The center of town.
On my Li River boat ride..
My less-than-stellar bamboo painting..
October 7, 2006
I am now realizing that this is beyond a backpackers hub. I feel like I am not in China. Do people come here to get away from the feeling of being in China? It
sure feels like it. Regardless, this will be a good place to unwind for a few days as the place that I am staying at free wireless access. I have to catch up on all of
my online photo albums and journals so this will be a good chance. There are a few things I want to see and do while I’m out here but I already know that I will
have more than enough time to just hang out and not feel like I need to be on-the-go at all times.
October 8, 2006
In an attempt to make up for the yuans I lost out on in Beijing, I am going to use everything I learned back in my ‘Negotiations’ class that I took in college to
not get screwed out of one more yuan. These shop owners have another thing coming to them if they take me for somebody that can be taken. Well, at least
I bought far more than I was planning to simply because I was having so much fun negotiating. Well, maybe it wasn’t totally ‘negotiating’ per say because that
would have entailed both parties meeting each other part way. I was doing a bit more of playing hardball as I never budged and would not pay one yuan more
than the original amount I said that I would pay. But every time, as I went to walk away, they would come after me and take my offer. In the end, I came away
with a purse, shirt, jacket, shoes and some make-up bags.
Since this is a town that is situated to be fully explored by bike, I am at a major disadvantage seeing that I never learned how to ride a bike. Since that option
was out, I decided to utilize the different activities that are offered around town.
The activity on the agenda for today was a Chinese calligraphy and painting lesson. Li Li was my teacher and I don’t think she was prepared for the challenge
that awaited her.
The first hour was dedicated to calligraphy. The one thing on my side was that Chinese calligraphy is done using a paint brush instead of those annoying pens
that we use at home for calligraphy (that I have never been able to figure out).
I learned different words in Chinese. Many of these require the use of several words/symbols to create the one word. For starters, the word ‘China’ is
composed of the symbols for ‘middle’ and ‘countryside’. Li Li then taught me how to write ‘America’ which is comprised of the symbols for ‘beautiful’ and
‘countryside’. Even though I knew she was not responsible for the make-up of the word, I thanked her for her country’s very flattering choice of symbols to
use for my country. Last but not least, I learned how to write my name. Definitely not an easy task as it was composed of many symbols. I take it as a
compliment as they truly see a ‘Jennifer’ as a non-simple person.
I am now left with a question. With new words created all the time these days…everything from ‘internet’ to company names like ‘Google’…how do they come
up with ways to write these? And who is the person in charge of figuring out what symbols to use? Is there a memo sent out to alert Chinese citizens what
certain new words look like? I truly hope I was just thrown into advanced Chinese by Li Li and that they also have a simpler Chinese alphabet.
The second hour was dedicated to the art of Chinese painting. We would see just how good of a teacher Li Li was.
My lesson was going to center around bamboo. Both the thin bamboo (which represents the female) and the thick stalks of bamboo (which represents the
male). Sadly, I recall learning the male/female information from the ‘art students’ in Beijing. Anyway, enough about those phonies…I’m talking about my art
lesson, not my art scam. I began encountering problems right away when it came time to painting the bamboo leaves. What looks so easy was proving to be
anything but. I was ready to throw in the towel. Well, I guess it was technically the brush. But slowly I was beginning to grasp the technique.
When all was said and done, my painting looked like bamboo and that was enough for me. This showed Li Li was a success. I even bought a Chinese painting
set. You know, for all those times at home when I choose to do Chinese calligraphy and bamboo paintings. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Probably something that will
collect dust. But for $6, how could I pass it up?
Wait! I just had an idea! When I get home from my trip, I can host monthly events at my place called ‘Cultural Night with Jen’. Activities will range from
cooking to language to painting. And it will be then that I can whip out my Chinese painting kit! Sometimes my ingenious ideas amaze me. They really do.
Now that my day is wrapped up, one thing is very clear. While I am in China, I am earning the ‘Lee’ in Jennifer Lee Nathan…
October 9, 2006
I got an early start this morning and hopped on a local bus in Xin Ping. This would be the town where boats leave to go up and down the Li River. As the story
goes here, it would be time to negotiate a price for the boat ride. There was another Western man on my bus who would be in negotiations with a woman –
these negotiations were being done in Chinese. I felt this was a good sign that he spoke some of the language. He clearly knew what he was doing, right?
Wrong. This guy didn’t have a clue, as I would later find out…
Since we were the only Westerners on the bus, the lady automatically thought we were together so they were negotiating a price for two people. On our way
to the river, I would find out that he got the price down to 50 yuan for each of us. No bargain at all as I could have easily gotten it down to 40 yuan for each of
us. I let it slide as we continued heading down to the river.
First we had to cross the river to get to our boat. They tried to ask for an additional yuan for each of us to cross the river. I told the woman there wasn’t a
chance since we paid our 50 yuan each for the boat ride…which meant every part of the boat ride. She kind of laughed and then said ‘Okay, okay.’ The guy
was amazed at how I pulled it off and told me he would have just paid the yuan. I told him that he can’t let people take advantage of the tourists because if we
pay it, then they will think it is more acceptable to do to every next person that comes along. When we got off the boat on the other side, the guy ended up
asking us for the yuan. I declined and told him that we already paid. This other guy not only paid him one yuan…he paid him two yuans since I was sticking to
my principles. Talk about encouraging this behavior! Instead of thanking him, I told him he shouldn’t have done that because this ruins things for future
travelers that pay to do this kind of outing.
The scenery on the river was beautiful. It probably would have been even better if the guy didn’t keep talking to me about his past trips to China – none of
which I could even hear over the sound of the boat motor. I just wanted to look at the surroundings – not at him trying to talk. I hate these types of situations
as you don’t want to be rude but sometimes it is the only answer. After all, I did come on this boat to see the huge rock formations that rose up from the
ground…not to hear this guy speak.
The boat ride was a lot longer than I thought it was going to be and like an idiot, I drank the majority of my bottle of water on the initial bus ride. What was I
thinking? When we pulled up to stop at an island for a few minutes, I only had one answer to my problem. And this answer revolved around the lone, thinning
tree in the middle. I walked to the other side of it and no matter where I was, I was always able to see other people. If other people were viewable to me, I was
viewable to other people. But I have learned that modesty often needs to be put aside when it comes to necessity. This was one of those times. A minute later
I emerged feeling like a new person. Now I could really enjoy the rest of the ride (it’s amazing how something like having to pee can make such a lovely
experience so non-pleasurable).
There must have been hundreds of massive rock formations. Many of them had different names. I am assuming that these names were supposed to signify
what the rocks resembled. Call it a lack of imagination, but I was not seeing any of these. Instead of trying to figure out with rock was ‘Grandpa with an apple’,
I just sat back and took it all in strictly for the beauty. This is really what this was all about anyway…
I had just enough time to relax in town before my main item on my agenda for the day: my cooking class. Ever since I arrived in Yangshuo, this was the thing
I was looking forward to. And I have to say it did not disappoint…
When I got back to my guesthouse, I ran into Sam and Dave from my Trans-Mongolian trip. I had a drink with them and caught up with them and heard what
they had been up to for the past few days. It is great running into familiar faces.
After parting ways with them as they were heading off to dinner, I met up with the crew from the cooking class to grab a beer. They are a great bunch – a
couple of them were from America and the rest were from different parts of Canada. Around 1am they took their party to another bar and I took my party
back to my hotel room.
It looks as if I am going to be meeting up with them tomorrow night as well at the bar across the street from where I’m staying.
October 10, 2006
Oh my gosh. I think I might be on the road to vegetarianism. I really think I might.
After making a brief round through the market before my cooking class yesterday, I decided to go back today to wander around a bit more. I am almost
sorry that I did this. Things would have been fine if I just stuck to the produce section. But I meandered to the back of the market.
The first squeamish sight I saw were the ducks lined along a table on their backs with their necks slit and leaning over the edge of the table. If that wasn’t bad
enough, at the very moment I saw the ducks, I heard some noises. Quacking noises. They were coming from just about eight feet from the tables. I don’t think
I have to go into detail about what was taking place in between the cages and the tables.
While that was a bad sight, it didn’t even prepare me for what I would see just five meters away. Believe me when I say what I was about to see was one of the
most horrible things that I have seen in the past five months (please forgive the description of what is to follow). It started with seeing a hanging dog – there
was absolutely no mistaking what it was. Every tooth and fang was visible. Oh God. I had to turn away and look the other direction. Bad decision as there was
another hanging dog, but this time it was in pieces. Just meters away were cages that held several dogs in each one…several live dogs in each one. I thought I
was going to be ill. The only saving grace was that I was not there during the moments that the dogs were put out of their misery. I wanted to run out as fast as
possible as I would only see more and more carcasses hanging from the different stands. I finally got out. I was thankful at that moment that we have places
like Safeway at home to avoid seeing these types of scenes. It truly just did not seem right. I can now understand why people would become vegetarians out
of animal rights despite what the food chain dictates. I am not saying that I am going to give up eating meat forever…but I do know it will be a little while
before I eat something that had to give up its life. There is a lot of great produce out here and I think that is what I am going to be sticking to for the time