Baihehua (Lily Flower)
Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Baihehua (Lily Flower)" journal:
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Alright, I'm about to leave Beida (and Beijing) in just a couple hours. Time to go travel around for three and a half weeks! I hope everyone has enjoyable holidays, and I'll see most of you back at Skidmore in about five weeks! (Jeff and Leah, I'll see you before then). Have fun, everybody!
Trip to Shanxi|
Okay, I've finished all my papers (a total of 40 pages worth, not counting the bibliographies). So now I can write about my trip to Shanxi.
As a general note, I've noticed drastic differences between all three tour groups I've been on. The first one, in Guizhou, was very remote and focused on minorities and small villages. The second one, in Guangxi, focused on a lot of tourist stuff, especially foreign tourist stuff. Not that it wasn't fun; bamboo rafting and bike riding and whitewater rafting were a ton of fun! And then this last trip, to Shanxi, focused on historical stuff. And I absolutely LOVE historical stuff, so I was happier than a clam!
Dec 1:( Qiao Family CompoundCollapse )( Pingyao Ancient TownCollapse )
Dec 2:( Jinci TempleCollapse )( Jin Dynasty WallCollapse )( Yingxian PagodaCollapse )( (Pre-) Christmas in ChinaCollapse )
Dec 3:( Yungang CavesCollapse )( Hanging MonasteryCollapse )( Nine Dragon WallCollapse )
Speaking of travel, the semester is about to end (in just a couple more days). After the semester, I’ll be traveling around somewhere in China for about a week and a half. Then I head to Qufu to visit Jeff over New Year’s. Then I’ll be going to Japan for a little over a week to visit Leah. So I don’t actually get back to the US until January 12. And between December 17 and January 12, I have no idea how much I’ll be able to update. I’ll try to keep in touch and update at least once or twice, but it probably won’t be that long. We’ll see.
And since I don’t know exactly when I’ll be able to update, I’ll say this now: Happy Holidays (Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, all of the above) to everyone!
Current Location: last few days at Beida
It's 3:15pm on Tuesday and I have had this headache (it's been bothering me off and on, but never very far away) for almost 48 hours now. Since Sunday evening. I've tried Tiger Balm and it helped for a while, but then my headache came back. And I ran out of Ibuprofen. I'm not entirely sure what to do about this. It's like my headache in Shanghai; we thought that one might have been because I wasn't getting enough protein, but I've been making sure I'm getting plenty of protein. It's weird; both time I've been traveling around, I've gotten a long-lasting headache towards the end of it. I hope this doesn't happen after the semester is over (*crosses fingers*).
One thing's for sure: it's making it a bit difficult to get work done, though. Which is starting to become a problem (those three papers due next week).
Apologies for the randomness of this entry.
I had an absolutely awesome (and freezing) weekend in Shanxi province! I saw a bunch of really cool sites, and I've come to the conclusion that while guided tours can be frustrating, they are one of the better ways to see the really cool stuff that is outside of the big cities. I'll properly describe my weekend later (and I've learned how to make LJ cuts, so it should be more readable), but I have three papers due next week that are calling for my attention.
Speaking of papers, I hate the academic standards for study abroad. Shen Laoshi told us that the Study in Beijing program is the most academically rigorous program that Skidmore offers (I'm not sure if it's true, but that's what she said), but I feel like the standards are so low here. My history teacher wants my personal opinion expressed in my final paper. And for my research paper, I'm writing as well as I can while keeping to what Shen Laoshi wants, but I swear my teachers in HIGH SCHOOL were more demanding! The paper length might have been shorter, but the papers themselves were more challenging! Argh!
Current Location: back in Beijing
Current Mood: busy
Stolen Survey|( One.Word.Only. SurveyCollapse )
Yeah, I'm a little lonely right now. And, due largely to the time difference, no one seems to ever be on when I need to talk. ...So I thought I'd do this to hopefully make myself feel a little better.
Anyway, back to studying Chinese...
Current Music: t.A.T.u, and Erin's Sex and the City in the background
The Good and the Bad|
I have a plane ticket from Tokyo to Columbus, OH! I did have to pay for that myself (as opposed to Skidmore paying for it, but maybe I can convince them to reimburse me...), but it's only about the same price I'd otherwise have to pay to get from Tokyo to Beijing and from NYC to Columbus (the group flight goes from Beijing to NYC). And it means that I'll only be in airports and on planes for about 14 hours or so, instead of something like 36 (which I did coming to Beijing-- NOT FUN). So, yay! Airplane ticket!
I found (and bought) "Scrubs" yesterday. It is most definitely bootlegged, and the video quality is not the best, but I got ALL FIVE seasons for 45 yuan! So I'm pretty happy about that.
Hot Milk Tea is not exactly Hot Chocolate, but it's very good, hot, and the Cocoa kind is similar enough to Hot Chocolate that I'll think I'll make it through the next month (yikes! only a month left!). And Erin got me Ovaltine (again, not Hot Chocolate, but hot, and chocolaty, and close enough).
My favorite teacher has to go away to Argentina on business at the end of next week. I was already going to miss her when I got back to Skidmore anyway, and now she's leaving even before the end of the semester! She's a wonderful teacher; I wish she could come teach at Skidmore! Cry. Also, Zhang Laoshi leaving early means that we have a test (our final, I believe) for that class next week.
Current Mood: satisfied
Pictures on Facebook|
There are new pictures posted on Facebook. Sorry it took me forever to get those posted (if you want the excuses, I had papers due, then computer problems, then Facebook problems for a day or so). But they're posted now. Enjoy!
Hey Out There|
Is anyone actually reading my entries, or are they too long for people to get through?
Sorry if I sound paranoid, but I haven't heard from anyone in quite a while (not being able to get on AIM doesn't help), and I'm just not sure if anyone's actually reading this.
Ramblings and Musings|
I know I’ve only been in China for less than two months now (almost two months!), but there’s a difference between China and America that I’ve been noticing for a while now. America seems to demand that people become Americans, or at least to be able to speak English and know the culture well enough to act American, as soon as they step foot on American soil. China’s position seems to be that foreigners can never really be Chinese, and it does not expect foreigners to speak fluent Chinese or fully understand Chinese culture. On the one hand, that can be nice because it is not demanding that foreigners be something other than what they are, but on the other hand, it can be frustrating if you’re trying to become more involved in Chinese culture. I don’t know if one or the other is better: America saying you have to be like us, or China saying you can’t be like us. I don’t know; they’re just different. And from a historical perspective, they’re probably like that because in America it is very difficult to pick out foreigners (language can be a clue, but some people who are US citizens or who have lived in America for a long time speak very poor English), while in China it is quite easy. Granted, there are a few foreign-looking people who were born and grew up in China and there are some Chinese-looking people who grew up in a different country (be it Japan or America or Holland), but by and large, you can tell who are foreigners just by looking at people.
And I don’t know if it’s a result of China maintaining a distinction between Chinese and foreigners or if it’s a result of being away from America (and especially away from a politically active liberal arts school), but I’ve found myself missing American political debate. Lately I’ve been reading forums about some of America’s political hot potato issues. I love China and I’m glad I’m here, but it’s nice to be able to read something and understand the cultural subtexts without explanation.
One thing I wish was different about this program is I wish we were taking classes with the rest of the Beida international students. The way the program is set up now, the only people in any of my classes are the other people from Skidmore. Before I came it didn’t seem so bad; it hadn’t really sunk it that I would not only be living with, but having all my classes with the same few people; that I would be spending most of my time with the same small group of people. At one point Erin said that we spend an unhealthy amount of time with each other. It’s true. While it’s an issue in Beida, it was a much worse issue when we were traveling around for two weeks. Day in and day out, besides masses of strangers that we didn’t interact with, we saw the same few people. Even at Beida, it’s hard to meet people. My best chance to interact with people during the week is at Martial Arts, but that’s a class and we spend most of our time practicing Martial Arts rather than talking. Basically, it’s hard to meet people. Not that I haven’t met a few really great people. But I wish I could meet more people.
I did meet this really interesting girl a couple weeks ago, though. I decided to go with Erin to help teach English at a school for migrant worker’s children. As soon as we got there, we met this really tomboyish girl teaching the class. That was startling on it’s own; I can list on one hand the number of tomboyish girls I’ve seen in China. A good number of women have short hair, but a lot of them wear make-up and skirts and such. So this was a much appreciated difference. We introduced ourselves; she told us her name is Osking (no, I’m not misspelling that; that’s what she told us). Then I got my second shock of the morning: she’s fifteen. Fifteen, and has been volunteer-teaching at this school for almost a year now. On Saturdays (when we go), the students range between seven and twelve or, and she’s been teaching since she was fourteen; she’s only a couple years older than her students!! Plus, she definitely does not either look or act fifteen. None of us had any idea she was that young (and remember, most Asian people look younger than they are, not the other way around).
There’s some interesting things going on with that school, though. I mentioned it’s a school for migrant worker’s children. Beijing, like all cities in China, has a large population of migrant workers, workers from the villages and countryside who are not registered to live in or work in the city. This means that their children are not registered to go to school in the city. Technically, the children are supposed to go to school back in whatever village the parents come from. But that would definitely mean living with other relatives or family friends or someone. Plus there are a lot of parents who migrated to the city before they became parents. Anyway, for all the migrant workers’ children, there is no official school in the city that they are allowed to attend. So a number of schools have sprung up for these children. I’ve heard that some of them are legal and some are not, but the one that Erin and I are volunteering at is definitely not a legal school. But there is no where else for these kids to turn. It’s in worse shape than I’ve seen any American school: the walls aren’t insulated, the door to our classroom doesn’t close, the chalkboard... I’m not there are words to describe how utterly crappy the chalkboard is-- I don’t know what material this chalkboard is made of, but whatever it is just fades into the wall at the edges (the wall being incredibly dusty, by the way). Actually, the chalkboard is what I find most frustrating right now (give me another week or two and I’m sure I’ll find the lack of heat more frustrating). But these kids don’t seem to notice or mind. All the kids we’ve seen seem quite grateful to be in school, even though they’re in school six days a week (classes aren’t required on Saturdays, but for a number of families, there is nothing else for the kids to be doing and their parents will most likely be working seven days a week).
And another thing. Entrance exams are extremely important here. There are entrance exams before you enter middle school, before you enter high school, and before you enter college. Especially for high school and college, these entrance exams are considered hugely important. They determine what schools you are able to attend, far far more than SAT/ACT scores do in the US. And what’s really weird to me: many of these kids won’t even be able to take the exams, much less pass them and continue their education. This school has an elementary and a middle school, but no high school. This past Saturday, Jane (Erin’s tutor) told me that, according to a study from last year, when they finish at this school, about half of the kids will go back to their hometowns (live with a grandma or an aunt or somebody) and go on to high school and the other half will find work somewhere. Half. It’s really weird looking into a classroom and thinking that half the students in front of you will not have any education past middle school. There are some middle-school-age kids around at a number of places in Beida (I always see this one boy at one of the printing/copying shops), and now I’m wondering if they are still in school or if they no longer attend school... Education is something we take so for granted in America. I’m not saying that education should be forced down everyone’s throat. But I thought I was having to work for my education; these kids are on a completely different level from me. The education that I consider my right, is a privilege that they might or might not be able to pursue. The impression I’ve gotten is that, usually, if a student is smart and dedicated to his/her studies, they can usually continue schooling, at least through high school, if not college. But there are millions upon millions of students in China taking these exams; that’s a ton of competition. And a number of people I’ve talked to have mentioned the competition between students; students getting up super early (I heard about someone getting up at 4 or 4:30 every morning and studying until midnight every night) and staying up late to study. Education just isn’t taken for granted here the way it is in America.
One last thing with the education here. It rarely involves music or art classes. Since education is so focused on the entrance exams, most schools don’t even try to have art or music classes. That seems so weird to me, almost wrong, since my high school’s elementary and middle school (unfortunately I didn’t go to elementary or middle school there) *requires* students to take *both* art and music. To not have it even offered... Especially when many students seem so interested in art and music (both from what I’ve seen at this school and from talking to our tutors about growing up with China’s school system).
Long Fieldtrip-- Guangxi|
Yes, I finally finished describing Guizhou; now moving on to Guangxi! Oh, sorry about not getting this out sooner; I was meaning to, but then there was some mild confusion over whether or not I had a Chinese test this week (turns out it’s next week because it has to be during the school’s test week. I didn’t know there was a designated test week in the middle of the semester...). Anyway, Guangxi, one of China’s five Autonomous Regions. Days six through nine of our trip (by the way, sorry, this one’s really long).
We got to Guilin, the capital of Guangxi, on the evening of Day 5 and met our new tour guide. It was like night and day; he was completely different from our first tour guide. Forrest (our new tour guide) spoke very good English (he still had a little bit of an accent and there were a few specialized terms he didn’t know, but he spoke very well and seemed very comfortable with English) and was extremely friendly and outgoing. The only thing was, he referred to us as babies or children a handful of times (he’s only a few years older than us). But even that’s understandable because he told us that all of his other tours are middle-aged or older Americans or Europeans; we were his first young group (and he said we were his favorite).
Day 6: We began the day by heading to another village. The first thing I noticed at this village was that no one was really trying to sell us things. There were booths set up and most of them had a person sitting there, but you could stop and look at things or even pick something up without the person asking you if you liked it and if you wanted to buy it (or wanted to buy this other thing). When I put it in writing, it doesn’t really convey how odd it felt to me. After over a month of shopping in China and having basically all shopowners clamoring for my attention, it felt very strange and almost wrong. I didn’t even try to buy anything there.
At that village we got to see people making rice wine. Big vats of wine-to-be in some stage getting stirred and lots of little vats of fermenting rice. And fermenting rice reeks, by the way. It’s one thing to know that, but it’s something else to smell it in person. You could smell the fermenting rice from half the village away.
Near the rooms with fermenting rice we saw this man having cupping done on his back with closed bamboo tubes. I’m pretty sure that building/house belongs to the village medical person (I have no idea what their official title would be). I’ve seen cupping done with glass balls before and I know it can be done with other things, but it was really interesting seeing it done with bamboo tubes.
After that we went into one man’s house (he didn’t seem to mind), both downstairs and up. I was surprised that he was so willing to invite us into his house. It’s his private house and we were just tourists wandering through. But he just grinned at us and didn’t seem to mind at all. Forrest told us that the people of this village tend to live long lives (the man whose house we were in had pictures of his parents and aunt, all of whom lived to be quite old- 70s or 80s I think). Supposedly the secret behind their long life is the fact that they walk on foot-massaging rock paths for at least a few minutes every day.
On the way back from the village, Forrest pointed out the numerous fields of strawberries around. He said that the people used to grow rice but then found that it was more economically advantageous for them to grow something else, so they grow strawberries. By the way, all the strawberry plants I saw were green and looking like it was early May instead of almost October. Wonderful southern weather. Guangxi is a bit east and south of Guizhou, but both are basically at the southern edge of China.
Our next stop was Elephant Hill. It’s a large rocky hill that vaguely resembles an elephant. That’s it. Oh, and of course the swarm of shops around. We would have been quite bored if we hadn’t gotten Forrest’s and Shen Laoshi’s permission to go hiking up the hill. It was ridiculously hot and sticky (it was past humid, it was sticky) and we were all sweating a ton. The top of the hill had some more trees and a bit of a breeze, so it was a little better than down below. Then on the way back down we found a pretty big cave. It was so nice and cool in the cave! Ben, Steven, Dan, Erin, and I stayed there for as long as we dared (we were under a time limit before we had to meet back with the rest of the group). After the cave, we stopped and got ice cream (think: popsicle) at the first place we came across. I got some sort of orange-flavored ice cream, and since it was Chinese, it was not only orange-flavored but had frozen slices of orange in it. I loved it; it was exactly what I needed. Then we stumbled onto a small Buddhist shrine (I’m not sure if it was actually a shrine, but I can’t think of what better to call it) set into the rock wall. We asked the women selling things nearby if we could take pictures and they told us it was okay, so we took some pictures (I had to finish my ice cream so I could free my hands for taking pictures).
In the afternoon we visited another village. Forrest was really funny about us visiting villages; he had already seen our itinerary and so he told us when we arrived that we wouldn’t be seeing as many villages in Guangxi as we did in Guizhou, but that he felt we had seen enough villages. He then later commented that the villages all seem alike after a while (which, unless you make an effort to talk to people or something like that, can easily be true). And this village truly wasn’t anything special. There were some houses, but they all had their doors closed and almost no one was home, so we couldn’t even talk to anyone. So we sat by the stream for a while and talked among ourselves.
After that we had some free time so most of us wandered around the shops by our hotel. It was nice to be walking around and doing something, and I did find a t-shirt to buy, but it wasn’t too exceptional. We did find an amazing place to have dinner, though. We all ended up eating at the same restaurant: a little Japanese sushi place that had a small conveyor belt with the dishes on it. You simply took whatever dishes you wanted and then paid at the end (the price was color-coded by what plate the dish came on). Amazing meal. I love the Chinese food here (most of the time; I was getting a little sick of restaurants), but I was really happy to have sushi.
Forrest had recommended a boat ride around the lakes in Guilin and a foot massage and all nine of us (not Shen Laoshi or Xiaojie) took him up on it. Forrest was really good at getting us to spend money... On the other hand, he was also really good at finding really cool other things for us to do, even if they did cost more money. The boat ride was really nice; we saw a lot of really amazing things around the lakes including the Sun and Moon pagodas, night cormorant fishermen (cormorants are a kind of bird, rather like a kingfisher, that catch fish for the fishermen), Wood Dragon pagoda, a waterfall that is half natural and half manmade, a musical performance, and an instrumental performance. We also discovered that the city only has the electricity to power about half the city, so at night the power in the apartments and houses are shut off while the tourist areas are lit with a million neon signs. But that’s China for you: it will a put on a good cover for the tourists and pretend that things are fine, but there might be problems beneath the surface that the locals have to live with. Of course, in Guilin tourism is a major part of the city’s income.
So, after the boat ride, we went and got foot massages. Guilin is an old city (it’s a bit over 2000 years old, although it doesn’t feel that old), and it’s had a lot of time to develop an amazing (and famous) foot massage. They’re supposedly similar to Thai massages (that makes sense since Guilin is so close to Thailand, but haven’t had a Thai massage, so I wouldn’t know). Forrest warned us that not all the massage places were good and that a fair number might be sketchy (and by might be sketchy, I mean they might have prostitutes); he recommended __ (the five star hotel where both Clinton and Mao stayed when they visited Guilin). They put all of us into one room, which I didn’t mind at all. Our masseuses were all really nice (they were all young women, although apparently some guys work there too). Some of us had conversations with our masseuses; I wasn’t really able to talk to my masseuse, but I did contribute to the conversation with Erin’s and Dan’s masseuses (on either side of me). They seemed to really love talking with us, and there was conversation in the room for the entire hour. It was an really nice massage; they soaked our feet in water and herbs first, then massaged our feet, calves, thighs (that kinda freaked me out a little; I’d definitely never had a massage on my thighs before), head, neck, shoulders, and back. After our massages, we asked them if we could take a picture with them. They were really shy but looked pleased, so we got a group picture with all of our masseuses. I think we made their night as much as they made ours. As we could see and hear for ourselves (there was a muffled French conversation going on in one of the other rooms), most of their other customers are middle-aged business men (or middle-aged important visitors). Hmm, I think Steven still has that picture; I should hunt him down...
The only other notable thing that happened that day was that after my massage, the hot water shut off halfway through my shower. I mean completely shut off. I really was not in the mood to take an ice-cold shower, especially in a nice hotel (it was something like a 3 or 4 star hotel; by rating it was the nicest one we stayed at), so I grabbed a towel and walked next door to Bing and Xin’s room to see if they had hot water. I was in a towel and bare feet and I had shampoo in my hair that I hadn’t been able to rinse out yet, so I’m sure I looked ridiculous. Bing had the most flabbergasted expression on her face when she opened the door. We tried her room, but her room didn’t have hot water either. So she volunteered to call, and then walk, down to the front desk to find out what was wrong (for some reason they couldn’t explain it over the phone). Apparently, part of the building needed a pipe fixed, so they shut off the hot water. But they couldn’t tell Bing for how long or how much of the building was affected. We called down to Steven’s room, and he said that they had warm water. I was a little afraid that their hot water might be in the process of shutting off too, but I was considering going down there (they were on a different floor, so I wasn’t sure if they were affected) when the hot water suddenly came back on. It had been off for about ten minutes, so at least they fixed the pipe pretty quickly. So I finished my shower in my own room.
Day 7: For the entire first half of the day we had a boat ride down the Li River, from Guilin to Yangshuo. The scenery was pretty, and at times gorgeous, but there wasn’t that much to do for four hours. We watched as fishermen came up to the boat and tried to sell fake jade and other things to the tourists on the boat (yay being on a foreign-tourist boat). I heard a lot of French and German on the boat. No other English, though. Oh well, it’s not like I really wanted to talk to the other tourists; they were all in the fifties or sixties and looked to just be visiting China for a brief vacation or something like that. Anyway, since we had nothing better to do, Erin, Ben, and Dan ordered beer at lunch and got quite tipsy (the beers here, unless they are imported, are larger than in the US and are more alcoholic; it’s possible to get tipsy from one beer). I don’t really like the beer here, although I will grant it is better than any beer I’ve had in the US (which hasn’t been that many, but still...). Speaking of the lunch though, it was not particularly vegetarian-friendly. It was one of those meals where I had a lot of rice and picked around things. Sigh... I lived.
Once we got to Yangshuo, we went and saw a 1400 year old Banyan tree. It has apparently been written about in classical Chinese literature (something to do with a meeting place for lovers) and is a really famous tree. The tree was cool, but we all turned and stared at Forrest when he told us, five minutes after getting there, that that was all there was to see. I know for me, I wasn’t wanting to prolong the day overmuch, but neither was I satisfied with seeing a tree for five minutes, no matter how old or cool a tree. So I followed Xiaojie over to where she was investigating a banana tree; the rest of the group soon followed. We spent a few minutes investigating the banana tree, the developing bananas, and the bugs and spiderwebs on the tree, before Forrest told us that we should go. I think he was amused that we stopped and took pictures of a banana tree...
Our next stop was seeing Moon Hill. We saw it from a distance, as it must be seen to be properly appreciated. It’s a largish hill with an open pass near the top in the shape of a crescent moon. More pictures were taken.
At some point (I forget if it was right outside the Banyan tree or the Moon Hill), we encountered a couple people who had three little costumed, trained monkeys and were asking 5 kuai for the ability to pose with the monkeys for pictures. A few of the guys took them up on the offer, but several others of the group were deeply disturbed at the low quality of life these monkeys almost certainly live (even just posing for pictures all day long in a costume is asking a lot of a monkey). I’m somewhere in the middle; I wasn’t as upset as Ben or a couple of the others, but I wasn’t about to encourage the monkey’s captivity by participating, either. However, I do want to see Steven’s pictures...
We then headed to another (and our last) village. At this village there was a family who have been making fans for five generations. They mentioned an uncle who was involved in the trade, but all the people there when we visited were women (and they were all the craftsmen, not just selling the pieces). I’m not surprised that women were making fans and paintings, but it did make me wonder whether it has passed through five generations of the man’s family or the women’s family... Probably the man’s, but I’m not 100% sure. Definitely the coolest element of visiting this village was going and petting water buffalo (by the way, Shen Laoshi had grown sick and wasn’t there to prevent and nag us). At first, when Jon asked, Forrest didn’t think we were serious and brushed off the question, but then when Ben repeated the request, he realized that we would actually be interested in going down and petting the water buffalo. He confessed that he had never done this before and he wasn’t sure if it was safe, but said that we could go down if we wanted to (he came with us). So all of us traipsed down across the bridge to where the water buffalo were standing. Forrest stated that, as our guide and since he was responsible for our safety, he should go first. But he only got to about ten meters away from the water buffalo before he chickened out. So a couple of the guys went forward, one by one, and petted the water buffalo. When I went forward to pet the water buffalo, it turned away sharply. It only took me a couple seconds to realize why, however; her calf was bounding over to come nurse. So I left those two alone and went over and pestered one of the other ones. Xin wanted to pet the water buffalo too, but she was scared to come near it, so I went back up with her. After a couple minutes, one of the villagers came over and told us that for 5 kuai we could sit on one of the water buffaloes backs. Jon took him up on the offer. I’ll admit sitting on a water buffalo sounds rather interesting, but I was really struck by how unhappy the water buffalo was. I know water buffaloes aren’t horses, or even that close to horses, but the water buffalo reacted exactly as a horse would. I could instantly read how uncomfortable the water buffalo was with all of this. Definitely, the water buffalo’s discomfort was more disturbing to me than the monkey’s plight from earlier. I don’t really know why; the closest I can guess is that I could read the water buffalo’s emotions much easier than the monkey’s.
We went and visited a couple artists, Du Laoshi and his wife; they welcomed us with friendly smiles and hot tea. They explained some of the principles and characteristics in traditional Chinese landscape paintings. Then Du Laoshi’s wife showed us how to make some of the basic brush strokes and let us practice painting bamboo. I’ve done it before, but I find brush-painting rather difficult. It probably has to do with the fact that I’ve only tried it a couple times and never for very long. I should practice it more, though... If for no other reason, my natural pencil grip lends itself very well to how you’re supposed to hold the brush.
That evening we went and saw Impressions, a show created by Zhang Yimou and others. It’s a water show; the stage is a lake and the actors and actresses are on rafts of some kind. The music was largely instrumental or subdued folk singing. There were a lot of local fishermen (and their bamboo rafts) and farmers (with their water buffalo, including, according to Forrest, the water buffalo we petted earlier). The costumes were all very stunning; most of them were quite flashy with silver or colored cloth. There was a scene with a statue of the moon on one of the boats and a bunch of people on bamboo rafts came and circled around the moon, holding lanterns. Since the rest of the stage was dark, it reminded me of the moon and stars, and the changes the constellations go through in a year. After that a lady appeared from behind the moon and danced nude. After dancing, she came to a (temporary) pier and took the banner covering a group of ladies, so now there were about thirty or so nude women on the pier. The scene went on and there did seem to be a point to them being nude (as much as there was a point in any part of the show; it was one of those shows that is really beautiful but has very little plot). But what I find really funny is that, when the show opened a handful of years ago, the women were actually nude. But then the show had problems with too many of the fishermen (off to the side, awaiting their next entrance) falling off their boats because they were staring at the women. So they had to find leotards for the women so the fishermen won’t fall off their boats. I find that hilarious!
Day 8: This was probably my most fun day out of the trip, although it doesn’t sound like that much on paper.
We started the day off with a half hour bike ride. The last time I’d ridden a bike was in Saratoga; I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed biking! On the other hand, I’m glad my first biking experience in China was in Yangshuo and not Beijing. Yangshuo, though much less busy and traffic-crazy than Beijing, was plenty busy enough. It didn’t help that we were traveling as a large group and needing to stay together (never easy in crowded places). Still, we navigated the roads without too much difficulty, and once we got off the main roads, the road was practically deserted.
We biked all the way to the riverside, where we were to go bamboo rafting. We put the bikes on the bamboo rafts (which, being two-person rafts, were in fact wide enough to stow bikes). We also bought water guns from old ladies selling them by the riverside; I wasn’t planning to get one, but when I saw that everyone else (save Shen Laoshi and Xiaojie) had them, I decided I needed something to defend myself with. Needless to say, we all got wet. Or, to be more accurate, we all got soaked. Before we even got started, a lively water fight had broken out among anyone within range (and not in danger of hitting Shen Laoshi’s boat, which was off-limits). Even before we started, Steven was itching to go swimming. I was wanting to go swimming too, but he was really anxious to swim. Since we weren’t the ones rowing, we didn’t have to worry about the boats. Less than half an hour into the boat ride, we both decided that it was time to get in the water and do some swimming! Swimming was a lot of fun, and the boatmen didn’t seem at all surprised that we swam. I must have spent at least a third of the boat trip in the water.
Bing and Xin both told us that they couldn’t swim, but Xin wanted to try to swim (Bing didn’t want to try, but Charles threw her in anyway; he then panicked with the rest of us when Bing lay limply in the water and her head didn’t stay above water; she was fine but she spent the rest of the time on the raft). Anyway, Xin was brave enough to try swimming, but she asked me to stay near her to help her figure out how to swim and in case she had any trouble. She wore her life vest, which was definitely a good thing but made it harder for her to swim. I, from long habit of canoeing with my father and brothers, shucked my life vest as soon as I could (there was one point where we had to put them back on as we passed a checkpoint, but aside from that I went without the life vest). Pretty much the extent of my swimming lesson with Xin was teaching her kick her legs and paddle with her arms, and to float on her back. She was really funny as she tried to swim with the lifejacket on. And since the boats didn’t stop when we got into the river, we had to keep swimming and couldn’t lag behind or we’d never catch up.
After the rafting/swimming, we biked back to Yangshuo. That was the official end of the program, although we still had another day and a half before flying to Shanghai.
That evening I went with Erin and Ben and wandered around Yangshuo. Our hotel was at the end of West Street in Yangshuo and the shops lining West Street have been dubbed the Hello Market. It got that name because, as you pass, every shop owner on the street will call out “hello, [insert-item-for-sale-here]”: “hello, t-shirts”, “hello, paintings”, “hello, earrings”, “hello, ice cream”; I got sick of it in about thirty seconds. The Hello Market seemed to specialize in fake things being sold for exorborant prices, but I did find a couple things to buy there (swim trunks for one-- very useful for swimming in the river).
Day 9: Even though the official program was over, we needed stuff to do and Forrest told us about this place where we could go white-water rafting. So Charles, Jon, Steven, Erin, I, and Forrest went white-water rafting in LongJiang River. Apparently China’s English translation is “drifting”, so we spent a short while explaining the difference between “drifting” and “rafting” to Forrest. Although I was expecting oars of some kind and there were none. So it was like a mix between white-water rafting and an hour-and-a-half long water park ride. They did make us wear elbow pads, knee pads, and helmets in addition to lifejackets. Before we started, there were a whole bunch of the rafts waiting for them to open the gate and let us start and one of the men in another raft decides to take his helmet and use it to splash water on Erin and I. Thus started a very impressive water fight that ended with me being half-soaked before we even began. Once we started, I quickly finished getting soaked. But it was a ton of fun! I’m sorry to say, though, that there are no pictures of the ride; no camera could have survived that.
After that, Ben, Erin, and I had lunch with Forrest (technically the tour guides aren’t supposed to eat with their groups, but we’d been asking Forrest to and he said it was just a technicality). A brief note about the food in Yangshuo: since there are so many Western tourists there (I think I saw as many Western faces as Chinese faces in Yangshuo, which was deeply disturbing to me), most of the restaurants specialize in Western food (including English menus!). Not that they don’t have some sort of Chinese food. But the Chinese food I found in most of those restaurants tasted basically like mediocre American-Chinese food (same sorts of entrees, too: Sweet and Sour Pork, Fried Rice of all varieties, etc). By the end of our stay in Yangshuo, I had given up and was ordering Western food because their Western food was better than their Chinese food! Weird beyond words. Anyway, when we ate with Forrest, he talked to us some about his job. He said that he sometimes feels sorry for all the tourists he shows around because their trips usually involve Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Guilin and Yangshuo (presumably connected by that same long boat ride), so they leave thinking that this is what Chinese countryside is like. Granted, neither Guilin nor Yangshuo is a major city like Beijing, Xian, or Shanghai, but this commercialization is not the definition of Chinese countryside! I don’t think we saw that much of China’s countryside, and we’d been traipsing around Guizhou for five days before coming to Guangxi! I certainly don’t think anyone can get a sense of Chinese countryside from Guilin and Yangshuo!
We had about an hour after lunch before we had to meet everyone and fly to Shanghai (well, Steven and Xin flew to their hometowns; the rest of us flew to Shanghai).
So that was the end of our fieldtrip to minority areas. After nine days of traveling, I would have been quite content to simply go back to Beijing. But, since it was the National Holiday, we wouldn’t have any classes, nor would there be anything else to do around campus (there would undoubtedly have been some things to do in Beijing). Plus, we already had tickets to Shanghai... So, one more week of traveling!
P.S. This might be a ridiculously long entry, but at least I managed to describe all of Guangxi in one entry, rather than three!
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