Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Scammers, Rice Terraces, and Bamboo Rafts

There is a lot of concrete in Beijing. 

This is even more obvious after having spent the past four days in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of Southern China, where the abundance of natural beauty made us feel like we were exploring something exotic and wild. Sure, there was the occasional McDonald's and KFC sighting. So yes... partly commercialized, but mostly... exotic and wild!

Before I get to the pictures filled with lovely landscapes, I must first say that this trip started off in a most unfortunate way. We got scammed at the Beijing airport! 

Oh the humiliation. 

Have I not read all the warnings about the many scams in China? (Yes, I have!) Have I not done a fair amount of traveling and should therefore know better? (YES, I HAVE!) But alas, my husband and I fell victim to two seemingly sweet (but actually EVIL!) women who offered to help us at the check-in kiosks at the airport. 

You see, the dang machines were not scanning our passports properly. Suddenly this little old woman appeared and asked if she could help me. I just thought she was the person waiting in line behind me and wanted me to hurry up. Before Curtis and I could fully comprehend what was going on, we were whisked away from the kiosks and brought to the front of a very long line of people waiting to get their plane tickets. A flurry of Mandarin was spoken and voila! We got our tickets. All of this happened in about three minutes. Tops. 

Then came the evil part. 

The little old woman went to a young, pretty woman dressed in a suit who demanded (in perfect English) that we pay her 400 RMB (about $65) for this service of getting our tickets "in just one minute!" WHAT???? I instantly became one Very Angry Asian, and after a few words were exchanged, we ended up giving them half that amount (which was still WAY too much) before storming off.  

Note to self: Learn how to cuss at evil-doers in Mandarin. 

Anyway. A three-hour plane ride later (filled with me fantasizing about drop-kicking the Evil Scammer Ladies over and over again), we were in the city of Guilin. 
Top left is me looking like a super-authentic Chinese fisherwoman in front of the famous Elephant Trunk Hill.
The fishermen put rings around the bird's necks so they can't swallow the fish they catch in their beaks. When enough fish have been caught for the day, the rings are removed and the birds are fed. Maybe one day the birds will organize a rebellion, but for now they stay faithfully by the side of their fishermen.
Bottom pics were taken while we wandered through the night market area.

Guilin is teensy compared to Beijing with only 5 million people, and there were some noticeable differences. For one thing, many more people ride scooters because cars are too expensive. For another thing, the food options are much more limited. As our guide put it, "the people in Guilin like to eat their food fresh." Right now you are thinking, "So do I! I love fresh food! Those Guilin people and I have so much in common!" You are adorable, but you are so wrong. What our tour guide meant is that outside of many restaurants are buckets filled with live sea creatures, and cages filled with live animals including chickens, turtles, snakes, and football-sized fur balls that we later found out were bamboo mice (MICE!). Basically you choose which one you wanna eat and then BAM! It's served right up! I am no vegetarian, but this was really too much. I like to believe that my pork was always bacon-shaped. Needless to say that apart from our hotel breakfast buffet, Curtis and I did not eat much during our two days in Guilin City. 

It's okay though, because we were only there so we could go to Longsheng County to see the magnificent 650-year-old Dragon Spine Rice Terraces. These photos do not do them justice...
Behold the beauty! It was quite a hike up there, but the view was worth every uneven stone step.

The area is also home to the Zhuang and Yao Ethnic people, who wear colorful outfits and cannot wait to talk you into buying all their snacks and handmade crafts. 
The woman I am standing next to is smiling because she got me to buy a scarf.
Apparently, I can't resist a pretty scarf.

The next day, we took a three-hour cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo County, an area known for its stunning mountain backdrop. Because it was a bit rainy, the mountains were misty and dreamlike. I kept feeling like dinosaurs should be frolicking on the mountaintops. Or unicorns. Disappointingly, I saw neither of those things.
Since there were no unicorns, we hung out with a nice German couple from Canada, instead.
They've been married for 47 years and have traveled the world together.

Afterward, we rode a handmade bamboo raft down the Yulong River which gave us a chance to get a whole lot closer to all the nature-y things. This decidedly touristy experience came complete with strategically placed photo ops meant to capture the entertaining moments when foreigners think they might possibly get tossed into the river. There might have been a little squealing involved, as I am positive that we did not get enough vaccinations to make it okay for us to be tossed into a Chinese river. 
For the bottom left pic we were told to wave at the camera while trying to also not get dunked in the highly questionable river water. Good times.

When we were finally back on land, we discovered that Yangshuo County is extremely tourist-friendly and generally delightful. Most importantly, absolutely delicious food could be found here. While it was possible to get unusual (i.e. utterly horrifying) dishes like dog hotpot and horse noodles, we opted to try a vegetarian restaurant where we thoroughly enjoyed some spicy fried noodles with mixed veggies, sticky rice with tofu "meatballs," vegetable dumplings, and fried bananas that came out piping hot and were deliciously sweet and creamy.

We concluded our trip with relaxing full-body massages (at a place in Yangshuo called Dr. Lily's) that cost $11 for one hour... because four days of exploring all things exotic and wild is not only endlessly fun, but also quite exhausting.