Sep 29, 2008

Guangxi photos

Some Guangxi photos from Guilin, Yangshuo, and Longji rice terraces.

Southern Chinese like to play card games with long, skinny, playing cards that look like bookmarks. I might just locate a pack of them cards to use for bookmarks.

Snakes, in the cage above, and bamboo rats, in the cage below, in the live food area of a restaurant in Guilin. I mostly ordered local fish dishes, like beer fish. However, I'm sure that the rat was equally delicious.

Pagodas in Guilin:

During the tour boat ride from Guilin to Yangshuo, local vendors would wait in the river on bamboo rafts. As the tour boats would go by, they would increase their speed and latch onto the side of the boat like remoras, selling their junk to tourists. Here's a guy trying to sell a cabbage-shaped item... not really sure what it is.

This is one of the scenic spots along the river, Nine Horse Rock. Apparently there's shapes of nine galloping horses that you can spot on the face of the rock.

Man in Yangshuo offering to let tourists take photos with his cormorant.

Climbing out of the mud bath in Buddha Water Cave in the countryside of Yangshuo. There's nothing more relaxing than sprawling out in silty, cold mud. I can see why I was the only one in our five person group that volunteered to go into the muck pit.

A common souvenir the vendors were selling in Guilin and Yangshuo was a nice, embroidered "Venice" tote bag, that had been re-embroidered with the Chinese characters for "Guilin":

Boxers or briefs? Boxers and briefs? Check out these guys damming up a small stream, and take your pick.

Scenic view in the countryside near Yangshuo:

Old man and his cormorants in Yangshuo:

Yangshuo meal, including Guilin mifen, local snails, and beer fish:

Yao women in Longji, demonstrating how they wind up their long hair:

Hogs in mud in some farmer's hut in Longji:

Local woman working the field in Longji:

Terrace view in Longji:

Morning view from the hotel in Longji:

Given our small group size, the travel agency arranged a Guilin taxi driver in a Volkswagen Santana to take us from Yangshuo to Longji, then back to Guilin, about six hours of driving total. Good thing it was part of a package price, or this would have been the most expensive taxi ride, ever in China (about $225).

Sep 18, 2008

Lijiang trip

I went to Lijiang for the first time in 2002. This past week, I got to visit again. Many things are the same, and many things are ten times as expensive as they were back then. The excuse for our trip is that we had a holiday on Monday for mid-autumn festival, my GF and I tacked on a few extra days to make a one-week vacation. I got to see a bunch of things I had wanted to before but didn't have time for. Here's some highlights from the trip.

The rooftops of Lijiang old town:

We took a bus for a couple hours outside of Lijiang to reach the western edge, Qiaotou town, of the pretty well-known Tiger Leaping Gorge hike. This has long been a popular hike with adventuresome China travelers, as well as pot fiends, who dig the wild weed that grows everywhere. We ended up hiking along the single track high trail, in total about twenty or so kilometers. We ended up at dusk at mid-gorge, at Tina's guest house the first day. It was about eight hours of actually hiking, at a semi-athletic pace over steep and uneven ground, with some food, rest, and photo breaks thrown in. Here's some photos I took along the way.

More than once, we encountered juvenile bulls blocking the path. The trick was to sneak around them without getting kicked by their hind legs or gorged by their horns. In this photo, the path is fairly wide, so getting by was easy. When it was skinny single track, it was much more difficult.

There were lots and lots of goats grazing on the grassy slopes along the hiking path. You have to continuously walk in goat-doody Rasinettes.

This particular encounter with a goat herder reminded me of a scene in The Godfather when Michael is first in Sicily, wandering the countryside with his bodyguards, before he meets Appolonia.

Yes, the reports are true! It's not an urban myth. Weed grows everywhere in Tiger Leaping Gorge, just like... you guessed it, a weed! There were even a few flowering buds that one could sample, if one so desired. Rest assured, this hike was so amazing, we got high on good vibes and strenuous exercise -- no supplementary mind-altering substances were necessary.

Last time I was out in Yunnan a couple years ago, hiking in Xishuangbanna, some Australians I met had told me matter-of-factly about this aspect of the hike. The weed, however, was even more plentiful that I had imagined.

Here's some shots of the mountain range across from the gorge:

Towards dusk, we hiked over this waterfall that trickled through the narrow single track. This was particularly nerve wracking since if you slipped on the rocks, you're going to fall down a steep ravine of at least a thousand feet on the right. Couple this with exhausted leg muscles and feet at the end of a twenty kilometer hike, and you really need to be careful.

This is the door of a villagers house who's child had recently passed away. The character there is for sorrow, which we saw used a lot a few months ago during the Sichuan earthquake.

After spending the night in Tina's guest house, we traveled through corn and pumpkin fields in the countryside. We negotiated a steep ravine to cross a chocolate syrup-looking river on a rusty boat. We ended up at this place, the Piaopiao guest house, where we had a really authentic countryside lunch, and waited for transportation back to Lijiang.

The guesthouse was being run by an old man and woman who were taking care of their daughter and grandson. The food was especially fresh. I would say that this is some of the most fresh and organic food you're going to find anywhere in China. From left to right in the photo is a Boboli crust-like bread -- very tasty, a stir fry of pork and peppers, and a pumpkin stir fry.

On the bus from the countryside back to Lijiang, many times the bus would pull over, a person standing by the road would chuck some food or other goods into the bus, and then the bus would continue driving. The bus driver would then deliver the goods to people in other villages along the way. In one case, a leather-faced old woman thew a purple bag into the bus, from which two dog legs protruded. Apparently she had just butchered a dog, and was sending the tasty leg bits up the road to someone else. Yum.

Speaking of dogs: in Yunnan province in general, they love dogs. Some people raise dogs as pets. We saw many breeds, Dalmatians, St. Bernards, German Shepherds, Dobermans, and more. Other people eat dogs. Still other people make purses and bags out of dog pelts. Check out this selection. These are bags made out of actual dog pelts. What kind of reaction would you get carrying that thing through San Francisco or some other town full of liberals?

A curious dog in Lijiang:

A mischievious puppy that ran around inside the courtyard of the Naxi-style guesthouse we stayed at in Lijiang. I had to go a little bit Cesar Milan on him after he started teething on our pants, and eating the socks in our room.

We took a six hour-long, twisty, bumpy bus ride to Lugu Lake. The ride was long enough that I got all the way through the audio book of The Obama Nation. Lugu Lake is home to the Mosuo group, which the Chinese are fascinated with to no end, mainly because of this concept called a "walking marriage". I think the Han visitors tend to regard the locals as an oddity and equate their lifestyle to city youths that pick up people in night clubs. In reality, the impression I got is that the Mosuo are not a great deal different from other ethnic groups in China.

This photo is from a rowboat ride that we took out to a small island in the middle of the lake.

Some prayer flags hanging near the temple on the island:

This is the wooden boat that we crammed into. One of the local Mosuo guys was the rower. We packed this little boat so full, twelve people or so total, that from shore it must have looked like a boat of Haitian refuges.

Inside view of our room overlooking the lake. You could have jumped out of this second story window into about fifteen feet deep water. Very nice.

At night, the popular food around Lugu Lake was barbecue. This guy is slow roasting a six-month old pig, as well as a chicken. We did a self-service type barbecue, where you sit in front of a hollowed out table that contains a simple wood coal-fired barbecue and cook fish, potatoes, and other vegetables slathered in oil.

It should be noted that this guy is not the owner of the establishment where we ate. He's just the lackey reporting to the boss, a forty something year old super woman. In the course of ten minutes, we observed this women do an amazing amount of tasks: seat a table of new customers, chop and serve vegetables, help customers pour oil on their cooking food, not to mention slaughter and pluck two or three live chickens. Apparently she had also slaughtered the baby pig being roasted there.

Lijiang has a lot of great local food. I especially liked the Naxi fried cheese, two varieties which are pictured here, thinly sliced and fried and dusted with powdered sugar, and thickly sliced and fried with granular sugar on the side for dipping:

This is a street food called Naxi baba, it's basically an oily flour cake filled with honey and brown sugar. Pretty tasty and filling, but I got tired of eating them after the third time.

Here's another street food, a steamed rice cake:

Sep 10, 2008


Thanks to some special inside connections (my GF snagged some tickets from work), I got to see some of the Paralympics events. Overall, it's a different feel than the Olympic events. I think the best way to describe it is that at the Olympics, you're cheering for countries and for the team, but in the Paralympics, people are cheering more for peoples' individual achievement, rather than for countries.

Here's some 400 m wheelchair racing in the Bird's Nest during the rain:

This was my third time in the Bird's Nest recently, and I was sitting close enough to get a close up view of those flag poles. You noticed how during the Olympic opening ceremony when they raised the flag, it just hung there, lifelessly, and then at the top of the pole it magically started blowing as if there was a hurricane force wind? With my binoculars I was able to see the details of the bulb at the top of the flag poles. There's some vertical slits that air blows out of so the flags flap in the breeze during the medal ceremonies. Very clever.

During the medal ceremony, flags a-flappin':

As the flags are lowered, no more flapping:

Here's a panorama inside the Water Cube that I stitched together:

Start of a backstroke race:

View across the pool to the media section. As big as this place looks from the outside, there's really not that many seats available. I can understand now why it was nearly impossible to get in to see the Olympic swimming events.

Diving platform:

The ceiling of the Water Cube:

Dessert, anyone?

"Mom! Someone threw up on my ice cream!"

Yes, this is an actual dessert pictured in the menu of a restaurant chain in Beijing called Bellagio. It's actually a pretty decent chain with lots of tasty Taiwanese-style entrees and desserts. This dessert pictured above, however, is the only one that I've always avoided. To me, it looks too much like a pile of shaved ice with puke dripped over it.

Beans can be barbecue flavored and baked, they can be simmered in a nice chili, but for me at least, beans shouldn't be sweetened and served as a dessert.