NI HAO family and friends around the globe!
Okay, I know I already pronounced my previous post the “concluding post of the academic year”, but that was before I went on an unbelievable adventure to Yangshuo (see maps below to get your bearings) with my uncle Joel and cousin Coby (and Coby’s awesome cousin, Lindsey). I could not resist…Our trip just NEEDED to make a blog appearance. So (for real), this is my final post before I head back to America…TOMORROW!
JOEL'S FIRST NIGHT IN CHINA
Sunday, June 26th 2016 was a very exciting day here in Shenzhen because not only did I finally decide on (and obtain approval for) my graduate thesis topic (more on that later…), but I also got to greet my uncle Joel at the Shenzhen ferry port – witnessing his very first steps into my homeland in the Mainland. A true honor.
With only ONE night in Shenzhen before meeting Coby and Lindsey in Yangshuo the following morning, we had no time to waste. Although Joel had just spent 20-something long hours traveling (made even longer by the fact that his plane had no working TV screens! Gah!) and was likely disoriented and beyond jet-lagged, we went directly to Pingshan Village for some Chinese BBQ (“shao kao” 烧烤) and Tsingdao beer. Joel got a glimpse of daily life in China as we wove in and out of the alleyways lined with street meat skewers, hanging chickens, fruit stalls, the funky smells of Durian (the SMELLIEST fruit in the universe) mixed with Stinky Tofu (yes, that’s a real thing, not my term), and umbrella-topped mopeds left and right.
No messing around when I am your tour guide.
I made sure that Joel experienced graduate student life in Shenzhen firsthand, the “proper way”. We thoroughly enjoyed our egg fried rice noodles and sticks of seasoned (cumin + garlic + lots of salt?) veggies (I thought avoiding street meat would be the wiser choice, at least for night # 1…)
After some much needed beauty sleep and rejuvenation, I led Joel on a full campus tour before taking the metro to Shenzhen North Station (just three stops away!) to catch the three-hour bullet train (300 km/hr) to Guilin North Station, the closest big city to Yangshuo.
WE MADE IT TO THE MOUNTAIN NEST HOTEL
Upon arriving at Guilin North Station, we were punctually greeted by our driver (conveniently arranged by the hotel). The drive from Guilin North Station to the Mountain Nest Hotel took about 1.5 hours. The hotel was perfect (thanks aunt Debby for the excellent find!) Cozy, clean, Zen, and charming. Joel and I were warmly welcomed by the reception, who kicked off our stay with a traditional Chinese tea ceremony (using Pu’er tea leaves) and a bowl of green tea flavored pumpkin seeds. Nom nom. So tasty.
Soon after we arrived, Coby and Lindsey (who had been traveling throughout China) showed up. A bit grungy after hopping from hostel to hostel in the humidity, their first stop = shower and laundry. Once everyone was freshened up, we headed to the popular (touristy) West Street for our first family-style Chinese feast.
WEST STREET FEASTING AND EXPLORING
Dinner on West Street was at a Chinese banquet hall style restaurant recommended by the hotel reception (sorry, forgot the restaurant name!). It was…mamahuhu 马马虎虎 ( = my favorite word in Chinese, which means “so-so”). We all agreed that the hotel restaurant had both better cuisine and a better atmosphere. We were pretty ravenous, so even though the food was just mamahuhu, we were ultimately all participants of the Clean Plate Club. We polished off the roasted goose, fish sauce braised eggplant, beef and veggies…Everything but the bland clay pot tofu was demolished.
BREAKFAST WITH A COUNTRYSIDE VIEW
BIKING ADVENTURES THROUGH THE YANGSHUO COUNTRYSIDE
Before setting off on our “four-hour” biking adventure, we stopped to grab some emergency road snacks in case food was scarce, or in case there was nothing available besides vacuum-packed honey flavored chicken feet, which would not be all that surprising. Equipped with Oreos, dried sweet potatoes (my favorite), sesame snacks, and nuts, we were ready for the ride!
The first leg of our journey consisted of riding to a “ferry” in order to cross over to a street market in the town of Fuli. All I can say is, it’s a good thing Coby and I speak Chinese. It took quite a bit of direction-asking before we were finally able to locate this so-called ferry. But hey, we found it! And although it wasn’t exactly comparable to Hong Kong’s Star Ferry in size or structure, it did the job and brought us (and our bikes) across the river to Fuli town. NOTE: If you are biking in the Yangshuo countryside without a tour guide and do not speak any Chinese, be prepared to get lost. Signage is often non-existent or contradictory. Just a friendly heads-up!
We made it to the Fuli town street market! I wasn’t kidding when I said West Street was the polar opposite of Yangshuo’s countryside, eh? Fuli town’s market was surely not aimed at tourists. The countryside dentist (pictured below) further reinforces that statement *yikes!*. Although we didn’t purchase anything aside from some cold (Tylenol-flavored) sports drinks for a much needed electrolyte boost, it was eye-opening just strolling through the market and taking in the local flavor. For someone who strives to live a Zen / clutter-free life, the tent full of all the disorganized “junk” you could possibly imagine was a bit overwhelming and cringe-inducing. I was a bigger fan of the fruit and veggie tents, selling a rainbow of all the local and seasonal goodies – bitter melon, lychees, various gourds, eggplant, bok choy…This is the real deal farmers’ market, beat that Whole Foods ;)
We had only been back on our bikes for a short time after the Fuli town street market when we came across a cluster of water buffalo. Obviously we had to stop! They were very friendly. The water they were in though…YUCK. Do you see that icky color?! I wouldn’t exactly want to go swimming in that body of water. Pass.
We continued our bike journey through the hottest part of the day (12-2pm). Even after a brief stop for some cold and refreshing cucumber & vinegar salad and bottled water, our bodies were starting to give in. Heat stroke was becoming a likely outcome. It had already been almost three hours of biking, which, according to the hotel, should mean that our roundtrip journey was soon coming to a close. False. It would take at least another three hours to make it back to the Mountain Nest, according to our first-rate map ;) We couldn’t do it. The heat was too much. We tried hitchhiking, but experienced persistent rejection since we required enough space not only for our four bodies but also our four bicycles.
After an unsuccessful attempt at being picked up by a tour bus full of Chinese tourists, I called the hotel to arrange transportation. Expecting a car with bike racks or perhaps an attached wagon, we were pleasantly surprised by our groovy ride that ultimately came to the rescue. In order to provide top notch comfort, the driver even provided four chairs…Now that’s some serious countryside luxury. Our ride back to the hotel was undoubtedly the correct decision. As we rode back on our mini chairs, sighs of relief filled the air. There’s no way we could have endured more heat. As an added bonus, our driver stopped along the way for photoshoots at popular tourist destinations, including Moon Hill. Although the selfie Lindsey took of us at Moon Hill was far better than the driver’s photography attempt, in which he took 21 photos that ALL had his finger covering the camera…Oops! Thanks anyways, driver.
The long day in the hot sun drained us of energy. After showering and collapsing for an hour, we went back up to the hotel’s rooftop restaurant for dinner. I forced myself to stay awake until 9:30pm and then crashed. I think that was one of the best sleeps I have ever experienced. No joke. Those hotel beds were AMAZING. Take me back.
HIKING ALONG THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE VILLAGES
We walked and talked, taking in all the countryside sights. Only in China do you see people riding a moped across a river! The summer heat didn’t stop the rice farmers working along the rice terraces. Never before had I observed such large construction sites using bamboo as scaffolding. Bamboo sure is one useful and durable plant! We continued walking through the villages and rice terraces until we finally arrived at our bamboo rafting location along the Yulong River.
BAMBOO RAFTING FUN IN THE SUN
OUR FINAL FEAST: THAI / PIZZA / CHINESE / RESTAURANT
As soon as we departed the hotel in search of Joel’s “pizza place”, it started raining like crazy. It was raining cats and dogs. We were all freshly showered in clean dry clothes, which were now entirely drenched. All we could do was laugh uncontrollably. We were living it up and going with the flow. Ten minutes later, after sprinting in the rain, we found the restaurant. As Joel had claimed, it DID in fact serve pizza (okay, you win, Joel). However, it ALSO served Thai, Chinese, and “Western” dishes. Although the photos on the menu closely resembled dog food, the Thai food we ordered was actually quite tasty. We polished off the coconut chicken soup, lemongrass beef, green papaya salad, and fried tofu. I don’t have any photos of our quality meal because I was 100% in the moment, cell phone free.
THE BLOG IS GOING ON SUMMER BREAK UNTIL SEPTEMBER...
Time for me to finish packing my dorm room now…Love you all!