Thursday, April 18, 2013

"East or West, Guilin Scenery is Best"

Little blessings come in big ways!  Bob's sales group had proposed holding a meeting in Shanghai, China in April, so I had begun researching places to go and things to see in China.  Oh, the places I dreamed of visiting, and of them all, the most beautiful was the scenery along a river named "Li".  But that was much to far to the south, and could not possibly fit into a trip to Shanghai and Beijing.  Imagine my surprise, when Bob announced that his meeting had been moved to a place called Guilin (pronounced Gwaylin) in the province of Guangxi, and home of the famous karst landscape along the Li River!  I totally agree with the description found on our map of the area, "Famed as a city with scenery unparalleled in China, Guilin is featured by its green hills, clear waters, fantastic caves and charming rocks.  Within the circumference of Guilin's scenic area, the limpid Li River snuggles amidst the green hills and meanders through the city, captivating the fancy of millions of tourists both at home and abroad."  But I'll let you see for yourself . . .

Bob and I planned to arrive a couple of days ahead of the meeting to do some sightseeing on our own.  Sunday, April 14 was our first day there, and with no church meetings available, we walked around town to acquaint ourselves with the area.  Our hotel was on the river and the entire landscape was delightfully lush and green.  The weather was a welcome change from the chill of Seoul, with highs in the 70's, but with a bit too much humidity.  Elephant Hill Park is one of the city highlights, and it features a rock formation that resembles and elephant drinking from the Li river.  The park encompassed a large area offering steep stair step hikes up the mountain as well as picturesque leisurely walks along the river.  After working up a sweat climbing the peak, we opted to return to the hotel and relax by the pool.  That's the first suntan we've received in a long time!

After dinner, we walked to Solitary Peak and the Prince City Scenic Area.  This was the source of the thousand year old saying "East or west, Guilin scenery is best."  As you would guess, a lone peak rises in the center of the city, around which was built the Chengyun Palace for princes of the Ming Dynasty to handle political and military affairs around 1372 AD.  Here is found a Confucius Temple, a Chinese Imperial examination hall, a "Peace Cave" where statues of the Emperor and 60 "Jiazi" Guardian Gods reside and other historical buildings and artifacts.  The Prince City area is currently the home of a quaint community university.  A hike to the top of Solitary Peak provided a sneak peek of our glorious scenic surroundings.

Monday we arose early to meet our tour guide who had a busy and exciting day planned for us.  A motorized "bamboo raft" (now made of PVC pipes) ride down the Li River is the highlight of any visit to the area, and we had a perfectly beautiful day for the adventure.  With April being the rainy season in Guilin, we were fortunate to enjoy good weather the whole time we were there!  I should explain that it is believed that the area might have been underwater at one time.  The unique "karsts" (hill or mountains) which cover the area for miles and miles are made of limestone, and their interesting shapes have been carved out of the limestone by the erosive affects of water and weather.  It is impossible to describe the exquisitely beautiful landscape!  I can't imagine a heavenly scene more majestic than this!

Interesting to note, is that the area where Bob and I were photographed on the shore, is the landscape scene printed on the Chinese 20 Yuan paper money.  Also, the local fishermen traditionally use authentic bamboo rafts for their fishing expeditions on the river.  To assist them in their efforts, they use Cormorants - birds which they have trained to fish for them.  We found a fisherman on the side of the river and paid him to let us pose for a few photos with him.  He told our guide that a few weeks previously, a bunch of super models had joined him there for a professional photo shoot.  He was quite the character and loved all the attention.  He captured the essence of the Li River fisherman perfectly! 

We were glad we had gotten an early start, because by the afternoon, the river was crowded with tour boats of every shape and size.  That afternoon, we spent some time touring the town of Yangshuo.  The local people are farmers and lead a simple lifestyle nestled among the hills and mountains.  Many still use the water buffalo for plowing their fields, and pedal bicycle carts to haul their produce to the markets.  First we stopped at "West Street", a famous bargaining market, where we ordered some "Beer Fish", a favorite local dish.  Yummy!  Next, we tried our luck at bargaining, and I purchased a pair of "North Face" hiking boots.  (Whether authentic or not we will never know!)  Finally, we hopped into a yellow open air tourist "taxi" and headed out to roam through the village.  We didn't know a free "seat massage" was inherent with the bumpy ride along thepot-hole covered dusty roads.

Yangshuo truly is the heart of Guilin, and all that the area offers is found in it's finest in this humble community.  I was saddened to hear that China has big plans to expand and commercialize the whole province over the next several years.  I hope that Yanshuo can maintain some of it's lovely small village charm.

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