Day 20 to 23: Guilin - Yangshuo

Trip Start Apr 16, 2009
Trip End May 31, 2009

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Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Saturday, May 9, 2009

My last blog entry is already a week old - have I been too busy, or too lazy? Well, let's see what happened in the meantime.
Day 20: On Tuesday, on my second day in Guilin, I joined my host Leo and attended his English class in the morning. The teacher, a Chinese, was a bit surprised but essentially because she was new to this class and Leo did bring his visitors to classes every now and then. We had a chat how we can change the lessons to make use of the fact me being there and available for talks. In the end, the teacher decided to continue with what she wanted to do anyway, but try to involve me as much as possible. The lessons' topic was "The Symbol of America" / blue jeans. Quite interesting, I would say. The students had to prepare, ie read, a text about the story of Levis Strauss, his migration to the US and the success of his idea / invention of blue jeans. Our discussions then were about the topic of symbols, also whether blue jeans are an actual symbol nowadays as well, and what the symbol of China can be. Is it the Great Wall? Is it porcelain/China? Is it the Chinese cuisine and food? Is it something else? My notion was that it's probably hard to find just one symbol representing a country that is so big, diverse, and rich in distinct cultural heritage. What about Austria, they asked me? Do we have a symbol? Is it our music, the countryside, its cuisine as well? In fact, it's not easy at all to answer this question, but it is challenging to think about it as we normally don't do. Take too much for granted, but when being abroad, and being confronted with these kind of questions, one starts to think even more about one's own country. And indeed, classical music, sometimes 'Sound of Music', is what people associate with Austria here. Nothing else. And, of course, the confusion with Australia all the time / no kangaroos, please! ;)
Later that day, I went to the Reed Flute Cave, one of the most spectacular scenery around Guilin, with fantasy-like stalactites and stalacmites. Take a look at the pictures to get an impression of the scenery. Unlike any other tourists who probably took a taxi to go to this place, I chose a public bus (#3) to go there. The bus driver was kind enough to remind me to get off as I otherwise would have missed the place.
It was also on that day that I decided to buy a Chinese mobile phone including Chinese Mobile SIM card. Thanks to Leo, this was an easy task. Nevertheless, the paperwork to get the SIM card was incredible, took us more than half an hour and lots of forms to fill out, a copy of my passport and so forth. And it's a prepaid card only ...
Guilin at night is a lively place. In particular interesting is a visit of the central square at around 8pm. Then, an artificial waterfall is set into scenery from one of the hotels on the corner of the square. Locals say it's the largest artificial waterfall in the world. Also, the floor on the central square depicts a giant map of the world, with a couple of capitals highlighted. Vienna was one of them, though the scaling and the distances have not been absolutely correct. It happened that we met a Dutch couple there also travelling around China (and other places in the world). In fact, they worked for 13 years and decided to take half a year off to travel around the world. China, New Zealand, South America, and so forth. Exciting and impressive, I'd say!
Day 21: I took the bus from Guilin to Yangshuo, a place some 60 km south of Guilin and a back packer and traveller centre. Riding a bus is a bit of a nightmare, as Chinese don't really have a good system of discipline in traffic. The drive almost as they like, use the horn excessively, drive against allowed directions, do not consider traffic coming the opposite direction, and so forth. It's amazing, though, that not much more happens on the streets here...
Back to Yangshuo. The town is pretty much dominated by the touristic West Street, with its endless shops and bars. In fact, Yangshuo is one of those very attractive tourist destinations when it comes to exploring the scenery of that area: the Li River, karst mountains, bike trails, rock climbing, and so forth. Though it was raining in the morning, it was quite comfortable regarding temperature and overall climate. I headed for the Zhuo Yue English College where I was supposed to stay for a couple of days, as a volunteer supporting and helping out with English conversation. The school, one of its best in whole China, offers English language classes at all levels, including Business English. Travellers from all over the world are invited to stay and volunteer in so-called English Speakers' Corners, which are basically evening sessions with the students where they can practice over a specific topic. I did so on this first day, talking about leisure activities in Austria and China, what people like to do and why, and so forth. The school provided free beer ... not the best selling one, but a good one to keep up the spirit. And it has been fun! The nights are then spent in the nearby Kaya bar, a lovely place with live music (depending on availability of musicians) that is particularly frequented by college staff, students and volunteers. In the afternoon, still to mention, I did a short Li River cruise on a bamboo boat. The price was offered at 40 RMB, but I bargained and got the cruise for 25 RMB. Imagine: it's just 2.50 EUR for a 40 minute cruise on the river. Lovely, indeed! Day 22 was a laid-back day. Due to staying up long in the previous day, this second day in Yangshuo started with a lunch at school, and continued with a special English lesson at 4.30pm. This time, the topic was 'family', and we talked about the different relations you can have in families, from parents, grandparents, to uncles, aunts, cousins, sisters and brothers in law, and so forth. In case they remember it, the students pretty much know everything about my family now ;)
Day 23: Finally, i managed to do a bike trip outside of Yangshuo. I wanted to do that already on day 22, but as mentioned above, things turned out to be a bit different. Anna, a traveller from Sweden, Lukin from the US joined me on that trip through the nice scenery along the Yulong river, karst mountains, old bridges, small villages. A seven hour bike trip with a lunch break at an interesting place which was more like the living room of a family - in fact it was exactly this - and an almost endless time for waiting for the dishes. Renting the one-geared bike for a day was 5 RMB. Considering the hilly scenery north of Yangshuo then, a mountain bike would have been the better choice. But still, it was a perfect day and lots of fun. And finally, some exercise which is really necessary from time to time. There will be more of an exercise on the weekend then, but that's another story. To come ...
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