For Payton
and Deona


Connecting Mandarin and English,
          Chinese and American,
                    people with people

Guilin, Last Day
(October 2, 2008) (return to Homepage)
     By the standards of yesterday this one is routine. There is no visit to the hospital.
     We are rushed out of bed early to get to the tour sites early, in fact we are waiting for the first boat to arrive. While we waited, we had a chance to inspect and use some ancient farm tools for harvesting rice and converting it to flour. Moments after heading up the river, we passed three fisherman on their long, low flat bamboo crafts. I don't know if they are considered boats but they serve the function. On the crafts were these ducks or gulls that would swim in the river,dive in, catch a fish, crosswise in their bills,toss their heads to reposition the fish to swallow it. The fisherman put a pole in the water beneath the bird, the bird perched on the pole, the fisherman brought the bird onto the boat, took it by the neck, basically so the bird could not swallow the fish and took the bird and fish to a woven bucket where the man convinced the bird to put the fish in the bucket. My reaction: totally amazing.
     We disembarked a short distance up the river and walked a path past gardens and China's version of teeters, slide, and a swinging bridge. At the end of the path was a dragon boat and everyone was handed an oar except the drummer who beat and shouted in Chinese 1,2,3, (yi, er, san) pause for each stroke of the oars. That boat trip ended at a temple near our bus.
     The bus and tour has us wandering through small villages now spread out like an endless shopping mall and the beautiful typical finger-like limestone mountains. The guide explained the history of many mountains but we didn't understand the words. We could only understand the scenery. Our stop was a huge banyan tree near some water. The attractions included locals dressed in local costumes for picture-taking. Also there were racks of ethnic clothes that you could rent to have a picture of yourself in the beautiful garb. I'm afraid it will take more that a costume to make us look like a local. However, as we walked around the banyan tree, which we were told would help secure a hundred years of a good marriage, a Chinese tourist unbrazenly grabbed Gail for a picture. Before the posing was finished, I too became the object of a fan club.
     At one of the attractions you could rent one of the local bamboo rafts and push yourself around the pond. I assure the challenges may have included standing and balancing on the lone very narrow craft, but more challenging was maneuvering among the other crafts. It might have been easier to walk from shore to shore using the crafts as stepping stones.
     A long corridor of booths, as we've so many places in China, turned out not to be vendors displaying their wares, but booths for photographers equipped with computers, color printers and laminators. They were ready for their tourists.
     Lunch a hour from here was next on the schedule but as you will read below, it was a three hour ride. Meals with a tour group in China gives a different meaning to fast food. Of course, these meals are all pre-arranged and so as soon as we are scurried into the restaurant and around three or four tables, the food starts appearing. In these situations rice is first and several dishes of vegetables and meats come next. It's family style with the additional feature of not having to put it in your bowl; you eat directly from the common bowl. Next is departure which starts to happen about the time your thinking about a second sip of tea; and we on the road again. McDonalds would be impressed, and connoisseurs of Chinese relaxed "appreciate the food and the time together" meal would be horrified.
     The prime feature of the Guilin area is a mountain that fronts on the river. The river has carved out a cave at the base of the mountain so that the river flows through the cave. The appearance is that of an elephant and its trunk. It was approaching dark and we had not seen this feature, and I figured that it wasn't in the tour because there were so many other features that this wasn't any longer important. But, that was our next spot and it looked just like the post cards except... The post cards do not include or display some hundreds of people viewing and climbing through the trunk, or the many crafts ferrying viewers into the cavern, or the city in the background no matter which angle you hold your camera. I'd see the postcard, it is great but not near as thrilling as seeing and sensing the animated version.
     We ended the day and the tour with supper with the Li's (the family of a WOU student) and a trip to a park for performances indoor and outdoor featuring different ethnic minorities. While the authenticity of the performances were probably genuine, they were probably embellished to entertainment's sake. With dragging tails and bundles under our arms we were escorted to the railway station and upon the train about 1:00AM. The lights were out and we quickly found our niche in the first, second and third layer of bunks.

A note about traveling companions:
     There's always a question about how one can travel in a country where the language is literally and totally foreign. "Restroom" or "WC" are clear but sometimes one needs to count on some language skills to avoid embarrassment when making the grand entry. It seems logical that you hire an interpreter, or befriend a bilingual local. We chose the latter and we were very blessed.
     Li Hongying (some call her Eleanor) works in the office below our apartment and approached us about enrolling in a university in America to earn her Masters. So we suggested that she join us for this trip to Guilin and we could all practice English. We offered her the trip and we'd pick up the tab for her. She'd never been to Guilin and she tells me that she couldn't sleep for several days before because she was so excited. She has been awesome. She keeps us on track, provides us with important information and giggles with us. She is very good at giggling, and it's very contagious. I wish that you all would become infected.
     We had invited another international English instructor to join us, a single young lady from Ireland (actually when she tries she can speak very good English), but misfortune struck her life and she lost her purse and some money. To deal with the situation she chose not to travel and our substitute companion was a male friend of Hongying. Zhao Jing (Zhao is the family name) is a part of the military near Hangzhou but that was all we were to know. Quiet on the pretense of being the late fourth member of the group and that his English was not great, he blossomed later in the trip when we discovered that he probably understood most of what we said and became a very supportive caregiver when Denvy chose the sick route.

     We're sitting in the bus with a traffic accident in front of us. The road is just two lanes with bike trail shoulders. I've been asked several times about my thoughts on the intelligence and effectiveness of the Chinese. This is an example where they are lacking. Everyone has the idea of passing the stopped vehicles to get to the front of the line. The results is that the road is a parking lot filled so that no one from either directions can move. The police approached the scene running on foot. After a little while the police must have been able to move some vehicles to the side because opposing traffic is moving by using the bike lane and beyond. If you're reading this you know that we got to an Internet connection to upload this. We are safe one more time.

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