No, this post isn't only about Guilin rice noodles, but I certainly want them at all times. Delicious doesn't even justify their buttery, decadent selves. But, I did go to Guilin for the weekend with Nicole and it was a much needed weekend away! With all of the trauma occurring back home in Boston, it was a nice distraction, especially when there was finally some good news and I could relax. School has also been a little bit stressful the past few weeks with lots of meetings, schedule changes, and just general kindergarten chaos. So a weekend with nature was just the cure.
I took a flight from Shanghai to Guilin Friday night, and went straight to the airport from school. I boarded the plane with no expectation that this flight would be terrible, but it possibly was the flight from hell. I was already pretty congested trying to get over an obnoxious cold I got on top of another cold, so the fact that the cabin pressure was completely out of whack really didn't help the situation. It actually felt like my brain was expanding inside my skull, and my eyes were going to pop out of my head. I was sure that if I looked in the mirror my eyes would be all red from popped blood vessels. I did my best to sleep, but the man eating seafood noodles next to me was making it extremely difficult. Then, during our descent, the plane started to rock and roll a bit with some turbulence, and the pilot made an announcement. Usually turbulence doesn't worry me, but this, this was something different. The plane was really moving in all directions, and when it dropped for the first time down a few feet, there were screams from other passengers. Screaming? Seriously? Like, do you know how to make other people have panic attacks? I stared angrily at many people behind me screaming, and did my best to hold in my own screams directed towards them specifically. The plane did a few more ups and downs, and eventually balanced after a few minutes. I could not have been happier to touch the ground.
Nicole was on a different flight from me, so after enduring the scariest flight ever alone, I waited for her quietly in the arrivals hall, reading my Kindle. Her flight was delayed, but eventually we were reunited and managed a taxi to our hostel without getting overcharged - always a plus.
We didn't arrive at the hostel though until nearly 2 AM, and the reception was closed, so a man sleeping in the lobby gave us our key and told us we could pay in the morning. Soon after settling, it was lights out for us, too!
Our only full day was Saturday, so we took advantage by spending the day exploring the city. We first walked to the Solitary Beauty Peak, not far from our hostel, and what appeared to be a quite large attraction in Guilin. After only a few minutes of being in the park area, we realized that not only was the peak and temples a large tourist attraction, but so were we. Nearly everywhere we walked, someone would snap a cell phone or camera picture of us. 99% of photographers were not at all subtle - some even used flash! They would point at us and smile, or just straight up hold the phone to our faces. I sort of forgot how people in other cities reacted to foreigners, since Shanghai is so full of them, no one photographs me. I'm used to stares, but not really photos. Eventually it was pretty frustrating, so if I saw someone trying to take my picture I would just turn or move out of the way so they could take a hint! I should have just started taking pictures of them taking my picture........
Regardless of the stares and photos, we managed to cover lots of ground - and stairs - in the complex.
right at the entrance to the complex of the Solitary Beauty Peak.
close up of the 1,000 year old face.
at this Temple, that used to be a school, they did some silly reenactment of what I think was a graduation ceremony...
I need this door-knocker.
don't look down...
slippery when wet!
There were many temples, and a palace in the complex, but they all forbode pictures (exception of photography of foreigners I guess...). It was starting to rain, and the complex just turned a lush green. We exited through the main entrance (we entered and paid for a ticket through not the main entrance...), and managed on our map how to walk to a bus stop where we could catch a bus to the Reed Flute Caves, our next tourist destination of the day!
always love a good street photo.
When we got to the bus stop the woman at the hostel marked on our map, the bus number we needed wasn't at this particular post. Of course. So we had to ask around several people on the street and inside a bakery to figure out where we could catch bus #3. We asked one of the bus drivers that stopped, and pointed on the map what we needed. He directed us with charades that it was on the other side of the street. We're geniuses. We hopped a crowded bus, and rode our way through the city to the caves. The coolest caves EVER!
So cool. The different formations had the most ridiculously translated names, for example: "centipede frightened by a magic mirror." Say, what?
Even inside the caves where it was dark, the paparazzi was still following Nicole and I, but at least it was easy to hide in there! Afteward, we walked around taking some photos of the river and surroundings, indulged in a roasted sweet potato from a food cart (the best), and got on a bus back toward the city.
When we got back to the city, we realized it was around 4 PM and we hadn't eaten a thing since breakfast besides the sweet potato. Oops. Our mission: rice noodles. Mission accomplished? You bet. We found a place on the city's pedestrian street, but first we were "interviewed" by university students about where we were from, why we were in Guilin, and about who knows what. One girl had a note pad with questions, but wasn't writing down any answers, so my initial thought was that someone else was coming to steal our stuff, so I held my purse in front of my body. But, since no one was stealing anything, I guess it was just a bunch of innocent university kids who just wanted to talk to some white girls!
I want them now.
After we refueled, we walked over the Li River to Seven Star Park. Guilin just really knows how to have beautiful and photogenic sights.
I just love the Chinese sassy lions.
After exploring a bit, we walked back to the hostel to have a bit of a rest since we had been walking for.so.long. We tried to figure out an arrangement for a visit to the rice terraces for the next day (our last day) so that we could have enough time and still make it to the airport for our flights. We ended up just having some dinner at the hostel's cafe, then headed back out despite minor exhaustion to check out the night market on the pedestrian street. It was classic - filled with doo dads and nick nacks I don't know if people actually purchase...
walking over the Li River back to the hostel.
entrance to the market.
What an array!
After the market, we had to call it a night. We had exhausted ourselves to see as much as we could of the city, and the next morning, we had an early wake up call to give us enough time at the rice terraces.
When we got back to the hostel after the market, the woman working the desk was actually ridiculous. She was pregnant, and wrapped in a colorful fleece blanket. Her English was fine, but she got very emotional when speaking. Not necessarily emotional, like sad, but very passionate, standing on the edge of angry. We were discussing how we could get to the rice terraces on our own without a tour, and Nicole and I were willing to split the cost of a taxi to take us the 2 1/2 hour drive instead of going on a route of having to transfer public buses 3 times. She was confused as to why we wanted to pay for a taxi, and was under the impression we wouldn't have enough time because we needed to be at the airport by 5:30 PM. At one point, she got so heated she actually said "no, you listen to me" and began to explain about who knows what. Eventually, we all settled that a taxi would pick us up at the hostel at 7 AM, take us to the rice terraces, and then take us straight to the airport from there to make our flight and we could leave the luggage in the car. Finally, done and DONE. This lady really needed to get some sleep or something...
The next morning, we packed our bags, checked out, and had some breakfast before meeting our driver. Our lady driver! Who drove an actual car and not a taxi car! Much better.
We put our stuff in the trunk and went on our way. This lady had literally the worst CD of music known to man playing the ENTIRE time we were driving - there and back. It was a horrible mixture of Russian pop songs, Chinese pop songs, and Ashlee Simpson. She was playing it loud enough where headphones just weren't even worth it. She also had the windows rolled down on the cool, rainy morning (to ventilate the car I suppose since she appeared to have a classic China cough), but eventually Nicole kindly asked her to close the windows - but she still left them open a crack.
The ride ended up being much shorter than expected (not surprising), and after we got our tickets, we had to get back in the car to go up this narrow, extremely windy road to the actual Longji Rice Terraces. It was completely worth the atrocious musical accompianment and ticket confusion. It was difficult to choose which photos would actually justify to you how beautiful of a place it really was, but I hope this bombardment of photos gets the point across!
upon first glace!
the community was laying roof tiles altogether. It was so cool!
IN the clouds.
there's a face!
We spent 4 hours walking up, down, and all around. It was truly beautiful. I have so many more photos...
After we were finished, we met up with our driver (on time, as we expected with no problem), and she started to drive us back toward Guilin to get to the airport. We tried to get the point across to her that we were starving, having not eaten since 7 AM and it was now 2 PM. But, as always, there were communication issues between two non-Chinese speakers and one Chinese speaker, so we gave up eventually on food, and quietly sat in the back seat while the horrible musical CD blared again. This time, I tried to block it out with my headphones!
When we were back in the Guilin city area, the driver finally said "lunch?" and we were like, YES. She took us down some side streets to this unbelievably random "restaurant" at the end of a block. There was no one eating inside, but I tried to just attribute that to the fact that it was a random hour to eat. We walked in, and the driver seemed to know the woman who allegedly owned the place, so we were hoping she arranged some food for us. I confided I was vegetarian (wo chi su), and after we paid 20 kuai, I was hoping I would get something vegetarian and delicious.
Well, it was delicious, but I had to pick the meat out of it first. I guess I haven't exactly perfected how to say wo chi su yet. Luckily, they were in pretty large chunks, so I was able to manage pulling out the pork pieces with my chopsticks and giving them to the lady driver. She brought us gigantic steaming noodle soups, that also had vegetables in it, too. We were so hungry I didn't even think to take a picture - after I took the meat out, I shamelessly almost finished the huge bowl of delectable rice noodles. Well worth the 20 kuai.
We got back in the car, and were dropped off effortlessly at the airport, checked in for our flights, and had some time to spare so we sat with some tea at a cafe. Unfortunately, we were on separate flights again, but luckily this time, my flight was smooth, head bursting and scream free, and shorter than on the way to Guilin.
I got in the most obnoxious taxi line at Pudong airport upon arrival, which while I was in the line for probably close to 40 minutes, I realized it would be the last time I would ever have to do that - thankfully! My only flight before going to Japan at the end of my contract is to and from Hong Kong in May, which both flights are at the Hongqiao Airport - much more convenient to the metro and the city!
This coming Monday through Wednesday (my birthday!) we have a holiday for International Labour Day. Unfortunately first, we have to work 7 days in a row (5 down, 2 to go), but then we are free for an extra day. This set up is much better than having the days off first, and then working however many days in a row. I decided to take the fast train to Hangzhou - I'll get there Monday morning and come back Tuesday late afternoon. I've heard wonderful things, so I'm very excited to go!
Today, April 26th marks 8 months in China. Wow.