsack felt incredibly heavy, my feet ached, and I kept tripping over the flagstones on the road. Nicole on the other hand was a burst of energy! I collapsed on the couch in the lobby and watched a Chinese talent show on the lobby TV while Nicole went exploring. The TV show had me gaping in horror for the duration of it. The grander and performance style was drastically different from talent shows on North American television. Like graphic design in China, I was unable to ‘get it’ with my Western aesthetics engraved into me.

Our room was ready at noon, so I took our bags up and had a shower before having a nap. The shower at this hostel was even more peculiarly placed than at Cozy Garden. The squatty potty served as the drain for the shower and I had to make sure I wouldn’t slip or fall in while I showered!

girl wearing a garland writing a postcard by a window

Nicole came home in the afternoon and we went out for coffee. Nicole had a cappuccino and I ordered a ginger honey milk tea- my favourite Chinese drink! The cafe was a great place to people watch and look out on the river.

Our drinks tantalized our taste buds leaving us feeling hungry. So we wandered around looking for a place to eat that had a picture menu. Many of the restaurants had aquariums and cafes out front, filled with animals or fish. One even had live geese with signs hanging from their necks!

large white geese with signs around their necks outside a restaurant

We choose a restaurant that had a courtyard and overlooked the river. We wanted something light, so ordered vegetable soup and a tofu dish that looked similar to the one we’d had in Dongguan. The soup was very bland with just boiled cabbage an plain tofu in a clear broth. The mapo tofu tasted a lot like Zoodles!

We walked around the city taking photos an checking out the little shops along the way. There were a lot of people making candy outside their shops. The candy was a metallic gold colour, which they would pull and loop around a hook on the wall while soft before taking it down and flatten it out with a wooden mallet. The mallet was huge! I swear it was the equivalent of the candy-maker’s body weight most of the time.

Once the candy was flattened out, they would slice it into strips then dice it up in rough cubes or slivers. Sometimes they would roll it in nuts too, which looked very appetizing. The candy seemed to come in ginger and another flavour, unplaced by our Western taste buds. I really liked the ginger candy and bought some for a snack.

Once back at the hostel, we found the receptionist eating street meat with a gourd of kiwi wine. He was very persistent in sharing his food with us and eventually convinced us to try what he said was tofu… but I swear it was fish. It had the same texture as overlooked scallops. I liked the kiwi wine though! It reminded me a lot of port or sherry.

We asked the receptionist his advice on getting home to Dongguan. There was a bus at 11:30 the next morning that would get us home around 5 or 6 the following morning. Alternatively, there was a plane at 8:30 that evening that would get us home by midnight. We couldn’t fathom spending a whole day and night on another bus, so opted for the plane.

The plane ticket was cheapest on Qunar, which you needed a Chinese credit card to use. Neither of us had one, so we went out into the crowded streets of Fenghuang again to find a travel agency to book out flight.

To our great disappointment, the travel agency could not book our ticket on Qunar as they had a commitment with another site. So, we returned to the hostel and explained our situation to the receptionist. To our delight, he kindly offered to put our tickets on his credit card for us! We have him the ticket amount in cash and offered to buy him a beer, but he humbly refused, saying he only drank wine. So Nicole and I had two celebratory beers ourselves, cheering our success and to our trip before heading to bed.

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Yangshuo, Liuzhou, & Jishuo

Wall with tattered red and white posters pasted on. Nell holds a red parasol, standing in front of the wall

I slept in past six today! I would have slept longer after the trials of yesterday, but was roused from my sweet slumber at an excited pack of Germans shuttling down the hall to go on their own adventure that day.

I lay in bed until nine, hoping sleep would eventually take me, but I had no such luck. I did some email on my iPhone, charged my camera battery, and then braved the hostel shower.

cup of coffee and creamer on a patio table

Once we were packed, Nicole and I went downstairs and checked out of the hotel, paying only 30¥ to replace the scooter mirror. We then sat on the hostel patio and ordered breakfast. I was very, very hungry, so ordered pear muesli and an apple crepe. It came with freshly pressed orange juice, chalk full of pulp, and a cup of Yunnan coffee. I thoroughly enjoyed the juice and crepe, however the pear muesli was very unusual. The whole time I spent eating it I was wondering how to describe the texture of the pear. It was very foreign to me- nothing like a Bartlett or Anjou. The words ‘furry’ and ‘foamy’ came to mind as I chewed, but neither of those were the perfect adjectives to use.

Once we’d polished our plates and cups clean, Nicole and I headed to the bus station where we bought our bus tickets to Liuzhou. As we had a couple hours to spare, we checked our bags and explored Yangshuo some more.

Our first mission was to find a post office. My friend Jay had asked me to send him a postcard from China as his father collected stamps. Nicole never mails anything from China as its very unreliable, so we weren’t quite sure how a Chinese post office worked. The woman at the counter gave us a stamp and directed up to a table with a bowl of water and a bowl of paste that resembled porridge. When I dabbed water on my stamp, it curled up like paper. So then I tried the paste, but it was all gritty and oozed out the side of the stamp. I tried to clean it up as much as possible before putting it in the mailbox. I hope it gets to Jay!

We walked along the road that led out of town, hoping to avoid the crowds, but eventually turned back to the main stretch. I wanted to get some souvenirs to take home and a parasol to protect me from the sun. There was an old woman selling paper parasols by the side of the road, so I bought a red one with pink and white flowers. I was quite pleased with myself- I’d always thought parasols were a grand idea for fair skin, but it just isn’t socially acceptable back home.

Nell holding a red parasol in front of a wall covered in posters.

We ended up spending most of our time between silk shops and an art store. When one shop keeper saw the Canada flag sewn on Nicole’s backpack, he asked “Are you from Canada or Quebec?” We laughed and said “You know Canada very well.” Later a French couple came into the store and he spoke French to them. We were surprised and Nicole congratulated him on his good French and asked why he learnt French to which he answered “I love Canada!” We thought he was pretty awesome.

There was a unique bamboo scroll I really liked at the art store, but it was too big to fit in my room with all my other art pieces. Also, I suspected it wouldn’t travel well. So instead, I bought a hand painted silk scarf that showed a classic river landscape. There are a lot of repeats in souvenir shops, but I hadn’t seen anything like this scarf during my week in China yet.

Happy with my parasol and silk scarf, we headed to the city park. It was a busy place with people gambling with cards and wood chips at stone tables, people sleeping next to their mopeds, and children playing on the park fitness equipment or in the carnival. There were two big statues that looked to be leftovers from communist China. It was the first time I’d seen such monuments in China.

Near the perimeter of the park was a stone hill that Nicole was set on climbing despite her post-crash condition. The steps were very perilous even for us, who spent our youth scrambling over the Niagara Escarpment together. You could see the different layers of repair on the stone steps, patchwork concrete and smooth and pocked stone, buffed by the many feet that had treaded over them. I cringed to think what they’d be like to pass over in the rain.

View of Yangshuo from top of hill

There was a small cave and various look out points on our way up the hill. It was very pretty and all along there were Chinese characters gracefully carved into the rock. The view was beautiful, and near the top we were asked by various Chinese people to pose with them for a picture with the city below. They were very excited to practice their English with us and were impressed by Nicole’s Mandarin. Everywhere we go, people ask us to take pictures with us. I’ve gotten used to it in the sense it’s become routine, but Nicole said that even after a year of being in China she still finds it amusing.

Once down the hill, we decided to get some lunch before getting on the bus. There were some street sellers outside of the park, offering tofu, noodles, and pickled vegetables and chicken feet from their carts. I decided to go with the noodles. They were very tasty, but I did notice there were raw vegetables with peel mixed in with the noodles. I hope I don’t get food poisoning from the water they were washed in- especially as we will be spending much of the afternoon and all night traveling to Jishou.

We each got a coconut coffee at a tea shop by the bus station and got on our bus in good time. The bus drive took us through the mountains and farmland. It was very picturesque, even with all the factories. Nicole got out her crosswords and I worked on writing my blog post.

sun set over city skyline

We arrived in Liuzhuo just as the sun was setting over the city. It took the bus 30 minutes to get to the bus station once in Liuzhuo- a route that also involved a u-turn on a busy street! We were let off in an lot behind a bunch of vacant looking apartment buildings just as it was getting dark. The bus driver pointed us in the way of the train station, which was within walking distance. We found the regular bus station and walked down a street of restaurants and electronic boutiques until we got to a crowded and chaotic intersection. As we made out way across the street, Nicole asked “How are you going to describe this on your blog?” I answered “Crazy?I really don’t know!”

The train station was a swarm of people. Inside there were long lines of people leading up to ticket booths with signs all in Chinese characters. We went to the shorter line to ask an attendant which line we should go into, but kindly she just booked our ticket for us there. The 9pm train was all booked up, but the 9:45pm still had some seats available, but no bed. So we took that, which only cost us 78¥.

Tickets in hand, we went in search of food. We went into the first restaurant we saw. They didn’t have an English or picture menu, so we ordered tofu soup and a vegetable dish someone else had on their table. There was a children’s cartoon on the television about a sheep in an astronaut outfit and an evil space pickle with a piece of paper taped on his face to signify where his eyes an mouth were. After going to the land of jello and giant doughnuts, other patrons of the restaurant switched the channel to a historical drama. The costume was interesting, but the cinematography, lighting, and melodramatic acting was so cheesy that it was funny.

People kept staring at us, pointing and gaping. A man sitting alone invited us to his table for baijiu. Nicole politely told him it was too strong for us. He then ordered beer and came over to our table. We smiled and told him we already had our own to finish and cheered him with our own cups of beer. We payed our bill and waved goodbye to everyone in the restaurant.

The restaurant did not have a washroom, but there was a fancy hotel across the road. So we feigned residency at the hotel, walking in with confidence and headed straight to the lobby washroom. There, we brushed our teeth and washed our face, preparing for the overnight train ride. We weren’t sure if the hotel staff were laughing at us because of Nicole’s mandarin or because they knew what we were up to, but they didn’t seem to mind either way.

The train station was huge and crowded. It was difficult finding two sets together to sit and wait for the train. It was there we realized that we were the only Caucasians in the whole station! We decided to take turns to use the washroom before boarding the train in case it didn’t have a washroom. I went first. At first I thought the washroom only had one stall, then I realized it had 4- there were just no doors! The washroom was a long trough and you went in front of everyone! I had no idea what to say when I returned to Nicole, but when she returned from the washroom he had the same look on her face, going “Oh my god! Oh my god!” She ha heard of trough toilets but never seen nor used one before.

Crowds in front of a train station

When it came time to board the train, we found ourselves in a swarm of people. I felt like cattle going to slaughter, making our way through gates and down stone halls, packed like a sardine. The train itself was very different fe VIA Rail. To start, it was very dirty. All the chairs faced one another in groups of 6 or 4. It was difficult finding our seats as people weren’t abiding by their ticket number and playing musical chairs. Nicole and I were across one another with an aisle between us, but our seat separated a couple, so then Nicole switched with the man. Then her neighbour kept talking over him to his friend across the aisle, so then she switched with him. Meanwhile I sat in a chair with a woman’s bare feet propped up on the edge of my seat, occasionally bumping into me. Women kept on coming up and down peddling watermelon, juices, toys and movie rentals on a laptop. People stood smoking between the trains and pacing up and down the aisle. Instead of a garbage bag there was a tray on the floor next to me that people would throw their food scraps and garbage. I had no idea how I was suppose to sleep during this 9 hour train ride overnight…

I was very happy I brought ear plugs and an eye mask. The bright train lights stayed on the whole night and the train car was constantly a buzz of people chatting and peddlers selling goods. It was cold at times so I used my mini travel towel as a blanket. Nicole entertained herself with the children on board and practicing her Mandarin with curious adults. People were asking how tall we were, our age, and going on about our noses too!

Green tetra pack of tea held up in a train of sleeping people

I drifted in and out of sleep. The train made frequent stops and people would go by with giant suitcases, battered cardboard boxes all taped up, and bags of rice. It was hard to get comfortable on the train, but I had it a lot better than Nicole who was sore all over from our scooter accident from the day before. I gave up on sleep sometime after 5:00am. Daylight began to break around 6:00, so I got the enjoy the mountain scenery again and rice terraces out the window while I drank my morning tea out of a box. The train had quieted down by then. Most people had fallen asleep.

I woke Nicole up close to our arrival time and we sat watching the train’s progress on Google Maps and admiring the landscape as we made our way into Jishou… And then, we were there!

Train and train tracks behind a row of white low rise buildings against a grey sky

We got off the train and were bombarded by taxi drivers and women holding signs to Fenghuang. We asked around and the going rate was 25¥ per person. We got a pancake and patty from a cart seller on the street, then went in search of the bus station. The station was tiny and packed with people who were all in a great rush. We found a bus and got the last two seats together.

Next stop, Fenghuang!

  • Photos taken on an iPhone 4S.
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Mountains By Scooter

mountain landscape

busy street in Yangshuo

I woke up at 6:00 again with a coughing fit that left me wide awake. The flashing of the lights in the room did not help ease me back into a peaceful slumber and I felt a bit unnerved after having a nightmare about getting a job interview at Ed’s Scoop in Toronto only to find out I lacked the personality and fashion obsession to scoop ice cream at their new Queen Street West location.

I decided to go see if my mum was on Skype. I went downstairs to sit in the wreck room but was startled by a sleeping man there. So, I went outside instead.

mountains at dawn

To my delight, I found myself amidst a misty mountain setting with a sliver of peachy light seen between the clouds. The crickets were still in full swing with bats flying overhead as the birds were just beginning to stir, singing tunes previously unheard of by me. Everything was wet with dew. Large droplets glittered on the long, tall grass along the perimeter of the garden and made the colour of the wood benches and mud stone wall an intense rusty red.

After an exciting shower (the shower was between the sink and toilet and had no screens) we went downstairs to rent a scooter. As it was morning, no one had taken the good helmets yet, so we grabbed two motorcycle helmets that made me feel like we were part of Daft Punk.

Nicole drove us into town. It was a very exciting ride as we were both a bit nervous and still getting used to the scooter. We parked it in town and wandered the streets in search of coffee. I said I wanted to try the crepe we’d seen in Guilin yesterday, so we wandered through the cart sellers in search for a tasty pancake. Instead, we found what looked like a potato latke which we bought for 4¥.

on a table sits a scooter helmet, a cup of coffee, and a bowl of mango and yoghurt

A cafe advertising mango and yoghurt caught my eye, so we went there. Nicole got a banana and chocolate pancake and we each ordered coffee: me a Yunnan coffee and she a coffee shake. We then split the potato cake in half and ate it- still unsure what meaty substance was part of it. We sat on the patio with a cluster of dragonflies dancing above our heads to the backdrop of the mountains… and then a young man dressed like a basketball player with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth came out of the quaint little travel agency in front of us on a four-wheeler.

We rode out of Yangshuo after breakfast. I sat on the back while Nicole drove. It was very exciting! I kept thinking “There’s no better way to see rural China than on the back of a scooter!”

view of mountains

We drove through the lowlands and up through the mountains through farmland and rustic villages. We stopped at Shangri-La which was suppose to have a beautiful view, but there were too many tourist buses to get any good pictures, so we left. We then noticed a small road that looked as if it went behind where the buses were. It took us into a village instead and down a windy footpath and over stone bridge. It was a nerve wracking experience, but we made it!

Next on our activity list was the Ancient Stone Village. It was a mix of old stone building made with no binding agent and newer mud and concrete houses. It was very ghostly there. No one seemed to be around and the only sounds were that of flies buzzing and roosters crowing in the distance.

laundry hangs to dry in front of an old stone house in the Ancient Stone Village in China

Despite the silence, the houses showed signs of inhabitation, and we saw the occasional old lady bent over 90 degrees but smiling, or an adult saying a cheerful “Hello!”

Once back on the road, we drove through some beautiful scenery until we came to a sign for the famous Nine Horses lookout point. We drove past where the sign said to turn as it didn’t look right, but after some consultation, we figured we should go down the road. This turned out to be a big mistake.

The road was gravel. We thought at first it would be a short patch as we’d safely gone over early. However, once Nicole saw it was not a small patch but a long windy road, we slowed to stop and turn around… Then wiped out on the gravel.

Nicole landed on the mirror, her knee a grazed, bloody mess. She was okay though and I was unscathed. Once we pushed the scooter off the road, we got out my first aid kit and together cleaned and bandaged up Nicole’s knee.

two smiling young women, one with her knee bandaged up

We noticed there was a strong gasoline odor and stood contemplating whether it was safe to ignite the ignition. Fortunately a young couple on a moped stopped to see if we needed help. They said it would be fine, but when we put the keys in the ignition nothing happened! The scooter wouldn’t start!

Everything looked fine except for the broken mirror and some scratches, bends, and holes in the exterior. The young man got out his tool kit and fiddled around with some wires, but nothing happened. Nicole then called the hotel to explain what happened and they sent a taxi for us.

We went and sat at the bus stop for awhile until enough time passed that we felt uneasy about leaving the scooter unattended on a country road. The bus stop might as well be abandoned- no traffic went by as we sat there.

As Nicole spoke Mandarin, she walked into the village looking for water while I stayed with our bags. She didn’t find a depanneur, but an old lady brought her into her house so she could fill her water bottle with a hose and gave Nicole a fruit that looked like a cross between a lime and an orange. We couldn’t drink the water and neither of us were a fan of oranges, so once Nicole showed me her bounty, we discretely disposed of it in the bushes.

The hostel staff were quite amused when they arrived after we spent an hour waiting in the bushes. The first thing they tried was to stick the key in the ignition… and to our shock- it worked! The scooter turned on!

Nicole had done some research while we’d been sitting in the grass, and apparently what could have happened is that gas got into the air filter and create a temporary vacuum seal.

The staff asked if we wanted to continue or drive back to the hostel with them. We decided to continue what we’d started. So, the mechanic drove the scooter up to the main road for us. We asked them where we could get food and water, but they said there were no restaurants between here and Yangshuo, but that we could probably find water at a village shop somewhere.

We gave them their 200¥ fee and got back on our scooter. Nicole drove for the first little bit until they’d past us, then got off and handed the scooter over to me.

Now, this was not the ideal landscape for driving lessons. We were up high in the mountains on a skinny, windy road that had an incredible drop at the side of it. Nicole got off and walked behind me until I got the hang of maneuvering the scooter before hopping back on. I was extremely nervous and drove under 10km/hr for most of the time. I drove through the mountains for about an hour or so. We decided to switch back closer to the city as Nicole was more confident on the scooter. So, after a near encounter with a truck at the top of a mountain with a sheer drop, we switched back.

Street below mountain with white houses and pedestrians

We arrived back in Yangshuo around 6:30. We were famished by then as we’d only had soda crackers since breakfast that morning. We considered getting the district’s specialty, the beer fish and snails, but the fish were too large and Nicole didn’t fancy snails, so we got eggplant and spicy beef to share between us instead.

We were sunburnt and absolutely exhausted, but we decided it would be good for us to walk around a bit before heading back to the hostel. We went and got ice cream with me choosing two flavours I had never heard of before. One was like fruity bubble gum and the other was like fruity gasoline. It was a very unusual mix.

The ride back to the hostel was very, very dark. We could only see a few feet in front of us with the scooter’s headlight. It felt like forever until we got home. We were both so tired, but decided to have a celebratory beer to cheers being alive and well.

We ordered two local beers and sat on the patio, drinking by candlelight while world music played on the outdoor speakers. It was the perfect end to a chaotic day.

  • Photos taken with an iPhone 4S
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Yangdi, Xianping, & Yangshuo

Red sign in Chinese on a turquoise door.

Guilin bus station

We left for the Guilin bus station at 7:30 this morning to see about catching a bus to Yangdi to catch a bamboo raft Xianping. We passed carts of hot dumplings, pancakes, cobs of corn, and eggs. The pancakes looked particularly appealing.

Once we neared the bus station, people kept approaching us advertising their bus. Once we found a bus to Yangdi, we got on and paid the man 20¥. At first there was us and just one other passenger, but the bus kept picking up more and more people as we exited Guilin City.

The bus ride was an odd experience. One man was shaving his head behind us while another kept staring at us. Nicole and I made peanut butter sandwiches and ate them as we divided our attention between the sights outside our window and the TV shows being played on the screen at the front of the bus. One was a particularly odd comic drama about gamblers and magic powers.

After about an hour, we were dropped off at the side of the road with our bags just in time to catch a smaller bus for 3¥ that was as packed as a Spadina street car during rush hour. The scenery was beautiful as we passed rustic fields, farm houses, water birds and buffalo all below a mountain backdrop.

bamboo rafts in the Li River against a mountain landscape

The port was abustle with people with a cluster of motor boats. Nicole bartered with a woman on shore and eventually we got a ride on a raft driven by her father for 350¥. It was a beautiful ride with the mountains, green water, and the shoreline aglow with yellow flowers and bamboo shoots.

Once ashore, we took a bus to Xingping. It was exactly like you’d imagine a rural village in China to be. It was a welcome break from the chaos of Guilin City.

We dropped our bags off at an Hostelling International outpost and walked around looking in the little shops and stopping for lunch at Kelly’s Guesthouse. It was a lovely little restaurant with WiFi, milkshakes, and every food and drink imaginable. It felt so good to eat- I was so hungry!

We visited the temple there then bought some Chinese rice crispy squares being made by two women next door. We then went back to the hostel to pick up our bags and walked down a residential lane to catch the 7¥ bus to Yangshuo.

We always seemed to have the worst luck with buses- on the way to Xianping we’d been too tall to see the landscape out the window, and on the bus to Yangshuo, we had the bar across the window right at eye level. I either had to strain my neck high or crouch down to see other than the side of the road. I felt like a dancing ostrich.

The bus ride was about an hour long and the bumpiest ride of my life. It was interesting to see the contrast and mix of the old mud brick houses and the new concrete buildings, the poultry wandering the front yards, and cattle along the side of the road. The farmland layout and traditional methods used were also fascinating. Really gave me a new perspective on rural life in other countries. China may have some of the most technological advanced factories in the world, but much of the farming appeared to be stuck back in time.

The bus dropped us off in Yangshuo and we took a taxi to the Cozy Garden Hostel. To our surprise, it was out in the country! Our room had no bedside lamps, only an overhead light, and the shower was between the sink and toilet with no shelter around it. Nicole said this was very common in China. Seemed very odd to me- everything would get wet.

Patio and mountain view of Yangshuo as seen from fourth floor window

We layed down for a bit to rest. There was construction going on outside so we turned on the TV. the clearest channel was playing a Chinese high school drama with magic, all girls underwear volleyball competitions, and duels with light sabers in the library. It was pretty crazy!

We rode two hostel bicycles into town. It was a quaint and picturesque town, but as night fell it got louder and more crowded with music and neon lights everywhere. I found it rather overwhelming and unpleasant once the initial awe wore off.

Neon signs and Chinese lanterns against the backdrop of tall mountains

We spent about an hour looking for a cheap place to eat. This did not appear to exist in the area of town we were in, so ended up paying tourist dollars for the worst Chinese meal I’d had during my trip. However, we were seated on a balcony overlooking the busy street. There were watermelon sellers, traveling karaoke machines, street meat sellers and people throwing colourful winged lights into the air that would fly up and gracefully fall down.

The bike ride home was an adventure. The bicycles didn’t have lights and there were no road lamps once we were out of the city. So I went on ahead with a flashlight as we drove down windy country road. We saw cormorant fisherman on the river on our way home and the shoreline and mountains alit with colourful lights.

Now I lay in bed listening to crickets sing outside our window. Tomorrow we’re going to rent a scooter and drive around the countryside taking pictures. Should be fun!

  • Photos taken with an iPhone 4S
  • Post made by email. Will add alt tags and formatting when access to WordPress is available.
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Guilin City

Coach buses parked in front of apartment buildings.

When we got off the bus in Guilin City, we took a tuk-tuk to the hotel. It was a beautiful hotel, especially for $30/night. It had a East-meets-West interior with glazed black furniture, midnight blue runners, and reed mats in the shower.

When we unpacked, I realized my zip-lock bag with my watch, iPhone charger, and earphones was gone! I had put my watch in the bag for safe keeping in my purse during the night bus ride from Dongguan. I love that watch- it had been a gift from my family and was beautiful.

We went straight back to the bus terminal. With some difficulty, Nicole tried to express my loss to bus staff. We got sent from one person to another before we ended up in the administration office. A man there was eager to help. He made phone calls and then left, leaving Nicole and I sitting on plastic stools by a desk while a man cut brown pieces of paper into strips and another did paperwork.

The man came back and brought us to the bus we had arrived in. I took up the mattress and bedding, searching all around in hopes it had fallen down somewhere. No such luck. Nicole and I went to the Lost & Found office to leave her contact info with a rough description in Chinese. A woman who spoke English eventually came to talk to us and said it was very unlikely it would turn up.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for cappuccinos in a Chinese bakery. They were very, very sweet but gave us the caffeine kick we needed. I tried to phone my mum on Skype to tell her about my watch, but there was no answer. No surprise as it was almost 11pm Toronto time.

We went back to the hotel to change our shoes and organize our camera gear for the Reed Flute Caves. We went down to the street and grabbed a cab. Unfortunately he was a very pushy cab driver who kept on trying to be our tour guide, and taking us to sights we didn’t want to see on our way to the Reed Flute Caves. Nicole kept on having to say “No, take us to the Reed Flute Caves.” until finally we got there. He remained persistent even then. We paid him the agreed upon amount from when we first entered the cafe and walked off.

Reed Flute Cave cavern

The caves were cool inside, which was a relief from the afternoon sun. We followed a Chinese tourist group as the cave wouldn’t stay alit without a guide there. It was quite spectacular. I’d never been in a cave this big before. It looked and felt fake, but it was all real (natural limestone). It is over 180 million years with inscriptions on the rocks dating from 792 AD. It had been used as a bomb shelter during WWII and now was alit with rainbow colored lights for tourists to enjoy.

We were hungry, so went in search for food in town. We walked around for awhile until we found a restaurant with an English/picture menu. The restaurant reminded me of the type of place Poirot would sit on a stop over on the Orient Express. It was on the roadside with traditional motif windows made from wood with wicker chairs and tables. It was lovely sitting there, listening to the traffic and the fan above our heads as a breeze swept over our hot, tired bodies.

We ordered beer and 3 different stir-fries. We washed our dishes with tea and then poured our beer into miniature glass cups to drink from. When the food came we thought we’d eaten too much, but within 30 minutes it was all gone. We were hungry!

After lunch, we went to a Chinese mall to look for a replacement for my lost iPhone charger. It was amazing to see the rhinestone cell phone cases and unusual clothing on sale. I had difficulty understanding why anyone with a design background would propose such things.

feet being nibbled on by small grey fish in a tank of water

After we found a charger, we wen to the Kissing Fish Spa to have a tank full of ‘doctor fish’ nibble at our feet. It was said to smooth out our skin and improve metabolism. The fish were slimy and you feel the suction on your feet and ankles as they nibbled. They tickled too! It took me forever to build up the courage to stick my feet in. It was absolute torture at fist but after a long period of protest I was finally able to immerse my feet in the water.

We went back to the hotel after being nibbled on by the little fishies. Nicole put a Mandarin kids show on the TV and fell asleep while I wrote a postcard. I continued to watch the TV while she slept. It was a show about forest animals vs. a hunter, and it was set in a landscape similar to Guilin. It was entertaining.

After our rest, we left to explore the city on foot. We went in the opposite direction than we’d walked earlier and ended up in the largest outdoor grocery market Nicole had seen in China. There were chickens on the back of bicycles, ducks in carts, eels and fish in tubs of water, vegetables and fruit. There was an escaped snake on the sidewalk which a man was kicking towards the road, likely to its death in the moped lane.

We walked along the river on our way home. Like the Reed Flute Caves, it was alit with colourful lights. There were women dancing with fans and men gambling on the street, everyone having a good time. When we got back to the street our hotel was on, we found it had transformed into a night market. There were whole fish on skewers and other culinary treats being offered, jade and pearl jewelry sellers, and all sorts of souvenir peddlers. It was fun to look around.

Nicole and I decided to fully pamper our feet today by going for a foot rub before bed. There was a sketchy looking place down an alley by our hotel, so Nicole asked the front desk if they had anywhere to recommend and they sent us there.

We were lead into a back room that was part storage room and part massage parlour. The women brought out big buckets of something that looked like unfiltered cider and smelt like sweet camomile tea. I stuck my feet in, half expecting fish to be in the bucket, but I was safe.

The foot rub included a back, leg, and neck massage with the masseuse’s barely touching a section of my body for more than half a second. The foot rub was very intense, but Nicole said it was worth it in the end.

After our foot rub, we headed back to the hotel. Now I sit in the hotel lobby finishing this post before bed. We need an early night as we will be rising early to catch a bamboo raft tomorrow.

* Photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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