Monday, June 30, 2008

Day two of rafting

On the back of the 20 yuan denomination of the chinese money is a picture of these mountains in this exact spot so coming here to see this area was high on our priority list. The second day we were in YangShuo we hired a van to drive us out to this other river where there are actually more of these beautfiul, scenic peaks to see. It took about 45 minutes to get there. It was so amazing to drive through the countryside and see more of this amazing country. The road was barely two lanes wide and we drove through lots of small villages and rice paddies and farms and local homes. Very humble and very humbling. Heidi told us it actually reminded her alot of where she lived when she was on her mission in Portugal. Just small cinder block buildings with what looked like several apartments connected. No running water; just a pump outside where the residents can wash their dishes and clothes.

Here is a fisherman pulled over on the side of the river. That long, skinny little raft looks a little treacherous. Alot of these fishermen use cormorants (birds) to help them catch their fish. They put a ring around the bird's neck so when the bird dives in the river and catches a fish it can't swallow it. Then the bird is trained to fly back to the fisherman where the fish is collected from the bird's mouth.

This was a unique business: they were selling honey. You can see the beehives off to the left of the photo. I don't think I'd like to be hanging out in this tent with that many beehives that close! The honey looked really good -- clear, beautiful amber color and a really cheap price. We were tempted to buy some but we just didn't know how sanitary the bottles were before the honey was filled in so we just took a picutre instead. I loved seeing these snippets of daily life.
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More rafting

The rafts on this river were a more heavy-duty version because this was a much bigger river than the river we floated down the day before. This river had quite a strong current and our rafts had small motors on the back where the driver sat and steered us along. There was a lot more "traffic" on this river too. More water buffalos, chinese fishermen, these small tourist rafts and lots of big tour boats. It reminded me a lot of the main channel at Lake Powell. We traveled against the current up the river for about 45 minutes and then turned around and it only took us about 15 minutes to get back to where we started since we were going back with the current.

The water was too swift for the kids to get in and swim and play along the way but it didn't stop them from suiting up and getting wet and trying to get us wet since we were on a separate boat from them -- an easy target!

This photo is a little bit out of focus but I thought it was the most clever of all the tour boats that came by. Isn't that cute... a big gold fish!
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Unique signs

We were happy to see that whenever any thing that was written in Chinese had a translation with it, it was always written in English.
I did enjoy the clever translations like this sign on the escalator in the airport. For some reason from this point forward Paul and I were often refered to as "oldsters".

When we checked into our hotel in Yangshuo, we were really impressed with how beautiful and clean our room was. We especially were impressed with our sanitized toilet and the invitation to enjoy and use it "at ease"! So thoughtful!

Most of the restaurants in Yangshuo posted their menus and "specialties of the house" on a poster outside of their restaurant. I didn't take the time to read all of the signs on all of the restaurants but this one definately caught my eye. Needless to say, we didn't stop in for a meal!
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ahhh, relaxing!

Now this is what we came for! To get a peaceful, relaxing ride on a bamboo raft. After biking through all those miles of back country that I have described in the previous posts, we finally got to climb aboard these classic bamboo rafts and get pampered somewhat by our raft drivers. We loaded up ourselves and our bikes on 3 rafts and settled in for a enjoyable hour's worth of just drifting along down this river.
The scenery was stunning and the temperature was perfect underneath our umbrellas and our stomachs were full -- it was really hard to stay awake!

"perfect glass" -- just another day in paradise!

After about 15 minutes of sitting still Colton, Cory and Quincy were well rested and ready for some action. Eric asked his driver if the water was safe for swimming and to prove how good the water was, the driver reached into the river and scooped up a big handful of water and drank it and then pronounced it -- perfect! It took the kids about 2 seconds to change into their swimming suits and start diving in and swimming between the rafts. Even Eric dove in. Paul, Heidi and I resisted the temptation to join them despite lots of enticing. This was really a highlight of the weekend and something I don't think any of us will ever forget!
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Authentic Chinese cuisine

By the time we had riden our bikes up to the ancient village and then found the spot on the river where we planned to get aboard bamboo rafts, it was close to 1:30 in the afternoon. We figured it would take us at least 2 - 2 1/2 hours more to get back into town and we were starving!! We asked one of the bamboo raft guys if there was any place to get some food at and he pointed us to this make-shift restaurant. It was pretty much just a covered porch attached to someone's home where they had about 4 tables set up. There were some other people there eating lunch so we thought, "let's go for it"!

As we glanced through the menu there wasn't much that sounded very familiar; definately no chicken nuggets or cheese burgers. We left the choosing up to Eric and he ended up doing a great job. We still don't really know what we ordered but it was excellent food!

We think this dish was some kind of rice stem or root with green onions and a little meat (could have been chicken or pork -- not sure exactly) but it was so delicious! I'm sure it helped that we were so hungry but the food came out one dish at a time and it was served steaming hot... right out of the wok!

We did know that this was a fried rice dish and it was very, very good too. Every meal is served "family style" where everyone shares what is served and you just use your chopsticks and fill up your own smaller dish with how much you want of whatever you want. So it is just like eating at a lot of Chinese restaurants here. I must say I have never been very skilled with chopsticks until I used them for almost every meal for 3 weeks and now I'm pretty accomplished!
Our very favorite part of this meal though was the 2 liter size Coke bottle that was half frozen so when we poured it into our glasses it was like a slushee -- a really nice surprise for sure!
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

River Greens

One of the best dishes at our humble restaurant was called river greens. We had no idea what it was really but it sounded ok and we loved it when it came to our table. We figured it was just some sort of brocolli/collard greens combo. It was really delicious just like the rest of the dishes were. Later on that afternoon as we were floating down the river on our bamboo rafts we noticed some kind of "seaweed"-looking plant growing in the river and then we when we saw

this water buffalo eating green, leafy plants out of the river, we guessed that was probably the same thing we had for lunch!
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Monday, June 23, 2008

Ancient Village

As we headed out of Yangshuo on our bikes we weren't exactly sure how to get out of town and on to the dirt road that would take us into the back country. We had pulled over on the side of the road in the middle of town and were studying the map when this nice Chinese guy stopped and began to get involved in our conversation. He told Eric that he lived up where we were trying to go and he was headed home right then so we could follow him. Eric told him that we weren't going to pay him; that we didn't need a guide; that we really did know where we were going but he insisted and began to ride along with us. He just kept trying to be involved and whenever we stopped, he stopped and waited for us to start up again. Each time Eric reminded him that we didn't need a guide.

At one point we took off the main road and rode through rice paddies and farms and we were gone about 45 minutes. We had actually forgotten about him but when we got back to the main road... there he was... waiting. We told him we didn't think we were going to ride as far as his village so he began to tell us about an ancient village that was 400 years old that he wanted to show us. So we agreed to follow him but still, we weren't going to pay him to show us. We pedaled and pedaled and it didn't seem to be getting any closer... we thought he was maybe just coaxing us closer to his bamboo rafts so he'd get our business when we floated back down the river. But finally we came to this really old village that in some places just looked like a pile of rubble. There were Chinese men sitting at the front entrance and invited us to just wander around inside and there were even 3 or 4 women with tables of souvinoirs for sale.

Turns out this was the village where one of Ghangis Chan's generals lived. It was not very lush accommadations. Maybe back then it would have been considered top notch but it was pretty austere. We were most surprised to realize that many people still lived here -- mostly old people and really young children. Men or women who would have been "of working age" had all left the village to work in the bigger cities where they could actually earn a living.

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"Welcome to my home"

While exploring through the back alleys of the ancient village we suddenly noticed this little old woman calling out to us and waving her arms in a specific direction. Of course, she was speaking Chinese so I had no idea what she was saying. Normally when I didn't understand what people were saying to me I would just ignore them and continue doing what I wanted to do. After a few minutes Eric came around a corner and heard her and said that she was telling us we wouldn't be able to get out by going in that direction so we should come the direction she was showing us. So we turned around and walked towards her. Then she invited us into a little courtyard and told us this was where she lived. Then she began to show us around and tell us (Eric) little facts about her space: like her front door was 400 years old and the carvings on the other doors were of sparrows which took a liking to nesting inside this room (there were two nests right there on her wall). She said this room had been used as a school -- or maybe it still was. She had an accent that even Eric found hard to understand so we didn't really get much of what she was saying. Though when we thanked her for showing us her home, she made it clear that she would like a little "payment" for this guided tour. Then we realized why she was so adament about which way we should come through the village. Clever, very clever.
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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Catch of the day...

I told you before that we got to the town of Yangshuo late at night and we were so disappointed to have to wait even longer, until the next morning, to see these incredible mountains that are so famous here. First thing the next morning I went for a walk around town to get a feeling for this unique location. As I snapped this photo of a beautiful town square and the cool street light that looks like a chinese lantern, I noticed something going on on the sidewalk... right there behind the garbage can so I walked over to check it out.

I was just fascinated when I saw this woman selling fresh fish that had just been caught within a couple of hours. She would walk around town and she carried her buckets of fish on a pipe on her shoulder. When someone wanted to purchase some fish she would just squat right down on the sidewalk, pull out her big butcher knife and gut it right there on the spot. She was very precise and you could tell she has been doing this for ALOT of years. I could tell from her hands that she had to be quite old but I couldn't see her face while standing up so

I squatted down too so I could get a better look. Honestly, I think she looks about as old as my mother. She was not the least bit distracted by me and my camera... just another day earning a living. We also saw people walking around with eggs in their baskets hanging off their shoulders, chickens and ducks in bamboo cages and of course, all kinds of leafy, greens mostly unrecognizable to us but fresh, fresh, fresh!
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Stunning scenery!

Here are just a few more photos of this stunning landscape. It looked like this in every direction.
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More pictures from the biking

This was the most awesome bike ride. We rode for hours on these offbeat paths and roadways that most Westerners never get to see. We rode along paths that the locals use every day for farming and walking from village to village and where the children walk to school. Most of the schools dismiss the children to go home for lunch and as we were here around noon we passed alot of kids in their school uniforms headed back to their homes.

We saw many, many people carrying "whatever" in baskets dangling from a bamboo pole resting on their shoulders... still a very useful method of transporting goods just like it has been done for centuries, I'm sure!

We passed house after house that looked like this... only this one had nice, colorful red ribbons hung by their door as opposed to most of the housed wehere the ribbons were faded but still important to the homeowner who believes that they bring them Good Luck. Every yard had the most perfectly manicured garden and every available speck of ground was farmed and had veggies thriving. I wish I could get a garden to grow like that at my house... never in a million years would my garden look that beautiful and lush.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Our next biking adventure

We decided to really get adventurous and take off for another area of China that even Eric had never been to. If you happened to follow Heidi's blog while we were there in China, she shared some of this outing already. It was quite a difficult trip to get going. First of all, we missed our 7:15 am flight by 3 minutes but after much negotiating we were able to rebook on a later afternoon flight on the same day but that necessitated us getting back into 2 separate taxis and going back to Heidi's home for 6 or so hours. Then we discovered that all our passports and airplane tickets that Eric had been keeping in a plastic bag had been left on the top of the taxi when we got dropped off back at Heidi's house and when the taxi drove away half the passports fell out on the street in her compound. They were turned into the guard house at the front gate of the compound but we were perplexed (and scared) about where the other half were. After an hour of seaching every street in her neighborhood and offering tears and prayers, the taxi cab driver returned to hand us the other passports -- still in the plastic bag -- which had slide off the top of the taxi and lodged in the top of the trunk where he found them when he picked up his next fare. We were SO releaved and grateful. We got finally got off on this weekend outing but we were pretty much shaken up to the ninth degree and wondered if for some reason we shouldn't be going! We are really glad we decided to go ahead as planned.

We flew into Guilin which is almost to Hong Kong... a long ways from Beijing. It was about a 3 hour flight. We then took a shuttle another hour and a half out to a town called Yangshuo. It was 10:30 or 11 pm by the time we arrived at our hotel so we didn't see any scenery until the next morning. We were blown away when we saw these impressive mountains the next morning. This area is well known for these amazing mountains that just pop up off the otherwise flat land and are cone-shaped and covered in dense foilage. They are referred to as the Stone Forest. They are amazingly beautiful and breath taking. I have never seen anything like them.

This area is kind of like Jackson Hole, Wyoming or Moab, Utah only on steroids! Meaning lots of activities like rock climbing, river rafting, biking, hiking... lots of outdoors activities... lots of tourists (both Chinese and westerners) and lots of souvenior kind of shops as well as bars and discos playing loud music well into the night along pedestrian only streets.

For our first excursion we rented bikes in town and headed out to the remote countryside where we rode through rice paddies! How authentic China is that!!! About as authentic as it gets! Except for the hour we rode on bamboo rafts (I'll tell you about this later), we probably spent about 6 hours on the bikes and saw the more rural life up close and very personal!

This is just a typical day in the life of this woman --- out walking with her water buffalo. We saw lots of water buffalos this day. They are big animals and I was hoping I could pedal faster than they could run, if needs be! She was actually trying to tie a big red bow around the buffalo's neck and then I think it was her plan to try and get us to pay her to take a picture of her and her buffalo. The big guy was having nothing to do with than scheme and she was quite frustrated so we just snapped this photo and kept on biking. (Be sure to click on the photos and see the details in the backgrounds of each shot.)
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Grocery shopping

Here is where Heidi shops several times a week for her fresh vegetables and fruits. This is a local, neighborhood market about 10 minutes away from her house. There are all kinds of shops and vendors in this area. Many shops are outside just set up around a big open concrete area. Besides the fruits, people were selling goods and services: kites, antiques furniture, flowers, fans, bicycle repairing, nuts, seeds, noodles, so many little stalls I can't even remember what all we saw. There were lots of different kinds of indoor shops around this area too. All the veggie vendors were inside a huge covered structure.

We strolled from vendor to vendor. They mostly had the same produce. Heidi had a few people that she always deals with and they knew her and she knew how to communicate with them. There were some veggies that I had never seen before and I would point at something and then look at the vendor with a perplexed expression and they would tell me the name but since I don't understand Chinese, it didn't help very much. Look at those green beans... yes, the long, skinny, about 18" long strands. Have you ever seen green beans that long? Me neither. We bought carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, onions... mostly normal things.

Here is the line of fruit vendor stalls. The fruits were amazing... so colorful and delicious. They would let you sample anything. Once again there were a lot of fruits that I did not recognize but they were always anxious to give me a taste and hope I might buy some.
We mostly stuck with watermelon, apples, oranges and bananas. There was a melon that Heidi's family has taken a liking to called something like "hukiqui" (I'm sure I have that wrong!) but it is the shape of a rounder football and it is similar to the color of a honeydew melon on the outside but the inside is the color of a cantelope but it taste more like a combination honeydew/cantelope... very unusual but really good.

Here is one of the fruits that I had never seen before. Maybe you recognize it. The vendor lady opened one for me and had me take a bite. The skin/shell was quite thick and almost woody inside and then the fruit was the texture of a grape but white. It had larger seeds than grapes do centered in the middle of about 6 of those grape-like sections. Hopefully you can imagine my description. I did buy 4 from her but I only ended up eating one of them after I got them home. I wasn't a big fan but they were OK.
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