Nihao from China - the land of lanterns, dumplings and ocarinas


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Asia » China » Guangxi » Guilin
April 2nd 2018
Published: April 4th 2018
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Nihao - hello from China! We decided to book a last minute trip to China for Easter as it was cheap and always a destination of curiosity.

Our first stop was Haikou, on the southern island of Hainan, which is a 9-hour direct flight from Sydney.Having been slightly naive about the language barrier we quickly realised that no one was able to understand any English! By using sign language, a map on my phone and google translate, the entire bus joined in to help contribute to work out how we could get to our hotel. We jumped off at the place where they advised and started the 15-minute walk to our hotel.

The next challenge was to find food, so we went to a place that looked busy. However, the menu was only in Chinese. The waiter had a bright idea and brought up the menu on his phone from the website which had photos on that we could choose from. We stayed safe and went for a beef noodle and grilled corn! We were getting a lot of people staring at us, so it became clear very quickly that they don’t often see western people in that area of Haikou. This became a trend throughout the trip with people curiously staring and whispering to each other. It was my blond hair that particularly stood out, and there were moments when people would stop me on the street and ask me to have a photo with them.

We arrived in Haikou at night, so we were thrown into the bright lights and mayhem of the city. Unlike other Asian countries, the hoards of mopeds were all electric, making them almost silent. This stealth mode was a bit overwhelming at first as they drive fast, cross lanes and drive on the pedestrian pavement! We clambered down a rubble dirt track, dodging the oncoming traffic, and passed demolished tower blocks until we finally reached our hotel.

On our first day in Haikou, we planned to explore the city, so we stopped for a $2 bun at a street stall and then hit the road with the aroma of hoisin and other spices filling the air.We spotted an opportunity when we saw two government bikes with broken locks (similar to the Borris Bikes in London) and used these to explore the sprawling hazy metropolis. We cycled alongside the moped and car traffic, lining up at the large traffic lights as if ready to start a race. We tried to understand the road rules, but it was tricky because everyone seemed to be doing whatever they liked! As we approached the Peoples’ Park, there were many Chinese lantern shops, with displays of vibrant red spheres, delicately painted with Chinese gold symbols, hanging outside. We had a quick rest by the lakeside in the park, but it was a humid 27 degrees, so we retreated to our hotel, which had a pool club upstairs, and spent the afternoon there.

Later that evening, on the search for dinner, we stumbled across a local market selling handmade belts, plants, clothes and Chinese food delicacies such as chicken feet and duck heads. It’s safe to say we stuck with a beef noodle broth (well that’s what we hoped it was!)

Our second stop was the 2nd tier city of Guilin, which translates to English as ‘forest of sweet osmanthus.’ This beautiful city is situated inland in South East China in the province of Guangxi and is a popular Chinese tourist destination. The Li River meanders through the centre and surrounding the city is
a stunning backdrop of karst limestone cliffs.We took a walk along the riverfront, passing fishermen eagerly awaiting their catches and the hustle and bustle of commuters getting their evening meals from locals stalls. We passed pockets of pungent smells and thick layers of dust covering everything in sight, presumably from all the building work occurring around the city. At a crossroads, we encountered a man selling a live turtle hanging from a stick and hoping to sell it to passers-by. I felt sorry for the turtle, but in China, this would be a rare delicacy.

An English speaking professor stopped us in the street, to ask where we were from and was interested in talking about English politics. He learnt how to speak English by listening to the BBC on the radio and also by stopping and speaking to westerners in the street.As darkness fell, the Sun Pagoda came alive, majestically rising from the water and beautifully lit up it stood there looking across the city’s night skyline. We watched a live pop band on the waterfront, providing great entertainment and a fun atmosphere.

We booked a bamboo boat ride down the Li River, famous for its beautiful
limestone scenery. The riverways were bustling with Chinese tourists who were there to experience the spectacular views, as we were too.After the boat ride, we stopped at a small village. Eager hawkers circled our group selling a variety of fruit including giant grapefruits the size of watermelons, little oranges and persimmon, which was dried out and flattened. After another short drive, we got onto a bigger boat down to Xingping, the location depicted on the 20 yuan banknote. We met a Korean couple living in LA who helped us to understand the lunch menu (with the help of their Korean/Chinese friend), Chinese culture and generally what was going on in-amongst the chaos of the day!

In the afternoon we stopped at a minority village 20km south of Yangshuo, they welcomed us with their traditional music and into a wooden hut for a long talk (that I didn’t understand one bit of!) but assume was about their history and traditions. It ended with a demonstration scratching the nape of a girls neck with a metal comb that looked extremely painful! Just as we thought things couldn’t get any weirder, we were led into a room that can only be described
as a free-for-all. I’m only 5”4 but I was able to look across the tops of almost 200 people’s heads, all scrabbling and pushing each other to buy the silver trinkets on display. This complete tourist trap was unlike anything I’d seen, it took us about 5 minutes to locate the exit where we were cleverly lead into another market area before finally making it back to the bus with our wallets still intact!

We took an evening stroll to the Nengren temple to see the people praying and lighting the candles. It began to rain, so we caught a taxi back to the hotel where we met three English people: two on a charity bicycle ride across Asia, the other an English teacher working in the north of China. We went to a bar and shared travel stories and laughed over English jokes until 2.00am before we finished the night off listening to a solo violinist busking on the high street.

We visited the nearby Red Flute caves 5km from Guilin town centre. We entered deep underground along a paved path, passing stalagmite and stalactite formations. Unique formations had been selected and given names such a ‘vegetable patch’ so we enjoyed using our imagination to visualise the image as described. We wrapped up the morning with a fantastic lunch at a Tepanyaki restaurant called 57 degrees where the chef cooks your dishes in front of you on the barbecue grill at the table. We enjoyed fried young bamboo, rice, aubergine noodles and Will had what we think was cow tendons with some unidentifiable jellied fat fried with vegetables!

On our last night, we took a spontaneous last minute trip with Tom, the English teacher from the hostel, to see the ‘DreamLike Li River Show’ comprising ballet dancing, breathtaking acrobatics and clown acts. The lighthearted show used bright light displays, smoke machines and was very entertaining to watch as they moved their bodies in unbelievable ways. The Chinese like to talk and use their phone torches during the performances. This was very different from the English culture of sitting silently. Although it was annoying at times, we were in China, so we just had to laugh it off and embrace it!

Guilin was a mix of beautiful scenery and the chaos that comes with a large city. It’s hard to believe what a tier 1 city
would be like such as Shanghai and how busy and polluted it would be. Guilin had lots of character with a different place to eat on every street corner, bright hanging lanterns and music blasting from shopfronts to entice people in and the countless mopeds lining the streets driving in a whacky races fashion.

In China, they have their own version of WhatsApp called WeChat which everyone uses to pay for things by scanning a QR code. It’s interesting how much its taken off, even tiny stall holders want to be paid this way. It is much more prevalent than the Apple Pay equivalents in Australia.

It doesn’t take long to get used to the pushing, the toilet floors covered in pools of unidentifiable liquid as you’re there questioning the effectiveness of your squat, the pungent smells and bizarre food. China definitely has something unique to offer and is a great place to experience a different culture. The language barrier and craziness is what makes it even more exciting. I admire anyone trying to learn Mandarin; from an outsider looking in, I can see what an unbelievably complex language it is.

In only a week I encountered so many new experiences and learnt a lot. It has definitely made us want to come back and see more! I feel like I am going back to Australia with a better understanding and knowledge of the Chinese culture, which is essential for me living in such a multicultural city like Sydney.



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