Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stop 2: Yangshuo

Well. Here we go on stop two of the blogocation (see stop one here). We left Hong Kong at about 10:30 PM and got to Guilin just before midnight. We were a little nervous when the taxi that was supposed to pick us up and drive us to our hotel in Yangshuo wasn’t there, and we were greeted by a desolate airport terminal in the middle of southern China. After deciding to wait it out for a few minutes, a guy came running up to us with a crumpled up paper that said “Eyre – Li River Retreat” on it, we were quite relieved. He didn’t speak any English other than a few words, so our communications were limited. So, off we went speeding into the night – into the pitch black in a little taxi. I will be honest it did cross my mind once that this dude could have taken us out there and dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, and we could still be there to this day working for food in some little village trying to figure out where we were. We had just left the most densely populated city in the world – and 2 hours later were in a place on the polar opposite side of the spectrum. After about an hour we made it to our little hotel that we found on tripadvisor (what an amazing site that is) by about 1 in the morning.

The next morning, we awoke to this right outside of our room’s sliding glass doors.


These crazy Karst mountains just shooting up out of the ground everywhere. My first impression was that it looked like drip castles that you make on the beach – we figured that must have been how God created this place. It was so amazing. This is another one of those spots that I saw photos of as a teenager and decided that I needed to find a way to get there. All of the sudden we were right there in the middle of it. These Karst peaks shoot up out of the ground for miles and miles along the Li River. I love little hotels/guest houses like this. Here is an illustration of why I like them; I was asking the lady working in the lobby of the building for some tips on where to ride bikes – she gave me a rather confusing map and some directions in broken English. I thanked her and as I was walking away, a really nice guy stopped me and offered his advice on where to go and told me about the adventure him and his wife had been on the previous day. Come to find out he was an American professor from Minnesota who was teaching for a year at a university in Guangzhou (China). He gave us some great advice, told us where to find bikes, and we were off. I love that he was nice enough to share that cause it saved us from getting seriously lost.

We rented some bikes from this little old lady that was about 4 feet tall, she had a room full of bikes connected to her little one room cinderblock house – she let us go in and pick which ones we wanted and then asked for a whopping 3 dollars each for the day. We took off and started riding. That day we were going to ride along the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li River. We rode through Yangshuo which is a bustling little town with Karst peaks sticking up right in the middle of it. We finally made it through the town after nearly getting hit by a couple of scooters and weird tractor truck things and suddenly we were surround by rice paddies and these mountains.


As we started riding through these little villages, we noticed this lady (in the picture below), who conveniently was following us just closely enough to tell us which way to go each time we looked a bit lost. She was pretty nonchalant but I think this was a rehearsed plan to get us lost enough so we’d have to follow her to find out way to the Yulong Bridge (our first destination). It worked, we got lost and couldn’t help but follow her. We pedaled through these little villages interconnected by little roads and paths through the rice paddies.


Here’s a little house we rode by where they were drying out the rice which was cool to see. Also above, there was an assortment of meats hanging out to dry or age or something. It’s so cool how that rice is laid out so perfectly, it almost looks like a Zen garden or something.


The weather was perfect. It was in the low 70’s and sunny as can be. A lot of the fields has already been harvested, but many were still green and offered a great contrast to the mountains shooting up everywhere.


Bam! Isn’t that awesome!!! Holy Cow I was amazed at this site. Surreal. One of the most beautiful sights I have seen, and this was only the beginning.


Another little trail leading through the fields. At this point we gave up on navigating on our own and just followed our new friend.


Finally, we made it here, to the Yulong Bridge. A four hundred year old bridge connecting the two sides of the river. Here were were greeted by another sweet lady – who I think was in cahoots with the lady that was guiding us along the trail. She convinced us to come to “her house” and she’d make us some lunch. We thanked the other nice biker lady and gave her some money and then followed this other lady through some alleys and a copy of other houses, until we made it to her house. She had some tables set up on rafts down on the river so we sat down and had some food. We opted for the fried rice and Chinese cabbage over the river carp and other weird meats she had on the list of food she gave us. We were just here in the middle of China, no other westerners anywhere near us, it was awesome. Two couples floated by us on bamboo rafts taking their wedding photos.


Next we jumped on a bamboo raft after negotiating with the lunch lady to help us get a good deal. They have these little bamboo rafts that they let us put our bikes on the back of while we floated down the river. There was no one else out there, we saw like 2 other rafts and a couple of fishermen in the next hour. Above is the Yulong Bridge – look how it frames the mountains.


We kind of felt like we were in Avatar Land – didn’t see any blue people though. It really was kind of otherworldly though. We just leisurely floated along soaking in the ambience.


This guy pushed us along with this big long bamboo pole (the river wasn’t very deep). Cool hat.


The views just kept getting better and better.


This guy couldn’t speak English but I wish I could have learned more about him. I would have loved to hear his life story – to hear what his perspectives are. He was such a happy guy. He even threw down the peace signs for the photo. We had some funny experiences with him. Every so often on the river there were these dam sort of things that we would go over (maybe for them to regulate the flow of the water for farming or something), I think the river was relatively low at this time of the year, so on some of them we had to get off an pull the raft over. Our friend the captain needed some help on a few, so I helped him pull the raft over. One time we pushed too hard and the raft flew over the edge and started floating down stream. The captain took a few steps back and ran and jumped and barely made it to the raft – then he realized he didn’t have the bamboo stick to steer – he pointed at it and I threw it to him like a javelin which he also barely caught (I need to work on my javelin skills). Anyway, he was laughing his head off as were we. From then on, he was a little more cautious with letting me help him pull the raft over the little dam things.

Here’s a video so you can see what I am talking about.

Yulong River


The last one of these we went over was like a 3 foot drop off and the whole raft went completely underwater and got us soaked. It was hilarious (notice how my backside is a different color in the photo above).


Once we got off the raft we cruised along the river on our bikes back toward the town.


In the center of the town there is main street that is full of restaurants and shops. You can see how the mountains are just shooting up through the middle of the town.


We found an amazing little restaurant there – I don’t like Chinese food per say (I’ve had some bad experiences), but we loved this place. It was the best Kung Pao chicken I have ever had (like the mac n cheese of China, you can get it everywhere) as it was big on taste and spice and not on oil. We liked it so much we went back again the next night. After dinner, we headed back to our hotel and crashed after riding many miles on our bikes.


The next morning – our backsides weren’t feeling up for another day on bikes. Wow. I haven’t biked that much since my mission in Japan. So, we elected to rent a motor scooter from our hotel. I love scooters – they are just fun. So thanks to that, we were able to cover a lot more ground the second day. We went first to Moon Hill (above) one of these huge karst peaks with a hole in the middle of it. There was a path that we were able to hike up – like straight up – to the hole.

Here’s a video of the view on from Moon Hill:

Moon Hill


Once again, we had a persistent lady that followed us along making sure we didn’t get lost. I am pretty sure she asked if we wanted a “cold coca-cola” about 34 times. She was determined to get some money. She followed us all the way up. When we’d sit down to take a rest, she would whip out her fan and start fanning us. She let us know she was a “poor farmer, no money.” I asked her to take our picture and she ran over to Julie and started flashing peace signs and smiling. She was awesome.


We made it to the top, and thanks to the pollution, we were afforded this most extraordinary view. I mean how amazing is that. We were both in absolute awe. God created an incredible earth I tell you what.


She then snapped a nice photo of us. The lighting was a little off, but not bad for a “poor farmer, no money” We gave her some money and she was happy.


Here is our awesome little scooter – cruising past some more rice paddies on our way to Xingping and Fuli – two towns on the Li River (the larger river).


The Li River; quite a bit busier than the Yulong River the day before. This river is used for some commercial shipping and has ferries going between towns. We heard that on days ending with 2,7, and 9 – the lucky days – the town of Fuli has their market days. Luckily we were there on one of those days, so we went by and saw it. It was like Costco – China style – you could buy almost anything there – from candy to live catfish to chickens to clothing, you name it.

Check out this video of it, there is even a guy at the beginning of it selling something like the Vitamix guys that come through Costco.

Fuli Market


Need a chicken?


The aisle of the fish and meat. Those are fish tanks on the right.


Noodles. We were completely in their world. I didn’t see another westerner.


Need a live chicken?


Or some green onions?


I loved the faces here. Again, we were wishing we could just sit down and hear these people’s life stories.


Look at this sweet woman. What is her story I wonder?


I wonder what this little guy has in store for him in his life?


Or what adventures these two old pals have been on together?


The people there were kind, they just looked at us and smiled and wondered what in the heck these two white people were doing wandering around their markets snapping photos. That’s an experience I will never forget.


This was a truck we passed while riding up to Xingping. That is a work of art right there.


In Xingping – the karsts were considerably taller and bigger – there were a lot more people, and the bamboo rafts were all had motors on them. We jumped on one and took a ride up the river.

Here’s a video to give you some perspective:

Li River


This particular location is immortalized on the back of the 20 Yuan bill there.


We headed back to Yangshuo as the light started to fade…stopping along the way to take our last looks at the awesomeness.

We got up at 5 the next morning to catch a taxi back to Guilin and then off to Beijing! So stay tuned for Stop Three of the blogocation – Beijing. Yangshuo was amazing. A completely amazing experience in Southern China. I think the experience was amplified by coming straight from Hong Kong…two awesome spots that couldn’t be any more different. There is nothing better than traveling. I love this world and the sites and beauty it has to offer.

If you missed the post on Hong Kong, keep scrolling down or click on older posts in the lower right corner and it should take you there.

P.S. 3 days 1 hour 20 minutes and 23 seconds until Christmas! Wahoo! Only problem is that it was 63 outside today. I don’t think it’ll be a white Christmas this year. I think DC is out of snow for this year after the past two crazy winters.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Blogocation Stop 1: HONG KONG

Are you ready for a blogocation? I finally have had some time to go through the 1000+ photos that we took on our China adventure. Holy Cow. I can’t believe how lucky we were to be able to go over there and to see some of the most amazing sites that the world has to offer. To have the opportunity to travel to both of the most populous countries in the world in the year is such a blessing (went to India earlier this year). And I also have to say how lucky I am to have Julie who is the best travel partner there is. She gets me, and it totally willing to go and do anything. In order to make this a little more digestible, I am going to break this blogocation up into three parts: 1)Hong Kong 2)Yangshuo and 3)Beijing. Let me start by saying that I love Asia. I love the people, I love how they sound when they try to speak English, I love their smiles, their serious quirkiness, and the amazing cities and culture that they have created. Having served a mission in Japan for two years, I got a pretty good feel for Japanese culture. Some things are so similar to China and some are so completely different. Japan is extremely organized and proper, while China has some of that, I would say it is quite a bit more chaotic. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to be there right in the middle of it. I am not sure if it was just the time of year that we visited, but I was also amazed how few westerners that we saw there. At times it felt like we had the country to ourselves (and 1.4 Billion Chinese people). On top of all that, it is a photographer’s dream. Everywhere we went was so fun to take pictures of – I just got a wide angle lens too, so I was super excited to put it to work. Julie was awesomely patient as I would ask here to stop for a second so I could take a picture every 3 minutes.

So. Let’s start in Hong Kong. After a 16 hour flight from Detroit to Hong Kong that fortunately went fairly quickly – we were both able to sleep a bit and watch like 38 movies each – we arrived in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a place that I have always wanted to visit – in particular since 1998 when my parent visited just after the reigns has been turned back over to China from the UK. I remember seeing those photos and knowing that I had to go there someday. Anyone who knows me, know that I love cities – so it was amazing to finally be in the most densely populated city in the world surrounds by massive skyscrapers and craziness.


There is a great express train into the city from the airport – so we made it into the city in no time. We came up out of the subway surrounded by the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island – we decided to walk the half mile or so from there to our hotel to take in the city. Hong Kong is way more tropical than I thought it would be…to be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. The air felt like I was in Hawaii or something. Coming around the corner, I looked and saw this – the Bank of China Tower (above), arguably the most iconic of the Hong Kong skyline. There were double decker trams flying by, taxis, scooters, cars, buses, we could tell we were in a serious city. We went to the hotel and crashed as it was about 10:30 pm by the time we made it into the city. We both woke up by 5 am or so cause of the time difference so we spent some time planning the day.


We head to the central part of Hong Kong Island first. On Hong Kong Island all of the building are built right into the mountain, so the streets are really steep, kind of like San Francisco. Above is a typical street in that part of town, packed with shops and apartments. Below is one of the long hills we walked up to get to Man Mo Temple.


This Man Mo Temple is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Hong Kong. It was crazy – all of these circular cone things are incense sticks that burn constantly. Then I think the red card hanging down is a prayer or something associated with each one. I felt like I was back in Japan as I was slapped in the face with a cloud of incense. This is a huge building full of these things.


At the front was this alter where the people come to pray and make offerings.


We started feeling like we were gong to pass out due to the incense so that was the cue to move on, but wow, this was a cool spot, unlike anything we’d ever seen.


We started wandering back down the hill and happened on to this market full of all sorts of fresh produce and meat. I heard that slamming sound and looked over to see this guy (below) going to town on some meat.


Below is one of the things that I distinctly remember my parents telling me about; this escalator that just goes all the way up the hillside. It just keeps working its way all the way up the hill for at least a KM or so. It goes up for half the day, and down for the other half I think – kind of corresponding with traffic (going to and coming from work). We conveniently timed it so we walked all the way up – and it was going down at that point, then right as we turned to come down, it reversed directions and starting going up.


This was the inside of big office building that we walked past on a busy street. They use bamboo to build everything there, it was amazing to see (more photos coming).


Occupy Hong Kong!!! What the what?


We hiked up the hill to the main Cathedral in Hong Kong (there is a Christian influence there due to the British) and happened on to a wedding that was being held.


Cool view eh?


Julie found a British copy of the first Harry Potter book at a used book sale going on at the church to add to her collection. Too bad it didn’t come with a Nimbus or Firebolt to cruise around the city on.


Can you tell I was a little excited about the architecture?


Julie found out that we could go up to the 43rd floor of the Bank of China Building (about half way up the building) for free to see the views, so we headed up there. Julie read that the building right between our heads in the picture above, the Mandarin Oriental – was the tallest building in Hong Kong when it was built in 1968. Now it is one of the smallest.


Self portrait in the cool elevators.


This is the war memorial – the domed building behind it is where the offices of the British rulers of Hong Kong had they offices.


The Jardine House. This was my favorite building in Hong Kong. Julie’s brother and his wife call it the Connect 4 building. I love the precision and balance. I took like 40 pictures.


From there, we jumped on the Star Ferry and headed across the Harbor to Kowloon (the other main part of Hong Kong and is physically connected to mainland China. It was pretty cool to be on the South China Sea.


What a skyline. Wow.


The TST district in Kowloon is the big shopping part of town.


They were already all geared up for Christmas. I love how Asians aren’t necessarily Christian, but they LOVE the commercial aspect of Christmas.


Had some tasty Mongolian BBQ for lunch at a place recommended by Ashley (sister-in-law we were on our way to visit in Beijing). It was Julie’s first experience. She liked. We need to find one of those around here.


Everywhere you look there are these HUGE buildings full of apartments. I love how people just hang their laundry out the window like 20 stories up.


I mentioned bamboo scaffolding earlier. Look at this building – the whole thing surrounded. This is a big part of their means to build many of these huge buildings. Pretty amazing. I read they don’t wear shoes and some of them don’t wear harnesses while they maneuver around on these scaffoldings.


This is the Goldfish Market. Crazy. 3 or 4 blocks straight of pet stores. The majority of them selling every kind of fish you can imagine, from little goldfish to really big fish that were like 6-8 inches long smashed into little plastic bags. I guess when you are in a city this crowded, goldfish are the go-to pets.


I loved this propane delivery system. I am not sure how those tires hold up with all that weight.


This is arguably the coolest view of a skyline anywhere in the world. We got back down to the harbor in time to admire the massive skyline and watch the super cheesy sound and lights show that they do every night there. I tell you what, the Chinese are serious about photography. I had my camera set up to take pictures of the show and three dude came and set up directly in front of me with their tripods and everything, without really acknowledging my presence. Then they yelled at each other for the next 30 minutes (I think trying to share photography tips). Nonetheless, it was an amazing spectacle.


Made good use of the camera remote Shawni gave us for Christmas last year.


This is at the end of the light show. Those streaks on the left are a huge cruise ship that cruised into the harbor right as the the show started. Good timing. The crazy thing is that even with a wide angle lens, I only captured about 40% of the skyline – it goes forever. We headed back to the hotel and crashed after walking like 17 miles that day.


The next morning for breakfast we went to this place next door to our hotel – I ordered a waffle and Julie ordered french toast. My waffle came smothered in sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter, and Julies french toast was deep fried – kind of tasted like something you would eat at a state fair. It was awesome.


We then walked over to the church which we serendipitously happened on to the previous night on our way back to the hotel. Check out some of theses massive apartment buildings we passed on the way there.


So the night before as we were walking across a bridge across a street I notice a sign on the side of this huge building with the church’s logo on it. Then outside was this big touch screen that was playing videos. We went down and looked at it and found out that this huge 14 story building was a church. We used to the touch screen to figure out that there was a meeting in English starting at 9:00am so we were set. It was so cool. Any person that passes by (it is in a really busy part of town) can stop and watch videos and learn about the church on this touch screen (above). The church has 3 or 4 chapels and meeting space on the first 11 floors, then the top 3 floors are where the area authorities live. Cool.


It was so amazing to be there in the middle of Hong Kong and attend sacrament meeting and fell the spirit so strongly. It is amazing that no matter where you go in the world, you can find a church to and an opportunity to worship the Savior with fellow Saints.


From there we jumped on the subway –  felt like I was back in Japan on a crowded train a head taller than most everyone makes it a little less claustrophobic…Julie got the real experience as she was down there with everyone else. We headed out to the New Territories (another part of Hong Kong) to go to the 10,000 Buddhas Temple. Literally hundreds of Buddhas lining the path as you hike up a really steep path up to the temple. All of them unique.


Awesome Engrish. Remember – don’t sleep on the stone chair or climb on Buddha.


I think this is where the 10,000 Buddhas are – look at all of those little statues.


Gotta hand it to them for the colors. Love how vibrant their temples are.


The whole thing was built right into these tropical mountains.


Peace signs at the very top of the temple.


I think all of these female statues are very happy with Julie’s hang time in this photo.


This was my favorite Engrish from the trip. Too bad we didn’t see the monkeys so we could “beware the monkey attack”


From there we went to visit the Hong Kong LDS temple. This is a building that I have always wanted to see as it was always my favorite one growing up. So beautiful.


We then headed back to TST where they had a CoCo Ichibanya!!! The best curry house in Japan had a location in Hong Kong complete with all the wax samples of the food in front. Julie was kind of laughing at me because I was so excited about it. Then she tasted the curry and she shut up. It was amazing. Made me realized I really need to work on my curry making skills. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. And how can you not love their slogan “Good Smell, Good Curry”?


More Crazy TST.


A daytime look at the amazing skyline before heading back over to Hong Kong Island to go up to Victoria Peak.


We took a bus up to Victoria Peak on accident – we were trying to take the tram, but ended up getting on a bus that took us all the way to the top instead of to the tram due to our lack of being about the read Chinese. It was really cool tough to go up the switchbacks to the top of the crazy steep hill. All the while these huge 30-40 story apartment buildings just scale the mountain. We made it to the top for the iconic view of Hong Kong. Wow. We just sat and stared in awe for like an hour. This was an out of body experience to finally be there. You can see why a 4 bedroom house (3500 square feet) with this view sold for $30Million a couple of years ago.


Just to prove we were actually there.


We took the tram back down, looked up and saw this amazing sight. Then took a double decker tram back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and raced to the airport to catch a late flight to Guilin. That is Blogocation Stop 2, so stay tuned. Hong Kong was amazing. It exceeded our expectations. People, culture, buildings, food, more buildings, harbor, packed streets, nasty smells, meat hanging everywhere, east meets west, hills, just a great spot on earth.