We drive up to Bill and Mary's via Emma's and Bill comes with us to Terminal 5. We say goodbye to Bill and the car and check our bags in. Using an app on our iPhones we can display our boarding passes. We make our way to the South Lounges. Jane has got us first class tickets using our air miles. We have a three course lunch at 3pm and go to the gate. We board the plane on time and take our seats in 2A and 3A. Champagne arrives and shortly after, our meal which Graham washes down with a couple of glasses of a Margaux. Graham watches 'Senna' and 'Limitless'. Jane revises her Mandarin. We try to fall asleep.
The time is 9am when we land in Beijing. Our bodies claim it is 2am. We get our luggage and look for a placard with our names on but fail to find one. We go to the information desk and ask where we get the shuttle bus to the Sino/Swiss Hotel which is on the outskirts of the airport. C08-18 is where we can find the bus but we cannot find the stop so we return to the information desk and learn that it is in a car park. We locate the spot not between C08-19 and C08-20 but between C08-72 and C08-74. The bus is not for the Sino/Swiss Hotel but for the CITIC Beijing Airport Hotel (more...) which is what the former is called. We check into our rooms and sleep and doze for the day. We eat a Chinese meal in the Chopsticks restaurant. Jane watches a Harry Potter film on HBO and Graham reads his book.
We get up at 5:15am and pack our bags. We check out and have a quick breakfast in the Swiss Chalet restaurant and board the shuttle bus at 5:45am. We check in at Terminal 3 using our passports only and at security Jane is frisked and her handbag is thoroughly searched. The offending item is a spot zapper. Her bag is put through the scanner four times. On the plane we have a hot meat bun and either water or orange juice. The plane lands at 8am having taken 40 minutes. We collect our bags and meet George who will be our guide in Shanxi province. We are driven in a VW Passat by Mr Hu to our hotel, the Howard Johnson (more...), where we check in and go to our room 1920 on the nineteenth floor. It is a rather plush room. We meet George in the lobby at 10am after connecting to the free Wi-Fi and sorting out a few emails. George has a wife and a two year-old boy. They live with George's parents. George has an older brother and a sister who all live in Datong. Datong is an industrial city full of coal mines and chemical factories. We are driven out of the city to the Yungang Grottoes. The entrance area was only built two years ago and consists of three large temples with statues of Buddha. One is carved out of sandalwood. We walk over a bridge to the grottoes. In about 400AD a set of caves was carved in the sandstone mountainside. There are 45 large caves each with at from one to a thousand carved Buddhas inside. We visit inside many of them. They are magnificent. They have a lot of wind here so nearly all the trees are propped up. We walk back to the car and are taken to a restaurant where we have a three course meal. After lunch we visit the Nine-Dragon Screen, the largest in China. It is made of glazed tiles and is 45m long and 8m high and 2m thick. It was built in 1392 and moved to its present position when the road was widened 50 years ago. We return to our rooms for a rest. At 6pm George meets us in the lobby and we walk down the street to a restaurant where we sit down at a table and George orders us a hotpot and ingredients to go in it. A small steel saucepan with small handles is placed on the table cloth at a particular point. The power is switched on and after a few minutes the soup begins to boil. We each have our own saucepan. There are two kinds of tofu and some very thin slices of raw chicken. We go to another table and collect glass dishes with the spices and chopped herbs. We mix the spices in our bowls and add the cooked chicken to it. It is delicious. By now George has paid the bill and left us. A group of American Chinese quiz us and settle at a nearby table. After we have finished the chicken a plate of very thinly sliced beef is brought to the table. After finishing the meat and tofu is finished we cook the green leaves and lettuce. Then a waitress arrives and opens up some packets of wide noodles which stretch out to form long ribbons. These are put in the broth to cook. We drink sesame tea and beer. We leave and wander back to the hotel. It's not that cold but we do need coats on. We retire at about 9:30pm.
We have breakfast at 7am on the 28th floor in the very nice panorama restaurant. The Americans are also there. We have a mixed Chinese/Western breakfast. Green vegetables, bacon, tomatoes and dumplings. We check out and meet George and Mr Hu who drive us out of the city and up into the mountains just south of Datong. We stop to visit the Hanging Monastery built in 470AD by Buddhist monks. It is fixed to the walls of a cliff and appears to be supported by long wooden poles. We climb up the steps to it and then go on a circular trip around the seemingly precarious structure. It turns out it is supported by long metal beams blasted into the side of the cliff. Nevertheless Graham does not like it and is pleased to reach terra firma. We return to the nearby town of Hunyuan and make our way up a further mountainside. The landscape is arid with lots of ravines in the sandstone rock. The main crop is maize which has been harvested and stacked in piles like small logs of wood. The dead leaves are put on the back of tractors and made so wide they nearly block the road. We stop at Yingxian to view the 7 storey wooden pagoda built in 1056 which is the oldest and tallest wooden pagoda. Visitors are not permitted to climb up it. We are bought some roasted beans at the temple entrance. We enter a nearby hotel and sit in a restaurant which is setting up to accommodate a wedding party. George chooses the food for us - tofu and pork, spicy chips and beans, and a soup, plus a beer for Graham. As we leave the restaurant it starts to rain. We are driven up a mountain and into dense fog. Landslides have blocked half the road in some places and completely in others. At these points we are diverted onto narrow dirt tracks. After a photo stop we later stop to pay an entrance to the Geopark of the Mount Wutai scenic area and are driven to the Flower Hotel. The first room we are shown to is rejected as it smells of cigarette smoke but are shown to a more agreeable room. The Chinese still smoke in restaurants and other public places. They also spit. We take a short walk near the hotel and then take a siesta. At 6pm we meet George in the lobby and walk to the Wufeng Hotel. We have a buffet of Chinese food. A man from Dalian asks us, in a good English accent, if we are interested in Buddhism. Why else would we visit Wutai Shan? We walk back to our hotel and retire to bed. It's very early.
We get up and have breakfast at 7:30am. It is an almost totally Chinese breakfast served to us at the table. Graham has a coffee served in a glass and Jane has tea. We have cold vegetables and a light pumpkin soup. We have toast and cake and dumplings. We pack our bags, check out and wait in the lobby for George. We talk to a Parisian couple who are staying at the same hotel. The sky is cloudless. The sun is shining but it is very cold. When George arrives he tells us we are staying in the hotel for a second night. That is not what our itinerary says. George phones his office who will look into it. We leave our bags in the lobby and start our tour of a selection of the 55 Buddhist temples in the valley. The first we see is the largest - Xiantong. There are a lot of temples in the complex and we visit them all. During our visit we talk to Frank and Lily who have sorted out our confusion and say we can move to the Wufeng Hotel for our second night. We think the best is a temple built out of brick which has a very tall cast iron pagoda in one of its bays. At the base are sat cast iron monks. Higher up some steps is a metal temple which is gilded and very ornate. It was built by the emperor's mother to ensure that her son became rich and powerful. We next visit the oldest temple - Wanfo with its many houses. Jane slips but is not badly hurt and the camera still works. Next we see the Tayuan temple which has a very large clay stupa as its centrepiece. We visited another temple - Pu Shading, where there are many gold decorated towers. Lunch is next. This is taken in a new restaurant where the service is not very good. George and Mr Hu are not impressed. After lunch we visit another Buddhist temple - Puhua where the head monk had died a couple of years ago and had a shrine erected to him. Next stop is a Tibetan temple (Zhenhai) up the side of a hill. We clamber up many steps to the temple. A group of Tibetans are making lots of donations to the temple. A monk speaks to Jane and explains why the English call it China. George translates for us. Our next temple is the Dragon Spring Well temple (Longquan) which was built by the Yao family starting in 1912. We are offered the spring water but decline. We walk up many steps to the temple buildings and after having walked around the buildings George asks us if we would like to see more or check in at our new hotel. Guess what we did? The hotel is much better than last night's. George says it's the best in town. At 6pm we meet George in the lobby and go to the buffet restaurant. Mr Hu joins us. George puts a plastic bag of dry roasted peanuts on the table. Jane drinks Coke and Graham has a beer as does George but Mr Hu prefers the Fen Jiu - a rice wine. During the meal we watch the noodle cook slice noodles off a large slab of dough. It is a good meal.
We have a buffet breakfast which is much better than yesterday's. We pack our bags and leave at 9am. There is a clear blue sky but patches of ice. We drive south and get onto a newly opened expressway. In the outside lane you can drive at 100kph. In the middle lane you can drive at 80kph. You can pass either side of a vehicle. Some people stop in the inside lane to relieve themselves. Everyone is calm driving on the roads, being patient when people drive on the wrong side of the road. Many signs have English on them - “toll booth”, “don't drive tiredly”, “discarding waste is prohibited” (obviously it doesn't apply to human waste). We stop at the one time home of the Shanxi leader of the Kuomintang Party, Yan Xishan who had a nice little pad consisting of 700 rooms set around a lot of courtyards. His second wife Wu Mei was disappointed when her husband said he had to go away and would be back in three weeks but did not return. She poisoned herself. The place has many historical photographs. Yan went to Taiwan with his four sons along with the other main members of the Kuomintang when the Communists took power. There are many groups of men around in the temples and in the hotels. Apparently groups of men leave their wives at home and go on boys outings. Will this custom go West? It could be that the men are on a company team bonding tour. George suggests a change of plan. Instead of staying in Taiyuan tonight we should drive to Pingyao and spend two nights there. We agree. We have a good buffet lunch in a restaurant in Xinhou City and then drive south to the outskirts of Pingyao where we visit the temple of Shuanglin which was rebuilt in 1571 and has not been changed since. The Buddhist figures are all made of clay baked on a wooden frame. They could do with a good dusting but that would damage them too much. It is a World Heritage site but not often visited. We find it fascinating and enjoy the walk on the temple's wall back to the deserted car park. We drive to Pingyao and the first attempt to get into the ancient walled city is unsuccessful as the gate is blocked. Mr Hu finds another entrance and we are driven around the inside of the city wall and then into the centre to our hotel - the Hongshanyi Hotel. Our room overlooks a courtyard and is smaller than the ones we have had on this trip but is well equipped. The hotel is a Chinese old style and very attractive with courtyards and wooden buildings, despite this it is the first hotel to have Wi-Fi even if we do have to stand outside in the cold with our iPhones! We meet George as 7pm and walk down a narrow unlit street to the main street of Pingyao with all its bright lights and hanging decorations. We eat in a guest house and the charming manager talks to us. Graham is given a free coffee. We are shown one of the bedrooms. It is similar to the one we are staying in but with a wider bed on a platform like the old traditional Chinese bedrooms. We say goodbye to George and wander up and down the street. We make our way back to our hotel by torchlight.
We have breakfast at 7:30am. It is overcast and looks like it might rain. Breakfast is a Chinese buffet. We meet George at 9am and walk from the hotel to main road Nan Dajie. Looking up one way you see the city tower and down the other many shops hotels and restaurants. The street is virtually deserted at this time but the shops are beginning to open. The streets are all tiled. Pavements appear to be used for parking bikes as walking on the streets is common. Taxis in the form of blue elongated golf buggies roam the streets. We stop at the tourist office to buy our tickets and make our way to the City walls. The walls are beautifully bricked on the outside of the city but inside appear to be made up banked up mud. We climb up to the North tower and walk along the wall for a while. We look out to see the new Pingyao built outside the wall. More then 4000 people still live inside the walls. We walk around more and make our way to the Rishengchang Draft Bank, the first bank in China which was started in 1823 and had more than 57 branches before its demise around 1932. Next stop is the body guard company which started before the banks as money was transferred across China in the form of silver or gold blocks. The owner of this company taught Kung Fu as a means of protecting the money from robbers. The company moved on to become a bodyguard company for individuals. The Justice area of Pingyao consists of a gate outside and two courts inside. We see an enactment being performed but cannot understand much. Further into this area we visit the prison as it is today. It was in use until the 1960's. Many buildings were so horrific they were demolished in the Cultural Revolution. Some of the rooms have pictures of torture and also of many kinds of punishments. One of the tortures is for females. It is a wooden horse with nails where the saddle normally is. Another for females is a breast compressor made out of wood and leather. Walking through the gardens we get to a road near our hotel where we take a taxi/buggy to a restaurant where we have lunch. Mr Hu is already there playing on a computer. Mr Hu and George sit with some other guides while we have our lunch on our own. We say goodbye to the others and go for our free afternoon walking around. Jane buys a scarf after hard bartering and even walking away. The same tactic is used to buy our wooden presents for everyone. We are happy with our price and go back to the hotel with our purchases. In mid afternoon we walk to the modern town outside the walls and find an ATM. Then we wander around some department stores and walk back to our hotel. At 6pm we meet George in the same restaurant as last night at our request - the Tian Yuan Kui Hotel (more..). The three of us have a more sumptuous meal than last night's. The waitress, Sarah, (Song Qing) wants to be a guide. We give one of the young waiters the name Andrew at his request. His Chinese name sounds most similar to Andrew. Another waitress gives us a present of a tin of jasmine tea. The lovely lady manager says goodbye to us. What a very pleasant place it is. We wander back to the hotel.
Breakfast at 8am with two Chinese looking couples. They did not speak Mandarin. All four were born in South Africa and now lived in Toronto and Vancouver. Their parents were born in a town in Guandong. We check out and leave the hotel at 9am and head North towards Taiyuan, the provincial capital of Shanxi. Our first stop is the ancient village of the Qiao family. This is a walled enclosure holding five large courtyards. Each courtyard has three parts to it, each part is on a different level, the top level being the highest and for the richer person. It used to have 300 rooms. The Qiao's were business people in the Qing dynasty, first trading in tea and then in other commodities like silk and cotton. They even went to Mongolia and Russia to develop markets there. They set up banks and were good philanthropists building and running schoolsschools in the district. There are some good exhibitions with models depicting scenes such as the 20 days of the Chinese New Year. Outside the walled village there are many souvenir stalls and fruit and nut stalls. We purchase two packets of roasted sunflower seeds, one for George and one for us - 3RMB. We continue towards Taiyuan. Crossing a bridge the car hits a large pothole and the front nearside tyre punctures. We get out and watch as Mr Hu and George change the wheel quickly and continue our journey. We stop for lunch in Jinci. It is a good lunch. We walk across the road and enter the grounds of Jinci temple set in large sprawling grounds with ancient trees, lawns, ponds and bridges. It is a wonderful stroll. There are three bronze statues from the Song dynasty. Next we see the Hall of the Sainted Mother where she sits on a throne and is made of painted clay. Surrounding her are 43 hand maidens all made of painted clay but smaller than the mother. Eight wooden dragons surround poles at the entrance and beside the hall is a 3000 year old Zhou Cypress tree supported on posts but still growing. We visit a 7 storey brick built octagonal Buddhist pagoda and then return to the car. We are driven into the centre of Taiyuan. More than 4 million people live here. The streets run East to West and the roads run North to South. Apparently that is what it is like in other cities. We'll see if it's like that in Guilin. We check into the 4 star . Shanxi Grand Hotel
We do not leave till 10am. This gives us a chance to watch the end of The Second Karate Kid on HBO which we'd been watching last night but dinner stop us from watching the end. We get to the airport at 10:30am. We say goodbye to Mr Hu. We cannot check in until noon so we say goodbye to George who is going to catch a coach back to Datong. We reach the check in counter just before noon and discover that we are not booked on the flight and there are no available seats. We were booked on the 7:30am flight. That was the original flight which Frank thought was too early so he asked the CITS in Datong to change to the later flight. Jane phones Frank who contacts George who returns to the airport at 1pm. George says if we cannot get on the Guilin flight we can fly via Xi'an. George goes to the KFC and buys us a chicken burger, Chinese style, spicy chickens wings and a coffee. The bun is the best KFC product we have ever tasted. At 1:20pm George tells us to hurry to the check in desk where discover we are now booked on the flight in seats 1A and 1B. We say goodbye to our luggage and George. We are escorted quickly to security and then from security to the departure gate. We land at 4:30pm and pick up our bags and are met by a smiling Frank. We get in a minibus and are driven to the Jin-Tone Guilin Hotel where we are met by Lily who gives Jane two Kashmir scarves and Graham some Taiwanese tea. Jane has a quick change of clothes and we meet Frank and Lily in the lobby and are whisked off to a nearby restaurant. On the way we park on the pavement and meet Jim. The cars are parked outside Jim's office. Jim is now in charge of signing prosecuting notices for the police to hand out to suspected criminals. We eat at a large round table in a private room at a restaurant. Part of the way through the meal Frank leaves to go to the airport to pick up Bill and Mary. We finish the meal as Bill and Mary arrive in Guilin and decamp to another restaurant where we meet Bill and Mary. We have some more food and then are taken back to our hotel. Bill and Mary check in. They have a room opposite is on the third floor.
We are picked up in two 4x4s at 9am. Bill and Graham travel with Frank and Jim. Jane and Mary travel with Lily and a driver in a modern Land Rover. The driver and vehicle are owned by the investor of the project we are going to visit. On the outskirts of Guilin we turn off the highway and travel eastwards towards Hai'an where we follow a country lane which deteriorates into a single track which climbs up the Kaarst mountains and down again. About 60km out of Guilin we reach our destination. It is a newly constructed boarding house in which Lily stayed a couple of years ago. We admire the beautifully tranquil views and terraced fields. We gather around a small fire in one of the rooms and sit on small seats and watch as the wife of the place shows us how oil tea is made in a wok. Some lard is put in the wok into which is put some rice which is cooked till brown. Then water is added as well as ginger, mushrooms, scallions and long leaf high mountain tea. The mixture simmers for about half an hour. The liquid is strained through a sieve and put into bowls. To the liquid is added puffed rice, spring onions, puffed corn and fried peanuts. It is delicious. After this we have chicken and baby sweet chestnuts and a pork dish. This is washed down with peach flavoured sweet pumpkin wine. Desert takes the form of young dates tasting a bit like an apple. After lunch we have our photographs taken and then we take a walk around the rest of the village amidst the ginkgo trees. We sample a tea made from a healthy giving fungus called in Chinese a “lingzi”. We reach the road and are picked up by the cars and are driven back to Guilin. All eight of us have a massage. Whilst the Chinese are having their feet massaged the Big Noses are having full body massages. The ladies have boys massage them and the men have girls with very sharp thumbs. We dine in the restaurant adjacent to the hotel. Jim's female cousin arrives - biao mei (that's Mandarin for the daughter of an aunt).
We check out at 10am but it takes longer than expected as the credit card machine does not work. Once it does Bill and Mary go with Frank and others to the Strawberry Island. Graham and Jane go with Jim and Lily to a computer store on the top floor of a shopping area where they find the Apple Store and buy an Ethernet/USB adaptor. Next stop is the supermarket in the same building, near the Guilin International Exhibition Centre, where some yoghurt is purchased. We get back in the car and make our way to Bill and Mary. On the way Jim stops to buy dates and tangerines for our journey after lunch. We arrive at Strawberry Island. We meet the others and inspect the barbecued goat we are having for lunch. In our private room we sit down. The four English sit on one side of the table. The Chinese sit round the rest of the table. There is Josef who will be our driver, John who will be our guide, Frank, his Biology teacher girlfriend, Huang, Zhuen Zhuen, the biao mei of Jim, Jim and Lily. The goat is delicious as are the other dishes served with it. We drink beer and there is a lot of ganbei'ing (cheers). We leave at 1:30pm in a minibus having said our goodbyes - all very sad. Frank, Lily and Jim have been so kind to us. We hope they'll come to England one day. In the minibus we get a call from Lily saying that Jane has left a fleece in the car. It will be waiting for us when we return to Guilin in two year's time. We drive due East over the Kaarst hills and bumpy roads to Jiangyong City and further on to a small Yao village where we visit the museum of Women's Vocabulary. From 2000 years ago till 2004 the Nushu language was spoken and written by Yao women. The Yao women around Jiangyong had their feet bound and were despised. When they got married they did not sleep with their husbands till three days later. During this time they could get impregnated. Their husband never knew if the first child born was his. The Yao women used a secret language to talk and write in. Nobody speaks Nushu now as the last speaker died in 2004, but there is a museum dedicated to it in the village we visited. The museum prolonged its hours so we could visit it. We could have stayed in the village boarding house but it did not have a sit-down toilet. It had non-mattress beds and an outside hole-in-the-floor toilet. We are taken back to the city and find the hotel - the Jiangyong Hotel. Our room is satisfactory - hard beds, clean, television, wet room bathroom, western toilet, carpet stains, kettle but no tea bags. All six of us walk into town past a square where there are many people dancing. At the first restaurant we stop and eat leftover goat and other leftovers followed by noodle soup and chicken soup. It is washed down with a rice wine provided by John. The meal costs 20RMB per person. We visit Bill and Mary for a nightcap and then retire.
We left at 8am without breakfast. The hotel is not very busy and is in decline. There is no apparent business in the city. The trade at the hotel is poor. We drive down the street passing the restaurant we ate at last night and stop at one by a school. On the pavement we eat noodles and pork topped with a fried egg. In the school there is an open-air assembly and the children are stating their allegiance to the Party. We stop at a village which was 200 years old. The main family was called Mao. An 84 year-old lady with few teeth but who spoke Cantonese showed us around the village. She had been born in Hong Kong but sold by her mother at 16 to the village. She had a son who also lived in the village but she did not get on well with his wife. We drive to Fuchuan and through it looking for an ancient walled city. We return to Fuchuan and find the walled city. Not much of the wall is left. We enter by the South gate and walk down the street admiring the old houses. On the outskirts of Fuchuan there is what appears to be a wedding taking place. However it turns out to be the annual festival of seven villages parading their mother gods in sedan chairs. We pull over to the side and get out to witness the celebrations. Lots of fire crackers are let off. Elderly men are dressed in magistrates costumes. Dragon dances are performed. We are photographed many times. If John had known where the ancient city walls were we would have missed it all. Thanks, John, for forgetting where the city walls were. The roads are very bumpy and are being reconstructed. Everyone is very patient. Our next stop is to be some caves. We stop at a village eatery and sit around a table and eat noodles, stuffed tofu and pork fat. It costs us 4RMB each. As the breakfast was so cheap John kindly pays for it. We visit the caves of Ziyun which are magnificent. They are inside one of the Kaarst hills. They are better than the Reed Flute Caves in Guilin. In a pool inside the cave is a blind fish Our next stop is a Hakka house. The Hakka were nomadic Han who wandered for centuries and finally settled at the place we visited. It was a very large house containing many courtyards, an octagonal sided well and a bowl for baptising newly born children to make them bold. We are then driven up a long winding road under construction to the Hezhou hot springs where we spend 45 minutes in the very hot pools. It was not very crowded. Towels were purchased for the ladies by a couple of young men. When we had finished we found out that John and Josef had eaten so we too ate in the restaurant. We were driven back along the bumpy road to the city of Hezhou where we checked into the Hezhou International Hotel (more...) and after a nightcap we retire. The room is much smarter than last night's. There is even a clothes dryer in the bathroom so we can leave with dry costumes and towels.
We have breakfast in the hotel and leave at nearly 8:30am. Josef has had the minibus cleaned. We drive to a nearby village and buy some oranges to supplement those which Lily bought for us. We drive on an expressway and get off after an hour to visit the ancient village of Huangyao. It is well preserved with slabstone [sic] alleyways. John tells us that the last time he came there was no commercialisation. Now there are lots of souvenirs stalls. Today there are lots of art students. There is an interesting . launderette We return to the minibus and rejoin the expressway. At some point we leave the expressway and arrive at a village where we have a street side lunch. As we are now paying for meals we spend 80RMB for all 4 of us which includes three beers. We drive to Guiping. Some of the road is a full body massage, especially the Guiping ring road. We drive up the West Hill (Xi Shan) and check into the Gongde Villa Hotel. There is a conference at the hotel so we have rooms on different floors but in the same block. In our room there is a computer connected to the internet but there is no free drinking water. We meet at the minibus at 5:30pm and drive into the town. It is warm and it gets dark at 6pm. We visit a market. One of the stalls sells goat, donkey and dog meat. Dog meat costs 15RMB for a jin. We don't buy any. Live fish swim in small tanks. Bill buys a 2GB card for his camera which takes about half an hour. We eat in a street side restaurant selected by John. It is very tasty food. Lily phones us from Guilin to check how we are. We plot how we will entertain Lily and Jim when they come to England. We return to the hotel at 9pm.
We meet in the lobby at 8am with John. Josef has already left to visit the Buddhist temples. He is a Buddhist. We walk down to the recreation area where Tai Chi classes are taking place. We sit round a table and John orders two large rice noodle dishes for us which we devour using ever-improving chopstick dexterity. We eat fried eggs with chopsticks. We move to another table and share an expensive pot of Xi Shan tea - the local tea. We enter the Buddhist temple area and walk through some temples. One temple is dedicated to an elderly lady, called Shi Kuan Neng, who died in 1989 at the age of 96. In her ashes was found a three-inch ball of an amber-like substance which Josef said he had seen. We walk further up the hill following the winding steps past large rocks and tall trees. An unusual lizard is spotted. On the way down we view the Milk Spring where we could pay 1RMB for a cup of the water. Every now and then the water changes to milky white and is then undrinkable. We see some foreigners but they have young Chinese girls with them. They are on an Adoption Tour. Foreigners can take up a contract with the Chinese government if they wish to adopt a baby girl. As part of the contract they must return to China at least once a year for five years. We return to the hotel, have a shower and check out. It is quite hot and sunny. We pile into the minibus and Josef and John leave Guiping but it is by the wrong road. They try another route and it is wrong. At the third attempt the correct route is found. Apparently the roads have been altered and the map they have is not up to date. We drive to the village of Shilong and have lunch at a road side café. We have two very tasty dishes and bowls of rice washed down with beer. The manageress and others are fascinated by us and we have our photos taken and she sits and practices her English. Not too many tourists stop here. We travel to Nanning and it takes a long time to find the hotel we are all staying in. We are on the 17th floor of the Mirage Hotel (more...). It used to be called the Wanjin Hotel. There is free water here and an internet connection. The bed is hard as usual. We meet in the lobby at 7:30pm and drive to a street market. Frank phones and tells Mary the time of their flight to Hong Kong from Nanning. He speaks to Graham about a change of hotel for November 4th. It is now going to be a hotel in Butterfly Valley. He also tells us that the best place to eat in Nanning is the Zhong Shan Night Market. We wander down it and John decides where we should eat - in the local traders area of the street. On several of the stalls they are selling pigs' penises on a skewer. They do not look very tender though they bring tears to the eyes. We don't buy any. We sit down at one of the places and John and Josef go to eat elsewhere more cheaply. We have all barbecued food - langoustine, oysters, squid, skewered beef, scallop (for Mary), greens, aubergine, and beer. The guide and driver join us when they have eaten. Josef has brought a bottle of Mao Tai because he says he drove us down the wrong streets. We tell him it is not important but nevertheless we drink it. It is smoother than the bottle John provided last night. The meal costs us 219RMB - very good value. We are driven back to the hotel, have a nightcap and retire. China is such a wonderful place to tour provided you can put up with certain things (more...).
We have a buffet breakfast next to the swimming pool which is now closed for the winter. We drive to Nanhu (South Lake) Park where a lot of exotic trees have been planted. We walk on the outer pavement. John is suspicious of a young man who stays close to us and who takes our photo. It turns out he wanted to practice his English which he does with Mary. John talks to a man playing a 4 string banjo. We reach the lake and walk along its edge. It has a wonderful bridge across the lake called Nanhu bridge. We visit a free museum dedicated to the founding of the Communist Party. John explains some of the exhibits. We walk past a bonsai garden and out of the park. It is all very pleasant and not too hot. We are all in shorts. We are driven to the outskirts of Nanning to visit the Guangxi Provincial Museum which is free to enter but parking has to be paid for. The entrance building is built in the shape of a bronze drum. We hire English audio guides at 10RMB each but with a 200RMB deposit per person. John provides the deposit. Behind the drum are the exhibition halls. We ride the escalators to the third floor and view the cloths and customs of the minority people in Guangxi province. It is very well laid out with lots of tableaux. On the second floor we view the bronze drum museum where we see the largest bronze drum in the world. It is about 2m in diameter. We meet John on the ground floor and walk out of the museum. Josef drives us to the Medicinal Plant Botanical Gardens where are to have lunch made with medicinal herbs and vegetables but the restaurant is closed. We eat in a neighbouring restaurant . Frank is phoned to be given the news and says that we should have a herbal foot bath instead. We walk around the botanical gardens, the largest of its kind in China, where some of the plants have an English part which explains the effect of the plant. Please let us know what a 'meridian dredge' is. We wind up at the herbal shop and foot bath place. We polythene bag is placed in front of us. A small wooden platform is put inside the bag. We take off our shoes and socks. Some hot herbal liquid is put into the bag not quite up to the top of the platform. We rest our feet on the platform and wrap the polythene bag around our ankles. They stay like this for fifteen minutes so that they become soft and the pores open. We take our feet out of the bag. The platform is removed and more hot herbal liquid is poured into the bucket. It is too hot for our feet. Some cold water is added. We immerse our feet completely and leave them to soak for forty-five minutes. Jane snores for part of this time. We lift our feet out and place them on the rim of the bucket to dry naturally. This torture cost 35RMB each. Ganbei, Frank! We return to the hotel. At 7:30pm we meet in the lobby to be taken to a fish eating area. It appears to be optional to use lights on vehicles after dark. All drivers appear to very tolerant of each other. Josef is a master at doing a u-turn in front of fast approaching traffic. We drive for more than one hour around Nanning before we get there. Apparently they are building an underground (Josef says it's a u-bahn) so there are a lot of roads blocked or under construction. At the fish eating place (Fu Jian Lu) the first thing to do is to find a table. We do and Josef guards it while we do the next thing - buy the fish. We go into the fish market ("JiangNan HaiXian Pifajiaoyi Shichang" - River South Sea Food Wholesale Market) opposite where all the fish is alive and swimming in tanks. We avoid buying crabs, crayfish and lobsters but buy squid, small prawns , larger prawns, and a whole plaice. The fish is sold by the jin equal to half a kilo. In all the fish costs 268 RMB which includes the cooking cost. We take it alive and kicking in polythene bags back to the restaurant where we have it weighed. At the same time we are asked how it should be cooked. Jane and John decide. We are charged 78RMB for cooking the fish and 1RMB each for our plastic enclosed crockery. Beer is 8RMB for 600cl. We pay for the cooking at the cash desk. We wait at our table for our food. Meanwhile Josef and John have gone elsewhere to a cheaper place but leave a 10RMB bottle of fen jiu (rice wine) on the table for us. The first dish to arrive is the large prawns. They are much bigger and better than last night's. Next comes the squid all cut up into Hoover rings. After this we have the plaice in a tomato based sauce with pork. Last to come are the smaller prawns which have been butterflied and steamed with garlic. Only the tails need to be discarded. It's Mary's brother, David's birthday today so we drink to him and have a photo taken by one of the supervisors. We had asked a lady and a young man to take the photo but they were both frightened off. The photo will be emailed to David later. John and Josef return and bring us some cake to eat. It has a sort of sweet chestnut filling and is delicious. We return to the hotel in twenty minutes. What a wonderful time we are having.
We take breakfast seated outside by the swimming pool. The weather is warm but overcast. We are picked up at 9:30am. We give Josef a round of applause as we get on to the Expressway to Beihai without finding any roads blocked. It takes about two and a half hours to drive the 187km to Beihai. We eat some of the dates which Lily gave us and Mary has washed. We check into the Beach Hotel. As Frank promised, we have sea view rooms. We leave in the mini-bus to find lunch. We sit in a small café and have seafood noodles. The seafood consists of lots of small clams. Bill and Graham have a poached egg on top of theirs. All four of us have a beer. This is a first for Jane. She says it is not too fizzy and has a pleasant taste. John and Josef eat at a separate table. All the tables have four seats permanently fixed to the concrete floor. The meal costs us a total of 50 RMB. We are driven into the old part of Beihai. We stop first to walk out to sea on a concrete pier and then walk down an old colonial street where souvenir, jewellery and food stalls mingle. There are some bronze statues in the street. We are told to ask a Mandarin speaker to translate a sign for us. Jane bargains for some pearl ear-rings and a black pearl necklace or three. Mary buys a packet of Vietnamese coffee. We return to the mini-bus and then our hotel. We walk across the road to the beach. Bill, Mary and Jane go in the water. Someone has to guard the clothes but Graham did have a paddle once the others have left the sea. It looks like it's mainly men in the water and few of them are seen to swim in the area marked out for swimming. The sand is pock marked with small holes in which small crabs dwell. When they appear on the surface they bring a small ball of sand up with them. We return to the hotel where Jane and Mary swim in the cold outdoor pool. It rains during our rest - the first time it has rained during our trip. At 7:30pm we are picked up taken to the hotel where John and Josef are staying. Outside is a restaurant where we can buy fish out of tanks, similar to last night, and they cook it for us. We have large shrimps, clams, oysters(Chinese style) and crabs to be made into a soup. John and Josef choose additional shrimps which they prefer to eat boiled rather than fried. We wash it down with beer and some rice wine provided by John and Josef. The meal is delicious but is the most expensive so far - 621 RMB. Beihai is an expensive place for fish. John walks us back to our hotel and we say goodnight to everyone. You might like to know that Beihai means North Sea but it is on the South China Sea, but strictly speaking, the Gulf of Tonkin.
We have breakfast and check out at 8am. It is a short distance to the port where we board a 'high speed liner' to take us on the seventy minute journey to Weizhou Island (21.05, 109.116667). Josef is having a day's rest while John travels with us. The boat takes 402 passengers. A magic show is played on the large television screen at the front of the boat. We dock and John hires a mini-bus which is smaller than our Guilin one but windows that open so you can see out. We travel on concrete roads passing banana plantations which have been devastated by a hurricane which struck the island a month ago. The mini-bus breaks down. We think the exhaust pipe has come unstuck. We get out and after the driver fiddles with the problem he declares it is ready to continue the journey. It sounds like we are travelling in a tuc-tuc. We arrive at the Gangdao Hotel more...)at Nanwan which is the best on the island and check in. Our room is clean with a tiled floor, television, kettle, internet connection, air conditioning, and a shower in the bathroom. The two large single beds are hard as usual. The room has a sea view. We leave at noon with John and stroll down to a street-side café where we have steel bowls of noodles and pork dumplings washed down with beer. John negotiates with the café owner for us to have the evening meal but first we have to buy the food for them to cook. We walk to the covered market and buy two quarters of a duck for 53RMB and chunk of boneless pork for 64RMB. We buy some green vegetables and small sweet bananas. The driver meets us and we drive back to drop the food off at the café. We drive up the side of the bay to the volcano information centre where we see a good display of photos with English subtitles. The photos show the geological features of the island. We are driven nearer the volcanic scenic are and then walk the rest of the way. It is about 32C. Normally one walks up to the vent of a volcano but here we walk down to the southernmost point of the island to sea-level by a board-walk. We stop for photos. The vent is at the sea-side. We walk around the beach on the boardwalk and then climb back up the tree covered cliff and walk back to where our driver picks us up. We drive to one of the largest Catholic churches in China. Apparently 33% of the island's population is Christian. The church was built by the French in 1982. It is unusual to see a church with so much Chinese script. A couple are dressed in their wedding attire having their photos taken. These will be (used on the invitations to their wedding) displayed on a screen throughout the wedding reception to show the guests. We visit a very crowded beach where a diving school exists. Mary paddles for a few minutes. We return to our hotel for a short rest. At 5:30pm we walk with John down to the café. The food is not ready so we walk to the fish market. The sun is setting so there is going to be a possibility of some photos being taken. The fish in the fish market are all in bowls which are aerated by battery driven pumps. John buys a piece of eel. We return to the eating place. Bill and Graham buy some beer but are chastised as they spent 50% more than was spent at lunch time. The food arrives. Two dishes of duck, followed by two dishes of pork and then the dish of vegetables. The fish soup is served last. We eat and eat and eat. Mary wants another beer so goes next door and buys a 4RMB beer which is cheaper than what Bill and Graham bought. It's a different beer. Three girls come to the table to practice English. Graham falls off his stool knocking Bill's stool and breaking it. The 2 eighteen year-old girls and their nineteen year old girl friend have come from near Chongqing for art lessons at a school near the Catholic church. They are delightful and they did enjoy the men's cabaret. Apparently the only foreigners that come here are those on an Adoption Tour. The manager has her photo taken. We pay 60 RMB for the cooking and leave. Some beers are bought at the shop next door and we walk back to the hotel. John has gone to explore ie he has gone to buy a bottle of rice wine. We drink the beer in Bill and Mary's room and then retire to bed.
We have the second most disappointing breakfast of our tour. The lone waitress who is collecting breakfast coupons serves a plate with a hard-boiled egg, a white bun, and pickled vegetables. In addition you can have plain or flavoured rice porridge, fried noodles, hot sweet soya-bean milk. The fried noodles are declared the best. We are picked up by the driver from yesterday at 9am and reach the port without incident. It is hot and sultry (a new word for John). We wait in the waiting room for about ten minutes and then John ushers us out to walk down the long covered way to the boat. The boat, the Fei Yu, is older than yesterday's boat. It's a fast catamaran, with a greater seating capacity. The entertainment for the journey consists of poor karaoke music played on the video screens, men snoring and babies bawling. The boat hits some large waves and everyone makes loud noises. Most of the people have probably been only once on a boat this size before - to the island. We arrive back at Beihai after an hour's trip. Josef is waiting in the mini-bus outside the terminal. We are taken to the Beach Hotel (more...) where we have a room with a sea view on the sixth floor. We collect the bags we left here yesterday morning. At noon we wander out to look for a place to eat noodles. We walk eastwards. It is hot and the sun is shining. All the restaurants sell fish from tanks and cook it for you. It's too much for us. We just want noodles. A man at one of the restaurants tells us we can get a Number 3 bus and go to a street where we can eat noodles. Instead we walk back to the hotel and into their restaurant. We have four dishes of fried noodles with beef, four beers and a bowl of mustard leaves in soup. We are helped by a waitress who likes to practice her English. Next to us is a table of ten who are eating and drinking with gusto. We count four empty bottles of wine alongside the wooden boxes they came in. We read the label. It's a 12% red Dragon Seal, five years old. In couples they get up from the table, one couple at a time, face each other, utter some oath of allegiance, gulp down the glass of wine, sit down again. When they leave the waitresses clear up their table but two men from the table return and devour the last half bottle of wine using the same ritual. They explain they are on a company outing from Beijing and it was their farewell meal. One showed us a pair of dried sea-horses he had bought on Weizhou Island. The meal costs us 216 RMB. We retire to our rooms for a quite afternoon. Graham helps himself to an instant coffee mix. It's a Nescafe with coffee, milk and sugar all in one packet. Mary has a swim, though she got bitten the last time she went she didn't this time. At 6pm we have a couple of bottles of beer with Bill and Mary. We are picked up at 6:30pm and taken into the centre of Beihai. On the way Lily phones us to see how we are enjoying our holiday. We arrive at the Triumph International Commerce Hotel (more...) where we ascend to the 31st floor at the top of the building. We are led to our table, number 88. It is one of the luckiest numbers you can have in China. Tonight is to be a celebration farewell dinner for Bill and Mary as the leave tomorrow. We are in a revolving restaurant which takes 90 minutes per revolution. We can see the sea. John sits with two local friends at the table next to ours. We have an excellent meal. Because we have eaten all our food John orders a mixed meat dish and cakes plus two small bottles of Red Star rice wine (55%). The cakes turn out to be egg pie - thin leak omelette, and a crispy pancake with sugar on it - delicious. John and his friends come to say hello and welcome to Beihai to us. We return to the hotel and play Scrabble with Bill and Mary. At the end Bill is extremely happy as he has beaten Mary and Jane and come second. The winner has 129 points. The last time we played was on the train from Hanoi to Hue, a year ago.
We leave at 10:30am and drive to Nanning on the Nan Bei Expressway. Railways are being constructed as are expressways. Once they've finished construction this country will be wonderful. Until then we have to accept something will be inaccessible because it is under construction. We turn off on the Nanning equivalent to the M25 and just before the airport we turn off to visit one of John's eateries. We each have excellent pork and noodles but it was not washed down with beer. When we get to the airport we rush to the toilets as they are the best in town. John ensures that Bill and Mary are booked on the 17:40 flight to Hong Kong. They are. What a relief. We say our goodbyes. It is 2pm. We drive down to Ningming and into the centre where we buy oranges - 7RMB for 4 jin. We drive down a street under construction and John enquires as to where our hotel is. We drive out of the place, along country roads, past a prison, to Butterfly Valley. Frank has told us this is a new hotel and he has arranged for us to stay in our own student house on stilts. We drive up a rough path and into a clearing. We are shown to rooms 8 for us and 9 for John and Josef. They are up a flight of steps. Our house has a western toilet, basin, bedroom with air-conditioning, two beds and a balcony. It is quite primitive but reasonably clean. A man arrives to ignite an anti-mosquito coil. The lights to the bedroom are in the entrance hall. We are asked not to go on the balcony as that would let in the insects. We step outside. Graham gets buzzed by a water buffalo fly which will pierce any thick skin. John and Josef worry about our safety and comfort. Jane takes photos of the dining room and swimming pool. We leave and drive to Pan Long where John hires a boat. There are just four of us on the boat and a driver. We motor up the Zuo river to the Huashan cliff paintings. It reminds us of the Li River in Guilin. The cliff paintings have been there for 2000 years. When John last came he was able to dock and walk by the paintings but that is no longer allowed. We are they only ones visiting the cliff so we can view them easily. People conjecture about how and why they were done. Theories abound but no one is certain. On the way back we see another tourist boat with a few Chinese people on it. They are a bit late as the light is going. The boat cost 300RMB. We return to the mini-bus and drive back towards Nanning and stop at Chongzuo City where we check into the Zuojiang Hotel (more...). It is a three-star hotel, an infinite number more than the Butterfly Valley hotel. We walk down the street and John selects an instant food place. It is excellent. Graham sips some of Josef's rice wine and has a larger quantity of John's. We eat noodles, pig brain soup, and chicken dumplings. We walk back to the hotel. Frank phones and enquires about our day. We love Frank.
The hotel does not provide breakfast so we search for a noodle café. They are hard to find. Often they can be found near to schools but we pass two without success. We park next to an ATM and some money is withdrawn. We walk across the street and have our breakfast - noodles with pork and a fried egg - simple, instant and flavoursome, all for 5RMB. We drive to the outskirts of the city to the Stone Forest (shi lin). It is a very large garden with picturesque rocky . outcrops There are very few tourists of any nationality. We search for the highest point - a pavilion perched on top of a rock. From there we have wonderful views of the surrounding countryside and the smoking sugar factory. A lot of sugar cane is grown around here as well as bananas. Entrance to the park is 10 RMB each and worth every jiao (one tenth of a Yuan/RMB) of it. We drive through the countryside to Shuo Long where John espies a noodle café in the main square. Another good noodle meal is eaten. Every building has bamboo scaffolding around it as the whole place is being upgraded for tourists and whitewashed walls will be the norm. We drive along a road under construction for 11 km. It takes us up and down several hills. Eventually we arrive at Detian and have to park as the road to the hotel is closed till 6pm. We take our valuables and walk up to the hotel which overlooks the falls. The falls are claimed to be the second largest transnational waterfalls in the world after Niagara Falls. We think Iguazu Falls are larger. We check in to the hotel. Our room is a small room overlooking the falls. The room has a musty smell to it but other than that it is clean. We walk with John and Josef up by the falls along the sightseeing road. We come to some stalls selling all manner of souvenirs. John wants some rubber sandals and Josef wants some chopsticks. We continue on and cross into Vietnam. There are no border guards but there is a large area of covered stalls to the side of the stone marking the boarder. John buys six pairs of rubber slip on shoes at 10 RMB each. Josef buys 10 boxes of 10 chopsticks at 40RMB each box. Then John buys chopsticks and Josef buys rubber sandals. Jane contents herself by buying two pots of tiger balm for 10RMB and 1 pair of rubber sandals. It seems more people come to the Detian waterfall to visit the Vietnamese market than to view the waterfalls in a bamboo raft. We walk back to our room and have a rest. At 5:40pm we walk down the hill to the town. When we get to the bottom of the hill we meet our mini-bus coming up the hill. We agree to meet where we are at 6pm. Jane wanders into a shopping mall - Chinese style - lots of souvenir stalls. Jane buys a red scarf for 30RMB and returns to the meeting point. They arrive and we go to a restaurant and choose the 12-seater table the four of us wish to sit at. Josef shares his ma hua he bought in Shuo Long with us. It is twisted dough covered in sesame seeds and deep fried. Tough but sweet and pleasant. John orders some dishes. We have Revolutionary Vegetable 1 deep fried with a small amount of pork in the middle of the green parcel, Revolutionary Vegetable 2, Vietnamese style spring rolls, beef and peppers, small river fish soup, sweet and sour pork ribs, rice. We wash it down with beer. The vegetables are so-called because during the cultural revolution when all the output went to Russia to pay for the arms, the Chinese had to find food. The very poor peasant tried eating any leaves to check if they were poisonous or not. After Graham finishes his beer he helps John finish his Red Star 55% white wine. Lily phones. It's her birthday so we sing Happy Birthday to her. She says Happy Birthday to Graham for two day's time. John pays for the meal. Ganbei Frank. We walk up the hill to the hotel and collect our bags from the mini-bus and go to our room. The two Js want to swap with us because their room does not smell. We decline their offer and retire. Jane packs the large bag ready for the flight to Beijing. As we have now completed our tour we will be leaving tomorrow early and driving to Nanning. Frank has managed to change our flight to Beijing from 19:15 to 16:10, so no long hours sitting around in the airport.
After watching and photoing the waterfalls again we leave and are driven down the hill to the town where John finds a side street noodle place. The lady makes her own sausages so we have some with noodles- very tasty. We are driven to Daxin. The houses in the area get a grant to pay for them to be painted white for the tourists to admire. We are searching for 93 octane petrol but most of the fuel stations sell ethanol produced from sugar factory waste. Some portions of the road are under construction. We return to the noodle shop close to the airport where we ate with Bill and Mary. As a change we have pork and vegetables, chicken and peanuts and boiled rice washed down with beer. Frank phones to see how we are and to wish Graham a Happy Birthday for tomorrow. We arrive at the airport and say goodbye to the Js. We wait two hours for the flight which is a little late in taking off. A meal is served, duck and rice or beef and rice, plus some pieces of fruit. We arrive in Beijing at 7:30pm. We walk to the parking space for the CITIC Hotel shuttle and within 5 minutes it arrives and whisks us off to the hotel. We find some rice wine in a local shop but decide to eat in the hotel restaurant. The hotel has the softest beds we have slept on in China. It is also the only hotel to charge for internet access - 60RMB per day. Jane checks in to our flight tomorrow and changes our seats.
Happy Birthday Graham. We wake to a glorious sun-rise which is unusual in Beijing as it is often smoggy. We have breakfast and pack up an leave on the 9:15am shuttle for Terminal 3. We go to the Air China lounge. Jane makes an excursion to the shops and Graham reads his book - Half Blood Blues, which has to be returned to Mary on arrival. The plane is late and takes off at 1pm. Graham finishes the book and watches 'The Help', 'Super 8' and 'The Conspirator'. We land at 3pm GMT. Bill meets us and takes us back to his home. We give him a bottle of Red Star rice wine and then drive. Stephen sings Happy Birthday to Graham. We arrive home at 5pm. Graham opens his presents and birthday cards and listens to his daughter and grandsons singing Happy Birthday as the enter the Eurotunnel. We retire to bed at 9pm - 22 hours after waking - the longest birthday Graham has had.
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