Over the first week of October Kia and I spent some time exploring Southern China. Riding on a bus averaging about 30km per hour we managed to travel quite far through some very interesting rural areas and to some beautiful places not yet on the main tourist map of the international world. We travelled west to Guangxi Province, through the cities Beihai, Nanning, Ningming, Panlong, along a river to see the Hua Shan (rock paintings) and to Detian Waterfall, the 53rd boundary marker of China and Vietnam. We then made our way back again through Nanning and an old town Yangmei.
We travelled with a group of other foreign teachers and a multitude of tour guides. Chinese tour guides sing you a welcome song when they join your group, and these women had amazing voices (so much Kareoke practice I suppose). When our main tour guide left she had us all join in on Auld Lang Syne as a goodbye song. Damn popular song here.
Beihai is renouned in China for its beautiful long clear sandy beaches, and we saw a fair bit of swimming here (though of course, not out deep, the majority of people seem to swim at about waist level from what I've seen here), but mostly people just camped under a row of hundreds of umbrellas with plastic tables and chairs watching the ocean and chatting. We had lunch here, the first in many meals of trying to explain the concept of vegetarian, we found that we were joined by a vegan teacher, and two others who disliked eating meat for religious reasons.
From Beihai we headed to Nanning, and before going to our hotels had a look at a 'minority museum', quite a quick look cause we got there late and the staff wanted to go home, and then we went to the medicinal herb garden of Nanning. Its an absolutely awesome place and I'd love to be able to go back again and spend a few days there. We saw the most amazing plants: there is one 'singing plant', when you sing to it, some of the leaves start to jump up and down, and it seems to like some songs better than others, so we had a lot of fun there. There was another tree where when you rubbed its trunk, the branches above started to shake, this was called the 'ticklish tree', and it happened even when you rubbed the trunk gently! bizzar! Of course there were many many other plants I was fascinated with, it was wonderful to be able to see some of the plants I have studied growing and living, rather than in little pills or press dried.
That night we were taken for dinner at a resteraunt which had uniforms for the workers based on traditional local clothes (there are lots of minority peoples still living in Guangxi without losing their culture to the Han) and we got to see a bizzar and wonderful performance using interesting woodwind instruments and lots of dancing and acting. They fed us strange alcohol, maybe a kind of rice wine, and were very friendly and fun.
The next day we travelled through over some very bumpy out of the way roads to a tiny village from where we took a boat down a beautiful river to see the hua shan, rock paintings from 2000 years ago. We saw few people along the river, and most of those that we did see were local fishing families, and some kids swimming in the water. The paintings were very high on cliff faces and were aparently only rediscovered in the 1950s. Theres a picture here of them.
After a few hours on the river, we headed toward another town to rest the night before heading to the waterfall the next day.
The Detian Waterfall was absolutely spectacular. It's a very wide waterfall with lots of little areas where you can sit by the water, or jump from rock to rock and explore. Of course, there were lots of hawkers as well and we picked up a few interesting goods. The Waterfall is a border marker for vietnam, and you couldn't wander off the path without being pushed back (as one of our group was), there were many many armed guards patrolling the area here. The land is quite different to Zhanjiang with gorgeous high mountains and rivers, but like Zhanjiang, tropical and very green. We loved the trip to and from the waterfall, the whole day was beautiful. A visual feast.
We then headed back to Nanning for the night, where we had our second visit to pizza hut, possibly much to our guides disgust! Take a look at the lady preparing her salad to go back to her table. She was so meticulous! In china the people chuck rubbish everywhere and spit their food all over the table, but when it comes to initial food presentation, wow!
The next day we visited a small village which has maintained its culture whilst concurrently becoming a tourist attraction. It had a very relaxed kind of feel and it was lovely to wander its streets for a few hours. Each house was marked with Feng Shui signs and there were many interesting crafts in the village. Take a look at the women making babies shoes (which I bought for Liz).
We then headed back for one final meal in Nanning with our main guide, at her families resteraunt. We had yet another occasion of finding chicken feet soup and pork at the vegetarian table, and after informing them there was *nothing* we were going to eat at the table they started to bring out some vegetables. Over the whole trip we got to eat all kinds of variety of cabbage, as our chinese tour guide was quite slow to catch on to what vegetarian means, we were consistently served meat first, and usually starting with fish or chicken feet soup. At this climactic meal we were served 4 different varieties of cabbage, plus egg and cabbage soup. We were all looking forward to getting back home to be able to order and cook for ourselves again!
On the whole, this was a fantastic trip through beautiful parts of China we wouldn't have seen if we were doing it alone. Now its back to the school routine, which is a story in itself.