In any case, we were sleeping with Jungle Juice on this night…
Day 6: A MEMORABLE TRAIN RIDE
The train left Guilin Station some time around 1:30pm. We weren’t looking forward to this train ride knowing how cramped it was especially with the luggage we were carrying around.
As I was trying to get our belongings in an agreeable configuration, I felt a bit nervous about taking so much space with two luggages underneath the table barely allowing any room for anyone else to sit across from us. And it turned out that a pair of young women were the unfortunate ones assigned a seat right across from us.
Based on their initial reaction, I figured they probably wondered how the heck they were going to sit in their seat? So I scrambled some more trying to figure out how to accommodate them while keeping our luggage in possession.
Eventually, we managed to figure out that one luggage was indeed able to fit underneath someone else’s seat while the larger one had to stand up and be in the aisle.
I guess this little bit of drama actually was what broke the ice and somehow initiated some dialog between us and the young women across from us. Those ladies seemed to know the other young ladies sitting across the aisle so we got to converse with them as well. Considering the circumstances, things were certainly looking up.
The whole dialog took place in mostly Mandarin Chinese, but a couple of them were actually studying English for many years so that kind of made things a little bit easier when we had trouble communicating something in Chinese. But even with that said, there were still plenty of difficulties trying to get points across in either language.
I’m sure a third party observer might be laughing at me trying to get by with Chinglish while the ladies were sprinkling an English word or phrase between heaps of Chinese words and sentences.
Anyways, they knew we were from overseas, but they were impressed with how much Chinese we were able to use with them. On the flip side, we were impressed with their knowledge of English considering not many foreigners (specifically Westerners) come through this local train to Nanning, we reckoned.
I guess we piqued their interest tremendously because they always wondered what America was like, and it was the first time they’ve seen ethnically Chinese people from overseas come to these parts. So that really got them excited.
I tried to dispel their “grass is greener” mentality as they tended to think the US was somewhat of a paradise. We all got our own problems and it’s not as rosy as they perhaps wanted to believe (especially considering how our country is going bankrupt and none of the real problems are addressed).
So we discussed all sorts of things during the next five hours from languages to travel to schools and professions, family, heritage, history (it’s amazing how intertwined Chinese history seems to be with everyday life), and even boyfriends.
Julie thought they were flirting with me so she was marginally playing along. But she was mostly buried in her Stephanie Meyer books. I guess this kind of boosted my ego a little bit, but the pleasant chatter was totally an unexpected surprise making us forget all the drama and bad thoughts going into the train ride in the first place.
Most of them seemed to be headed from Guilin to Nanning so they could take some kind of exam on Friday. When the subject turned to what they wanted to do after they were done with school, the talk started turning towards the financial crisis and how it’s difficult to find a job in China where it’s already competitive even before the financial crisis occurred. That was kind of surprising since it seems like the World Markets were placing their bets on the Chinese economy.
Naturally, they didn’t like Bush (seemed like a common opinion no matter where in the world we went with very few dissentors), but they did like the Clintons who visited these parts back in the late 90s. They also thought of Obama like the second coming of MLK (that’s Martin Luther King, Jr. for those not in the know).
I also had some fun with them trying to improve both my spoken and even my written Chinese. I wasn’t sure how much I’d retain, but it was all fun trying.
Even though their body clocks were used to taking a siesta in the early afternoon, they had fun chatting with us and tried to fight fatigue to keep the conversations going. Indeed, this had to have been one of the most fun train rides I had ever been on (well, actually, Julie was mostly entrenched in her Stephenie Meyer novels though she did participate in the chatter every once in a while).
One of the ladies said it was fate that they met us and got to have some fun chatting with us so they fought their body clocks to keep the fun. I, too, felt the enthusiasm and it was great that we got to pass time this way instead of trying to fight boredom with sleep in the relative discomfort of the train.
Before we knew it, we arrived at the Nanning Train Station at around 6:45pm.
We said our good-byes as we all tried to fight our way through the crowds as we left the train. I wasn’t sure if we’d hear from them again, but the whole experience certainly put me in a good mood despite the chaos at the train station.
That was when we met up with our local guide Xiao Feng and were quickly escorted into the Nanning city center where our hotel was.
After a little bit of room malfunction drama (seems like the fancy electronics controlling the lights and the AC made it easier to break), we finally got settled in.
As darkness fell (though the humidity still remained), we entered the bustling scene of heaps of pedestrian traffic to go into an extremely busy Walmart. Seeing how crowded and bustling it was in here on a Wednesday night allowed us to figure out why American corporations are chomping at the bit to grab a chunk of the market share of the Chinese market. We can totally see how it’s literally a gold mine here. Sometimes you just gotta see it in person to totally understand what’s going on.
While in the megastore, we picked up some bottled water as well as some shrimp chips to consume while on the road.
Then, we had ourselves some Pizza Hut pizza (the Chinese version that is). Sick of Chinese food for the time being, we went with this artery-clogging oily solution. Unfortunately, we weren’t impressed with the cheese as it’s nowhere near the mozarella (or something like it) style we’re used to back at home.
When the Chinese waitress (knowing we were from overseas) asked us how the pizza was compared to home, we tried to explain that the cheese was different. Unfortunately, we got hung up on trying to figure out the Chinese word for cheese. So I don’t think we were able to communicate it to her.
By 9:30pm, we returned to the hotel to get a much-needed shower. Although the city center was bustling and busy (some of it in a Times Squarish sort of way), we opted to call it a day in anticipation of our long drive tomorrow.
Day 7: BENEVOLENT DAY?
Unlike yesterday’s fair skies, we awoke this morning to pouring rain. After getting packed and ready to go, we had ourselves a genuinely Chinese breakfast before leaving at 9am.
I wondered whether we’d be walking in this type of pouring weather and I anticipated a replenished Detian Waterfall, which was the goal for today.
At first, the drive was on expressway as we made our way out of the city limits of Nanning. It was still raining cats and dogs, but as time passed we gradually made our way into the countryside and then into the mountains, the weather seemed to gradually improve.
I had asked Xiao Feng how the weather system worked here, and he explained that warm moist air from the South China Sea tends to go north and meet cool dry air from Northwestern China. This meeting point tended to be the Nanning area in the Spring, which was why it gets a lot of rain during the season.
During the even hotter and muggier Summer months, they get monsoonal thunderstorms as well as the odd typhoon. Then things start drying out in the Autumn and especially in the cooler Winter months. This pattern seemed to echo a little bit of Thailand, we thought.
Since we were in the middle of a four-hour drive from Nanning to Detian Waterfall, I had plenty of time to check out the scenery as well as some of noticeable decorations in the van – presumably belonging to the driver.
The driver wasn’t the real talkative type but he looked quite young and even authoritative. His car seat donned what looked like a military uniform. Hanging from his rear-view mirror was a charm or badge bearing the countenance of Chairman Mao surrounded in some kind of gold-colored frame.
That kind of got my attention since I had read a little bit about the Cultural Revolution and sure enough, this charm had Mao looking older with blue skies and rosy cheeks on one side while the other side had a younger looking Mao in uniform again with blue, cloudless skies behind him. Obviously, we could tell where this guy’s allegiance was, but I wondered if he was strict and impatient as a result since it seemed like his driving and his demeanor demonstrated it.
As our driver was zooming along honking and passing anybody and everybody from other cars and trucks to farmers walking cattle to people on bicycles and lawnmower-engine tuk tuk-like rides, I couldn’t help but notice the incredibly idyllic scenery with farms and fields backed by dramatic karst landscapes that could be arguably more dramatic than even Yangshuo.
It was certainly less developed than the well-touristed counterparts of Yangshuo and Guilin.
But it was too bad that I didn’t know where would be a good place to stop and take photos, and it was certainly difficult taking photos from the car considering how fast we were going.
By 11:30am, we passed through Daxin (the “Big New”?) town, which contrasted the very rural landscapes we had been coming across on our way here due to the quantity of people and buildings. Still, this town was nowhere near as busy as Nanning.
The driver continued to zoom out of the town limits and then swerve left to right on the mountain roads leading to the Detian Waterfall area.
By 12pm, the driver stopped the van right in front of a road tunnel. There wasn’t any formal pullouts so he had to put on the emergency blinkers and try to get as far out of the way as possible next to the tunnel.
Meanwhile, Julie, Xiao Feng, and I got out of the car and walked down the road to an overlook. This overlook revealed a tremendously gorgeous scene with steep cliffs dropping off right into the river system in which the Shatundie Waterfall was in.
But with this waterfall, it was more about the surrounding landscape than the falls itself, which was a wide rectangular shape (though segmented with its current waterflow) followed by scattered cascades and colorful greenish pools further downstream.
As we were about to board the van, I noticed a concrete walking path leading closer to the main Shatundie Waterfall. Even though it was thoroughly steamy and the path was slippery, we quickly made our way alongside the river for about 10 minutes before getting ourselves a much closer and better view of the main falls considering the waterflow.
After this brief excursion, we returned to the van and shortly thereafter, we made a stop at some local restaurant eating some local Chinese food (again, much of which seemed like homestyle stuff we used to grow up on). The meal consisted of bamboo, scrambled eggs in some kind of vegetable, tofu, and some beef with celery stir fry. All of this was combined with white rice. We appreciated being seated in a banquet room with air conditioning as it was quite humid in these parts.
After the lunch, we got to the Detian Village, which looked awfully busy at this time. Our hotel was at the very end of the driving part of the road. And after checking in, we saw that we got a nice view of both the esteemed Detian Pubu (Waterfall) as well as the Ban Goc Waterfall on the Vietnam side (the opposite side of the river).
We briefly dropped off our stuff in the room (already starting to wonder if the lack of mosquito nets here would be a problem when it became bed time), and then proceeded to go back outside and check out the falls finally.
Indeed, this was a transnational waterfall so that meant that we could get in serious trouble if we tried to cross the border illegally. But with that said, there were rafts that took you to the other side of the river where you might be able to get right up to the Ban Gioc Waterfall. There were also walking paths on the Chinese side leading you closer to the base of the main waterfall.
As I had feared and as the Shatundie Waterfall indicated, this waterfall was also in low flow, but it was certainly pretty impressive. I could only imagine what a scene this place would be had both Ban Goc and the main Detian Waterfall both been at average to full flow.
At around 2:30pm, we went for a walk with Xiao Feng. Indeed it was hot and muggy and all of us were soaking wet in our own sweat. Still, that didn’t deter us from taking numerous photographs of the falls from any angle we could find at the time.
The walkways were all paved, but even with that said, it was amusing to see people riding scooters, horses, or even motorized trams along the sidewalks to get further into the pedestrian area. And as we were figuring out, the pecking order where motorized vehicles (including scooters) took precedence over pedestrians so we had to get out of the way as people zoomed by honking their horns to let us know they’re coming.
Sheesh. It definitely takes getting used to yielding to vehicular traffic on what should be pedestrian walkways. Imagine scooters being allowed to scoot all the way to Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Lodge.
I guess this was consistent with what we observed in Guilin and Yangshuo as well as Thailand. I guess many Asians seem to detest walking.
Apparently a hundred years ago, there was war between the two countries. There was evidence in the form of a walking path up to a cannon platform high up on the cliffs as well as an old-school stone written in both Chinese and French (since Vietnam was a French colony back in those days).
Even though the stone tablet was on the Chinese side of the river, I wondered whether that stone technically meant that we had actually stepped foot in Vietnam for a few minutes.
The very last lookout we checked out (by this time, the heat and humidity had gotten to Julie and she retreated back to the hotel room, which thankfully had AC) involved climbing a bunch of steps (some of which had loose pieces of concrete) to some sheltered lookout allowing you a view of both the Ban Goc and Detian Waterfalls as well as the mountains beyond in a top-down manner.
At 6:30pm, we had dinner at the local hotel restaurant. We weren’t sure what the local food was here, but with the help of Xiao Feng reading the menu for us (it was completely in Chinese which was common in many restaurants we’ve been to on this trip), we learned that a lot of the local stuff involved snakes as well as insects in noodles.
That was a bit too radical for us so we were invited into their kitchen and pick out the live fish swimming in the tank that we wanted to eat as we learned the fish came from the river here. I don’t think we had ever done that before.
While we had Xiao Feng helping us out ordering food here, I was trying to figure out what the De in Detian meant. All my guesses about it were wrong and he ultimately said something to the effect that it meant “benevolent.”
I thought this was strange because “benevolent” and “day” (tian) normally don’t go together. I guess we could chalk this up to yet another Chinese word combo that just doesn’t translate very well in English. Or it was another case of me not knowing the meaning even despite Xiao’s best attempts at explaining its meaning to me. So I guess the meaning of the name of this falls remained elusive.
Anyways, the meal was simple though expensive thanks to that fish. Still, we were full and it was just in time.
That was because the dining hall was flooded with loud Northern Chinese tourists at the time. Making matters worse was that many of the males decided to light up and fill our lungs with second hand smoke.
And so ended the day at the falls. Now, it was time to get to sleep, and it was time to figure out what to do without the mosquito nets in the presence of mosquitoes. This was disconcerting considering that malaria and yellow fever were a possibility in these parts. Plus, the later the evening went on, the more mosquitoes we noticed were buzzing around on the white ceiling in our room. I’m guessing they got through the openings on the non-weatherproof door or crevaces in the windows.
In any case, we were sleeping with Jungle Juice on this night…
Day 8: MORNING HELPING OF DETIAN PUBU
I awoke at about 6:30am and saw that there wasn’t going to be any glowing scenery as the sun was well hidden behind some menacing looking misty clouds. Still, I was going to enjoy a bit of a morning walk and perhaps beat the rush to enjoy the falls one last time before leaving for Nanning.
At 7am, I started to go out with tripod and camera in hand. But just as I took a few steps up the stairs and then towards the first overlook, it started pouring. Fortunately, I was close enough to the hotel to retreat to our room for shelter.
But just 15 minutes later, it seemed that the rain subsided and I went for the walk in earnest.
It was noticeably muggier than it was yesterday afternoon.
I eventually reached the upper viewing pavilion at around 7:45am and the 15-20 minutes or so of climbing up the wet and slippery hard stairs made me sweat bullets as I was up there. That sweat probably washed off some of the DEET I had put on earlier in the morning resulting in some mosquito bites. Boy, I sure hope none of them gave me malaria or yellow fever since we failed to take Malarone earlier on in this trip.
It was totally peaceful and quiet up there in contrast with the noisier walkways filled with loud Chinese tour groups and locals trying to sell motorized tram rides or horseback rides.
By about 8:15am, I left the pavilion and joined the masses. By a little after 8:30am, I saw Julie and she told me to go eat breakfast as they’re about to close shop at 9am. So that I did.
The breakfast was eaten mostly alone though I was joined briefly by Xiao Feng. He said he noticed me earlier in the morning making my way up to the pavilion. He then went on to the check-in area probably to let the staff know we were checking out or something.
The food was once again the usual Chinese brekkie of mantous (a white kind of bread that maybe you might have seen in Dim Sum restaurants or authentically Chinese brekkie places), shao bin you tiaos (closest thing I can think of that might relate is the Navajo Fry Bread without toppings), as well as spinach, stir fry noodles, and even yam.
The only drink on offer was milk. But given the whole malamine fiasco, I wasn’t gonna touch that stuff. I did think it was unusual they didn’t have dou jiang (soy milk) since that’s usually a Chinese staple for brekkie.
Anyways, I quickly ate my breakfast, joined up with Julie, got our belongings and joined Xiao Feng along with our driver for an earlier-than-expected 8:50am departure.
On our way out of the mountainous area, we made a brief stop at a signed pullout overlooking a wide riverbed. Xiao explained that this was supposed to be where we could’ve seen clouds “walking” in the river. But unfortunately, the water level was so low this time of year that it was mostly rocky riverbed.
Once again, our driver zoomed by everyone. After a brief petrol and restroom stop in Daxin Town, our driver continued his hasty driving, and before we knew it, we were back in Nanning’s downtown (zhong xin) at 12:20pm.
The rest of the day was free and it was for the better part spent internetting and watching TV while spending a few moments having a meal. We weren’t really in the mood for doing another walk in the happening CBD here, though I’m sure it would’ve been fun. It’s just that there were errands to do.
But at least we got to see what we came here to see. I’m sure it would’ve been even more impressive had the falls exhibited higher flow. But that’s life sometimes. You can’t always call the shots on timing especially on a trip like this where we’re hitting different climate zones in one go.
But the one thing that seemed to be the recurring theme everywhere we’ve been so far (after talking with locals) is that Autumn seemed to be the time to visit these parts of China.
Oh well, there’s always next time…
I’m just not sure when that’ll be…
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