Saturday, 24 May 2008

Guilin (Kwei-Lin in the old days)

So, the beaty of Guilin. It's surrounded by two wide rivers and is bascially built on the old river flood plain - a wide flat area surrounded by mountains. The Geology out here is amazing - if any of you are into rocks, come and have a shufty. Guilin is really nice, lots of english speakingj (which is very handy for me!) and it just feels different from the other Chinese places I've visited. They've all felt a bit too communist still - dull grey buildings, high rise office blocks and all very industrious. Here is different, here has kicked back a gear and people actually enjoy life.

So, I'm breakfasted and hotelled up and I go exploring and found out what Guilin is famed for - its outstanding natural beauty. One of the sites (and there are varying reports where, in the old diaries) has been described as a 'rock forest'. Now, I've visited the 'Pinnacles' in Western Australia (google earth that, actually, should look pretty cool!) and I would describe that as a rock forest (limestone columns as wide as a man, but from 2-10 metres tall) but not the Guilin surrounding area. Sure, it's beautiful, but the scenenry here is more like something out of a James Bond movie - giant rock hills, with vertical sides, coming straight out of nowhere. The best way I can describe it is as Rock Sharks fins sticking up. Anyway, after a sweaty climb up the VERY steep 'solitary beauty peak' (does that need any more explaining? - it's on it's own in the middle of town) I get to see the whole panorama of Guilin - amazing.

I visit the CRAP Guilin museum in the hope to see their Guilin History exhibit which is shut. This made it even more crap. Then I head back into town and search for ages for an internet cafe and write an update you've already read. I'm on the way back and get accosted by this old scrubber on one of the benches nearby for "massagey?"
"No thanks love"
"Good massage, special massage!"
I play the ignore her card...
"You want sex?"
"What!?" I can't help but blurt out in astonishment
"Sex?" - Now she's the one looking at me confused.
"Erm, no thanks, don't think the Mrs would be too happy..." - I'm still shocked
"No, you come (that's the whole idea I thought?) - Lookey, lookey, young girl"
"Just look!?"
She was almost as bad as the 'copy watch' sellers in Hong Kong, except their goods are probably better quality and more expensive. I refrain from telling her to F-off (an international way to break down relations - funny how many people can't speak english, but DO understand this) and keep on strolling by.

Next day is a big one for me. I wake up (alone!) and head off to the 7 star park which houses the 7 star cave funnily enough - a place that grandad visted and also Duncan and Donald used as an air raid shelter during the war. The caves were said to house 300,000 which I thought was a bit far fetched until I was inside - they're huge! Much more vast than chislehurst caves and they're pretty big. So, the guide is cheesey, intermittently flicking on multicoloured lights to point out a peach, a cucumber, a dragon's head or an old man playing chess - you get the picture - I didn't. The park is fun to explore, right in the middle of all these peaks and I bicycled there BTW - what a new experience! Im taller on my bike than the locals and if they were unsure about what to do on the road at the best of times, just put a westerner on their infrastructure - they can't get out the way quick enough!

So, the park is good, the caves are a welcome relief to the temperature outside at a cool something-teen degrees celcius but I'm me and I have to climb up the two viewpoints. I thought solitary beauty peak was bad, but these were something else!

Oh, I forgot to mention here that this was after lunch. I headed for the busy place where the locals go. You choose your uncooked miniature shish kebab, I opted for all kinds of meat (I seriously wouldn't doubt if I'd eaten dog by now), some chinese leaf and other vegetables just to be healthy. Then they deep fry them (good job I chose the healthy veg...), drizzle them in chilli sauce (the real 'mouse-shit' deal with seeds and everything) and serve them up. It was actually a new experience to have my cheeks sweating. Not just my top lip, nose, forhead and lower eye sockets, as is standard - that's all happened before, but my actual fleshy cheeks were sweating. Seriously, I was so hot, my sweat was sweating!

Back to the park and the peaks, they're pretty cool (to experience, not climb!) and you're greeted by the tellytubbies as you walk through the entrace - no I don't know why either.. The first peak is called 'embracing moon peak' - I tell you now, nothing would've wanted to embrace me at that moment... Then it was off to the even higher 'star picking peak' which afforded the best views over Guilin. Halfway up, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of two monkeys grooming each other. Amazing stuff and I've got some really good footage - check out Richard Hide's website (see right) and my page on that site. Hopefully technology will allow me a miracle this end... I was about an arms length away from one of the monkeys at the closest point - really amazing stuff when you see them behaving naturally and even more amazing is the way they just leap around on the rocks. It's like they're almost weightless or attached to strings...

Then it's dusk, high speed pedal (and that's faster than most of the motorbikes here too) back to the youth hostel for a refreshing cold shower and out to watch the cheesey but - Wes, you would've loved it - entertaining 'Waterfall show' nightly at 20.30.
Now, I wasted the evening before perched on a rock on the edge of the lake out the front of the waterfall hotel expecting a 'waterfall show' - I'm thinking fountains, music, lights, you know the sort of stuff. But from 20.15-20.45 nothing happens, I curse myself for not getting a better spot and think I've missed it because the tour boats have parked up and are in the way... WRONG! I'm perched there again the next night, prime position this time, nobody there. This is wrong. I read the book properly it's on the north side of the hotel, not the lake, so I walk round the back of the waterfall hotel. If some of the signs here are misleading, the aptly named hotel is not. There's a pool, lights, fountain spouts and a stepped hotel facade adding to my excitement which I can hardly contain and then it starts. Water simply cascades off the roof of the 20 storey hotel and into this pool. That's it. There's a soundtrack of Chinese Pop music, the special effects are when a bloke on the roof runs from left to right and back again creating a wave effect down the side of the building a couple of times and bosh. Done. Cleanest hotel windows in the world. Crap show. It's so cheesey, but I love it. Wes, you've got to come here to see it - right up your street.

So, the night's disappeared again. I've been in here for god knows how long (it's dark inside, with no windows) and I've still got to tell you about today and 'The Dragon's back bone rice terraces, the long haired women (they only cut it once when they're 18) and the 'Long Wang Kee' (say it - can't wait to shop there!) shopping mall.

Actually, I can probably do that in a paragraph:
Dragon's backbone rice terraces - world famous, look like real life contours on a hill (3 peakers will know all about that) and farm rice. Weather was abysmal, views would've been amazing, but were only mediocre. Interesting to visit all the same.
Long Haired women - does what it says on the tin. Reaches the floor easily. The minors keep it wrapped up and if you see it down then you're supposed to 'stay there and marry them' said the guide. Blogging this is evidence I didn't see any 'under-age hair'... They wash it with rice water. It's in pretty good nick and is shiny and black. They only cut it once when they're 18 as a rite of passage and they wear bright pink outfits too.

Off to the shopping mall it is!


tim said...

I won't say TOO much cos every time I've tried to post a comment it's just disappeared -- but just to try once again to let you know the blog continues to be hugely entertaining, interesting, informative and goodness knows what else...and we ARE keeping up with it, even as you head into deepest darkest western China.
We in Hackney are very jealous, of course, not having been on tour now for quite a while -- specially of your Escape discoveries...tho i guess we will get our chance at Xmas (despite your doubts that we're up to them there hills!). And yes, the floating restaurant was very likely one of those old "flower-boats".
And guess what, we're off to Kensington this weekend to see Donald...and who knows, maybe some of your folks too. Oh and yes, since you ask, we HAVE been to Chiangmai -- Alison had a hilltribe handicraft business there, and many of the tribes are related to those in SW China.... Anyway, , keep it up Russ (as those longhaired roadside and shopping-mall women probably told you in Gweilin)... or is it Gweiyang by now?

Russ in China said...

LOL- Hi Tim, I'm sure you guys will be fine in December - just get the training in beforehand!