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Guilin: the Li River cruise
During this portion of our whirlwind China wrap-up, we experienced several different modes of transportation.
We awoke early on September 28th looking forward to a major highlight of our trip: a five-hour cruise down the Li River. It is said that Guilin is the most beautiful place in China, and that the Li River is the most beautiful place in Guilin. (Keep in mind, it is also said that the Chinese will eat anything on four legs except for the table.)
We were met by our guide Joe and our driver Mr. Du and driven to the dock 45 minutes away from the hotel. Joe continued to share insights into Chinese life and culture -- everything from China's bizarre mix of religion, philosophy, and superstition... to the current state of China's education system. After so much contact with Westerners, Joe has a remarkable ability to view his own country from the perspective of outsiders. (Of course, he also met us at the airport holding a handwritten sign that said "CATL LEE.")
Our cruise was idyllic and wonderful. As with the terra-cotta warriors, it is difficult to describe the spectacle with mere words and photographs. Wave after wave of limestone mountains surrounding Guilin rise suddenly and impossibly high out of the ground. Any pictures or paintings that you have ever seen of beautiful misty mountains or lone pagodas atop high peaks have been of Guilin. The scenery is even depicted on the back of China's 20-yuan bill.
While the boys spent some of the time downstairs at our lunch seats reading and playing, Gail and Russell were almost exclusively up on the viewing deck just watching the scenery go by. Joe kept coming over to point out shapes in the rocks ("In a minute you'll see Snoopy the dog"). Gail met a retired couple from Oregon (originally from Kansas), John and Jen, who were on the last leg of their own China trip (they were already over here on September 11th). John, a consulting engineer, has traveled extensively. He advises that we would have no troubles in Turkey, but he is much more wary about Egypt.
Our onboard lunch was the most foreign we've had so far -- strange, since this was supposedly a tourist boat for Westerners. The boys ate almost nothing. Fortunately, Jen donated the leftovers of their hotel-packed lunch box.
After five wonderfully-relaxing hours, we reluctantly left the boat in Yangshuo, braved the biggest gauntlet of souvenir vendors so far, and walked to the Paradise Hotel. We ended up again in two separate, unconnected rooms, but the staff spoke English very well. The boys swam, played table tennis, and checked out the exercise equipment. We had a wonderfully American dinner at the hotel's "Western Restaurant" -- the guys had spaghetti Bolognese and Gail had pork chops. Cameron said, "this is the best dinner I've had in a long time, other than bread and jam."
Yangshuo is known as a tourist hang-out -- the prices are cheaper than Guilin and the mountains are even more beautiful. As a consequence, the streets are full of shops, cafes, and restaurants. After dinner, we took a walk around town in the wonderful warmth of the evening. Bicycles are available for rent, but Gail and Russell decided that the boys would get themselves killed cycling in China.
The first half of September 29th was a free day for us in Yangshuo. We had to vacate our rooms by noon, but the staff said that we could continue to use the facilities until we left at 3:45 PM. We took a wonderful walk through town down to the pier while it was still cool in the morning. This is a most picturesque town, and unbelievable fun for people and culture watching. One of the highlights (or lowlights as far as the boys were concerned) was wandering through a huge covered market. We saw stall after stall of food, vegetables, and meat. The meat was most disturbing to the boys -- they've never seen anything like the array of various animal parts hanging up with flies all around. We saw live ducks being tied up and sold to people, who would strap them onto their bicycles or just walk off with them head down. Cameron lamented, "They're torturing the ducks!"
After a refreshing swim in the pool, we took advantage of the other hotel facilities and played darts and billiards. Gail struck up a conversation with a couple of Chinese women -- difficult because everyone spoke different languages -- who were enthralled with our photos from home. The Chinese people who have looked at our photos generally have three universal reactions:
Joe and Mr. Du picked us up in the afternoon, and we drove for about an hour and a half from Yangshuo back to Guilin. From there, we boarded a 6:00 PM train from Guilin to our final mainland city, Guangzhou. By our third overnight train, we have the process of stuffing our suitcases into the compartment down pat. But this is our last overnight train in China. As we ate our dinner (more bread and jam swiped from breakfast), we turned off all of the compartment lights and gazed outside at the incredible scenery by moonlight.
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