Monday, October 15, 2012

An Excursion to Mainland

To celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in October, six exchange students and I made the adventurous trek into Mainland. The Group: myself - Iowa, Char - California, Jodelle - California, Nalanda - Canada, Merijn (nicknamed Nick) - Netherlands, Wolfgang - Germany, and Yannick - Switzerland. The Destination: Guilin and Yangshuo. After leaving CUHK three hours later than planned, we headed to the bus station. It turns out we only live about 5 metro stops from the border (who knew) but we were pressed for time and getting through immigration was a might stressful. But only a couple visa stamps later, and we were in! From Shenzhen - the bordertown - we hopped a sleeper bus to Guilin. A 12 hour trip in a train made entirly of cots. It was fantastic. Why the United States insists on everyone having their own vehicle is beyond me.

From L to R, top to bottom: Char, Wolfgang, Myself, Jodelle, Nalanda, Merijn, Yannick

Tourists: Bookbags on front, guidebook and camera in hand
We arrived in Guilin and our vacation officially began. Everyone slept pretty well and we were anxious to find food. Unlike Hong Kong, in Mainland, having some knowledge of Mandarin (Putonghua) is necessary. Lucky for us, both Char and Jodelle speak conversation Putonghua. Honestly, without them, the rest us would probably be dead in a ditch somewhere. We wandered around the city looking especially touristy, but no matter.

After breakfast (and dessert), we headed to the Reed Flute Caves to see some rock formations and thousand year old turtles. First scam of the trip: while in the taxi to the caves, the driver stoped in the middle of the road and informed us it would be 3 times as expensive than what he originally quoted. After several tense minutes of bargaining/strategic side glances, we agreed to pay simply to get the car moving. The caves were beautiful and we didn't see the turtles, but as we also have turtles in the United States, I don't think I missed anything.
Looks a bit like the Hong Kong Island skyline.

The seven of us with the hostel owner. She gave us a pomelo,
on which she wrote "For the 7 kids on the 4th floor :-)"
After the caves we took a bus to Yangshuo, where we would spend the rest of our break. Getting on the bus was every man for himself, but we managed to secure seven seats. After dinner - which was AMAZING and so very cheap, we headed to the hostel. Our first hostel in Yangshuo was awesome. We had the top floor to ourselves with an impressive view, and the woman who ran the place acted as our local expert. 

Our third day away from Hong Kong was spent on bicycles. Biking through China is literally a dream come true and I could not have asked for a more perfect day. After a delicious breakfast of Swiss Muesli, we biked from our hostel even farther into the countryside, attempting to follow the Li River. We ended up in a couple remote villages but besides getting some odd looks from the locals, there were no real problems. We ate mango with a Swiss Army knife - which the Swiss had actually cut his hand with the day before - and just enjoyed the scenery. 
On our cruisers with the famous landscape of Yangshuo as a backdrop.

After some more tense bargaining (I suck at it, but Yannick and Char are practically professionals), we paid to take some bamboo boats up the Li River back to Yangshuo.

Bamboo Boat is the best way to travel.
In the evening, the North Americans taught a couple classic card games to our European counterparts before heading to a light show called Impressions. Impressions is a huge production put on nightly in Yangshuo. The show is actually performed on the water with dozens of men on bamboo boats and hundreds of performers. We were in the 4th row and it was pretty impressive.

In town, we wandered the shops and ate a ridiculous amount of food from the vendors. All delicious. Back at the hostel, we ate mooncake to celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival before hitting the sack. Traditional mooncake is an interesting taste - there's what seems like a hardboiled duck yolk in the center - but I really enjoyed it.

We were, what you call, lost.

Now Monday, we hiked to another really remote village. We were looking for this old military town but never actually found it. Char and Jodelle confessed to us later that towards the end of the 2 hour hike to nowhere, one of the locals offered to lead us to the old town. However, Char and Jodelle - who were tired of walking - convenientely forgot to translate that part of the conversation to the rest of the non-Putonghua speakers.

The Big Banyan Tree: I was in charge of keeping track of
 expenses which is why I'm so concentrated on a piece of looseleaf.

After the hike and some delicious fruits, we took our rented car to see a really old tree: the Big Banyan Tree is said to be 1400 years old. While there, a weird thing began: Locals asked to take pictures with out. I mean, like a lot. It was kind of odd. We were stared at, said hello to, and requested for photos. Wolfgang and I were slightly less popular than the blondes in our group, but it was still a pretty odd sensation. 

We caused a scene.
After a disappointing lunch, we weren't about to take any chances with dinner so we stuck with what we knew and went to the cheap and delicious restaurant from the first night. In town, we were once again a local attraction. While waiting at a vendor, a local asked Char if she was our translator and then asked to have a photo. From there it escalated pretty quickly. More people wanted photos, and people stopped to see what the commotion was about. We clogged up the market. By the end of it, there was a line of girls waiting to take pictures with Yannick - a tall, blonde. We should have charged.  
Our hostel for the night was far less impressive than the first, due to its lack of working toliet and hot water, but it did the trick. I can't hate on it too much because it is partially responsible for my most impressive moment in China: I asked the owner's daughter "Ni jiao shenme mingzi?" And she actually understood me! She replied "Wo jiao Annie." This counts as my first successful Putonghua interaction. The sense of accomplishment at being to able to ask this little girl her name ranks right up there with setting the curve on a midterm.
On our last day, we went to the farmer's market and then for a swim in theYulong River. Outside the fact that the farmer's market sold both dog and cat meat (which is really quite disturbing), it was a perfect day. We swam in the river surrounded by bamboo boats while being yelled greetings from the locals. As I had nothing to prove, I didn't jump off the bridge, but a couple of the boys took full advantage. Dodging the bamboo boats was a like a game of real life frogger and luckily no one was injured. 
Wolfgang like a boss.

We took the sleeper bus back to Shenzhen. It was packed and five of us snagged the back beds. The five mattresses made sense for us traveling as a group, but I don't know if this would be my preferred way to travel if I didn't know my sleeping companions. Despite our best efforts to time bathroom breaks, I still was forced to ask the bus driver to make a pit stop at 2am. After waking up Jodelle just to find out how to say bathroom in Putonghua, I successfully made the request.

We went through immigration like a dream, and we even got to skip some lines because we're considered residents. Best feeling ever. As I took the metro back to CUHK, I was counting my blessings that home had toliets that weren't squat sans toliet paper when I realized that home was Hong Kong. Holy moly, Hong Kong is home. Mind Blown.

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha your adventures are awesome! I'm glad you're having such a good time. And congrats on using the language successfully!!