Friday, April 19, 2013

Guilin Continued

The sales team had a meeting on Tuesday morning, which would continue over a round of golf that afternoon, so I spent a leisurely day walking around Guilin and getting a feel for the Chinese way of life.  Although I am certain the big cities have a totally different atmosphere, I formed some initial impressions of China - whether right or wrong.  I noticed that the most popular form of transportation is by quiet electric scooters, which anyone can drive without training and without helmets.  Babies and children are transported on these scooters with little concern for safety.  I guess it helps that they cannot move at high speeds.  But there are also many other forms of transportation from hand pulled carts, to bicycles, small trucks and "taxis" and cars to big city buses.  There are few traffic signals and drivers and pedestrians alike just use their best judgement as they navigate the roads.  Construction is fairly similar for housing and businesses.  Generally, the bottom level of a building opens up like storage units from which the people sell their wares.  The 2nd and 3rd stories are living areas, whether for single family homes or apartments.  There is not a lot of creativity in design and little care for aesthetics.  Things are very utilitarian in function and it does not appear that they are very clean or tidy in the way they live, work, and eat; at least in their common areas.  However, their public parks and tourist venues are usually extremely well constructed and incorporate many pleasing design features and artwork.  The yin and the yang exist harmoniously in pleasing relaxing environments.  Western style toilets are rarely found.  The side posts to the front door of most homes are lined with red banners and characters which spell out the family wishes for the year.  These are replaced annually during a Chinese celebration.  Supermarkets are small and generally only carry a limited selection of Chinese products.  Herbal medicines are a big business along with agriculture.  Their produce includes rice, sugar cane, pomelo fruit, persimmon, summer orange, taro, ginkgo, water chestnuts and more recently apricots and pineapple.  The city, "Guilin" is named after the guilin tree which grows abundantly in the region.  To us it looks like the ficus tree, but it blossoms with tiny flowers in the fall and perfumes are made from the fragrance of the blooms.  Although most students study English from the time they enter grade school, communicating in English was not very common or accessible.  A tour guide was not just a luxury, but a necessity for us to experience the the culture.  There are a lot of similarities to the Korean way of life, although I feel like there is a higher standard of living in Seoul.

There is another saying, "If Guilin is a live person, the Li River would be the soul of Guilin."  The lakes and river water system are one of the treasured beauties of the city.  I enjoyed walking around the lake where two landmark pagodas are situated and several charming bridges cross the water.  There are boat cruises on the lake and in the evening they showcase all the water features which are aglow with colored lights.

Our final day began with a heavy rainfall, which cleaned the air nicely for afternoon activities that followed morning meetings.  The group cancelled their golf plans after finding the golf course to be quite a disappointment, and booked a boat trip down the Li River.  Because we had already done that, Bob and I were provided with an opportunity to explore one of the many caves in the area.  "Silver Cave" is located near Yangshuo where we would meet the others after their river cruise.  This particular cave is one of the newer caves in the area, and is called "silver" because many of the formations inside this cave are younger and very white with calcium deposits.  The cave was huge with stalactites hanging more than 30 yards long!  And, of course, no cave tour would be complete without introducing you to formations with fanciful names, such as "The Giver of Life", and "A Mother's Love".  (Need I say more?)  In typical Asian style, the cave was lit with colored spotlights throughout, creating a fantasy land that was pretty, but a bit "cheesy" for my taste.  The two kilometer walk through the caverns was pleasantly cool, although intensely humid.  It was an interesting experience that I was glad to have enjoyed.


We met up with the group at West Street Market, where we did a little more haggling before dinner. 

I've included a few photos of some of the typical street food (which we did not feel would be safe to eat), and a small sampling of dishes we ate at our group dinners.  While I tried most of the oddities including minced snail, I could not bring myself to eat the live prawn soup!

Our trip came to a conclusion by attending a show called "Impression, Sanjie Liu" which is staged in a fabulous outdoor setting on the Li River.  The producers are famous Chinese film directors.  The performance includes classical folk songs and traditional dances from Chinese minority ethnic groups.  The staging was unique and impressive, with scenes taking place on stages which would emerge from the river, and lighting which showcased the spectacular karsts that provided a beautiful backdrop.  With boats shining in the water, actors holding torches and dancers swirling in costumes which lit up and sparkled against the night sky, it was quite a visual feast.  I could not capture the beauty with my camera, so you'll have to use your imagination!

 "East to West, Guilin Scenery Is Best"