Guilin The Fairyland – Part 4

It’s beginning to get colder here in Guiyang.  Both Dave and I are wearing sweaters and slippers, and we’ve pulled out some extra blankets for the bedroom.  The Chinese government doesn’t provide heating for anyone below a certain imaginary line they’ve drawn across the country, so in Guiyang, we don’t have indoor heating.  We were lucky to find several space heaters that had been left behind by previous tenants of our old apartment, so when we moved this weekend, the heaters came with us.  We were also smart, and brought along slippers with us.  Mine are the nice fur-lined moccasins that my dad got for me for Christmas 2 years ago.  Unfortunately, the fur on them has seen better days (life with cats!), but they’ll help a great deal with keeping my toes warm through the cold months.  (Also, Dad, if you’re reading this…I could use a new pair :p  Size 8!!!).

See...could totally use a new pair :P   Also, this is our flooring.  It's basically stone tile, that's laying on top of concrete.  It gets chilly!!
See…could totally use a new pair 😛
Also, this is our flooring. It’s basically stone tile, that’s laying on top of concrete. It gets chilly!!

Our final day and a half in Guilin was most definitely not ‘slipper weather’.  We developed some well defined tan lines in Guangxi (they only got darker in Xiamen), and the sun was very welcomed, after 2 months of clouds in Guiyang.

Guiyang Clouds
Guiyang on an average day. In August, the city’s peek month for sunshine, roughly 41% of the the month sees sunshine. In January, Guiyang’s cloudiest month, the number dips down to 12%. For comparison, Winnipeg’s peak is around 62%, and it’s lowest average is 41%…we get a lot of clouds here!!!

After the Rice Terrace tour, Emily dropped us off downtown once more, where we said goodbye and hugged our wonderful tour guide.  We exchanged phone numbers and WeChat IDs (WeChat is a little like BBM mixed with FB).  Since then, she’s sent me several messages, telling us what a great job we did painting, and even sending me links to job postings in Guilin city.  Oh, how I wish I could make that happen!!!

Guilin City
Yup! I could sure handle living here!

We spent our last evening in Guilin walking around downtown once more.  This time, we walked down to the Sun and Moon Pagodas, one of Guilin’s most famous sites.  They are located right on the river, and are lit up beautifully, so they were really worth seeing.  The river path was gorgeous and clean.  People don’t spit as much in Guilin (it’s bad for tourism; the city’s main source of income), and it seems like fewer people there smoke as well.  We enjoyed our walk along the river, as the sun went down, talking about our day in the fields, and enjoying the view as the pagodas began to light up.

Beautiful paths leading to the river.  The gardens are well kept here.
Beautiful paths leading to the river. The gardens are well kept here.
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Our first clear view of the pagodas. The one with the orange glow is the sun pagoda, and the slightly smaller one is the moon.
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A very neat shot of the Moon Pagoda that Dave captured 🙂

I have to remember to include pictures of us in these places, or you might not believe we actually got to see them!!!

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I love the contrast with the sky in this picture!
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A closer shot of the Moon Pagoda. It’s very elaborate

We spent a few more hours in the market after our walk along the river, buying a few more Christmas presents and enjoying some Guilin style bbq.  There is more seafood available in Guilin than there is in Guiyang so we definitely took advantage of that!  As we were leaving the restaurant, we noticed a strange looking meat, wrapped around a skewer.  At first, I thought it might be snake, so we asked the waiter.  He looked bashful and told us it was “Zhu Rou” (pork meat).  I’d seen many pork parts at bbqs in the past, but I didn’t recognize this one, so I pointed to my stomach and said “from here?”.  He looked at me bashfully once more, pointed at Dave’s mid section, and looked away very quickly.  The Chinese believe that whatever part of the animal you eat, the better you will become in that area.  They eat brain to be smarter.  They eat eyeball to have better vision.  They eat pork penis, because well…you know…We did not try it, as we were very full.  I imagine Dave would have probably wanted to, but I’m not upset that we missed the chance!

Pork Penis
This, my friends, is pig dick on a stick!!! (sorry moms…it was too perfect of a joke not to include!)

The next day, we head downtown once more, but the experience was very different from the previous nights’.  It seemed that overnight, quiet and beautiful Guilin was invaded…by tourists!  The buses were ‘standing room only’ and the streets were so full that it took ages to get anywhere.  Everywhere we looked there were vendors selling food, drinks and cheap merchandise.  It was all very overwhelming, so we found our way to Elephant Trunk Park, where we hoped there would be fewer people (the high admission price kept many tourists at bay).

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A band playing in the middle of the sidewalk. We were able to snap a picture before the crowd got around them and made them impossible to see

Elephant Trunk Park, I must say, was a bit of a let down.  It’s main attraction, a large rock formation that’s shaped like an elephant (I guess?) was really the coolest thing to see.  Still, it is the most famous scene to see in Guilin, so I’m happy we went.  And to be fair, I honestly think anything would have disappointed me after seeing the mountains along the Li River, followed by the LongJi Rice Terraces!

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Elephant Trunk Hill
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The entrance to the park. These trees are actually made of concrete
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One of the coolest sights to see there… a Lao Wei!!!! These guys asked for a picture with Dave, so I snapped one as well 😉

There were a few other things to see in the park.  There were a large number of parade floats set up around certain areas of the park.  Some of them were quite well done.  Some of them were in some very strange positions.   And a lot of them made no sense at all.

As I said...some were quite nice...
As I said…some were quite nice…
Some were in questionable positions...
Some were in questionable positions…
And some were downright confusing...
And some were downright confusing…

And thus concludes my telling of our four day stay in Guangxi Province!  Next time, I will be writing about our stay in Xiamen; my first home in China!!

Guilin The Fairland – Part 3

We are all moved into our new apartment!  It was a rough few days of scrubbing and painting and more scrubbing, but we’re here now, and very happy to be in our cozy new (mold-free) place!  We are about half unpacked, and are emptying our suitcases by priority.  First, I unpacked the tea 🙂  Tonight, it’s Oolong that we are enjoying.  It was purchased at one of the many shops along ZhongShan Lu in Xiamen during our holiday.  But before I can get to that, I must finish writing about Guilin!

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We stocked up in Xiamen. Sadly, this will probably not last us the year! haha!!!

Our 3rd day in Guilin was spent at the LongJi Rice Terraces.  Emily picked us up bright and early, and we took the 2.5 hour drive to one of the three minority villages there.  Our wonderful tour guide paid great attention to our personalities, and brilliantly brought us to the most calm of the 3 minority villages.  The village where Emily took us has only been open to the public for a year and a half, and (minus some satellite dishes) the people here are still living quite traditionally, nestled in these beautiful rice terraces.

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Like the rice terraces, these houses are built on an incline

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Intricate woodwork

As we walked through the village, we saw elderly women taking care of small children.  Emily explained that nearly everyone who is physically capable of working is either in a rice field or selling goods to tourists,so the elderly stay at home and watch the children. Nearly everyone in town was dressed in their ethnic group’s traditional clothing.  Both the colour of the fabric and the stitch work are unique to this minority group, and they still dress this way to honour their traditions (and probably because the tourists like it! haha…).

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Traditional costumes

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This picture I did take myself. We were far enough away that she couldn’t see us haha! She is picking chili peppers. They grow more than just rice in LongJi!

As we hiked through the village and up the mountain, we saw horses and dogs, and heard many roosters calling.  The town was quaint and both Dave and I were so happy to be away from the city, in this quiet, simple atmosphere.  The smell of cow manure was welcome and the cool mountain breeze was refreshing after the heat in Guilin city.  This particular day was the highlight of our stay in Guangxi Province.

The first animal friend we made at Longji.  He initially 'grumped' when Dave started to pet him, but then soon realized that he liked being pet haha!  He was very cute :)
The first animal friend we made at Longji. He initially ‘grumped’ when Dave started to pet him, but then soon realized that he liked being pet haha! He was very cute 🙂
There were roosters everywhere! This one was particularly beautiful
There were roosters everywhere! This one was particularly beautiful
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This group of dogs was terribly cute!

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They followed us down a little ways, probably hoping for some food. They might have also just been interested in seeing what the Lao Wai were up to!

As we hiked, Emily told us all about the rice fields and rice.  I’d never seen a rice plant before, so it was very neat to see how a food that sustains the better part of the world’s population is grown.  She showed us the difference between long grain and sticky rice plants.  She also explained that in the springtime, these fields fill with water.  The way these fields are built to be cascading down a mountainside was not a mere coincidence.  Gravity works as a brilliant irrigation tool, and seeing as how rice needs a great deal of water to grow, this method of growing the plant is very successful.  We arrived in LongJi just days before the crops are harvested, so we got to see them in their golden splendor.

A closer shot
A close-up of rice
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A view of the fields as we hiked up the mountain

Eventually Emily lead us to a set of stone stairs, going up to the peak of the mountain.  I was really able to appreciate the 11 flights of stairs I’ve been climbing daily to get to the apartment, because the trek wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been!  The view was beautiful the whole way up, and I soaked in the quiet and the smells of nature.  Living in a city is exciting, but nothing beats fresh air and silence.

Our first view of the stairs.  At this point, I didn't realize how many of these things I'd have to climb!
Our first view of the stairs. At this point, I didn’t realize how many of these things I’d have to climb!
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The air was a bit thinner up here and we had to stop a few times on the way up to catch our breath!

Another break and photo op!

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I swear the stairs just got more beautiful a we continued the climb

The scene at the top of the mountain was amazing.  The two hours it took us to get up there were worth every step.  I took a video because no picture alone could do the scene justice, but the video is too large to upload 😦  I’ll see if I can post it on facebook eventually.  For now, here are some pictures of that incredible view…

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No photo could possibly do this justice

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The walk down was just as nice as the walk up, though it took a lot less time.  We stopped for lunch in the village, and were treated to some herbal fruit tea, which I am now definitely addicted to.  We were served a bamboo dish (because Emily overheard me say that I love bamboo), and a taro dish (because Dave had never tried Taro…Emily is SO thoughtful!!) and finally, a chicken and mushroom dish, which was made with white meat, so that we didn’t need to worry about bones!   In China, chicken is chopped up, and you have to eat around shards of bone with your chopsticks.  All westerners hated it.  Emily knows her clients so well…I love that girl!!!  Also served at lunch was a special rice that is roasted in bamboo, as well as pig blood soup.  Emily originally ordered it for her and her husband (because she still hadn’t learned that we’ll eat anything), but was happy to share and let us have a try.  It wasn’t something I’d necessarily order myself, but if it’s ever on a table in front of me, I’d try it again!!

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A neat shot I got while coming down from the peak. Emily took a different route because she knows Dave hates seeing the same thing twice (it became an ongoing joke throughout the trip)

Dave had fallen behind after seeing a line of ants moving up the mountain.  I turned around to see if he was coming and saw this incredible view.  One of my favorite pics of the day.
Dave had fallen behind after seeing a line of ants moving up the mountain. I turned around to see if he was coming and saw this incredible view. One of my favorite pics of the day.
I'm officially addicted to this tea!  I brought 20 of these fruit back with us, and I'm already looking to see where I can find it in Guiyang for when I run out!!
I’m officially addicted to this tea! I brought 20 of these fruit back with us, and I’m already looking to see where I can find it in Guiyang for when I run out!!
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Pig Blood Soup…the stuff floating in there is congealed blood…
Roasted rice in bamboo :)
Roasted rice in bamboo 🙂

Well, I had originally intended to finish writing about Guangxi tonight, but it would appear I’ve already gone over my word count goal (I try to keep my posts around 1000 words so I don’t bore anyone), and I still have more to write, so I suppose there will be a part 4 to this part of the trip!  I hope I haven’t lost any of you yet!!  Thanks to everyone that’s been following me and especially to those of you who have written such nice and encouraging things in the comment section. This project means so much to me, and I’m so glad some of you are enjoying it as well 🙂

Guilin the Fairyland – Part 2

Tea and blogging: a fantastic way to end the day!  After a long day of cleaning the new apartment, it feels nice to sit back and reminisce about our trip to Guilin 🙂

Tonight we are enjoying some red tea.  It has a sharper taste and a darker colour
Tonight we are enjoying some red tea. It has a sharper taste and a darker colour

After the cruise, our tour guide lead us into the town of Yangshou, which is roughly 2 hours away from Guilin.  The small town might not seem like much on the map, but it became a very popular destination for backpackers and tourists in the 1980s and has continued to be popular now.  There are shops everywhere and we were warned by Emily before getting out of the van, that people would try to trick us into spending money on unauthentic products (silk, pearls etc…) and that we should bargain…HARD!  This was great news to me, because Dave and I are a stellar bargaining team 🙂  I won’t go into details because we bought many Christmas presents along this street, but we got several items for as much as 75% less then their original asking price.  Even Emily was impressed, and she’s all about the bargaining!!

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Yangshou’s many shops

After using the washrooms (or as the British like to say: the toilet) and getting some iced coffee at KFC, Emily lead us to the sleepy riverside where a bamboo raft awaited us.  The relaxed scene that greeted us was a fantastic shift from the chaotic atmosphere in Yangshuo.   Soon we found ourselves drifting down the river, enjoying Guangxi’s stunning scenery.

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The colours here were beautiful!
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The backdrop to our rafting adventure

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After enjoying some delicious barbecued fish and a quick bump down a small rapid, we head back to the shore where Emily was waiting for us.  By this point she’d learned that we are more adventurous than her average tourists, but still, she was surprised we’d eaten the fish.  She told me:  “I’ve decided that I consider you both Chinese.  95% of my clients don’t eat the fish.  I’m glad you enjoyed it!”  (and we did…half way home I was still talking about haha!!!).

BBQ Fish

Emily dropped us off downtown and gave us a quick tour of the area, showing us how to get to the night market and giving us tips on where to find the best deals. We spent the rest of the night buying Christmas gifts, having our feet cleaned by fish (a strange experience, but oddly awesome!) and having a nice outdoor dinner by the market.

These little fish eat the dead skin on your feet.  It tickles like CRAZY at first, but once the nerves in your feet calm down, it's pretty cool.  This was definitely the most interesting pedicure I've ever received!
These little fish eat the dead skin on your feet. It tickles like CRAZY at first, but once the nerves in your feet calm down, it’s pretty cool. This was definitely the most interesting pedicure I’ve ever received!
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Guilin’s night market

Emily’s job ended when we arrived back in Guilin, so the extra time she spent showing us around down town was truly above and beyond what she needed to do as our tour guide for the day.  Most guides I’ve had in the past spend their time trying to get to you spend money shopping and telling you to book extra tours (they make commission if you spend money or buy anything at the market).  Emily never once pushed us during either of our days with her, and for that alone she stands out to me as the best guide I’ve had.  More importantly though, she was very friendly and open with us throughout the tour.  We spent hours chatting together on the cruise and on our way to and from the sites she was taking us to see.  She is incredibly thoughtful and even got us our favorite chocolates for the ride back (she knows I like chocolate with nuts in it, and that Dave likes anything that’s made of chocolate…).  She and I exchanged WeChat IDs on the first day (that’s kind of like facebook in China) and have been in touch since our trip.  The best text I received from her was a picture she took while at work: an English school in Guilin was hiring, and she wanted me to apply.  I hope to live there one day so we can become better friends.  She’s really a fantastic person and Dave and I were very fortunate to have her as our guide.

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Our lovely tour guide and her husband

Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll be writing about the Longshen Rice Terraces, The Sun and Moon pagodas and our last day in Guilin 🙂

Guilin the Fairland – Part 1

I am sitting here sipping green tea with Dave.  It’s a little past midnight, and there are fireworks going off in the distance.  Such a wonderfully “Chinese” moment for me to write about our trip to Guangxi 🙂

Our Tea Set.  Chinese tea is all about ritual.  You begin by rinsing the leaves, to kill any bacteria that might be in them.  You also sanitize the cups this way.  Then you fill the big cup with water, and let the tea sit for a few moments.  With your index finger on the lid, and your middle finger and thumb along the rim, you use the lid as a strainer and pour tea into the small cups.   It's easy to appreciate the different flavors and tastes of the tea in these small amounts. It isn't just about a caffeine fix...it's about the time spent making tea, and drinking it with the ones you love :)
Our Tea Set. Chinese tea is all about ritual. You begin by rinsing the leaves, to kill any bacteria that might be in them. You also sanitize the cups this way. Then you fill the big cup with water, and let the tea sit for a few moments. With your index finger on the lid, and your middle finger and thumb along the rim, you use the lid as a strainer and pour tea into the small cups. It’s easy to appreciate the different flavors and tastes of the tea in these small amounts. It isn’t just about a caffeine fix…it’s about the time spent making tea, and drinking it with the ones you love 🙂

Guangxi is not technically a province, but a “Chinese Autonomous Region”, similar to Inner Mongolia and Tibet.  Although Guilin was once Guangxi’s capital, it is now only its 3rd largest city.  Still, it is a huge source of income for the autonomous region, as it is a very popular tourist spot.  It’s easy to see why…

Guangxi borders the province where we live (Guizhou) to the East
Guangxi borders the province where we live (Guizhou) to the South-East

We arrived in Guilin at around 8am on Sunday September 28th.  We took a bus to the wrong end of the city, and then took a cab to the hostel (oh the joys of the language barrier!).  At first glance, our hostel was a tad intimidating.  We had to walk down a back alley to get there, and our cab driver just left us on the side of the road.  But once we were inside, we were very pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness to price ratio!  We paid roughly $11 Canadian per night, and had a room to ourselves, with a comfortable queen size bed, a shower with hot water, and a flat screen TV.  It was small but very comfortable, and the staff were very helpful with directions and suggestions for things that we should do while in the city.

We had to walk down this alley to get to the hostel.  It was a tad disheartening at first, and made us wonder about the hostel we'd booked...
We had to walk down this alley to get to the hostel. It was a tad disheartening at first, and made us wonder about the hostel we’d booked…
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Our Tea Set. Chinese tea is all about ritual. You begin by rinsing the leaves, to kill any bacteria that might be in them. You also sanitize the cups this way. Then you fill the big cup with water, and let the tea sit for a few moments. With your index finger on the lid, and your middle finger and thumb along the rim, you use the lid as a strainer and pour tea into the small cups. It’s easy to appreciate the different flavors and tastes of the tea in these small amounts. It isn’t just about a caffeine fix…it’s about the time spent making tea, and drinking it with the ones you love 🙂
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When we arrived in our room, our minds had been made up: this is the greatest hostel in the world! For $11 a night, we slept in a bed much more comfortable than the one in our current apartment. And we had air conditioning(!!!), which was nice, because Guilin is actually quite a bit hotter than Guiyang!

After some lunch, we hopped on a bus, got a little lost, and then hopped onto another bus, to get to Reed Flute Cave.  I’m no expert on caves (I’ve only ever seen one and it was this past summer), but Reed Flute Cave has to be one of the most beautiful caves in the world!  The stalactites and stalagmites were enormous and took so many beautiful shapes.  The Chinese are also very big on lighting up their caves, adding colour to the formations, so you can better see why certain areas are named as they are.

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Our Tea Set. Chinese tea is all about ritual. You begin by rinsing the leaves, to kill any bacteria that might be in them. You also sanitize the cups this way. Then you fill the big cup with water, and let the tea sit for a few moments. With your index finger on the lid, and your middle finger and thumb along the rim, you use the lid as a strainer and pour tea into the small cups. It’s easy to appreciate the different flavors and tastes of the tea in these small amounts. It isn’t just about a caffeine fix…it’s about the time spent making tea, and drinking it with the ones you love 🙂
Beautiful formations, lit up with red lights.  These took thousands of years to form.  Nature is so cool :)
Beautiful formations, lit up with red lights. These took thousands of years to form. Nature is so cool 🙂

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After wandering in this enormous cavern for quite some time, we found our way to the gift shop, where we unexpectedly purchased a painting by an artist whose work is done solely with his hands and fingers.  We typically try not to buy much at gift shops, because items tend to be greatly overpriced, but the painting was gorgeous and well worth what he was asking.

A description of the art we purchased
A description of the art we purchased
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Our Tea Set. Chinese tea is all about ritual. You begin by rinsing the leaves, to kill any bacteria that might be in them. You also sanitize the cups this way. Then you fill the big cup with water, and let the tea sit for a few moments. With your index finger on the lid, and your middle finger and thumb along the rim, you use the lid as a strainer and pour tea into the small cups. It’s easy to appreciate the different flavors and tastes of the tea in these small amounts. It isn’t just about a caffeine fix…it’s about the time spent making tea, and drinking it with the ones you love 🙂
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Our Tea Set. Chinese tea is all about ritual. You begin by rinsing the leaves, to kill any bacteria that might be in them. You also sanitize the cups this way. Then you fill the big cup with water, and let the tea sit for a few moments. With your index finger on the lid, and your middle finger and thumb along the rim, you use the lid as a strainer and pour tea into the small cups. It’s easy to appreciate the different flavors and tastes of the tea in these small amounts. It isn’t just about a caffeine fix…it’s about the time spent making tea, and drinking it with the ones you love 🙂

The following two days of our trip were spent with a tour guide.  Emily Cai met us at the hostel at 8:10 am Monday morning, and helped us order some Baozi (Chinese steam dumplings), before heading to the port where our Li River Cruise was set to depart.

Steam Dumpling
These delicious steam dumplings can be filled with pork and mushroom (my favorite), a variety of vegetables, and even sesame paste. They are a cheap and delicious breakfast 🙂

We were put on the “Lao Wei” boat, which felt incredibly strange to both Dave and I.  The occupants were mostly retired Europeans, who were all either shocked or horrified when we told them that we actually live in China.  Some of them were so scared to try Chinese food (that had actually been heavily westernized for the sake of the western pallets on the boat), that they brought Wonderbread sandwiches along in little brown boxes.  Among the snobby tourists, we did find a few like minded people.  We actually sat at a table with some German retirees, who were taking a tour all throughout China.  They spoke some English, and Dave had a chance to practice a little German, but they were very lighthearted, friendly people, who enjoyed the food and wanted to learn some Chinese to make their stay easier.  We both enjoyed teaching them how to say “Binde” (cold) so they could stop miming the world ‘cold’ when they ask for beer at restaurants (Beer….brrrrrrrrrr….).

Cold

The sights were incredible on this tour!  The mountains are rugged and take so many interesting shapes.  The four and a half hour cruise made it easy to see why Guangxi is such a popular tourist destination.  The beauty there is even on the Chinese 20rmb bill, and we passed the mountains that are on the currency 🙂

I don't really feel that captions are necessary for the following pictures :)
I don’t really feel that captions are necessary for the following pictures 🙂

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There are 7 horses hidden in this mountain.  Can you spot them?  Dave and I found 4 :)
There are 7 horses hidden in this mountain. Can you spot them? Dave and I found 4 🙂

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Although I would love to finish writing about my Guangxi adventures tonight, it’s now 1:30am, and I need to get some sleep!  Stay tuned for Part 2!!!