China My Time in
2011-2012 Act 2
Guangzhou | Hong Kong | Anhui Museums | Wuhu | Nanjing | Aquarium | Middle School | Christmas | The Li River | Yangshuo | Guilin | Longsheng Rice Terraces | Anhui Pavilion
1 October 2011 Today is China’s National Day. October 1 was set aside as the country’s national holiday 62 years ago by the PRC’s founding committee. Because of this, our theme this week in class was patriotism. I shared with my students my patriotism and how Americans show their love for their country. Then we analyzed “My Country” by Dorothea MacKellar about her love of Australia. After that it was their turn to share with everyone why they love their country. Here are some of their thoughts that they put in poems. I want you to focus on why they love China not on their poor grammar, so I have proofread them for you. This is one of their biggest holidays of the year. There are two golden weeks and this is one, so the holiday lasts an entire week. Most businesses decorate big for this and other holidays. For this one there are elaborate flower arrangements at many big buildings, schools and government offices. And of course there are red lanterns all around and big red, blow-up arches. This is one of the holidays when everybody goes home. This means traffic, buses, trains are all completely over-burdened and ready to burst at the seams. This afternoon I will join this mass migration and go on a few adventures. I probably won’t share those adventures until I get back to Hefei, so expect lots of pictures and more in about a week.
A Little Poem To My Motherland
By: Serena and her group
I love my country
By: Han Si Wen I fall in love with an old woman I love my country for one thousand reasons, for she has a long story to tell. Welcome to my home, She has a long history and has a variety of cultures. I fall in love with a young lady The birthplace of eastern culture, literature, picture I love my country for ten thousand reasons, for she is beautiful, energetic and kind. and architecture, The people are warm-hearted and love peace. I fall in love with a baby girl Ancestor’s blood flowing inside my body, I love my country for one million reasons, for she owns a sweet dream The bird witnessed my deep love. that one day she will be bright and shining . She with warm heart welcomes people from all Please let me call you: China, my dear mum! over the world. My dear China, we love you forever and ever. By: Sophia Huang
By: Spark and his group
China, you give life to me, You bring me up with colorful culture and long history. To me you are a beautiful and noble lady, Every night in my dreams I see you, I feel you. You make me learned and mature. In the future I want to be a man like you, Strong and modest. China, it’s hard to say that I don’t love you.
Guangzhou, part 1 12 October 2011
The ultimate destination of my holiday vacation was the Hong Kong Temple, but that was not the only amazing thing about this trip. It started with a short flight to Guangzhou. We, Aaron and I, flew for a few different reasons. First of all, train tickets were sold out at least a week or two before because everyone seemed to be traveling for the holiday. Secondly, why ride in a train for several hours when you can take a flight less than two? You may also wonder why we didn’t just fly straight into Hong Kong. Well, it was nearly twice as expensive to fly into Hong Kong as to fly into Guangzhou and take a short express train ride from there to Hong Kong. These travel arrangements also gave us a chance to see another really big city in China. We arrived late Saturday night and took the very nice Guangzhou subway to where we were staying, with a member of the Church teaching at a local university. The next day we went to church and met with people in person. As awesome as it is to meet via computer and phone each week, meeting in person is wonderful. After amazing church services, we decided to take advantage of our time in Guangzhou and go see some of the sites. Our first thought was to visit the new Guangdong Museum (that’s the name of the province), but the line was way too long. We soon found out that traveling over the Golden Week is not the best idea unless you really like lines and are very patient. Instead of the museum, we wandered around the beautiful plaza and park that was created for last year’s Asian Games that is surrounded by several new buildings including the museum, opera house and one of the tallest buildings in the world. Just across the Pearl River from this park is another of the tallest buildings in the world. In fact, it’s the tallest TV tower in the world at 600 meters, the Canton Tower. Canton Tower I read about it in Lonely Planet and then researched it further online and said “Oh, I want to go there.” So, we did. It was completely worth it. The observation deck is 450 meters high and has spectacular views of the city, and I’m sure on a clearer day, much further than that, maybe even to Hong Kong.
On this level there is also one of those glass rooms you can walk out over the air in. Itâ€™s a very exciting experience standing nearly 500 meters in the air and being able to see everything under me. However, unlike the similar glass boxes in the tower formerly called Sears, these ones had big steel supports and girders obstructing some of the view. I guess they make you feel a little safer, but I didnâ€™t feel any less safe in the Chicago building than this one. We wanted to go to the roof, so we got tickets to the Bubble Tram, the worldâ€™s highest wheel. We got up there just before all of the lights began turning on and watched the city slowly come alive in a vivid light spectacle. The staff members were polite and knew what they were doing. The whole operation was very professional and seemed very un-Chinese. Near the tower was another, much older tower. An old pagoda from many years ago gives the perfect contrast to the modern structure on the riverfront. In fact, this is how I see and respect China. It is constantly moving forward and progressing (sometimes much too quickly for its own good) but at the same time it holds to its ancient traditions and culture.
Guangzhou, part 2 12 October 2011
New Guangdong Museum
The next day we ventured back to the museum in the morning and waited out the line. The wait wasn’t too bad. The building is an extreme example of modern architecture while inside it houses exhibits on the history, both natural and human, of the province as well as some traditional arts exhibits. So, you might say this building is exploring the yin and yang that is China. The exhibits are very well designed. The most impressive display told the history of the province. It was a very large set of exhibition halls that led you through the history with excellent artifacts, architecture, and artwork to tell the story. However, it might be interesting to note the small pieces of history that may have been brushed over or missed all together like the Opium Wars and the Foreign Concession. Both are not highlights of Chinese history, but they do tell an important part of the area’s history and how it came to be like it is today. Another great display was the natural history exhibit. You can learn all you ever wanted to about the rocks and minerals from Guangdong as well as the animals and the best part - the prehistoric creatures. China has a very rich dinosaur heritage, and so there was a great display of some of these giants and other fossils from those ancient days. Western Influence and Goats Other highlights of Guangzhou include finding Dr Pepper and other western foods not available in Hefei like cheesecake or Swedish meatballs at Ikea. We also wandered around the former Foreign Concession with all of its beautiful European buildings and through some of the city looking for a cathedral built by the French way back in the day. After these adventures we also went to find a couple of the other images that were on every poster of the city like a statue of goats and a red tower. We found them in a very nice city park then we found our way to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. We made it to all of these places after dark so we really just wandered around outside them. Unfortunately, my memory card with these pictures self-destructed, and no matter what I’ve tried since, I can’t recover the images, so you’ll have to go search them out on your own. I hope they keep the city clean and well oiled like it is now as a result of the Asian Games. It is one of the biggest cities in China and didn’t have to be designated a special economic zone to make itself that. It seems to be a great balance between Beijing and Hong Kong. This city holds so much for anyone who wants to visit and I’m sure we could have spent much more time there.
Hong Kong Temple 13 October 2011
After a couple of days in Guangzhou, we hopped on a train to Hong Kong. It’s only a short train ride and took us almost the same amount of time to get through immigration on both sides of the border. That’s right, even though Hong Kong is technically China, I nearly doubled the amount of stamps in my passport from this one little trip. From the border, we took a train to the Kowloon Tong stop and disembarked for the Hong Kong Temple. Just up the hill from this stop is one of the most beautiful buildings in China, at least in my opinion. To quote a children’s hymn, “I love to see the temple.” Really, this was my ultimate destination for this trip. Guangzhou and Hong Kong are just wonderful consequences of wanting to go to the temple. We went straight there to check in since we would be staying in patron housing for two nights. While we waited for Aaron to get clearance, he forgot his recommend in Hefei, the temple president came down and asked us to help with some baptisms. We were happy to get right to work. Also, because of this we ended up doing all of the ordinances while there. After helping with these ordinances, we freshened up in the patron housing and changed to go back and do an endowment session. I love the house of the Lord and realize now that I did not take advantage of it like I should have when I lived within a few minutes of one. If you live within a short distance of the temple, go as often as possible. You won’t regret it. We enjoyed our time in the temple. All of the temple workers were so helpful even the ones we had a language barrier with. As you might guess, to understand the ordinances we needed translation so during the endowment sessions we listened via headset in English. In other places in the temple, we merely read along in English while everything around us was being done in Cantonese. I don’t know if I’ll have a chance to visit Hong Kong again while I’m here but I’m trying to figure out a trip to Taipei and maybe Seoul to see the temples during winter vacation.
Hong Kong: A city unlike any other, part 1 13 October 2011
Since we were already in Hong Kong for the temple, we took advantage and saw some of the sights. Unfortunately, most pictures from HK were on the memory card that died on me. Thankfully, I did take a couple of extra pictures of the temple after I finished that card. Hong Kong is amazing! The waterfront especially is a spectacular sight at night when all of the buildings are lit up. Our first night we walked along the waterfront and rode the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island. From there we made our way to the Peak Tram. The Peak Tram The Peak Tram is a funicular railroad that has been in HK since 1888, Asia’s first. If you’re wondering what a funicular railroad is, it’s a type of train that goes up and down very steep hills using a counterweight system like an elevator and each of the two cars is the counterweight for the other. Before the tram was put in, the only way up was to walk or be carried up in a sedan chair. The trip is only about five minutes long, but it’s pretty much like a roller coaster from the old days, so it’s completely worth it. At some points the tram is at more than a 45 degree angle and sometimes it’s going very fast. The tram takes you up to the Victoria Gap, just below Victoria Peak. The tram company has opened a huge development at the upper terminus with a mall and several restaurants, a Madame Tussauds’ wax museum, and a great observation deck overlooking the whole city. These pics were destroyed too so just imagine looking out over Hong Kong from up in the mountains at night with all of the buildings lit up and reflecting in the water. It’s hard to imagine without having been there and without pictures.
A Giant Buddha The next day after our temple service, we journeyed to one of the other islands that make up Hong Kong - Lantau Island. This island is home to the Hong Kong Disneyland, where we didn’t go, and one of the biggest Buddha statues in the world, where we did go. Where ever we went in Hong Kong, except the temple, there were hoards of people. When we waited for the tram we waited in a ridiculous line for more than an hour. Then when we went to Lantau Island we waited for nearly two hours to ride the cable car operated by Ngong Ping 360 up to the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. The wait was worth it. The cable car isn’t just a short trip up the side of a hill or mountain, but it’s about 15 minutes taking you several kilometers up and over peaks to the backside of the island. If you do this, do it during the day so you can see everything around you; this part of HK isn’t covered in buildings that light up at night. After going over a few peaks in the cable car the Buddha comes into view in the distance sitting atop a little hill. The statue isn’t that old. In fact it’s less than 20 years old, but it is still a magnificent sight. It is more than 110 feet tall and one of the five biggest in China. At the base of the hill where the Buddha sits is the Po Lin Monastery. Once again a very colorful and beautiful set of buildings with intricately carved Buddhist effigies and lots of incense burning all around giving a sweet smell to the air.
Most of my pics of this awesome sight were ruined on my corrupted card, but I did get a few more pics from a distance before heading down. At the base of the gondola was again another mall, you can’t go anywhere in Hong Kong without finding a mall, where we ate at Subway. Yes, American
fast food in Hong Kong. What were we thinking? Unlike in Hefei where it is the more expensive option, in HK the American fast food joints are actually the less expensive options. That’s one thing anybody going to Hong Kong needs to know. This city eats up your money if you let it. Prices are not low for food and, things can add up quick.
Hong Kong: A city unlike any other, part 2
13 October 2011 Getting Lost and Movies
We tried to make it to the light show they do at the water front each night, but we didn’t make it because we got lost. We got off the metro at a stop we thought would be where we wanted to go but really this was a stop in the basement of a mall that is in the base of a giant apartment complex. It was a maze to get out of the place, and we got very lost trying to get out. By the time we emerged to the street, the light show had already begun so we missed it by the time we walked the short distance to the waterfront. So, that is one HK adventure that will have to wait until next time. We did take the chance to walk down their Avenue of Stars though that is right on the water. It’s a lot like the star walk in Hollywood mixed with Grauman’s Chinese Theater because some of them had hand prints and signatures in the cement. This installation pays homage to the Hong Kong film industry, its stars and movie makers. We hadn’t heard of most of them until we found Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li.
Man Mo Temple Our last day in Hong Kong, before catching our train back to Guangzhou, we headed to Hong Kong Island to find a Toaist temple that was very important to the segregated Chinese community of HK during the 1800s and early 1900s. It was built in 1847 and used not just as a place of worship, as it is still used, but as a community center and assembly hall for resolving disputes. Inside are several altars set up to worship various gods and goddesses of Toaism with the main two of this temple being the Gods of Literature and Marshal Arts (War) or Man and Mo. There were offerings in front of each statue of fruit and incense. And there was a lot of incense burning all over including some really cool coils of incense hanging from the ceiling. We then wandered around the city through the narrow streets and up a really intense set of escalators in search of some good food. We did find a 7-11 and got Slurpees but ended up going to McDonald’s - the best value we could find for the money and time. After this we journeyed back across the border, getting a little confused trying to get out of Hong Kong, and back to Guangzhou. That night we found Ikea, right by the train station, and had Swedish meatballs for dinner. The next morning we flew safely back to Hefei. If only China weren’t so darn big, then it would be much easier to go back and visit places like Hong Kong. But, alas, it’s a ginormous country with so much to see, experience and learn so return trips are very unlikely until maybe someday when I return to the vast Orient. My next adventures will be a little more localized like the Yellow Mountain, the mountain everyone outside of China has seen in traditional Chinese art and doesn’t know what it is. We just think it’s a traditional Chinese painting style, but no it is an actual place that has been put into Chinese art and legend because of its beauty. Until next time, remember “Adventure is out there!”
A bit of Anhui culture 31 October 2011
Over the past few weeks, a lot has happened. I’ve had lunch with the dean of my department, been to a folk performance showcase, meandered through an old temple converted to a market, ventured to a theme park with one of my classes, visited a couple of museums and had some fun lessons. Folk Art Gala One of the foreign teachers here at AHU has connections to many people after being here for six years. She tries to keep us in the loop when something is going on and sometimes invites us to go to events if she can get tickets or an invitation. One of her friends, who is an anchor on the local radio station and speaks very good English, got us tickets to a folk art gala. The event featured folk artists from all over the province. There were some in the lobby of the theater showing their artwork and demonstrating how they create it and there were some who performed. We checked out the uniquely Anhui crafts and watched in amazement as one artist turned the simple art of cutting paper into creation of a masterpiece of fine art and the man who creates the traditional-style Chinese painting but with a soldering iron and not ink and paint. I was even interviewed by a local news crew about what I saw. Then we went into the theater to be treated to an evening of folk music, dancing and acrobatics. Some was fantastic and some was not. The finale performance was the most spectacular being a form of Chinese opera with full make up and costumes that are so dramatic and spectacular.
Anhui Provincial Museum In the Lonely Planet guide for China, my “little” city of Hefei is considered a vortex of boringness with only a few places mentioned. One of those places is the original Anhui Provincial Museum in downtown. We decided to make a visit and found an old, Mao-era building that was the first provincial museum of its kind. The Great Helmsmen even visited in his day. It doesn’t seem to have been updated or kept up much since then. There were only a few exhibits. One of the exhibits finally explained why this museum seemed so sparse and uncared for. Even though we couldn’t understand the words, we understood the pictures. It showed us many images of the Chairman’s visit and other influentials’ visits to the museum and then plans for a new museum that oddly enough looks a lot like the new Guangdong Museum I visited in Guangzhou. Then I realized I had seen this building when riding the bus or in a cab. We decided to visit that museum soon.
New Anhui Museum We did make that trip the following Saturday and found a beautiful modern building at the center of a large city block that was being turned into the museum district. There is the Anhui Museum that tells the story of the province through art and history and a building under construction but almost completed that will either be the new art museum or paleontology museum or both. We visited the Anhui Museum and soon learned that Anhui has, as the Chinese like to say, long history. Although the building style is similar to the Guangdong Museum, this museum was much more beautiful and I think better designed. I can’t say the same for the exhibits or what they chose to tell us. The museum does use all of the most state-of-the-art and effective curatorial tricks I’ve seen and heard of but they are not necessarily effective. As opposed to the Guangdong Museum that tells you a rich and thorough yet concise history of the province, the Anhui Museum goes into so much depth that a visitor can easily go into information overload and get bored. There are four floors of exhibits and we only made it through some and basically scanned the last few we visited. If you want to visit, I recommend multiple trips to break it up and keep it fresh. The first two floors are the history of the province told in different ages beginning with prehistoric times. The third floor finally changes things up a bit with a set of exhibitions of the unique Hui architecture found in the province. We didn’t make it to the fourth floor, but I’ll go back sometime to see what it has to offer. On display are many artifacts including beautifully crafted bronze and stone pieces, jade, wood carvings and much more. They range from everyday items to ceremonial items and weapons. I think the exhibits we missed have a collection of porcelain and calligraphy. I’m kind of excited though for the paleontology museum to be completed to see the natural history of Anhui including the dinosaurs.
What a wonderful world or should I say country 1 November 2011
Last week I finished a lesson on the wonders of the world and China. I learned a lot getting ready for this lesson and found out fast that it would be hard to talk about wonders of the world since there are dozens of different lists of the seven wonders of the world, so I decided to talk about wonders of China. After all, the original list of seven was created as more of a tourist campaign than anything else with seven because it was a significant number in ancient Greece. I made a list of 16 places and things around China that I considered a kind of wonder because of its history, significance, architecture, engineering or beauty. We discussed each of these in class and I let the students choose what would be on our list of eight (it’s a lucky number here) and let me know if I missed any place. They would suggest what should be on the list and I would ask them why. They would then have to give reasons for or against different places. This got them talking and sharing their opinions. It was very effective for all but one class. In the end each class chose their own list of eight, which I then combined with all the others to find the most popular eight. Here is our list of the Eight Wonders of China: 1. The Great Wall – obvious choice since the whole world knows what it is 2. The Forbidden City – home to Chinese government for more than 500 years (1/10th of the country’s history) 3. Dunhuang – an oasis city on the Silk Road and important religious site 4. The Terracotta Army – more than 8,000 pottery soldiers individually crafted 200 years before Christ 5. The Giant Panda – China’s modern symbol (we discussed Panda Diplomacy and how this cute animal helped build relationships with many countries of the West 6. The Potala Palace – a centuries-old complex in Tibet where the Dalai Lama lived and the center of the ancient Tibetan culture 7. Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) – right here in Anhui, these are some of the most famous mountains in China and are the subject to many paintings us westerners have seen 8. The Li River in Guangxi – One of the most scenic places in China, so much so that it is on the 20 Yuan note The first five on the list were agreed upon by all of my classes and most Chinese people would probably agree. It was a fun and effective lesson to get them talking and sharing coherent thoughts in English.
Temple Market 2 November 2011
If I thought the Pearl Market in Beijing was crazy then the temple market in Hefei is ludicrous. It is huge and has everything except clean bathrooms and enough space. Right in the heart of downtown Hefei is an old temple that has been converted to a bustling market with multiple buildings, alleys and thousands of vendors. It’s a literal example of money changers in the temple. This market is super easy to get lost in. It is also hard to find what you’re looking for unless you know what section of the market it’s in. There’s a building with fabric, bedding and cushions, a whole building of antique dealers (the quietest and calmest section), an area with pets like turtles, fish and birds, a very big clothing area including a building of shoes, and so much more.
It’s so confusing that I can’t find myself really shopping there unless I know exactly what I’m looking for. I’ve been twice in the last couple of weeks and left with nothing but confusion and a free Buddha figurine. I did find a place where I can get some lights to decorate for Christmas and a couple of folk art shops. Too bad almost all of the clothes and shoes wouldn’t fit me in a million years.
On another note Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve also met the deputy director of foreign affairs for Anhui Province. He asked our foreign affairs liaison if we could help him by providing a teacher to a middle school every couple of weeks. Well, that teacher is me, and I met him and the teacher and her students, all 70 of them, a couple of weeks ago. I will be visiting them every couple of weeks with special lessons on American culture and giving them a chance to speak with a native English speaker. My first lesson is next week with the topic of Thanksgiving. If you have any great ideas for teaching and keeping engaged middle school students on the topic of Thanksgiving, please let me know.
Halloween in China | 12 November 2011
Last week, after the wonders lesson, I taught a lesson on Halloween. They don’t celebrate Halloween or any of the traditional holidays like All Soul’s Day since they have never been a Christian culture. However, some of the bigger cities are starting to celebrate it with costumes and parties. The kids here do love learning about it and how Americans celebrate. So, that’s what we talked about. I shared a small bit of its origin and how it morphed into what we celebrate today. They made Halloween name tags with adjectives of the season. The best were Grave Silence, Zombified Dawn, Batty Sky, Ghostly Mirror and Eerie Echo (the second word of each of those is their English name). I also took the opportunity to give them a little scare. I tell them how people like to watch scary movies on Halloween and that I don’t like them. I start describing watching a scary movie and how you know something is going to happen or jump out and how intense it is, how you hold on tight to your seat or to your friend or cover your eyes, then when they least expect it or when they are completely expecting it I jump towards them and yell giving them all a good fright. I did this a couple more times throughout the lesson. During the break, I shared with them some videos including “This is Halloween” from Nightmare Before Christmas and the classic “Monster Mash.” I couldn’t find a good video of the Purple People Eater so instead I show them the “scary car commercial” with the car driving with soft music down a winding country road then a zombie pops onto the screen screaming. They jump at it every time. After the break, we played a version of Mafia. Instead of mafia members that need to be found there were witches attacking and turning people into stone and frogs. It’s a fun game that eventually they got into and started defending themselves and making accusations. It gets them to speak and think on the fly. Then I gave them candy and some of them gave me candy. It was all good fun with a bit of American culture, which they love, and some good opportunities for them to speak.
Woohoo Wuhu! 12 November 2011 A couple of Saturdays ago I joined one of my classes on a trip to an amusement park a couple of hours from Hefei in the city of Wuhu. They were so excited to spend time with me and said they would practice their English. Some of them did while others didn’t say any more than they would have in class. They were also excited because Aaron came with us so they got to spend time with another foreigner. It was a rainy day so I half expected the excursion to be canceled but true to Chinese fashion it wasn’t and we toughed out the rain. It was still fun and we got to go on some rides, but the roller coasters were all closed, supposedly because of the rain. One advantage to the rain was no lines. If we waited it wasn’t very long at all. The amusement park, Wuhu FantaWild, was divided in true theme park fashion by worlds, zones or whatever you want to call them, each area with its own look and feel in the attractions, landscaping, signage and characters. Our first stop was the area themed around the ocean. In this area there was only one big attraction. This seemed to be the case with each area, so the park really didn’t have that many big rides or attractions. It seemed to focus more on the buildings and scenery fitting into the theme. It was also noticeable that they visited several theme parks around the world like the Disney parks and translated those ideas and attractions to fit their themes and audience. At the ocean area we watched a 4D movie. That means a 3D movie that has seats with stuff that can come out and touch you or smells or something else. It was an innocent movie with a very cliché plot but it was fun. The 3D was also very impressive. I did learn though how emotionally immature some of my students are. One girl sitting near me, she’s 18 or 19, got so scared a few times because of the 3D and the movie theme that she started crying and couldn’t watch. We rode a carousel, a ride with dinosaurs taking over and more 3D, a couple of flight simulators, and watched a couple of shows. The first show we watched was a special effects demonstration. They asked for volunteers and my students basically forced Aaron and I up there. I was a slave in irons that magically turned into a skeleton and Aaron was a military man shooting a machine gun on the back of a jeep. I have videos that I’ll try to post to Photobucket. Another observation was the use of copy-written materials or close copies of them such as the multiple John Williams songs used in the waiting areas or on the rides. Overall, the day was good. It was fun to go to a Chinese amusement park that has at least three times as many restrooms as rides and to spend time with my students.
My first middle school experience 13 November 2011
This week I was full of anxiety and anticipation for my first middle school lesson. I didn’t know what to expect. Yes, I met them a few weeks ago, but I didn’t know how they would act over two hours or their comprehension level. I learned both very quickly yesterday as I gave a lesson on Thanksgiving. I even used my old trek tool of “hey” “ho” to get them quiet. (If you think middle school students aren’t very interested in history in America, try teaching a very brief segment about the pilgrims and the “first” Thanksgiving to 70 middle school students who can’t understand everything you’re saying.) I did my best to make it interesting and be very animated. We talked about the basics of Thanksgiving and why we celebrate it. We also talked about how we celebrate. They loved seeing a picture of my family as we talked about spending time with family saying in unison that all of the women in the picture are very beautiful as I pointed each one out. We also talked about turkeys, pumpkin pie, football and parades. During the lesson, I had them each write down what they are thankful for. I got some great responses and some where you could see that they copied it from their neighbor. They were thankful for the obvious things like parents, teachers and friends, but it was the extra things they added that brought a smile to my face. Here are some examples. They are thankful that Earth is in space, for Taylor Swift (many said this one said because she gives good music), for every scientist, that I’m not dead, for Kevin (that’s me), for my guitar (not mine the student’s), for two eyes to see everything in this world, for China. Here is what one girl wrote: “I am thankful for the flowers, they’re very beautiful. I am thankful for the sky, that we can live under it. I am thankful for my friends, they always give me happy. I am thankful for my teachers, they always worried about me. I am thankful for my parents, because they gave me everything.” (I transcribed it just how she wrote it.) Here is a picture of my favorite two. I love the picture the girl drew with the captions and speech bubbles. It’s funny that she shows her dad defending his man bag since almost every Chinese man that is not a manual laborer has a man bag. I had many thoughts and ideas for this lesson including having a parade of our own, but they didn’t fully understand the concept of a parade so I just gave them the paper hats I made and that was that. I made almost 100 paper hats the night before. They loved the hats and many had me autograph them after the lesson was over. Although I know they didn’t understand everything I said and probably got a little bored at times, I think they had fun and hopefully they understand why we celebrate Thanksgiving. I gave them an assignment; before we meet again they are supposed to write a thank you note to their parents or teachers. We’ll see next time if they did it. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks. Don’t know what the lesson will be yet, but it should be winter or Christmas related.
Nanjing: A Smorgasbord, first helping
23 November 2011
This past weekend I partook of a grand smorgasbord of tasty American eats and rich Chinese history. Living so close to Nanjing, I’m surprised it took me this long to get there especially when it has so much to offer. The Purple Mountain It’s not very purple and it’s more of a large hill, but it is beautiful and is home to three significant pieces of Nanjing history, the only Ming Tomb not in Beijing, Dr. Sun Yatsen’s Mausoleum and the Linggu Temple area, of which we visited the latter two. Dr. Sun Yat-sen is considered the father of modern China and was extremely instrumental in the revolution of the early 20th century overthrowing the Qing Dynasty. He was one of the founders of the Nationalist Party or Kuomintang, the government after the revolution. After he died in Beijing, they buried him in Nanjing as he requested. Instead of giving him a humble burial site as he probably would have wanted, they built him a grand mausoleum after the style of the Ming Tombs on the side of the Purple Mountain. It’s a beautiful place. Even with the hundreds of steps it’s a good trip even if just to look out over the mountain’s park. In his tomb at the top of the stairs is a grand statue of him and many of his teachings and philosophies lining the wall, kind of like the Lincoln Memorial but on a smaller scale. We also visited the Linggu Temple scenic area. The Linggu temple was originally built many hundred years ago. Today only part of that original complex stands. However, the Kuomintang used the site as a burial ground for those who died in the revolution. The pagoda at the top of the hill here was built to commemorate those people. A new Buddhist temple has also been built.
The only Ming-era building left is the Beamless hall, a remarkable barrel-vaulted building with no lumber used in the construction. Not only is the construction pretty cool, inside there are life-size dioramas telling the story of the revolution. Many people wouldn’t know this but America played a part in these events since Sun Yat-sen studied in America, he got Chinese Americans to give their support and money to the cause and Honolulu was where the Nationalist Party was created. We also enjoyed a walk through the new temple with, of course, the sweet smell of burning incense wafting through the colorful buildings with effigies of various guardians and Buddhas. We didn’t go up the pagoda since we had to go soon. However, this area of the park was so peaceful and beautiful with very few people and a wonderful old forest to meander through. Thanksgiving Dinner Aaron and I got lucky with our timing. We found out a few days before that the LDS church branch in Nanjing would be having a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. We weren’t exactly sure if we should go not being in the branch but found out that we were not the only visitors at this feast. There were nearly 100 people at the gathering. They had all of the traditional Thanksgiving trimmings including turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and so much more.
It was also like a small China Horizons reunion since several teachers we spent a week with in Beijing teach in or near Nanjing and are part of the church branch there. Nanjing is also home to many BYU students who study at Nanjing University or as part of the BYU study abroad program. It was a great treat to have this very American feast with so many compatriots and meet many new people. One person we met actually lives in Hefei and didn’t know that we meet for church as part of the virtual branch, so she has been going to Nanjing. Ann ended up spending the rest of the day with us as we visited the old city wall and attended a match of the Pacific-Asia Curling Championship. Since I watched my first match of curling during the Vancouver Olympics, I’ve been fascinated by the game. When I found online that there would be an international tournament while we were in Nanjing, I said we have to go. We did and got to watch half of the women’s matches between China and Korea and Japan and New Zealand. If only we could have stayed longer or could go back for more.
Nanjing: A Smorgasbord, second helping 25 November 2011
After church on Sunday, we found our way to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial – an extremely sobering museum and memorial to a tragedy often overlooked. If you don’t know, at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, Japan attacked China. During the second major war, just before and during WWII, Japan had successfully taken over Shanghai and the then capital city of Nanjing. However, the Japanese didn’t just occupy the Chinese cities and countryside. Instead, the Japanese army committed the barbarous acts of slaughtering, raping, pillaging and more to 300,000 people in and around Nanjing making the city a bloody dismembered mass grave. This memorial is a mix between the Holocaust museum and war memorial park. As you approach the entrance you’re greeted by statues depicting actual people and events with direct quotes from witnesses and survivors. It sets a very solemn tone for your visit that, unfortunately, is punctuated by the Chinese tour guides with their loud speakers and seemingly unaffected visitors who are joking and playing around on the grounds and in the exhibits. As we went to the gate, the guards held back the line and waved us to go through a different turnstile. They had us sign into a guestbook to indicate where we are from then let us go ahead before they reopened the other gate. The museum recounts the events of the massacre and shows many things that a person shouldn’t want to see. It is very much like the Holocaust museum except the number of people. Unlike that museum, this one did not have any regulation on how many people were in at one time so it was impossible to read everything or see everything. I read as many of the plaques that I could and got the main storyline of what happened.
About a third of the way through the main exhibit, you start to find firsthand accounts of what happened from survivors and witnesses. This is where I started getting a headache from wanting to cry but not being able to because of how angry I was getting that anybody could commit these acts of cruelty. After the museum that tells you the story and encourages us to learn from our history, you walk out to the first of the memorials. There is a cross, a large bronze Chinese funeral bell, a wall with the words 300,000 victims written in many languages and more. As you continue through the memorial, you find stones that once marked the mass gravesites throughout Nanjing. There is eerie music playing and a barren landscape covered in cobblestones meant to represent the bones buried beneath them since the memorial was built over one of the biggest mass graves. Just after this you walk into one small building that has signs saying solemn silence, although I don’t think that’s what it said in Chinese because some of the Chinese people were not in the least bit quiet. If you weren’t affected by the museum, then this should seal the deal because in this building is collection of graves that were unearthed at this site. If that didn’t affect you in some way then the next building really should because it’s an even bigger area of the mass grave unearthed for us to see the bones of those buried there. After this is a courtyard with an eternal flame and a place to pray for the victims. In true Chinese fashion, this place that should be very reverent had a person selling incense and flowers. The next building before entering the peace garden is a hall for reflection. It is a dark room with the walls being made of polished black marble or granite that reflected the only light in the room given by hanging electronic candles. This created an effect of seeing only slight reflections or shadows of the people walking through as their images receded into the infinite reflections as if ghosts or spirits. The last area you walk through is the peace garden with a grand statue of a woman releasing a dove, the only part of the memorial really visible from outside the walls. There is also a reflecting pool and some white pigeons they have flying around the park. On a lighter note In Nanjing we also went to IKEA and ate at two American places not found in Hefei, Papa John’s and Carl’s Jr. I’m happy to report that a Papa John’s pizza is just as delicious in China as it is in the USA. Carl’s Jr. was especially yummy too; however, they did not have my favorite burger on the menu, the guacamole bacon burger. They did have free refills on drinks and free wifi. I’ll probably be back to Nanjing at least once if not more times while I’m in Hefei. After all it is just over an hour train ride and not too expensive.
An American Holiday in China 5 December 2011
In Nanjing I partook of a great Thanksgiving feast, but it was the next week that I really celebrated and caught the spirit of Thanksgiving. All week my lessons were about Thanksgiving, teaching my students about the history and customs associated with the holiday. We discussed the Pilgrims and Indians, football, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and of course turkey. After the talk of celebrating though, we got into the meat of the holiday – giving thanks. We talked about gratitude and what they are grateful for. As it’s a tradition in many American homes to share what you’re thankful for on Thanksgiving, that’s what we did giving everyone the opportunity to speak and share something they are grateful for. However, after something was said nobody else could say it unless they had a very specific example. My students were full of surprises as we discussed what we are grateful for giving answers that I don’t think I would ever hear in an American university class. For example, in each class people were grateful for their critics and enemies because they help them know how to better themselves and improve. It was very touching to see what my students are sincerely thankful for even though most did not share something of sincerity, some were very heartfelt. One of my students was brought to tears as she shared specific reasons of why she is grateful for her parents. She was reminded how much she misses them and got homesick. When she finished her classmates applauded her and cheered her on. Another interesting thing many of them are grateful for is the College Entrance Examination. Basically, it’s the test that determines a Chinese student’s future. You would never hear a student in America give thanks for the ACT or SAT, and this test has so much more riding on it. After all, they spend their final year of high school studying almost 24/7 to take the test. Then on the fourth Thursday of November, just like clockwork, it was Thanksgiving. Not only was I talking about it in class but then I hosted a wonderful dinner at my apartment with all but one of the foreign teachers here and a few others. The only one not here was in Russia at the time. There were four Americans, one Japanese, one French, two Argentinians, one Ukrainian, and one Chinese. This was one of my most memorable Thanksgiving dinners. Not just because of the nontraditional fare (I mean when was the last Thanksgiving you had with sushi?) but because of the feeling and atmosphere. It was a truly enjoyable evening. This ranks with my top two Thanksgivings ever, neither of which was in America. Of course the day after Thanksgiving, I began putting up Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music. Now I’m in the full holiday swing. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year, except for the sudden drop in temperature – almost 30 degrees over night. Anyway, I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are in the Holiday spirit. Just remember the real reason for the season and it will be a happy one. TTFN. Remember, even in the everyday things, “Adventure is out there!”
Hefei Aquarium 6 December 2011
I finally visited the aquarium this last Saturday. I’ve passed by it dozens of times only a couple of miles from my school. Like many things in China, it was such a great idea that had so much potential but was carried out in a mediocre fashion. However, that’s coming from someone who has been to Sea World and other world-class aquariums. For many Chinese people, this is the closest thing they will ever get to the sea or ocean and they really wouldn’t know any better that sea turtles need space. Like many great aquariums that opened in the 1990s all across America (Chattanooga Aquarium, TN; River Journey, Denver; Dallas World Aquarium, TX), this one tries to take the visitor on a journey through different habitats including the river rainforest habitat, the reef and the deep ocean. That’s why the first exhibits you see are jungle enclosures with sloths and peacocks. It looks like there should have been more but one of the enclosures was being renovated. The aquarium is also home to a couple varieties of seal, dolphins and sea lions in addition to the usual fish, sharks and rays. One of the coolest exhibits is the reef. It’s really a great idea. We’ve all seen the cylindrical tanks with fish swimming in circles in a large school. Well, this one does basically the same thing, but puts the visitor in the middle of the cylinder so that there are fish 360 degrees around you. Perhaps the saddest part of the aquarium though was the dolphin show and the sea lion enclosures. The dolphins were more fun to watch without trainers trying to get them to do tricks. Once the trainers showed up, I felt like the dolphins’ intelligence was taken for granted. The trainers didn’t have good relationships with the animals, and the dolphins obviously didn’t want to respond. Before the trainers showed up the dolphins were playing with each other and having fun. The sea lions also put on a show, similar to the one I wrote about for the wildlife park. It was basic and slapped the intelligence right out of the animal. The saddest part though was their enclosures. They were smaller than my bedroom growing up. I was also disappointed with the water tunnels that didn’t have many fish and the only sharks were nurse sharks sitting at the bottom. We didn’t stick around for the mermaid show, but that’s okay. Overall, it was a neat experience. I did get to feed some seals. However, unlike with the wildlife park, the cons definitely outweighed the pros at the aquarium. I don’t know what my next animal adventure in China will be, but I’ll tell you all about it even if it isn’t til next summer when I make a trip to see the pandas near Chengdu.
Christmas in China, part 1 – It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
29 December 2011
Christmas was an exciting and busy time for me even in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday as I’m used to. They do, however, celebrate even if on just a superficial level with decorations at every shopping center there is. All of the big shopping centers have a big tree out front, some really cool, and each little store inside has a small tree usually decorated so poorly its funny (see my friends blog post about that). There are tons of Santa decorations and tinsel everywhere. They even play Christmas music on the sound systems of the stores and malls, though it is often just a few songs repeated over and over again. I didn’t expect this much Christmas in China or at least in Hefei and I really didn’t expect religious stuff, but the songs included renditions of many religious carols. I put up my decorations the day after Thanksgiving. I had a tree, some lights, a wreath on the door and a nativity scene I made out of paper. I’ll put the templates online if you want to make your own. Eventually, I did find some little Chinese figurines that were perfect for a nativity scene so I got them and had that set up too. Having decorations in my apartment really warmed it up for the holiday and helped me have a merrier Christmas. I used my decorations twice outside my apartment, once for my middle school lesson about Christmas and then for my Christmas party for my students. They really appreciated it and were very impressed. I made my ornaments out of origami and yarn, so it was very inexpensive and colorful. Overall, I enjoyed spreading the Christmas spirit with my decorations and music.
Christmas in China, part 2 â€“ Singing loud for all to hear 29 December 2011
Over the last month, I gave a couple of lessons about Christmas. We talked about decorations, music, Santa and baby Jesus. We talked about how Americans and others around the world celebrate their biggest holiday. Middle School My first big lesson was to my middle school class. I had a two-hour lesson for them all about how Americans celebrate Christmas. We talked about Santa Claus and the real reason for the season. I brought my Christmas tree and nativity scene for them to see and they loved them. Throughout the lesson I taught them different Christmas songs like Christmas is Coming and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. I also sang Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Silent Night for them. Since we were singing so much, the teacher suggested we let a couple of the students who were practicing for a talent show perform for us. One or two were very good. The others no so much. However, they seemed to enjoy the worst singers best because they were more charismatic than the better singers. They all sang popular American music with three of them singing Justin Bieber songs. For an activity, we made ornaments because that is a tradition in my family. I gave them pieces of paper that I had already cut like snowflakes. I left
space in the middle so they could draw a picture or something. Most of them decided to write a letter to Santa. I left them with the teacher so they could decorate their classroom. Here are a few of the more interesting ones. The yellow one says he wants Robinson Crusoe so he can give it to his cousin who isn’t brave but he can learn how to be brave from the book. Another says that for Christmas she wants China and the U.S. to be good friends. After the lesson, a few of the teachers took me out for dinner. This was my first time for softshelled turtle, and since I was the guest of honor I “got” to eat the shell. It didn’t taste bad at all. However, at one point I remembered that I had one of these as a pet when I was younger. University For my students, I showed my enthusiasm for Christmas every week. One week I taught them Christmas is Coming. Another week we watched and read The Night Before Christmas and discussed how one story could influence so much about cultural practices like Santa’s looks and how he travels. The next week we were going to have a full lesson on Christmas, but then I found out that I was supposed to give my exam that week instead of the following week. This completely threw me since I had been told by a few different people that my exam would be during the 18th week, the week after Christmas including by my coordinator. I didn’t know it would be the week before Christmas until the Thursday before. Thankfully, I had already prepared my exam. It just meant that my students wouldn’t have another week to practice and that I couldn’t have my Christmas lesson as planned. So, we planned a Christmas party for all of my students for that Friday. We ended up having a great time at the party. Everyone brought a white elephant gift to exchange and there was lots of food. However, due to another China moment of poor communication (they happen all the time) about 60 of my students couldn’t come because the day before they found out they had to go to a university New Year’s ceremony during the party. Anyway, contrary to a Chinese party where it’s more a program than a party, I let them just mingle and chat for a while. Then we got into the activities. First, I gave each class a section of wall and a stack of colored paper. The classes then had 20 minutes to decorate their space with a Christmas theme. We then let each class explain what they did. After that there was more mingling, then Christmas caroling time. We sang Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph, and Silent Night. I also sang I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day for them. Before singing Silent Night I told them about the unofficial 1914 ceasefire during WWI on Christmas. I told them how some of the soldiers would sing the songs back and forth to each other including Silent Night. Then we had the gift exchange. We got in a big circle, everyone with a gift, and then I read a story with a bunch of rights and lefts. It let them practice their listening a bit and they had fun. The party was a success, and I think everyone had fun.
Christmas in China, part 3 – Dominick, the Italian Christmas Donkey 30 December 2011
Yes, that’s a random post title and song, but this post is about random other stuff I did during the Christmas season. Foreigner Get Together In addition to my lessons and party, I hosted a get together of my foreign teacher friends at my apartment. We talked and ate and had a good time. We also shared a bit about Christmas in our homelands and sang a few Christmas songs. We had a white elephant gift exchange and watched the Christmas story. We had myself, Aaron, Birte the German teacher, Fernanda and Lucy the Spanish teachers, Kim the French teacher, Ann and John, and Judy a teacher at Aaron’s school from Australia. It was good to have a get together where we could talk openly about the real reason for the season. I did mention it to my students but as a cultural note. Ridiculous cold Along with the Christmas season came the winter weather. It doesn’t get too cold here, but in Hefei there are not heaters in all of the buildings and in none of my classrooms. This makes you really feel the cold when you’re standing in it for four hours not moving much. People in Hefei are used to it though and have learned to bundle up. They wear many layers and their coats everywhere. Many times they even open the windows for fresh air. I just don’t understand why they don’t have some heating system when it is cold for a few months of the year every year. There could at least be radiators and steam heat. Some students from northern China where they have heaters think it is colder here because they’re constantly exposed to it. They don’t have heaters in their classrooms or their dorms and aren’t allowed to have heaters or heated blankets or anything. Basically, they live in freezers during the winter months. Thankfully, my AC wall unit acts as a heater and the previous occupants left a small radiator and space heater here. I also covered most of my windows with plastic since there was the worst draft coming through. Along with the cold also comes days of extreme inversions when it warms a little. The air quality gets so bad you can barely see down the road. A Coat Because of the cold, I needed a coat not just a jacket. I looked at many stores and all over the market and couldn’t find a thing that would fit me. Chinese sizes are much smaller than American sizes and they are not consistent. I mostly looked at stores where I could afford the coats. There were some places where I could get ones that fit but they were extremely expensive.
I kept looking and eventually I found a coat in the market. It is a very nice looking wool overcoat, size XXXXXL. That’s right, five Xs. It is warm but as I’ve started saying, “made in China, bought in China – broke in China.” Some of the seams are already coming apart around the pockets. Good thing I can easily find a seamstress to try and fix it for me. Movie and Mahjong The weekend before Christmas we spent splurging a bit with Jamie, Aaron’s friend who let us go to his house to make dumplings. We went to a movie and then to a steakhouse. At the restaurant we had our own room, very customary in China, and had a game table. The plan was to eat steak then learn how to play mahjong. We did both. After learning how to play the game, I really enjoyed it. It’s a game I hope I can learn more of and play more. It is a bit like rummy or Phase Ten, but a little different strategy. Hopefully, I can figure it out well enough to teach you at home. A Christmas Carol I read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol this month and watched three different movie versions. It’s a great story that everyone should read for themselves. My favorite film version is still The Muppet Christmas Carol. If you’ve never read it you should.
Christmas in China, part 4 – Nanjing 30 December 2011
For Christmas weekend, our whole little LDS Hefei group decided to visit Nanjing. The branch there was having a party and of course a Christmas service on Sunday. It was a delightful weekend. We did a bit more sightseeing including a couple of more sections of city wall and some parks. Yes, that’s a magic wand in her hand. We found out from some passers by that this is the ancient fertility goddess that gives you children. You can pray to her to ask for a boy or girl. That’s why she has a magic wand. One of the highlights was the Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. It was a great dinner with ham and mashed potatoes and great company. After the dinner we sang some carols and watched a very rough dramatization of the Christmas story. That night we went to the Confucius Market, a big market surrounding an old Confucius temple. We meandered through the shops and bought a few things. I got a great pashmina scarf and silk tie and some trinkets for people at home. After shopping for a while, when it got dark, we took a little boat ride on the canals to look at lanterns. It was like my family’s tradition of looking at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve. We had a great evening. Sunday we went to church then went out for a bit more sightseeing before heading back to Hefei. The highest ceiling of the tower has an awesome dragon carved out of one piece of wood and covered in 11 kilos of 24-carat gold. I had a fun Christmas weekend with friends. On Monday, I got to talk with family on their Christmas night. I’ve been thinking about all of them throughout the whole season. I’ve thought about my mom as I made my nativity and every time I heard Bless Us All from The Muppet Christmas Carol. I thought about Justin when his recording of Oh, Holy Night came up on my playlist several times. I thought about all of my family and wished them all a very merry Christmas. Now it’s time for the New Year and a whole month and a half vacation, which includes the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year. I’ll be traveling a bit so look out for pictures on Photobucket and posts here. First stop is the Guilin area what many Chinese consider to be the prettiest part of China.
Remnant of the Shanghai World Expo 2010 in Hefei 31 December 2011
After the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 almost all of the pavilions were dismantled never to be seen or used again. In Shanghai, there are only a couple of the pavilions left. What I didn’t know until this week is that the province of Anhui had a pavilion and after the expo it was relocated to Hefei. I visited it this week. The pavilion itself is shaped like an old, much larger than normal Hui-style house, a very traditional style native to Anhui. Inside are several rooms. On the left are rooms displaying art from the province including traditional crafts like paper cutting, puppet making, bamboo and stone carving. The items on display were all beautiful. Sorry, no picture taking was allowed in the rooms. When we, John and I, started are little tour one of the workers approached us and started telling us about some of the items on display in English. From that point we had our own private tour guide. Her English wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t bad at all. Across the courtyard on the right side of the building is a large display hall with special pieces of art telling the history and culture of the province, but that was just auxiliary to the multi-media display. In the middle of the room is a large open space surrounded by white ‘walls’ that are actually projector screens. When the presentation began, I found myself in the middle of the action with images projected on my four sides and an LED floor under my feet. After an introduction to the province, the projections all focus on a door that opens into another room. This room has a white box in the middle with a projection making it look like a large, wrapped gift. Once everyone moved in and the door shut a new presentation began by unwrapping the present. This room also fully encompassed the viewers with projection not just on the box in front of us but also on the four walls around us. The music was grand, the video well done and overall, it was very successful in showing the province and getting people, or at least John and I, excited to visit Anhui. I only wish the tour guide had turned on the English version of the presentation, which I’m sure they have since it was on display at the World Expo. I will probably visit the pavilion again with other friends, and I noticed some of the art was for sale. I already want to buy some of that style of art. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a piece that was on display at the World Expo? The pavilion is located at the Hui Yuan Park on Fan Hua road. The entrance is just west of the expo center on the north side of the road. It is 20 RMB to get in. Humanity and Love John and I also visited the Anhui Museum
since John hadn’t been there yet. When we got there we saw a temporary exhibit on the first floor called Humanity and Love. It is a worldtravelling exhibition of oil paintings by Li Zijian. The collection is varied in subject with paintings of children from all over China to portraits of old, wrinkled yet majestic women, from homeless people in Los Angeles to earthquake victims in China. The exhibition really does reach across a whole range of human emotion. All of the paintings are large-scale and some of them look like photographs because of the intense detail. I enjoyed it very much. I will definitely be back to the museum more often if there are going to be more temporary exhibits with work of this caliber. On another note, my five-week vacation has begun. I finished entering grades yesterday and fly to Guilin tonight. I am really looking forward to seeing more of China. Remember “Adventure is out there!”
A Introduction to my adventures in Guangxi 9 January 2012
A Chinese saying is translated to “East or west, Guilin landscape is best.” Well, now that I’ve been to that part of the country I might have to agree. However, I would say Guilin isn’t the prettiest city of the region but it is the largest and the best hub for travels in the area. I spent the first week of 2012 in the area and even with the poor weather was astounded by the magnificent scenes I rafted, biked and hiked through. What a great start to the year. I was so impressed I’ve already started thinking about how to go back in the summer. I organized the trip for myself, my friend Aaron and our friends Ann and John and decided to use a travel agency based in the area to schedule at least the first few days when all four of us would be there. I searched high and low for the right company and found Mulan Tours owned and operated by Mulan. As opposed to the many other offerings out there, Mulan offers at reasonable prices and lists them in RMB not USD. We were on a budget so we worked directly with Mulan to organize a tour to fit it. Not only did she do her best to accommodate our wants and needs, but she did it all on very short notice. When we arrived in Guilin, we were met at the airport by a van big enough for four of us and lots of luggage. (Ann and John headed back to America after this trip and had all of their stuff with them.) We went directly to Yangshuo and arrived about 30 minutes before the New Year. At our hotel we met Rong who would be our tour guide for the next few days. She spoke very good English, most of which she learned from listening. She has been a tour guide for more than 15 years and loves her job. A native of the area, she knew many things and could answer most of our questions as she led us through the countryside and around little villages.
Rafting on the Li River 9 January 2012
Our first day on the trip and first of the New Year was wonderful. It started with a short bus ride to Xingping, a small fishing town between Guilin and Yangshuo. After walking down a 1,000-year-old street with, of course, a handful of souvenir vendors, we arrived at the Li River. Here we boarded a “bamboo” raft for a couple of hours up and down what Mulan said is the most beautiful section of the river. The raft was patterned after the traditional fishing rafts except bigger, with seats, a small outboard motor and a canopy and was made of PVC pipe instead of bamboo. It was just the four of us with our raft driver and was magnificent.
Almost right out of the gate you come to the section of river that is printed on the 20 Yuan note and it just gets better from there. Even though there were several other rafts on the river and the motors hummed all around, it was extremely tranquil and very beautiful. Along the way we passed hundreds of karsts rising high above the ground covered in green thickets of bamboo that looked more like gianormous palm trees, and many people going about their daily routine by washing clothes in the river, bringing their water buffalo down to graze and loading pomelos into a boat to go to market. At two points we brought the raft up on to the shore. First was a planned touristy stop where a bunch of local vendors have snacks for sale, a local fisherman has his cormorants for photos, and photographers are soliciting you to take your picture for a small price. We took our picture with the cormorants and were pursued by just about every vendor since we were the only foreigners on the rocky sand bar. Our second docking was to see some water buffalo that were brought down to the river to graze. At first they were a little scared of us because of the orange life vests we had on, but once we shed those, our raft driver went and grabbed the rope of one so we could get pictures. Aaron tried to pet it but it didnâ€™t want to be touched. One of my favorite parts was right before we turned around to head back to Xingping. The driver stopped the motor and we just sat in the middle of the river. There were no other boats around and it was so quiet and still. This was such a peaceful moment in a beautiful, clear river surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery Iâ€™ve seen around the world. That few moments will linger with me for a very long time. The raft trip was 1.5 to 2 hours long. I hope I can go back some day when it is much clearer for a ride down the Li River. After the rafting we had lunch in Xingping at delicious little place. I only wish we had found a place like this every day of the trip.
Fuli Village After a short bus ride we got off at the village of Fuli. Here Rong led us through some of the back streets until we were walking down another supposed 1,000-year-old street. Here we learned and witnessed many things. The highlight was the series of workshops in people’s front rooms where they made paper fans. We stopped at the workshop of the guy who paints the fans and watched and participated. We each ended up buying a fan or two direct from the artist. We also saw the homes of farmers down this little alley-like street where they had a gate at the front of the house to keep the animals like chickens and ducks inside and where they had a small stable right next door for their water buffalo. At the end of the street we found the path that leads to the fields down some steps through the buffalo pasture. On our way back to the bus stop, we saw the living conditions of the locals and saw them going about their business. Most of them had power, but didn’t use it for heating or lights. Instead, most of the houses had the TV on and a little fire to keep warm. I still don’t understand why there aren’t stoves or fireplaces built into their homes for warmth. It’s the same thing in Hefei. That night we meandered down the famous West Street of Yangshuo full of shops and restaurants and an unnerving amount of clubs. We had fun bartering with the vendors and exploring what they have to offer here. Food prices are definitely inflated for tourists, but there is a wide assortment of Chinese and western eateries including the fall-backs of McDonald’s and KFC. In addition to the lively atmosphere, the city casts flood lights on the surrounding mountains, which the city is built right in the midst of, so you don’t forget the scenery you’re walking in the shadow of.
Biking through the Countryside of Yangshuo 10 January 2011
The next day we went on a bike journey through the countryside of Yangshuo through the Yu Long River valley. We didn’t just stick to the roads but took many paths right through farmers’ fields and through back alleys of the local settlements. We rode through some amazing countryside that only with clear skies and views could have been more amazing. We saw the active farms growing cotton, strawberries, oranges, pomelos, water chestnuts, sugar cane, rice and so much more. We also saw and learned bits of local culture like the meanings of the tombs we saw all around and how and why they use water buffalo. Our first leg took us to Moon Hill, probably the most famous hill in the Yangshuo area. Because of the weather we couldn’t really see the hill from a distance or when we hiked up to the arch that cuts through the hill. Aaron and I hiked up the 800+ marble stairs in the rain to the hole in the mountain. I could only imagine that the view would be spectacular on a clear day. After a warming lunch we rode to the Buddha Water Cave that also has a few other names. This is just one of the many cave systems in these karsts all around the region. It is most popular because of the mud baths and hot springs you can go in. We opted for the “dry” tour meaning no bathing in mud for us. It wasn’t too dry though. Most caves any of us had been in were usually dry inside and cooler than outside, but this was much warmer and very humid, so much that it was hard to take pics without the lens fogging up. The cave was lit up with multi-colored LEDs and we were told that certain rocks looked like particular things, some of them more than others. There wasn’t much about how the caves were formed or the geology. Ann and John, who have been to many caves (John is the official photographer for Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park), said this was a similar tour to what you would’ve gotten 1520 years ago in a cave in the States. Maybe someday there will be a happy balance between the cutesy shapes and the geology. From the caves we rode a little more through the countryside to find our way back to Yangshuo. Even though the countryside was along the same river in the same area, it looked and felt very different.
These farms felt more real. I don’t really know how one farm can feel more real than another, but it did. We went past the fields and around the mountains in awe of what we saw and were seeing. It was an awesome day even though we were all a bit sore, wet and sniffling and the weather obstructed wide views. I highly recommend this experience. Find a guide who will take you through the countryside so you can really see it.
Longji Rice Terraces – The Dragon’s Backbone 10 January 2011
My final day with Rong, Ann and John was a trip to the mystical rice terraces of Longsheng. A few hours’ drive from Yangshuo took us through small towns, past dozens of pomelo vendors on the side of the street with makeshift shelters, through winding mountain roads, and green bamboo and pine forests. Eventually we reached the entrance to the rice terraces. From there we drove up the mountain on a very narrow, winding road to a parking lot just outside the village of Longji. This whole area, as many of the unique wonders of China, has been converted to a tourist destination with admission fees, vendors and an array of hotels, restaurants and entertainment. However, the rice terraces are still active farms and real people still live in the villages and work in the fields for their livelihood and food.
The village of Longji is a small settlement built on the side of the mountain surrounded by terraced farmland. Although the village is inflated with hotels and hostels, most of them look just like the buildings that the farmers live in. The farmersâ€™ homes are usually three stories high. The first floor is for livestock, horses instead of buffalo on the mountain, the second floor is for the family to live on and the third is for grain storage. Supposedly, the animals on the first floor protect the family from snakes during the summer and putting the grain on the third floor protects it from vermin. The first level is made of stone or concrete nowadays and the upper levels of wood.
We hiked up to one overlook in awe of the terraces all around then we took a path on one of the terrace levels around to another lookout. Each turn presented a stunning view. We couldnâ€™t see far and it wasnâ€™t one of the big seasons when all of the terraces are green, full of water, golden from harvest or white with snow, but we got a mix with some green, some golden and some with water, thankfully no snow. It was very wet and cold but completely worth it.
That evening we drove to Guilin, checked in at our hostel and parted with Rong.
Guilin, part 1
11 January 2012
The next day Ann and John left for the airport and Aaron and I set out to explore a bit of Guilin. It ended up raining on us for two days, but we still visited some of the signature sights of the city. The main parts of the city are all within a 20-30 minute walk of each other so we decided to walk most of the time.
Ming Palace and Solitary Beauty Peak
Our first day we ventured down to the walking street, not nearly as fun or exciting as West Street in Yangshuo. Then we went to the Prince City Scenic Area. Guilin was appointed the seat of government for the area with Prince Jingjiang, grand nephew of the emperor, in charge during the first Ming Emperorâ€™s reign. Because of this, there are many Ming-era relics including a palace complex where only the perimeter walls, some stairs and railings are original since the buildings were destroyed by the Japanese in the 40s.
It was rebuilt and used as a government seat for the Kuomingtang as well, Dr. Sun having lived there. The complex also seems to be used for part of a university campus. The highlight of the palace is Solitary Beauty Peak, a single mountain rising up above the city in the palace yard. It was reserved for royalty only and then government officials until recently.
The most famous rock in Guilin is Elephant Hill. This hill right on the river has been called Elephant Hill for hundreds if not thousands of years, but I still had to stretch my imagination to see the giant pachyderm. It gets this name because on the river is an arch at the base of the hill that allegedly looks like the elephantâ€™s trunk drinking from the river. On its back, someone during the Ming era built a brick pagoda thatâ€™s supposed to be like the saddle or howdah that someone rides an elephant with. After trying to see the elephant from the side, we hiked to the top and around to the arch. This was probably the most disappointing park we visited in the city. Even funnier is that most pictures of the hill show it with karsts all over behind it, but the reality is that there isnâ€™t another mountain for a ways behind it.
Sun and Mon Pagodas
A not-so-ancient site to visit is the lake with the Sun and Moon Pagodas. These towers were built in the not-so-distant past as Buddhist shrines. The Sun Pagoda is the tallest copper pagoda in the world, according to the signs. They were okay to visit and probably great views of the city and surrounding karsts in better weather.
Guilin, part 2
11 January 2012 The next day we found the river that serves as a moat to the center part of the city and explored the parks along it. This included many interesting bridges including one that reminisces of a mini Golden Gate Bridge. From there we made our way to Seven Stars Park, by far the best park we visited in Guilin especially when they all cost money and this offered more for the money. It is called Seven Stars Park because of the seven peaks that make the shape of the big dipper. One of the first things we noticed were all of the lanterns set up for the Spring Festival. But then we saw the wild monkey signs. Aaron had been hoping to see monkeys ever since we got to China and was nearly frozen with excitement when he saw the signs. A little down the main sidewalk, we came upon a troop of monkeys being fed and observed by a Chinese tour group. It was kind of exciting to see “wild” monkeys. However, we noticed they had a caretaker making sure they didn’t get too rowdy or aggressive and up a side path we found a cage we suspected was for the monkeys. We did see signs about the “wild” monkeys all over the park though even up trails so who knows if they’re always herded or if there really are wild monkeys. We made our way to the most famous rock of the park, Camel Hill. From there we went up one of the trails into the surrounding hills of the park. It was so nice and peaceful with the mountains blocking out the sounds and sights of the city. We passed by a few old tombs and went to the peak of one hill with great views all around. There we met another English teacher from Vancouver on vacation from Hangzhou. She joined us as we continued our exploration of the park including a search for the stele forest. On the way we found a natural cove and arch with many inscriptions on the wall, a small shrine with Buddha statues and a man practicing some kind of martial art. Eventually we found the stele forest or large wall and cave covered in carvings, some dating to 1,000 years old. They included everything from poems to pictures to accounts of events. We only understood because of the plaques describing a few of them. After some fried rice, we walked back to the hostel. The next day we took a few buses around the city to see what was there. One bus took us far to the outskirts. On the way we passed through an
actual cemetery. I was told that they don’t have large cemeteries here just small family graveyards, but that was wrong. This was a sea of round tombs that went from both sides of the road up the side of the nearby hills. We decided to walk back so we could walk through the cemetery, which I found amazing. This part of the city was not accustomed to having foreigners in it so, unlike in the main part of the city, we got strange looks and stares from the locals. However, unlike the awkward stares we get in Hefei from people who have never seen foreigners, these stares were more of the ‘what are you doing here’ variety of stares. That’s okay though because we also found some good food with prices that weren’t inflated for tourists. We even found some of this in the city but you can’t look in the usual places. To find real Chinese food at real Chinese prices you have to go down side streets and alleys and not near the train station. We were done in Guilin when the time came to go to the airport. Maybe with better weather we could’ve spent more time there, but with the weather and the annoying disparity between treatment of foreigners and locals we were ready to get back to Hefei. To sum up a great vacation: Yangshuo and the Li River are amazing! The rice terraces are completely worth it. Four days is too much for Guilin itself especially in poor weather. I want to go back to Guangxi again.
Act 2 of my time teaching at Anhui University in Hefei, China from August 2011 to June 2012. This section covers sites my trip to Guangzhou...
Published on Mar 12, 2014
Act 2 of my time teaching at Anhui University in Hefei, China from August 2011 to June 2012. This section covers sites my trip to Guangzhou...