A Travellerspoint blog


In the beautiful Guangxi province, South-East China

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The jagged Karst peaks pierce the ground & scrape the sky. Covered with lush green foliage that is taller but less dense than it appears from a distance they dominate the landscape for miles in every direction. The small patches of ground between them are filled with rice paddies, but in Yangshuo tourism is undoubtedly the main source of income. There are three leisurely ways to escape the centre of town; boating, cycling and moped-ing and I give each of them a go.

Taking a bamboo boat upriver is incredibly serene, but I'm a restless person and too slowly for me the scenery moves by the wide flat water I share with bathing water buffalo & cormorant fishermen. I strain to see what's around the next bend, but the raft's tiny engine cannot fight against the current of the river and our driver turns us around & heads back.

Cycling out of town makes the scenery move by a little faster, though the roadsides are too filled with touts to feel quite as out of it as you do on a boat. I reach Moon Hill, a recommended view point, in the blazing midday heat & am slick with sweat before I've climbed 10 steps. The panorama, when I emerge from the tree line after 30minutes of climbing, is definitely worth it.

On my second night here I went to see Impression Liu Sanjie, directed by Zhang Yimou of 'Hero' fame. Performed at night on the Li River, with the surrounding peaks lit up as a backdrop and involving 600 people a show the scale alone is impressive. The show is equally so; beautifully choreographed boating & lighting (No computer controlled movers, just really heavy looking followspots!) with oxen and cormorant fishermen thrown in for the spectacle. Gorgeously intricate jangling metal jewelry, vivid costumes and spectacular boat creations; the show was extraordinary.

A hungover day was then spent with a group of English TEFL teachers on Mopeds, jolting around the countryside on the tiniest dirt tracks imaginable, looking for a place to swim. I didn't drive, just clung on tight!

On my last day in Banshee I went to 'The Water Cave'. A boat takes you into the caves through an entrance so low you have to assume the brace position to make it through. Straightening up, I adjusted my eyes to the gloom and there in front of me was on of the most beautiful rock formations I've ever seen. (Though, to be fair, it's not often I call a rock formation beautiful.)
On a level above a pool had formed and eventually spilled calcium-rich water over its edge. Over the years this water had left a rock impression of its cascades, petal-like; smooth and rounded at the top tapering off into folds and twists at the bottom. We continued inwards, alighted from the boat and began the hour and a half tour of the cave system. Narrow winding corridors of stalactites were interspersed with huge booming caverns and one felt alternately claustrophobic and tiny. The torches we all carried cast shadows behind the rocks that flickered as we jolted along the uneven path. We took a route beside an underground river & as I scrunched along its pebbly shore I felt like an explorer in search of a mythical beast. No dragon was to be found, however, so instead we trudged back to the mud baths where I discovered the joys of floating in slime (Yay!) After this was the more group-accepted hot springs. You could see from a distance the steam coming off them & as well as the warmth the formation of the rocks lent itself perfectly to hot springs. At the bottom there was a large pool (big enough for the tiniest swim ever) & at the top there was a collection of smaller pools in various shapes and size. I picked a deep bath-sized one & lay back, staring at the distant ceiling & sharp points hovvering overhead. It was lovely.

Relaxed and cheerful

Carol x x x

Posted by Bimbler 23:10 Archived in China Comments (0)

Datong, Tai Shan and Qufu

Holy Caves Batman! Or why I climbed a hill by night...

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Outside the grimy provincial town of Datong, most noted for the enormous coal power plants which electrify Beijing are the Yungang caves; a stretch of sandstone cliff inhabited by thousands of Buddhas. Way back in the 400's the devout began to carve grottoes into the rock & fill them with holy images. Those exposed to the elements have suffered sandstone's natural devastation to detail, but those in the deeper caves have fared better and even to my untrained eyes patches of Indian influence are obvious, here, in north China.
I'm visiting on Workers Day, a bank holiday, so it is hardly surprising that it is heaving with tourists. A giggling teenage girl asks if she can have her photo taken with me. I say yes and she grabs my arm & pulls a peace sign. I smile, feel gargantuan next to her tiny frame & hope my head scarf is covering my bandages. I have to pose with a few more passers by, towering over all of them, before I am able to scarper off towards the Buddhas.
The largest Buddhas seem to be the most famous & in front of a 14mtr high one incense is burned in a large tub. My favourites, though, are inside. In the middle of the massive caves a pillar of rock remains, leaving the room with 9 sides, including the ceiling. Each of them is covered in carvings intricate in detail & enormous in scale, painted in bright, carefree colours. They take my breath away.

I take my first ever high speed train to Tai' an, 3hrs south of Beijing & home to Tai Shan, the holiest of China's 5 holy mountains. This was the mountain the Emperor used to ascend to make sacrifices & I was to climb it by night to watch the sunrise from the summit. I had seriously underestimated its popularity.
As I hand over my rucksack to the left luggage office the man inside pointed to a pair of young Chinese people sat off to the left and energetically mimed something that looked like polishing his fingernails. I decided he probably meant hiking of the mount Tai Shan variety & went over to speak to them. Yes they were climbing the mountain, yes they did speak English and yes of course I could come with them. I was so lucky; they turned out to be two of the loveliest people I have ever met. We went & had dinner at the bottom of the climb (ate mountain mushrooms - sooo good!) and after an hour of so's digestion turned to tackle the mountain. We left at about 9:30, giving us 7 and a half hours before sunrise. It's cold at the top & its only a 5 hour climb really, so we took it at a very leisurely pace with lots of time to stop and chat.

The moonlight cast a ghostly blue glow through the trees and though it was too dark to determine colours, the details of the surroundings were easy to make out. The path was paved with smooth stone steps from top to bottom and smattered with temples and stalls. Th scent of incense wafted through the air & scores of passing and passed by hikers played tinny traditional music on their mobiles. As we continued upwards the gully the path wound through echoed with shouts and hollers and the climb took on the atmosphere of a school trip with enthusiastic 17yr olds.
After the half way point (More like 2/3) the steps got steeper and straighter, but we could finally catch sight of the top. My thighs burned and wobbled but we made it with an hour to go . It seems to be true that just before sunrise is the darkest and coldest time of the 24hr day and we found a corner sheltered from the biting wind & I withdrew myself as far as possible into my massive coat.

It began as a rainbow across the sky, slowly, steadily brightening. Literally hundreds of people stood in the gloom, uniformed in long green trench coats that were for hire against the cold. We waited. And waited. Finally amidst an excited hum of chatter the tip of a red sun peeked over the horizon. Quickly it rose, as if sensing the impatience of collective exhaustion until it settled in the rainbow that in turn began to fade.

In the old town of Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius is prettily walled and cobbled in grey stone. the temple to his teachings is large and traditionally beautiful with gorgeously carved dragon pillars. There were some storyboards of his life, almost Tao-like in their dreary detail, and a wall in which his writings were hidden when a later emperor took a dislike to his religion. Beyond this I remember a leafy courtyard; I had taken a bus there directly from the mountain and the gnarled bark was the perfect soother to my sleep deprived mind.

Well rested now

Carol X x X

Posted by Bimbler 06:55 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Hospital.

Dont Panic! Do Not Panic.

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Over- exuberant at good food and good company I hopped through the doorway too fast and smashed my head on the PVC door frame. Holding my skull I could feel the newly made dint & sat back down at my table saying "Guys, I think I just hit my head really quite hard." I took away my hand and all around faces dropped; it was wet and sticky with blood. As if commanded by an audience the wound began to pour blood Carrie style, and I watched it steadily drip off my eyebrows and across my vision.
After 10 minutes and many blood soaked wads of tissue paper I began to feel the shock that held my body lessen and I demanded to be allowed to see what I had done. In the bathroom my scalp was a bloody mess: matted hair protruded from the crash site - a neat looking slice about 5mm wide.
We took a taxi back to the hostel where I was convinced I really did need stitches & was soon getting out of another taxi in front of Beijing Friendship Hospital.

The A&E was filled with beds & patients on them, but strangely for someone used to English hospitals there didn't seem to be anyone waiting. I registered at the front desk & was quickly ushered into the suture room where the doctor's main concern seemed to be whether it was OK to shave my head. I assured him it was & lay down on the stitching table.
My hair around the wound was duly snipped and shaved and I'm eternally grateful for Selina's running commentary on what was going on out of sight. Everything came out of sterile packets. A piece of paper with a hole for the operating area was put over my head. The guy behind me was having his penis operated on. My loud laugh rang out inappropriately through the hostel. I tried not to cry. Of the list of things I'd wanted to do on this trip staring at the water stained ceiling of a Beijing hospital with a toilet seat cover on my head was not one of them. I wanted my Mum.

The comfortingly competent doctor anaesthetised my scalp & began stitching with an actual needle and thread. I could feel, in a surreally detached way, the thread pulling through my skin & a knot being dexterously tied at the end of each stitch. After about 6 stitches we got to the widest point & a place where the anesthetic hadn't quite reached yet. When he pulled the sides together it HURT & a squeezed Selina's offered hand. I was fucking scared.
I lost count, but after a while I was bandaged, sat up & politely given a bill for 10 stitches. When I paid I was given a bottle of Tetanus jab (which I refused to let them use as I was already inoculated) and 12 'Anti Bacterial' tablets with Chinese instructions. I decided to take them twice a day, with water.


So... I spent a day taking ibuprofen but have only needed a few since then. I changed the bandage after 2 days as instructed & it looked like it was healing nicely. A week later I had the stitches out & the day after that I spent the morning without a headscarf, enjoying the breeze on hair which is already growing back. All things considered I feel quite lucky. It never really hurt as much as it looks like it should have & I got to see up close what Chinese medical care can be like.

With many thanks to the lovely folk at Beijing Hospital and to Selina, Patrick & Andrew for handholding, translation and tea 'tis on to the next adventure!

Til next time folks

x x x

Posted by Bimbler 05:21 Archived in China Comments (0)


Free from Swine Fluļ¼

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I love this city! Having sorted out it's smog problem (or at least passed it on to other cities) the wide streets make a city I had expected to be overwhelmingly built up feel spacious despite the crowds. On the first morning I walked from my hostel near the Workers Gymnasium past countless skyscrapers all the way to Tiananmen Square. Breakfast was a 20p chili pancake and the rush hour traffic was controlled by a flick of the traffic controllers white gloved hand. When I got there, an hour and a half later, the crowds had already massed before the entrance to the Forbidden City, so I turned instead to the ever-so-slightly underwhelming Tiananmen Square. A queue at least 2 hours longs winds around the central building waiting to get a glimpse of the pickled remains of Chairman Mao and I went off on the Metro to see the Olympic City. The grey windswept plaza disappears into the distance & an 'ancient' set of bells sit incongreuntly amidst the very modern buildings.

On my second day I went to see a section of the Great Wall 3 hours outside of Beijing. Its was so breathtakingly beautiful I can't even begin to describe it and the mountainous landscape that surrounds it. I zip-wired off it at the end of the 15K hike though!
My first misty day in Beijing is spent wandering the parks around the Forbidden City, where a Buddhist temple overlooks all of Beijing. The next day is again blazingly hot & a one and a half hour bus ride takes me to the Summer Palace . Standing beside the massive lake, surrounded by trees and overlooked by mountains you could easily believe yourself to be miles from the city. Take a steep climb up to the Dowager Empress' party palace however, and the glinting glass skyline of Beijing soon arises from the treeline. Rather than spoil the tranquility of this beautiful place the view only serves to heighten the illusion of an oasis, albeit an oasis inhabited by thousands of tourists.

So, what else did I love about Beijing? The courtyards, balconies & lovely staff of my second hostel, cheap and tasty street food; cheap and tastier restaurant food. The easy to use Metro, even if Beijingers do need to learn to let people off before they try to get on. The 798 Beijing Art District with its masses of free street art, graffiti and seemingly most of Beijing's galleries. The Taoist temple which shows heaven as a series of bureaucratic offices that, if you lead a really good life, you'll get to work in for eternity.DSCF1891.jpg
The hutongs with their narrow and bustling streets and markets. the ornate roof tiling that appears everywhere. And did I mention the food? I can even eat rice with chopsticks!

Still, I have loitered here too long, so it's Adieu from me,

Love & beautifully cooked aubergines

Carol Xxx

Posted by Bimbler 21:49 Archived in China Comments (0)

Train Times (Part 3)

Mongolia to Beijing

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We got to the Chinese border as it got dark and after the hours of official paper waving chugged slowly towards a shed in the station - this was where the wheels would be changed to the slightly thinner gauge suitable for Chinese rails. DSCF1586.jpg After a good half an hour of shunting back an forwards the carriages were separated and clamped to 4 obviously powerful lifts and the wheel trucks were disconnected from the actual body of the train. This was all very exciting after hours sitting at a station with no toilet access and a crowd of people formed at the end of the carriage to wave at the people on the other trucks & Ohh and Ahh as the lifts clunked into motion. DSCF1608.jpg Once airborne (though you could barely feel it inside the carriage) the wheels were simply pushed along the tracks & replaced with new ones, whereupon we were slowly lowered back onto them. After this there was just a reassuring 30 minutes of tightening & checks and we were reconnected and on our way!

As soon as I crossed the Chinese border with its immaculately dressed & friendly officials something changed. My excitement at being HERE, finally, in the country that for me has always epitomised 'the other side of the world' took over & I was riveted to the scenery outside my window. Gobi desert gave way to hand-tilled fields that stretched away to hills in the distance. We saw a battered, crumbling section of the Great Wall in the distance. Then, suddenly, rocky mountains loomed beside the train, so close that you had to crane your neck to see the tops of them quickly before the train was plunged into a tunnel.

It was obvious when we reached Beijing; there were tower blocks and lots of them. We slowly snaked our way amongst them into the centre of the city, pulling alongside the local trains & indulging in some mutual waving. Even when I stood outside the train station, lost amid the touts and confusion my enthusiasm remained undimmed. This was China - Yay!

Travel weary, but ever cheerful

x X x

Posted by Bimbler 18:19 Archived in China Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

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