(Be)Guilin Adventures

22-05-2019 10:05

Karst – limestone and other soluble rock has dissolved over time to form a pretty landscape

Two weeks ago, we had a funky holiday situation. We had a bank holiday on the Wednesday, but so that we could have Thursday and Friday off, we worked both Sundays either side of it. They were very much not fun and none of us liked working them. But, we did have four days off in a row, and Hannah, the teacher of my KC class invited me to go to Guilin with her. I knew nothing about the place but I did know that I wanted to explore China, so I said yes.

This is going to be another picture dump post, but I will have some paragraphs of writing to explain some stuff, because we did a lot in those four days.

Bear in mind however, that I don’t necessarily know a lot about some of the things we saw, as the package was booked by a Chinese person on a Chinese website, so the tour guide only spoke Chinese and I, despite my best attempts, do not yet speak enough Chinese to understand a single word. This was obviously shown to me yesterday, when, on the train, I made a friend. She wants to improve her English and help me learn Chinese, which, yes please, but she said a sentence to me, and I didn’t get a single word from it. Then she told me what it meant – it was a sentence that I had literally just translated on the Chinese learning app I was using, (the reason she spoke to me was to ask what the app was called) but because she spoke at a normal speed, I didn’t catch it. The app talks much more slowly and clearly – it also tells me that I speak Chinese well, whereas Hannah, and my 6-year-old students drill me in pronunciation because I just can’t get it right.

Anyway, point being, I took pictures but don’t always have context behind them, because despite Hannah’s best efforts, she just doesn’t yet quite speak enough English to explain everything that was going on.

*Lots to say about the Solitary Beauty Peak at the Prince’s Palace; it’s located next to the Li river, and the shape of the mountain amplifies the effect of the wind there (it was pretty windy). Inside the mountain, there is a prayer cave of sorts, with a bunch of Chinese holy men carved into the walls, each one representative of a couple of years, about 80 years apart, starting around 100 years ago, and heading into the future by several years. You pray at the one who represents the year you were born, except that due to my unhelpfully being born before the Chinese New Year occurring in 1993, I had to pray at the 1992 man. The peak is a deeply spiritual place, as Guilin is one of the earliest and longest settled places in the country. Also the mountain symbolises the sun, light and therefore yang, while the river is representative of the moon, dark, and yin. Fun fact: Feng Shui literally means wind water. Make of that what you will.

**Entrance test thing. I can’t remember it exactly as it was explained, but basically, anyone who wanted to, could take these tests and the more you passed – in a sliding scale of difficulty – the higher up in government you could be appointed. They were a kind of intelligence test and in theory, and according to this site, in practice too, allowed anyone, be they farmer’s son, fisherman’s son etc., to become a government official simply by passing these tests. this is especially so since schooling has been mandatory for boys for hundreds of years (sorry girls, just like the West, we weren’t allowed until much later). The palace extolled these exams a being some kind of near perfect system, but I sense a little bit of propaganda at play. of course, I could be bitter since I failed the test, due to the tiny issue of not speaking, reading or writing Chinese.

***The Silver Caves – my pictures are not great, due to my not being a professional photographer and the flash/not flash choice presented their unique difficulties. However, the caves are some of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen, expertly lit up in a rainbow of colours that emphasise their beauty. I’ve never had my jaw literally drop open before I entered one of the main caves in the system (of which most is naturally formed, but to create a better tourist site, connecting tunnels have been excavated, and as such we were underground for around two and a half hours walking through the caves); I thought it was a literary trope, but here, my jaw fell. Words failed me, except the non-word “Cathedralic.” I felt the awe I feel when entering a Gothic cathedral and was stunned by the sheer natural beauty of these rock formations, made over hundreds of thousands of years. Any camera could not do these caves justice, although I certainly tried, in my limited way, having take over a hundred photos. Those here are the best of them, and even they aren’t all that good.

****The show. First of all, apparently, it’s okay to take pictures and record during the performance so initially I was distracted by all the screens, but I personal chose not to take any pictures, so as to enjoy the show to the fullest, and I am so glad I did, as I got to fully live the experience, rather than through a screen. The show was amazing. I didn’t understand much of it, but I didn’t need to, the story was acted through the performances, and there was some English subtitles at times. Throughout, I had goose-bumps. I cried at a woman’s athleticism, as she stood on pointe on a man’s head, while a platform moved up and down below them. Although this was for me the highlight, along with men running along walls, the rest of the dancers and performers were also exemplary. The visual effects were stunning and there was a full waterfall on the stage for part of it, with water effects in the audience as well. The costumes were beautiful and reflective of many aspects of the local minorities’ cultures as well as Chinese traditions, and I feel truly privileged to have experienced it.

*****We stopped at a rural village that seems to have been preserved to be a tourist spot, but apparently, it is also a minority ethnicity in China and the inhabitants still live and work there according to their traditions. They are historically silversmiths and their (presumably, although it could potentially be daily) ceremonial garb reflects this, being heavily draped in silver. They also showed us some traditional music, a use for their silver combs that is not combing their hair, but rubbing the back of it, along with oil into the back and neck. Supposedly, it’s good but it looked like it left bruises as well. We sampled their tea; I liked it, but Hannah didn’t, finding it too bitter. My biggest complaint of China being that everything is too sweet, perhaps this is understandable. This is one of the occasions were I probably missed a loaf of context, because “wo bu shuo zhongwen.”

*******The rice terraces are silver in the spring, green in the summer, golden in the autumn, and under snow in the winter (we were at a pretty high altitude). However, the true silver is only achieved when the sun shines on the waterlogged paddy fields. We were there while it was cloudy and overcast, so while some of them were silvery, the majority just looked muddy brown.

These are just a few of the ~800 photos that I actually took over the 4 days of holiday (I blame my parents since I got the photo taking thing from them), so no doubt I have missed some stuff out, but it does cover the main attractions we went to, and I am sure that of those 800, there are many many duplicates, that I just haven’t yet got around to sorting through any more than picking these out.

I am a bad millennial as well, since while I tried all the local delicacies, I didn’t take any pictures of them, except for the snails on my phone, and since said phone has had a system update, I cannot find the photos on there to lift them off and onto my laptop. So I’ll describe it here. I ate snails (French are better since they are drowned in garlic rather than chilli flakes), rice noodles (noodles made from rice), bear fish (very tasty but goddamn bones), and bamboo rice (nice, but does taste quite woody).

Guilin was such an amazing trip, even though it was only four days long, there were so many things to see and do, you could easily spend at least a week there. I had a great time, despite spending the majority of it somewhat clueless and I had some excellent experiences, which after all, was one of my reasons for coming to China: to have an adventure.

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