23 June 2019

Guilin, China: Xingping's 20 RMB View & Yangshuo's West Street...

Guilin was surely the gift that kept on giving, the second visit to China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has pushed for three blog posts! 2019s Dragon Boat Festival allowed me to see a series of fascinating places, concluding the itinerary the 20 RMB view was on the cards for sure! My night would be in and around the crazy, in the heart of Yangshuo colourful centre. Go!

Mother Nature really knows how to through a spanner in the works, during my Yangshuo tour she did just that! The Guilin area had witnessed some really heavy rains, causing the waters to rise. I was supposed to take a raft along the Yulong River but seeing things from my then platform was good enough for me. My tour guide tried his very best to keep track of the local rafting companies to see if they had lifted the ban, things weren't meant to be but he helped me take a great photo of the 20 RMB view. The flowing river, towering karst mountains and the mysterious clouds gave me a winning view. The crowds made me mad, like me they wanted their own memorable photo of that 20 RMB view. Some people really needed to chill their lives out, they were going to get their amazing money-shot without pushing, shoving or just taking their sweet time. Of course I didn't lose sight, getting my photo was crucial X! 

Nearing the end of the tour, I had really been looking forward to the final stop of the day. Xingping Village was buzzing during that late afternoon, with the holiday taking its full force the crowds were growing progressively larger. My tour guide had all the right ideas, paying no mind to the people we made our way to a wonderful spot that was in front of a make shift photo line. Asserting ourselves we were able to take that winning photo of the 20 RMB view. In that moment it felt amazing to have captured my third money shot referring to the Chinese currency, securing the Potala Palace for the 50 RMB note and Hangzhou 1 RMB note on West Lake. With the 20 RMB note my third, it's given the motivation to captures the Great Hall of The People in Tiananmen Square for the 100 RMB note. Xingping's magnificent landscape and fast-flowing river impressed me much. All in all, the struggle to the front to secure that outstanding photo was well worth it! Let's remember its just a photo in the end!

With the tour completed, it was time for me to check-into my Yangshuo hotel and to witness the bright lights. My hotel was located right in the heart of the noise, thankfully the hotel room was nice and quiet because nobody has got time for dawn alarm calls without any sleep! No! Saying goodbye to my tour guide, I would be meeting the driver the following morning to reach the airport for my Beijing bound flight. Walking into the lights and the noise of Yangshuo's buzzing town centre felt bizarre, from one angle I could see the rolling mountains and in the other the crowds of people roamed around. I had heard about West Street, a foreign themed street with international foods and quirky bars but that evenings entertainment for me was going to be slightly different. Only two days away from pay day, my finances were only going to cover dinner and a drink. Would the night would be a challenge for me or not? No way sister!

The day had been long and that McDonalds breakfast and questionable lunch had well worn off by the evening time, I wanted something hearty! Choosing the German style restaurant that had the most delicious looking menu was the one for me! Choosing the sausage platter wasn't a difficult decision for me to make, plus the beers were huge and ice cold! The price tag was reasonable for the portion and type of food and of course the location was another contributing factor, anyhow it was a holiday weekend! I sat back, relaxed with my beer to begin with, the view was filled with a street of busy restaurants who were all trying to tout for business. Before I knew it my monstrous portion arrived, now in China potatoes might be plentiful and cheap but when out for food its always a blessing to have mashed and boiled potatoes for tea! Mind the potatoes, I was living for the gravy all up on that sausage combination! In food heaven, so I wasn't going to pull any tricks or drink too much.

Throughout the whole trip I had kept things cute, not going over my limit with the local beer or any crazy spirits and for that it felt good. Walking along the busy party streets that surrounded Yangshuo's West Street proved to be entertaining for many different reasons. The music bars had gorgeous gentlemen singers, playing guitar and singing live very well but their looks and dashing dress sense had me all distracted. The dusk brought the bars to live with their bright lights and neon signage, it was a good job funds were low because I might've got thirsty, very thirsty indeed! Leaving those energetic streets behind, I found a shop that sold the local Guilin beer. Taking a seat along the pavement in a way that didn't make me look like I was homeless, I enjoyed my beer and people watching. People watched me right back, they either got a smile or a sour face depending on their first glance. No, no I wasn't in a salty mood.

I decided to call it a night pretty early on, I left the noise as it was becoming louder and louder. Yangshuo showcased itself to me in a very energetic way, I appreciated my opportunity to spend one night within the madness but one night was enough. The whole day had been a very long one, it was time to rest before my early morning drive to Guilin's Lianjiang International Airport for my flight back to Beijing. Waking before the sun had risen, I had a right game finding my way in the darkness of the early morning but thankfully I found the meeting point. The whole trip had been amazing, up until that point things had gone like clockwork. Arriving at the airport with enough time to clear security and reach the gate felt like an utter relief. Little did I know I would be very lucky to take-off at all, the heavens reopened after the previous days glorious sunshine, thankfully I arrived back into Beijing's Capital International Airport ahead of the schedule. Guilin/Yangshuo, it was amazing!

Yass Yangshuo!

Joseph Harrison 

21 June 2019

Guilin, China: Xianggong Hill, The Yulong River & Fuli Village...

Meeting my guide early, it was time to make the short journey to Yangshuo. I was looking forward to see the greener pastures of the rice paddies and the karst mountains. It was definitely a day to remember for all the right reasons, getting to see the 20 RMB note backdrop was out of this world! Concluding with one night in and amongst Yangshuo's buzzing tourist honey pot.

Being an already scenic city, so it didn't take a long time for the landscape to morph into a paradise like view. As my car approached Guilin's Xianggong Hill the vistas were do die for, the glistening morning sunshine gave the rice fields and karst mountains such a heavenly glow. Arriving at Xianggong Hill filled me with a feeling of trepidation, I don't do well with heights so I was really glad the tour guide was going to walk to the top with me. I braved the way up to the top, it wasn't that bad compared to how I imagined it would have been. The views from the top were outstanding, I felt as if I was in another world. The winding river looked amazing, the cloudy vista added a sense of mystery. As with many beauty spots in China, people were going berserk to get a snap of the vista from the top of Xianggong Hill. One individual believed they were better looking than the views, in response I took my own sweet time. No!

The views were outstanding, I won't ever forget those breathtaking sights. It had been a dream to visit Xianggong Hill to capture that iconic Guilin view. No matter how much money a trip costs, if I can see something that was so gorgeous makes every single penny of that price. I didn't spend much time at the top because the itinerary was quite full packed, the growing amount of people making their way to the top also influenced that decision. If truth be told the height wasn't too bad, I saw what I had wanted to see during that Xianggong Hill moment. I'll never forget that gorgeous encounter. Making the way back down didn't take long at all, with the air conditioning on full in the car it was a moment of relief because the sun was really started to beam down some serious heat! So far the morning had showcased some stellar views, with my informative tour guide the conversation was good. We made our way to the banks of the Yulong River in the heart of Guilin's Yangshuo County.

Arriving at the Secret Garden for lunch made me feel like I was in a very touristy environment, the prices certainly weren't local but the break from the hot weather was much needed. Timings were perfect, things continued ahead as planned. Hiring some bikes allowed myself and the tour guide to ride alongside the rice paddies and the fast moving Yulong River. The landscape was truly spectacular, it was amazing to see the rice paddies as I peddled past, to witness the farmers at work was one for the books! Stopping for a little breather, I managed to see a water buffalo cooling off in a pool of water. Sharing some photos and short videos with my students via the  class group allowed them to enjoy the experience with me and to learn some English during a holiday weekend! The bike ride was lovely, it gave me the chance to take a series of breathtaking photos. So, with that breeze I got burnt, but thankfully it's tanned now!

How was this trip compared with my initial Guilin tour experience that I took during 2016s Labor Day holiday weekend? Choosing China Highlights for the first time I experienced an amazing day seeing two extraordinary sights within the Longsheng Country within Guilin's vast city region. The Long-Haired Ladies in the Huangluo Village, with their Rapunzel-like nature they showcased their jet black shiny hair for a rather intrigued audience of people to witness. They didn't speak China's  Putong Hua (Mandarin) because they had their own minority language. Moving on from one spectacle to another I ticked off an amazing feat, I found the courage to walk round the sweeping and very steep rice terraces also in Longsheng County. The misty skies and the glistening water in the rice paddies served a very special and breathtaking view for me, recognising the 'leaping tiger' pose in the paddies I was speechless! For differing reasons both trips gave me magical moments all the same!

As amazing as the bike ride was, I did feel a little battered by the sun. Arriving in Fuli's Ancient Village allowed me to turn the hands of time back to a simpler period. Stopping at a local fan making workshop opened my eyes into the crafting of Chinese paper fans. Taking some time to see the work that went into making the fans astounded me, the process and attention that the husband and wife team applied to their trade was amazing to see. I was able to try my own hand at making a fan, it wasn't as beautiful compared with the original designs but the experience counted for something. It felt so organic to see the semi-circular paper designs that were drying outside the workshop. I saw the folding of the paper and the inserting of the wooden handles. I totally fell in love with the look of the cherry blossom painted fans, asking for the price I simply had to  spend! Yes, the whole lesson was worthwhile!

The feel of Fuli's ancient village alleys and side streets gave me life, the old workshops really gave me a sense as to how the local area survived with their trades. Most of all the fan workshop really impressed me, it gave me a sense deeper into Chinese culture and history. That fan will help me cool down during the summertime. The day so far had been memorable for all the right reasons, I was really feeling the heat though. From Xianggong Hill to the bike ride, the mornings and early afternoons activities really set the tone for the tour, it was serving everything as promised, money very well spent! The feeling was right, I was so right to choose to return to Guilin, everything was meant to be. If the truth must be told, this blog was going to be the final Guilin post covering my latest trip but with the sheer amount of things seen I need to make a third! I still need to cover my time at the 20 RMB view within the village of Xingping and the buzz of Yangshuo's West Street! Blessed!

Karst Mountain Realness!

Joseph Harrison 

13 June 2019

Back To The Beginning... Guilin, China!

Going back to Guilin felt like a natural thing, with every city that I revisit there's always a purpose for the visit. Arriving before my Yangshuo trip into Guilin's new Terminal 2 allowed me to see the progression had taken place in that Guangxi Zhuang City. Being back in a slow paced city gave me life, people didn't stare because backpackers were everywhere! Yes, G!

Sitting on the window ledge at the boarding area, I waited for my China Southern flight to find the boarding gate at Terminal 2 of Beijing's Capital International Airport. Clearing security and the rest of it was like second nature, the time before that I flew it was to DPRK's Pyongyang, things felt more chilled. A little late my flight pulled into the gate and connected to the jet-bridge, those frantic individuals didn't lose any time to line up! Not worrying about anything, I boarded at my own pace with the knowledge that I was on my back to Guilin after a three year hiatus. I had some seriously beautiful sights to see, no delayed flights would have be appreciated that afternoon! Yes, I was so good that time around because I ate before reaching the departure lounge, saving those pennies where necessary had to be done during that pre-pay day trip! Taking to the skies, I got talking to a Russian couple who were sitting next to me. 

Touching down fifteen minutes early into Guilin's LiangJiang International Airport was a relief, things were looking rather different compared with my 2016 arrival. Not paying any mind to those airport taxis, I took the bus from the airport to a city centre location. I was prepared to use Chinese because here in Beijing not a lot of people can speak foreign languages, to my surprise one of the airport workers approached me to ask if I required any help, I wasn't ready for that! As my airport bus made its way closer to Guilin's City centre, I recognised quite a lot from the streets with not many changes it was great to see a familiar place. Arriving at my destination wasn't difficult because this time around I had my iPhone with Apple Maps fired up, directing me over three intersections I found my hotel without any major hitches. As if my luck, those higher pavements smashed one of the wheels of my suitcase! My weekend was in full motion, it was time to relax before my Yangshuo tour. Go!

When in a new city it's always good to play a few old tricks, I'll leave those to your imaginations. Fresh on the street I took some time out with a local beer on the main street that was opposite Guilin Railway Station. Guilin's chilled vibe sorted me out, with each sip of that cold local beer, the insanity of my Beijing situation melted away. I wasn't tolerating any nonsense during that moment, don't even think about! The vibe of Guilin's City centre put me at ease, people weren't fazed by foreigners, that alone told me something that a possible move westwards wouldn't be a bad thing at all! The day so far had been textbook, nothing had gone pear-shaped. As dusk turned into evening it was lovely to see things looking the same but with a smattering of progression in the air, things were just nice in Guilin that evening. Third time won't happen but I was feeling accomplished how life had found me back in Guilin. Yes, blessed!

Planning my comeback trip to Guilin took a long time, not entirely but it was finding the right time to visit Yangshuo. I would have visited it during my first trip but time didn't permit that Yangshuo extension, I was going to have to wait for that 'ish! Contacting China Highlights once again, they advised me that during summer would be the best time to visit the Yangshuo area to get the best of the weather. Choosing the one day tour from Guilin was for me, choosing to stay in Yangshuo for the evening was made possible by the arrangement with China Highlights and Trippest. Paying my balance up, securing rooms and bagging flights within the right time period, the tour became a reality! The weather the previous day had been bad, rain had battered the region and forced rivers to rise. I was intoxicated by the chilled vibe by Guilin's calm city streets and the beer also helped quash any feelings of apprehension about the weather in Yangshuo. No, not lying Guilin sure had me in a trance!

So, as the evening approached it was almost time for to meet my tour advisor and new friend from China Highlights, Fiona. From the first trip that I had booked with CH, I have been in contact with Fiona. A lady who has helped me secure my previous China Highlights trips, making them a reality with amazing customer service and very convenient payment methods by using WeChat. Meeting on the same road that I was, her taxi was fast approaching to pick me up. After meeting we arrived at a famous duck hotpot restaurant, now I don't like hotpot but that duck extravaganza served us every part of the duck! To be honest, certain parts of the duck actually tasted really good! The conversation flowed and for certain parts about Beijing communication made me feel at ease, not everyone in this country has such a sour view towards foreigners. It was going to be one of those quieter evenings, that was all good for me.

Things had gone pretty well, things were about to change in old Guilin! Being Guilin, I was prepared for some serious rainfall, so when the heavens opened I was on the run for the hotel! Dodging that torrential downpour had to be done, I wasn't going to let that stop my sampling of local brews. The hour wasn't too late and their were plenty places that sold beer on the way back to my Green Tree Hotel, it was fine! Making it back to the hotel was a shear relief, the day had gone smooth, from taking off from Beijing to finally meeting Fiona in person. I was ready to recharge before the long day that faced me the next day. Guilin will forever be a city that stays as one of my firm favourites, it still possessed a city scenic feel and for that I entertained that Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region City for certain! I stick firm to my recent declaration, it was blessed to return for the second time but that's it! No shade, it's all love because this Middle Kingdom nation has soo much to see! Guilin, I love you!

Genuine Guilin

Joseph Harrison 

1 June 2019

Sunday's Service... Shijiazhuang, China!

Shijiazhuang had already surprised me by its small city provincial feeling, teamed with its concrete style and communist sights I enjoyed my first full day in that Hebei City. For that Sunday I wanted to see a respectable amount of places before my Beijing bound train headed for home. Truly, Shijiazhuang's Chang'an Park challenged my Chinese skills that Sunday morning! 

That Sunday morning had me feeling delicate, the wine from the previous nights Eurovision marathon didn't leave me feeling good. It was a weekend away for me, I didn't think of it as a big deal! Nevertheless, I checked out of my hotel and headed for some much needed KFC breakfast! Clutching my coffee I made my way closer to Shijiazhuang's Chang'an Park to see what was going on that Sunday morning. Finding my way into the park was fine, I had my Apple Maps to show me the way. Things were pretty lively, people were out in their droves and with it being a Sunday most people were off work, justifying the crowds. With the previous nights beverages feeling like a big mistake, the morning's air felt so humid, like really humid! Taking some videos of the park for my students had to be done, we were learning about musical instruments, hearing several saxophone's playing gave them a Sunday lesson! Tks, SJZ!

After finding a rock to sit on for a moment or two, I was surrounded by local people who just wanted to talk about everything and anything! Beijing's less international environment has taught me that speaking Chinese is more than necessary. Being able to answer their questions felt good, they were so interested as to why I was working in China, deep down they were just curious and for that I wasn't going to dismiss them. It was a rare moment that reminded me that China has a lot of good people, people that are curious about foreigners and it's not all about those who aren't satisfied with our salaries. I enjoyed that moment of celebrity, being the only foreigner within that vicinity caused a slight commotion but I was more than accepting with what was going on. If truth be told, the heat and the distractions allowed my hangover to evaporate conveniently! Feeling content with my visit to the part I was ready to move onto the next phase of my Shijiazhuang Sunday! 

Taking the expanding and relatively new Shijiazhuang Metro a few stops away from the Bei Guo Business District part of town, I found myself outside of the Hebei Provincial Museum. I wasn't expecting much, making the most of the free admission I found some interesting exhibits about China's Inner Mongolian culture. I have a trip planned to China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in July, the knowledge and vivid images got me excited for my trip for sure! The museum itself was really quiet, giving me the chance to browse around the different pieces. I liked the Beijing Opera section, the elaborate make up and colourful dress impressed me much. Blending in with the monthly theme at school once again, I was able to ask the children what musical instruments that they could see through the photos I posted in the class group on WeChat. I always try to bring the learning outside of the classroom, oh it helps out!

Taking a moment to think about things, from leaving school on Friday afternoon till that Sunday mid-morning time, the weekend spent in Shijiazhuang had been jammed packed considering I didn't have buckets full of time on my hands. The previous day had been nice with the planned excursion to XiBaiPo but the randomness of the Sunday gave me more life, it was nice to not follow an itinerary in one way. Keeping a sense of spontaneity to my Sunday, I definitely think that embracing the local vibe of the park was the right move to make for certain. Aside from the park frenzy, it was crazy to feel like the only foreigner in the city, Beijing felt like a long way from that moment even though the high speed rail links the Mainland's capital with Shijiazhuang in less than 90 minutes. After paying a little more attention to the museum, I made my way to the final Hebei City point of interest. Tracking down a taxi through my DiDi app, I had one more place set in my sights. Sunday served!

Ending up at Shijiazhuang's Rong Mansion happened to be the wildcard option to add three places visited during my Sunday service. Not the most historic looking of places but it was quiet and the renovated old style looked just as it always does. I took my time to walk around the different sections, it wasn't spectacular but I was seeing something nonetheless! I'm not looking down on Rong Mansion, the immediate area was supposed to be an ancient town but looked fresher than I do without a hangover. I didn't expect much, in that way I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. I had gone out of my way to see six places over two days in a city that's not famous for tourism on an international level, every sight was an achievement. As the working week loomed, heading back into the city centre was the one, my train would be departing sooner rather than later. Rong Mansion wasn't a fail, it represented its own story, all good!

Heading back towards the Hebei Provincial Museum allowed me to connect with the metro system, linking back a direct route to the train station afforded me with plenty of time to eat before my train. Like a sniper out of nowhere that wine came back to haunt me, McDonalds was there to help me out! Minding my own business I was, a guy approached me with this box and his phone, the box turned out to be his product and his phone was meant for a photo he asked me for to advertise his product. I kindly declined because my Caucasian looks weren't going to be promoting his kit, I had my brand as a teacher to think about! Departing on time from Shijiazhuang Railway Station allowed me to make my marathon subway journey from Beijing West Railway Station before it got late. The weekend had been one massive success, considering the original trip had to be cancelled I had not done badly second time around. That weekend sejour inspired me to plan a weekender to Taiyuan, Shanxi!

Hebei Done!

Joseph Harrison