So I’ve gone back to college and work and this blog fell by the wayside, but we’re in the home stretch now. (Almost literally, I have about a week’s worth of stuff left to talk about before I caught a plane home).
Hangzhou train station was a strange, hostile place. It was huge with barely any chairs, and lots of people pointing, staring and muttering when I walked by. I ended up having to sit on the floor near my train’s gate (like most people). A family who looked like they were from South China were squatting next to me (seemingly another benefit of squat toilets is that people find squatting easier than sitting). After lots of glances in my direction there was a little bit of a fight and they all moved about ten feet away, and squatted in silence watching me. I tried to just pretend I was reading. Another younger fella sat down next to me and started reading over my shoulder. We got to talking, he turned out to be very nice and even asked that family to take our picture! They looked disgusted but were too polite to say no, so it was all good in the end. 🙂
It was an 18-hour overnight train to Guilin. We weren’t due to arrive until about 11am and the overly friendly train conductor kept waking me up throughout the night worried I’d miss my stop, clearly not trusting my Chinese or the fact that my train ticket’s destination was Guilin and we were still 100s of kilometres from Guilin. I gave up at 6am and got chatting to the family in the bunks opposite who spoke little bits of English and were beaming with pride when I understood their son’s English.
We had to pose for pictures while they were I was playing a card game with Gerry in the cramped bunk. I’m convinced he was making up the rules to suit himself as he went along.
Guilin was the first city in which there were no taxi touts. It was great to just leave the station and not have to say ‘No’ every two seconds. However, it’s full of seemingly suicidal scooter drivers. There may be 9 million bicycles in Beijing but there’s 9 million scooters in Guilin.
I ended up sharing a room with Sasha (whom I met in Xian) and a nice German guy called Fred who was moving to Guilin to study. We went exploring, got lost, and then found a cool park from which to watch the sunset.
The landscape in Guilin and this whole area of China is kind of surreal. It’s really flat generally, there are almost no hills but there are loads of narrow pillars of rock, some of them mountainous, some of them climbable. But there are no foothills or anything, they just spring up from the ground like teeth.
There was also a slide down the mountain and we had beer duck for dinner. We met a few people back in the hostel and all decided to do a tour of the Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces the next day. They are supposed to be beautiful in winter, or in rainy seasons. But we were just after the rainy season, which meant a lot of the roads to the best views were blocked because there were boulders blocking the roads.
In the end it was me, Sasha (who, it turns out, is a direct descendent of Alexander Selkirk/Robinson Crusoe), a Chinese-Canadian called Jacqueline, a Puerto-Rican-American called Eric, A Dutch couple, a Finnish guy called Hari and a lovely but intense Iranian lady. So an eclectic bunch, to say the least. The first 30 minutes we were exploring were really crowded and touristy, then after that it was pretty much just us, a few farmers and some quiet villages. Not many people went beyond the tourist tack. It was really hot, the sun was catching the terraces just right and the rolling curves of the terraces almost looked like natural occurrences. I don’t think my pictures do them justice, but here they are.
We got rice that was cooked inside sticks of bamboo for lunch. Then we went to the night market for dinner and got ‘beer fish.’ Then went back to the hostel for beer and taught everyone how to play Mahjong.