Both Julie and Li were yelling at me to “duck!” or “xiao xin!” because I was usually busy taking pictures without noticing where the boat was headed. Apparently, I needed to pay more attention as a stalactite or tree branch would narrowly miss my noggin…
Day 9: A LONG DAY OF DOING NOTHING
Today we had a very early wake up call at 5:30am. Of course this isn’t much of a big deal for me since I usually get up at 5am each morning to go to work 90 minutes later.
As my Mom always says, “Early bird gets the worm.”
Anyways, I wasn’t so sure that would be the case today because we had to catch an 8am flight from Nanning to Guiyang. But beyond that, there didn’t seem to be anything more on the agenda.
Unfortunately, with the way flights and itineraries worked out, we’d have a whole day of doing nothing once we got to Guiyang.
Still, the important thing was that we got to our hotel in one piece with all of our luggage.
We met our tour guide named Li, who had a very youthful look because she was young (only 25) and she was dressed very youthfully with converse shoes, jeans, and hooded sweater jacket. And like the other guides we have met up to this point, their dialog to us was primarily in Mandarin Chinese. I guess it’s just what they’re used to and we were interested in improving (ti gao) our Chinese as well. Of course, when it got hard to explain something in Chinese or didn’t we know a particular word, then we switched to Chinglish. But with Li, it seemed like she was very uncomfortable with English and she didn’t seem at all interested in (or unable to) uttering a word of English.
We arrived at our hotel at 10:15am. There, we got settled as the hotel let us check in early. Unfortunately, we were busy trying to figure out a way to minimize the smoke in the room while dampening all the honking sounds just outside our window (at least we were on the 16th floor). Even though we requested a non-smoking room, somehow they weren’t able to meet our request.
I guess since we’re on the topic of cigarette smoke, I have to vent that it seemed like everywhere we went in the country, smoking was a real problem for us as it’s everywhere. It’s in the elevator, in the hotel rooms, in the restaurants, in the hallways, and who knows where next we’ll encounter second hand smoke?
And when we had the fan blowing, it seemed like the smoke was especially bad as it seemed to let in the smoke that made its way up the vents to our room. Even though the receptionists and guides were aware of foreigners and their desires for non-smoking, it seems hard to accommodate it especially given how chronically prevalent it is here.
Anyways, we eventually figured out that we had to turn off the fan and try to close off the vents. That at least improved the smoking situation somewhat, but the residual smoke and any new fumes that managed to reach us were still there to constrict our lungs and make our hearts beat faster.
At 12:30pm, we went across the street into the Jinyi Canting (Restaurant) where our guide helped pre-order some delicious yet healthy plates. Unfortunately, we had to shift tables once because (you guessed it) someone was smoking right next to us.
Back at the hotel, we asked to switch rooms. Surprisingly, our request was honored. Yet I couldn’t quite figure out why we couldn’t be accommodated earlier in the day on the first request.
Anyhow, we ended up at a higher floor. The moment we stepped out of the elevator, we saw a sign saying “No Smoking Floor,” which was reassuring. Unfortunately, it still smelled like smoke up here. But at least we could spend the night in our new room knowing that this is probably as good as it’s going to get in terms of trying to avoid that damned cigarette smoke.
The rest of the daylight was spent back in the room back on the computer. We meandered about the immediate city blocks at night looking for a place to eat while trying to get a flavor of the city while seeking out hip parts of town.
Unfortunately, only the first part of goal was accomplished (finding a place to eat). It was mainly some ordinary Chinese chain restaurant apparently, but the food wasn’t anything memorable.
Meanwhile, we got another dose of honking horns, playing Frogger crossing the city streets (seemed like those traffic lights were routinely ignored – especially the pedestrian ones by passing cars), smelling a combo of cigarette smoke and exhaust, avoiding indiscriminate luggies (hocked by both men and women), and trying to keep from getting pickpocketed.
Seems like just about every city in China (even smaller towns) exhibited this kind of chaos, impatience, and lack of manners. But at the same time, we were wondering how we’d fit in had we been living here.
And given the extra time of idling today, we had a chance to think about our place in China as well as back at home. And in a way, our discomfort with the way things were here was kind of an affirmation of how different we were even though we were of Chinese descent.
I guess both Julie and I felt a sense that we didn’t belong here after growing up in the States. But we also recalled never really fitting in growing up in the States either because we were somehow different – perhaps since we were neither hip nor a FOB.
After discussing over dinner our observations while sharing our thoughts and perspectives, we came to realize that it’s OK to be different and even embrace differences between people (even though being different might have been tough growing up and can still be an issue today). Yet it’s the differences in people, cultures, scenery, and experiences that travel reveals to us, and I think we’ve become more respectful, introspective (maybe cynical as well) of ourselves and our home, and be more well-rounded what with all the different experiences and broadened horizons acquired up to this point.
Anyways, it was pretty low key from a sightseeing standpoint (I guess slow days like this allows you to collect your thoughts), but sometimes when you plan these things, you can’t really control the specifics of the timing of it all.
We’ll see how tomorrow plays out when the sightseeing resumes in earnest…
Day 10: BI ZUI!!!
After a really slow day sightseeing-wise yesterday, we really looked forward to today.
At 8am, we braved the smoke-riddled hallways and elevators to join Li at breakfast for a chat and some fuel for today’s activities. The food at the brekkie was the usual Chinese stuff, but it actually had a wider selection than the previous breakfasts we’ve had so far.
After the breakfast and Chinese lessons (for my own learning) with Li, we got our bags and boarded the van to start the drive to the Huangguoshu area at 8:40am.
The skies were overcast, but comfortably cool. The weather had called for 30% chance of showers so hopefully it wouldn’t rain too much on our experience even though we had feared that we had mistimed this visit like the Detian visit where there wasn’t much water.
Anyways, once we got out of the chaos of the city of Guiyang, the freeway we took out of town seemed pretty peaceful as it entered mountainous countrysides. This freeway was in such good shape that the ride went by quite smoothly and we got off of the freeway in a couple of hours near the first scenic area we were to tour – the Longgong (Dragon Palace) Caves.
The next part of the drive went through some more countryside where we noticed some interesting terraces perched along mountains and in the plains. It almost seemed like some kind of a maze, but we knew that there terraces were designed to hold water in to cultivate rice.
After getting through the initial barrage of tented shops and vocal salespeople as well as pretty young ladies dressed in bright ornate garments looking to have their pictures taken with you for a fee, we proceeded onto a few footbridges over what looked to be a pretty wide river.
After crossing over the bridges traversing the wide river, we were then in view of a small cascade at a bend in the river that seemed to conceal something even more interesting beyond our line of sight.
But as we got closer to the cascade and the footbridges, we realized that this cascade was no dinky one. If it wasn’t an afterthought to the caves we were about to go to, it could very well have stood out on its own as a waterfall attraction.
Eventually, we’d get to a cave entrance a short distance upstream from the waterfall we had just bridged over. The cave up ahead seemed to look pretty big (or at least it seemed to have a large cave entrance). So that hastened our steps even more as we tried to see what was up ahead.
But what we didn’t expect was that this cave was actually a tunnel (which seemed natural to us) featuring a loud and misty waterfall thundering its way to the lookout platforms at its base. There was enough water down here to spray the people here. The platform itself was quite full of people from a tour group.
It wasn’t easy to get a clean shot with hordes of impatient people combined with the well-dressed ladies trying to sell you their photo op so we went upstairs for a different view. Of course, I did get shoved on the way up as I had apparently walked in on someone posing for a photo when I thought he wanted to walk in front of me up the stairs. Anyways, been there, done that, no need to sweat the rudeness. Cooler heads prevail as it wasn’t a big deal.
At one of the viewing platforms above, it was a little more peaceful as a large percentage of the people on tour groups I guess didn’t have the desire to get more wet and walk up slippery steps (some of them in high heels).
Anyhow, we got our photos and enjoyed this rather unusual scene of a waterfall flowing through a natural bridge or tunnel. Speaking of which, this waterfall was called the Long men fei pu (Dragon’s Gate Flying Falls according to one of their Chinglish signs). There were a pair of stone dragons flanking a bridge at the bottom of the falls. Other than that, I’m not sure where the names come from pertaining to this place other than it happened to be at the Dragon Palace (Longgong) Caves.
We then walked through a series of tunnels and caves ascending its way up towards a boat area. There was a long line, but then somehow Li and one of the workers told us that there was a boat that needed just a few people so we jumped the line and filled those vacant spots with Li.
I didn’t realize that there was a lake up here, and that this lake was feeding the waterfall. It almost seemed too perfect to be true that you could have such a pretty cave harbor a waterfall with permanent flow thanks to this serene lake that we were about to boat on.
At that point, we embarked on what would turn out to be one of the more dangerous slow boat cruises I’ve taken part of as this boat (as well as others) would routinely crash into the walls while passing under some treacherously low stalactites and tree branches.
I knew that I’d definitely be knocked out if I didn’t watch out and duck underneath these obstacles. And it took me some time to get used to the idea that I had to have eyes on the back of my head.
Both Julie and Li were yelling at me to “duck!” or “xiao xin!” because I was usually busy taking pictures without noticing where the boat was headed. Apparently, I needed to pay more attention as a stalactite or tree branch would narrowly miss my noggin.
Inside the cave, I found it wasn’t easy to take photos given the low lighting and the fact that we never really stopped at any one point. And even if we did stop, the water wasn’t still enough to take the kind of long exposure photos necessary to not have blurry photos under such conditions.
That was kind of a shame because the lighting inside the cave was interesting. Of course, there seemed to be signage for imaginary features named after their resemblances on the natural formations within the cave itself. And like many times before where we’ve encountered this, some looked like dead ringers while others looked like you really needed a good imagination.
After we had gotten to the deepest part of the dark and artifically lit cave, we started to boat back out. And that was when some little kid was yelling at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason right behind us.
Making matters worse, his parents seemed to encourage him to yell louder!
Both Julie and I felt like telling this kid to “bi zui” (shut up!). Even Li felt this way since she was sitting right in front of him. But we thought better of it and save face for the parents of the kid.
The interpreter or tour guide of the boat itself was being smart and told the kid (in Chinese) that if he kept doing that, he’ll throw him in the water and leave him there until he couldn’t yell no more. And only then would he come back to get him.
And at first, it kind of slowed down the kid, but he eventually belched out another scream.
We could see that the top of the falls seemed to be somewhat man modified. I wondered if this had to do with flow control so the falls itself would be easily visible through the cave/tunnel opening. It might also open the door for skepticism as to whether this waterfall and natural bridge was legitimate at all!
We didn’t expect to see a waterfall in the Longgong Caves so we were glad we came here. And after getting through the gauntlet of salespeople as well as more of those pretty young girls dressed in bright, ornate clothes (Li says they’re not Guiyangese, but she’s not sure if they’re from some ethnic minority group or natives or if they’re just there as a tourist trap).
On the way out, we did notice some men carrying someone in a chair. Except in this case, they were struggling and eventually they had to put the chair down. Just then and there, we spontaneously got ourselves some grilled corn from one of the street vendors here for a little snack.
Before we knew it, it was 12:30pm when we got back to the car.
It was nearly another hour of driving from the Longgong Caves to a couple of scenic pullouts (or lack thereof) where we could view other waterfalls and cascades on the way to the Huangguoshu Scenic Area.
After swinging around the bottom of the descent, we then drove uphill on the other side of the river. Afterwards, we had ourselves a nice lunch with Li and the driver family style somewhere on this slope.
By around 2pm, we were at the very busy entrance to the Huangguoshu Waterfall.
Upon walking through the entrance gates, we entered a paved walkway through a bonzai garden. But this wasn’t the bonzai garden in the Japanese sense. Indeed, it was actually the Chinese who came up with it, but they’re in a less manicured style than what you might come to expect in Japan or Little Tokyo.
After getting through this pretty little garden, we then descended a long series of steps. Somewhere about a third of the way down, we could see the majestic Huangguoshu (Yellow fruit tree) Waterfall.
Continuing further, we eventually got down to the first major viewing platform. Here, we joined a mob of many people from tour groups sprinkled with a few pretty aggressive sales people and even more ornate young ladies dressed for a photo for a fee.
I think Julie and I were pretty thoroughly impressed with this falls and it had surprisingly decent flow (contrasting the Detian Pubu experience). I guess I worried about this waterfall for nothing. There was even a faint rainbow in the mist of the falls when the sun briefly showed itself.
When we tried to compare this waterfall with the Detian Waterfall as well as some of the Thai waterfalls (namely Mae Ya and Thi Lo Su) we had seen some 4 or 5 months ago, but quite honestly, you could probably put all four of them together and pick #1 to #4 of Asian Waterfalls we had seen so far randomly and have an agreeable list. Indeed, they’re all about equal in scenic allure each with their merits and drawbacks.
As we exited the behind-the-waterfall walk, there was that annoying kid again from the Longgong Caves. This time, he was messing with one of those bullhorns (the same ones that Chinese tour guides of large group tours speak into) yelling through it or messing with some kind of siren.
What an annoying little brat!
Shortly thereafter, we had to pass through another gauntlet of old women trying to sell trinkets that we didn’t need nor want. But these women were particularly aggressive (almost Egypt-calibur aggressive) which was something that wasn’t the case up until now. I guess the more famous the tourist spot, the more aggressive they get. At least, that was my theory.
Anyways, we got back to a fork in the walkway past a swinging bridge that only allowed 30 people at a time. There was an utterly unnecessary but tempting escalator ride back to the top, but we decided to save the 30 yuan per person and do the long stairmaster exercise back up the steps from whence we came.
And after a brief breather at the top (invaded by the prevalent cigarette smoke by others), we got back to the van. And barely 10 minutes afterwards, we got to our hotel for the night where we checked into our room at 5pm.
At 6:30pm, we went for a quiet dinner at the hotel. On the way over to the restaurant, we noticed the sun looking like a yellowish-globe through the afternoon mist. Figuring it was an uncommon sight (after all, Guiyang means “precious sun” since it gets at least 150 cloudy days a year), we took photos of it before continuing on.
And so we called it a day for this rather eventful sightseeing day…
Day 11: UNEXPECTED SURPRISES
Today, we woke up to a cloudy and much cooler day than we had experienced yesterday. Obviously, the little bit of sun we saw yesterday was short lived, and they don’t regard the sun as precious for nothing (again to reiterate, the Guizhou Province’s capital of Guiyang means “precious sun”).
We joined both Li and our driver for another Chinese style breakfast of mantous and baozis (some stuffed with pork) along with rice and chow mein a little before 8am. And shortly thereafter, we got our bags, loaded up the van, and headed out at 8:30am.
Fortunately for us, this was on the way out of the area and it was already included on our price of admission for the Huangguoshu Waterfall. There were other falls, but they weren’t as convenient nor were they part of our already paid admission price. So it was a no-brainer to add this to our sightseeing even though it wasn’t originally planned.
This waterfall was supposedly wider than Huangguoshu. Though it lacked the height of its counterpart, and the power pylons and power lines behind the top of the falls were also unattractive. Nonetheless, the falls on its own merits was impressive, and the peace and quiet was fitting.
At first I thought this was the same waterfall as the one we saw as we drove past some bridge over the river, but it turned out that that other one was different and we wouldn’t get to stop and see that one. But that’s ok. This one was much more impressive and easier to access.
Around a half hour later, we were on some rural roads apparently leading to the ancient town. But then we were stopped by some ingenious roadblock where piles of bricks flanked a very narrow opening that only allowed small cars or smaller to pass.
We walked around the tiny streets of this town following canals and between lots of little shops selling trinkets or food. There really wasn’t a whole lot to this town that made you feel you were stepping back in time though. It seemed like Tianlong was a juxtaposition of restored and maintained buildings with dated and dilapidated ones.
It was over this lunch that we got to learn more about our driver and Li. We also got to learn more about Chinese culture over the lunch as well as some of the challenges being faced right here and now.
I noticed some heads turned when Li was lamenting how difficult it was to even get a job after going through so much schooling. It seemed like you really needed to build up connections, especially if you’re lucky enough to know someone in the government. But with all this honest talk, we were beginning to wonder whether that might’ve displeased some hardliners who happened to be sitting in the room.
Well, irregardless of the responses by people who weren’t part of the discussion, it was an educational and enlightening talk.
We resumed the touring at around 1pm.
The next couple of hours was a bit of a blur as food coma had hit Li, Julie, and I, but not the driver (fortunately).
I guess when you’re driving in China, you can’t afford a split second of lapse given the incredibly chaotic and utter impatience of the drivers here. Honking horns are a constant and lane lines are irrelevant. This was especially the case when we returned to Guiyang.
But after walking past some kind of scaffolding due to construction work, we all of the sudden saw a very scenic walkway leading up stairs to an ancient-looking city wall with arched doorway and uniquely Chinese architecture at the top.
Now this was what we kind of expected to see at Tianlong. And given this place’s proximity to the urban sprawl of Guiyang, it was hard to believe that this 13th century town could still retain its ancient feel and traditional charm.
Anyways, we walked up the steps and into the plethora of charming side-by-side buildings adorned with red lamps and red signs. Much of the main walkways were flanked by shops and there were lots of people here giving the area a much more lively feel.
So this was where the people were!
I didn’t expect to take many photos on this day, but this place managed to draw lots of shutter clicks.
It’s hard to describe in words what the experience was like here. It was really a wonderful blend of the old and new, and we really could’ve spent a lot more time here if it wasn’t getting so late in the day.
We eventually got back to the van at 4:30pm and weaved through more crazy rush hour traffic in the city. We finally made it back to our hotel on the north side of the city an hour later.
After a dinner in the smoky Yingji Restaurant (the same place we ate at yesterday for lunch), we rested and prepared for the next leg of the trip – to the quake ravaged Sichuan Province. It’s also the hometown of my grandma so I was personally looking forward to meeting some relatives for the very first time.
Anyways, early wake-up call and flight to Chengdu tomorrow and so ended a memorable and surprisingly pleasant visit in the Guizhou leg of our trip…