…to order beer catfish stew without asking that the head be removed first. Wayne discretely kept moving it to the side of the pot so that I couldn’t see it until the stew was mostly gone. Hmm. Not sure if he was being sweet & kind or just downright sneaky.
We just closed up our third splendid week in China! What a vast land this is, even within the cities where you move from the most amazing modern buildings (massive metal art protruding from giant glass windows) to the very lived in streets, alleys and tiny apartments where the working people dwell.
Wayne and I were eager to get a taste of the countryside and it’s local people so we headed out this past week to Yangshuo, China which is about 600 kilometers from Shenzhen, the city that John and his family live in. We flew out with only one hitch in our travel. After we checked our bags, we went to go thru security but they wouldn’t let us through. They said that we had some issues with the contents of our luggage so we had to go back to luggage check. Scary. Not a good way to start our first trip plus we didn’t want to miss our flight. Once there, they pulled out Wayne’s Kindle and asked what it was. We tried to explain that we read books on it but after several pantomimes they still didn’t understand but asked us to carry it on. Next was the portable power source and again they didn’t understand what it was but also asked us to carry it on. The third item was my hairspray and after some (what I would consider to be) eloquent pantomime, they seemed to understand what it was. It was to stay in the suitcase. Here’s my concern. They asked us to carry onboard the first two items that they were unsure about and probably thought were (potentially) dangerous but didn’t want it to be transported in the cargo compartment? No comprende.
I’m happy to report that rest of our trip to Yangshuo went great! The hotel had a driver waiting for us at the Guilin airport who drove us another 70 kilometers to the Tea Cozy Inn hotel. I can’t begin to describe how inordinately special this 12 room boutique hotel was. It sat in the countryside with two small villages nearby. It had a breathtaking view of the Karst mountains that jet up all around the hotel and of the small farms in the valley. I especially loved sitting on our balcony & looking down at the villagers as they went about their day. From walking their cattle to washing clothes in the river to carrying wooden water buckets across their shoulders, it was more like I was watching a movie than actually witnessing this old world way of life. Like our children, their kids were laughing & playing outdoors and like our children, they were mischievous (they broke a section of the hotel bamboo fence while running thru the fish pond). Now I know what a Chinese scolding looks likes!
The hotel was built & decorated in the most amazing traditional style with all of their wood doors, bathroom vanity, banisters, dining tables, etc. hand crafted by local carpenters. Chinese antiques and artwork filled each room along with sweet little Chinese accessories like teapots (fresh tea served in your room every morning), tiny soap dishes, beautiful sconces, lamps, pottery and much more. Every time I turned around I noticed something new and it would fill me with its’ uniqueness and beauty. What I didn’t know after seeing the lobby and our room was that the best was yet to come. This tiny country hotel had the most precious little dining room with a smoky fireplace and a kitten (yes, a kitten that sat on my lap while I ate my meals there). Six tables, an immense menu (how in the world could they cook all of these dishes), outstanding food and a local staff that loved to sit and chat with us every chance they got. How could life be any sweeter.
They had a rack of many bikes, mostly old. We rode for awhile on our first bike selection but got a flat tire. Back to the hotel for another bike, double checking that the tires were good. Off we went into the countryside, past other villages and many cyclists. The mountains shot up out of the ground all around us. The days were ever so slightly misty which made the mountains fade away like there was no end to them. We loved greeting the people as we rode our bike and most seemed to like greeting us back (saying hello to a person is considered to be good manners in China). The women that I thought were closer to my age would only nod and sometimes give me a small smile. We had all raised our children and had experienced much in life. It seemed to me that their nods were confirming our alikeness in this regard.
While on the tandem bike, Wayne steered, we both pedaled and I took pictures and videos of the beautiful countryside, villages and people. Look Ma…no hands (I almost fell off of the bike a few times). It was such fun and a perfect way to commune with everything around us. We biked for about 1 1/2 days and then hired a driver for our final day there to take us to sights that were to far to bike to. He took us to a farmers market that was beyond words. It was massive and had everything from raw cotton to loose tea & tobacco and of course varied produce, dumplings and treats. The most amazing sight was this large dark covered area that was their version of a fast food court. Hundreds of boiling & steaming pots and woks everywhere cooking noodles, soups, stews, stir fry, dumplings, buns, bread and desserts. Multiple smells filled the air, luring you in. The vendors worked very hard to entice the local people to buy their food but not the westerns as they probably recognized that confused expressions of not knowing what you are looking at. The Karst country is known for a wood pressed thick green cookie; you can’t find it anyplace else in China. Our driver in his very broken English tried to tell us this but we didn’t understand him. Drat, we didn’t try one which we greatly regret!!!
After the market we went to a small section in the village which had some Chinese collectibles (maybe some antiques…we weren’t sure). We wanted to buy a few accessories for John’s apartment as its pretty bare (none of their cargo has landed yet) so we picked up a few pieces that we thought were very special.
From there we went to a tea plantation that was so like nothing we have ever seen before! The tea trees look like medium size plants that were pruned into a hedge shape. The Tea hedges were terraced on the mountains which made them look like an outdoor amphitheater as they spiraled down into a bowl. They overlooked the kumquat orchards that were ALL covered in plastic to protect the fruit from the rain (holy smokes, they seriously use a lot of plastic!). We went thru a traditional tea ceremony and learned that both black and green tea come from the same plant. Black tea is fermented, green tea is not. Next we stopped at or hiked to high scenic areas which overlooked two of the cleanest rivers in China with mountain peaks surrounding them. The end of the day brought us to the Li river where we went down the river on a bamboo raft with a guide using a bamboo pole to push us along. Two adorable teenagers on another raft yelled out “Welcome To China” and asked to take our picture. One picture turned into several taken by the other rafters. I guess the paparazzi travels by bamboo raft as well