Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Refuse to yellow, gambling and poison

The second coming to China! I don't know what was on our minds when we made this decision. I mean I know what I was thinking, but why did they let me do it? There was no way we could fit everything on our first trip, they limit you to 30 days at a time, the distances are huge and the winter was coming over Himalaya.
But we wanted to get a glimpse at South China, rural China, industrial modern China. We also wanted to experience the Chinese New Year and to see Hong Kong.
We left what China calls China (and what we call Tibet) with a sour taste. The occupation, the military, that's all we saw in the last few days of our first trip and the enthusiasm we had when we bought plane tickets faded away. I even considered for a minute skipping this part altogether. But it was important to come back and try to warm up again to China.
We left Kochi very smoothly, even though I cannot understand why in a country so free and open as India they have these militarized airports. Especially contrasting with the airport in Kuala Lumpur. A vast open space where stores and restaurants and traffic blends almost seamlessly with the check-in operations. We arrived there at midnight and had our next flight at 6 am. Time flew by, dozing off on some chairs, eating at MacDonald's and checking in at 3.45 am. Ileana stayed up all the time, there was free Internet. Ioan napped for a few minutes. There was still more than an hour when we got to the gate and I was impressed with Ioan who had a very long conversation with a nice Irish-Australian man in his fifties.
We arrived three hours later in Guilin, we had booked a van to take us to Moon Village.

The main reason people come to Guilin is a cruise on Li river for the surreal landscape. It is another World Heritage Site. A few hours down the river there was once a little village called Yangshuo. Now it's a 300000 people city, full of touristic amenities. We went further, a few kilometres out in the country. But we arrived at the best hotel in this area, Village Inn. Because we got a family room, it was cheaper than anything else I could find. We were spoiled, but in their defence, there were no other tourists, it was cold and misty, "low season now". We did catch a period of unusually cold weather that would follow us to Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau. Some of the things I planned we couldn't do. We did take the one cruise on the river, by "bamboo boat", we climbed one mountain and visited one cave. We spend a few minutes on the famous touristic street in Yangshuo. After three nights the same van took us back to the airport in Guilin. We never saw one piece of Guilin, and that is OK.
On the first day we climbed the Moon Hill, right across from our hotel. A nice path in the woods, some 600 steps and a different kind of tout. Two old ladies, trying to sell postcards and soft drinks, one of them quite annoying in following us up the mountain. There we met some Australian alpinists, they have been there for 10 days climbing rocks, they never went to the river "It's too cold" (!!!)

On the Moon Hill
View up the Li river, the carst formations in the fog

Panoramic view

The bamboo rafts made of plastic and regulated (so we had to take two boats)
This is the Li River highlight
The cruise down the Li river was nice, despite the clouds, the fog and the freezing temperatures. We went from Yángdì to Xìngpíng. The image of the karst formation here is imprinted on every 20 yuan bill. If it would have been warmer we might have spent some time in Xìngpíng, apparently is a nice little old town. Not now. We were happy we got through the boat ride and we jumped in the first available bus. One water trip was enough in this weather, otherwise we would have added a trip on the Yulong river.
There are many caves in this area. We visited just the butterfly cave, it was too tacky for our taste and one cave was enough for us. It was followed by a path through the woods and ended with a free show of local art. We saw the big banyan tree and while visiting a little museum/store with stones we had a brief but very pleasant encounter with a German student in engineering, he was in Shanghai for one semester and now he was trying to see some of China before his visa expired.
The entrance to the butterfly cave

Some Chinese tourist helped us take this picture
Having fun on the mountain

The big banyan tree is really big!

The bridge over the Yulong river. She needs an umbrella.
One other famous activity to do here is to see the cormorant fishing. We would have gone, but we found out just in time that it's a show! Besides the questionable ethics of this practice, if it is what people do and have done for centuries to feed their children, I can understand. But if they turn it into a show, I'm not interested. The cormorant fishing it's famous because the fishermen use the birds to do the work. They tie their necks so they cannot swallow the catch and take it for themselves. The poor birds keep working at it all day.

80 cents for a picture nobody wanted

Next step, Guangzhou. It is a 24 hour train trip, a 9 hour bus ride or a short 50 minute flight. Except that the guys from Expedia couldn't figure out our itinerary and it looked as we were going to fly twice, at 10 am and 6 pm! Eventually, after talking with them for half an hour, I gave up, we were going to find out in the airport what time we fly. And all was nice and smooth, a half empty Boeing 737, and we arrived in another place where we didn't know anything and anybody. It took a long time to get to our hotel, only to find out that it wasn't one. It was a room turned into an office and janitor's closet at the 12th floor of an apartment building! The apartment I rented wasn't free, "the guy doesn't want to leave", so we got two rooms. There was no heat "obviously", after all they might need air conditioning here 350 days per year. Not now. We came with the cold and the rain and at best we had some 15C in the room. It took several requests to get the extra blankets. We had two empty kitchens, no utensils or dishes or anything. Two washing machines on the balconies, we didn't use because it would have been unlikely for our clothes to dry. The internet, which we had to pay for, worked only in one room and only for the first two days. I was unhappy with the place, but there was no alternative and it had to do it. When we went to search for food we found a perfect little Chinese restaurant with pictures, set menus, really good food. We were going to return for more meals, but it was always closed, probably for the New Year.
Guangzhou it's huge and modern. We learned that Canton was just the English mispronunciation of the original and current Chinese name. High rise buildings everywhere, very civilized traffic, clean side walks, it seems a little like Japan. There is a long history in this city, but only a few areas have some older buildings, the rest was and is continuously modernized. The typical one-two floor buildings, some of them with colonial architecture, are replaced with 30-plus stories sky scrapers. We stayed in one of them and it was nice, except for our rooms and the cold.
We took one trip in the city, visiting the Museum of the Nanyue tomb. This was an amazing discovery from 1983, the intact tomb of the Wen Di emperor who ruled in southern China in 137-122 BC. It is a nice, well organised museum and it was a very good presentation of the life in those times, a primer on some more Chinese history. A couple of hours in the afternoon then we turned toward our apartment and looked for food for two hours. We did some shopping for groceries and improvised a great dinner. The children were particularly patient and displayed their great sense of humour during these trying hours.

The beautiful entrance to the museum
This Chinese emperor was told that jade can protect him in the future life; the jade remains, restored

Two hours of adventures and trials for this dinner
We did less than I wanted in the first day, but the next day was scheduled for rest and nobody wanted to leave again. It didn't help that it was raining and really cold. It's funny how excited the children are for school work when the alternative is going out and exploring for a few hours. I left alone. Without map and with only limited information, I jumped in the first bus going west. When the bus turned around, I jumped off and continued West for a bit, but eventually I took a cab. Eight kilometres later I finally reached my first destination, the White Swan hotel, a splendid five-star on the banks of Pearl River.
I continued with a famous fish market and then got lost in the crowds shopping for the upcoming New Year celebrations. I don't really get all the traditions that the Chinese have for this, it seems they have to have big bouquets of fresh flowers, baskets of fresh fruits plus cases of oranges and pomelos, various fish and sea foods and all the meat in the world. All get new clothes, new shoes, new electronics, their shopping spree is interminable. They have more stores than anyone can count, the stores are overflowing of merchandise and customers. I am very proud of myself for being able to find the Haolin Si, the most important temple of Guangzhou, said to be founded in 526. It is hidden on some narrow alley, no signs and no guide, but I asked people one after another, they answered in Chinese, I just followed the direction of their finger. The actual building is newly restored and it houses some 500 statues of the pupils of Buddha. It's nice. Sorry, hard to find another word.
Part of the hallway of the White Swan hotel 
So many choices...
One of the hallways of the Haolin Temple 
From there I took the subway to the other part of the town where I wondered on some modern boulevards until I found what must be the biggest shopping mall ever. People do actually keep track of these things, and the biggest malls are in the States, but this was in the middle of the city on seven floors with rows and rows of escalators, it never ended. I was looking for some computer store, for an extra hard drive. Here are some pictures.

Some of the hundred pictures taken in this mall

We are almost done with China. Not the country to fall in love with, but the combination of their past and present makes it a very attractive destination. Not to mention their future, they're the ones that will rule my grandchildren's world and they are getting ready for it. At some point during our stay they became an "urbanised" country, just passing the 50% mark of urban population. Their infrastructure is amazing, and they clearly build for the future. Most roads are empty now, but they know they will be filled soon.
The few Chinese that we had direct contact with were very nice and pleasant. Most of the others didn't impress in any particular way. Not happy, not grouchy, just busy people going by their life.
In the North, the language can be a severe barrier. In the South they seem to speak much more English, and they clearly make an admirable effort despite occasional monumental mistakes. The best laugh we had was when Ileana Ruxandra explained to us that the sign for yellow is the same as the one for prostitution. Here is the full board and a good ending to our story of China.
I am sure they wanted to say "refuse" instead of "refused"!

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