Shanghai – The Bund and Old Town

This morning we had a nice late start which should have meant an opportunity to sleep in, but for some reason never works out that way. We had a private tour guide again in Shanghai… since leaving our group in Xian, we have had a private tour all the way through China really, which one one hand, has been excellent – we can be as flexible with the itinerary as we choose – but on the other hand, there are fewer people to hash over the things we saw and discovered during the day and when you have the guides entire attention there’s no zoning out looking at the scenery, you are being constantly engaged in conversation rather than listening to a lecture of sorts. We quite got used to our little group at the beginning of the tour and felt their absence quite a bit – especially on the Yangtze cruise.

  NB: It is actually raining in these photos, though you could be forgiven for thinking it’s smog given that most ogher places we went to were heavily polluted.  Shanghai is probably the cleanest city we have visited in China.

Anyway, this morning we were firstly off to The Bund, which literally means, ‘outer bank’ and is a waterfront area in central Shanghai. The area centres on a section of Zhongshan Road in the early Shanghai International Settlement. The Bund usually refers to the buildings and wharves on this section of the road, as well as some adjacent areas. It is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai for it’s architecture and for its exemplary display of Shanghai’s pride in preserving the old while embracing the new. On one side of the river is the older, traditional financial districts of Shanghai where building heights are regulated and the famous Peace Hotel resides, and on the other side of the river in this location, you can see the new Shanghai finance district with its impressive sky scrapers reaching up to 600+ meters into the skyline. It is really quite impressive, and apparently very much so when all lit up at night (we unfortunately won’t get a chance to see the area at night thanks to a stupidly early transit to the airport tomorrow, so I have pilfered a picture to add in of The Bund at night.

 Near the Bund was a quality Jade Centre, we know a lot of the jade available in the tourist markets is not actually nephrite jade of jadeite jade at all, so people are purchasing inferior stone or completely faux jade. So we had asked Jake to take us to a reputable store – he chose the govt run Jade centre (given what we believe of the Chinese govt, it seemed an interesting choice, but ok). We were originally looking for some fu dog bookends to take home – in jade or white marble for the house (we usually buy just one really nice souvenir from any trip), but saw and really liked a nephrite jade dragon that will look very nice in the house. I forgot to take a picture of it before it was all wrapped up, so I will have to come back and edit one in here later. Mr K got a good deal from haggling with the manager – the Chinese tend to offer very favourable prices to their first customers of the morning, they believe it sets them up for a good day of trading. So we are very happy with our wash.

  After the Bund we went to the Shanghai Silk Museum. Which I have to say was fascinating. Considering the long standing traditions of silk manufacture in China, and the importance of the Silk Road in trade with the West for the last thousand years or so, there has been very little mention of silk at all at our various stops so far. The Silk Museum is govt run, and starts with a display of some baby silk worms eating their mulberry leaves through to the process of the spinning the cocoons into thread. They showed us how the single cocoon provided a fine single thread of silk, and that double cocoons (with two pupae in them) have crisscrossed threads that are impossible to untangle. These double cocoons are used to make pillow and doona/duvet stuffing. Silk stuffed doonas are soft, lightweight and insulating, and have been very popular with wealthy Chinese for centuries. The cocoons are stretched by hand in layers to get the desired size and weight, it is really quite clever how they create these quilts.






 The Silk Museum had the most impressive gift shop – if I had the luggage allowance, I would have come home with a new silk stuffed doona, a woven silk cover for it, set of silk sheets and pillowcases to match and slept like an empress when I got home! 😉 There was also lots of silk fabric by the meter (though none of the available patterns or colours really grabbed me), and of course silk clothing, silk scarves and silk pashmina. Seventh heaven admiring all these beautiful fabrics… I escaped with a small scarf and a gift for CJ.  






 Next we were onto the Old Town. I wasn’t sure what to expect other than we were going to see the Yu Gardens (Yu = ‘make parents happy’) that was first built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty by the Pan Family (Pan Yunduan) to be of comfort to his father in his retirement and old age. The garden was one of the most extensive and therefore most prestigious of its type in Shanghai. The garden is actually build around the Pan home which has meeting houses and living quarters in among the garden, which consists of large koi ponds, stone bridges and walkways and expensive decorative limestone pieces.  





 The most notable of the limestone is a stone named the “Yu Ling Long” (“The Exquisite Jade Rock” – its not jade?), which was apparently destined for the Imperial Palace in Beijing, but was lost in a shipwreck. The stone was at some point recovered, but it remained concealed so it did not have to be returned to the imperial family. At some point it came to the Pan family as part of a dowry of a woman marrying into the family and it has been much prized ever since. Apparently it has 72 holes in it which make a beautiful waterfall when it rains, and if incense is lit at it’s base, the holes bloom the smoke into a beautiful flower.

   There were many beautiful things about this garden which is considered one of the most beautiful in all China, I loved the 9 turn bridge, where you entered towards the building past a 400 year old tea house on a bridge over a canal that has 9 right angle turns on it. There is also a lovely romantic walkway where men walk down the left, and ladies walk down the right with various shaped window frames in between the walkway so that the ladies could be seen ‘framed’ like paintings for conversations on either side of the walkways. There were round arches (for heaven), square arches (for earth), pebble stone courtyards to massage the feet and lovely spaces to sit and enjoy the breeze. Oh to be wealthy and have loads of space! 🙂 
















 After stepping out of the lovely garden, we went to do a bit of shopping in the Old Town. Now this is Tourist Central with a capital ‘T’. There were so many people there, 99% of them domestic Chinese tourists, it was hard to get through the press to get to see any shops. The area has all traditional style buildings and they are selling everything – jade (?), chopsticks, fans, calligraphy equipment, knock off handbags, watches, and electronics, bangles, beads, trinkets, toys, a million types of tea, local delicacies, silk, more pashmina!, knick knacks, dragon everythings, fu dog everythings, all Chinese fun shit all the time. So much Mao stuff, little Red Cookbooks. You name it. 



  So many people…  

  There was even a couple of stores selling ivory products! I found it hard to hide my horror but there they were on the high tourist street. The place was busy and vibrant, with so much going on but the crush of people was overwhelming, and with so many of them being from the rural country towns, my pale complexion was attracting a lot of unwanted attention again – which tends to just get me flustered and go into ‘get out of here’ mode. We did a little bit of shopping and then bailed to go find lunch.

insert *a weird lunch experience, where several items we ordered we were later told were not available, we were given things we didn’t order, two warm beers, a few screaming children, a family of six staring at me for the duration and a surly waitress later* here

With a stupid o’clock flight to deal with tomorrow (Who booked this shit?  Oh right, that was me – before I knew Shanghai was over an hour from the airport in good traffic) and luggage to rationalize, we head back to our hotel for the afternoon to get our shit together… tomorow:  HONG KONG!  

Where I am sincerely hoping one can get a decent cup of tea.   🙂 

Yangtze River Cruise

We’ve just spent the last three nights doing a Yangtze river cruise on the President No. 7 river boat (not sure it’s a cruise ship when compared to what we are used to, but … meh).   Cruising on the Yangtze is very much one of ‘the things’ to do when travelling in China.  It’s a great way to see the countryside, and the Chinese by all accounts are very proud of this particular river and of course the Three Gorges Dam project which has recently been completed and is working full steam ahead.

IMG_9410.JPGIMG_9416.JPG We started off our trip in Chongqing, a city of some 32 million people… it is still hard for me to get my head around the enormity of the number of people.  But I think I have met most of them, and nearly every single one of them stared and pointed at the short blonde with the very fair complexion.  Bleh.

IMG_9420.JPGIMG_9424.JPGIMG_9431.JPGIMG_9441.JPG The scenery we went through was beautiful – steep banks, lovely green mountains, shrouded in mist, quaint villages and enormous cities gracing its banks.  The river itself is… well… it’s fucking filthy.  We saw more empty drink bottles, shoes, dead fish, discarded fishing nets, plastic bags and crap than you could count.  There was little wildlife around (other than birds) and the water had this awful scum on it.  Yet, there were women washing laundry at the river’s edge, people swimming, people fishing and recreating on this horribly dirty river.


IMG_9470.JPGThe first day our boat stopped for an opportunity to go see the Ghost City of Fengdu (I had to give this a miss -408 steps not counting the 80-100 to get from the boat to river bank).  In the afternoon, we moved on to Badai for a walk to the famous Pagoda there.

IMG_9515.JPGIMG_9517.JPG IMG_9520.JPG The second day we moved into the first of the spectacular Gorges – the Qutang Gorge and later the second, pretty Wu Gorge.  We had a very interesting shore excursion to Shengnong Stream in the Lesser Three Gorges area which saw us all transferred into smaller boats to make our way into ever increasing narrow gorges and finally onto traditional narrow fishing boats to go up the Shengnong Stream.  It was very interesting. And weird. We had a guide who was telling us all about herself and her family life (married, one son, 34 years old…?) but nothing about the gorge! Oh, and she sang for our entertainment and it sounded just like possums mating.  😀    IMG_9528.JPG

  After that we moved into the western section of Xiling Gorge which was full of more beautiful scenery and many buildings that have been rebuilt to replicate what the water’s edge looked like before the terrain was flooded and the water level raised.  Some sections of the gorges were very beautiful, especially if the clouds lifted/parted and you gained a glimpse of blue sky.

 Before moving onto to see the Three Gorges Dam project.  We arrived at a town called Sandouping where the workers and associated businesses to support them had popped up when the damn was being constructed.  Construction started in 1993, and Sandouping was a relocated village at that point, with only 2000 inhabitants.  During the height of construction, there were over 8,000 workers living in Sandouping, but with the project now 95% completed (there is only a ship elevator remaining to complete) many of the buildings are empty and many of the businesses that sprang up are closed.  Many of those workers have gone on to work on other dam projects (there are 18 more hydro dams planned for upstream of the Three Gorges Dam), which have been given priority after the the Fukushima nuclear plant incident.  Apparently China had planned to build 35 nulcear power plants until the earthquake in March 2011 ruptured the Fukushima power plant in Japan causing serious contamination issues.  China then decided they would focus on hydro and solar generated power instead… which I think is a good thing for a country with a tragic history of industrial accidents due to lack of regulations, lack of enforcement, easy bribery/corruption of officials and regulators etc.   As I write this, the fires of the enormous Tianjin chemical explosions are still burning and the chemical contaminaion from the accident is still very much unknown.

 Anyway – back to the dam.  The dam has two lots of ship locks, which allow the ships to move past the dam since it was completed in 2003, and work in five stages – separate locks going upstream and down stream.  We went through only four of the locks last night as the water level in the resevoir is kept low at this time of year during the flood season.   It takes about 3-4 hours to move a boat through the lock system, but there are very long waits to get through.  The locks shift approximately 200 boats per day and it is completely free – somehow the governement decided that the passage through the Yangtze was always free, and that it wasn’t fair to charge boats to go through the dam’s lock system when they used to be able to go through there for free.  Interesting logic for a government that has toll roads EVERYWHERE, but who is going to complain.  The ship elevator that is under construction for ships of 3000 tonnes or less is due for completion by the end of this year and the project will be entirely finished.

 Before the dam was built, the water in this section of the Yangtze was a mere 65m deep, and now the average depth of the reservoir is 175m deep.  So massive swathes of land upstream were flooded, relocating some 1.3 million people and flooding important cultural and historical sites – so it has been a contenious project for some time.  It’s generating metric shit tonnes of power (you can Google the details if you are interested – I can’t, here behind the Great Firewall of China).

Back on the boat and an hour left of our River trip to traverse the Third Gorge. This to me, was the most beautiful area for scenery. 
 After that we had a whirlwind tour of Yichang. Yichang according to our local transit guide is ‘a small city of only 4.1million peoples’.  The only other things I learned in the few hours we were there for a lunch break was that 1) ‘Yichang’ means prosperity but driving through most of it, Ginger the guide referred to the local housing as ‘shanty houses’ and we were driving through what most Westerners would call ‘slums’.  :/  And apparently the slum town of Yichang has enormously wealthy areas too, which are slowly compulsorily acquiring the shanty house areas from their occupants for new development at vastly out priced accommodations the original occupants can’t afford.

The other thing I learned – thrill seekers like to holiday in Yichang… you can go bungee jumping over a 165m gorge for 150 yuan (about AU$30) and it includes a free meal. O.o  Given China’s interesting attitudes towards occupational health and safety and liability issues… We thought we’d give it a miss!!

Yangtze River – President No 7

There doesn’t appear to be much information online about the President No 7 Yangtze River Cruise ship, so I thought I would take some notes.  Who knows?  They might be helpful to others planning on taking this trip.

The first thing we noticed when checking in is that the decor is quite lavish and ornate, the ship is designed to be a 5 star hotel, and it is quite well designed and appointed. But when you look a bit closer, you notice that things aren’t quite maintained the way you would expect in a 5 star ship or hotel in the West. For example, the ship is barely 3 years old, and yet the carpets in the room are covered in stains, and they look like you wouldn’t want to take your shoes off – we found this to be the case in common areas of 5 star hotels here too though.

IMG_9406.JPG  IMG_9403.JPG IMG_9425.JPG

There is a swimming pool on the very lower deck, which we thought might be quite inviting as we have been playing tourist in extremely hot conditions – only when we went to inspect it, the water was cloudy, the room had a strong smell of varnish, and there were some sections around the pool’s edge where the marble had sustained some damage and rather than being repaired, it was covered with a duct taped piece of rubber that had obviously been there for some time. It seems somewhat typical of fancy China hotels to be well designed and start out looking amazing, but then the details get missed – popped buttons on sofas don’t get replaced or fixed, broken tiles in showers get re-grouted, but in a very slapdash fashion that doesn’t match the quality of the original fit out etc. It just seems to be the Chinese way.


But back to the President No 7. Each room is a balcony room, and every room is made up of twin beds. Upon request you can ask that your bed be ‘put together’ to make a large queen size bed… but there doesn’t appear to be any queen size linen on the ship. We asked the room staff to put our bed together, he came in, moved the bedside tables, pushed the bed together and re-arranged the quilts such that we had two single quilts overlapping in the middle. 🙂 It was rather odd – as we could have shoved the beds together ourselves. We were expecting them to re-make the bed with proper queen size linen, but oh well.

The room also has a small desk and chair, and a small sofa (that folds out for a child’s size bed). The desk and chair are handy, but the sofa is really uncomfortable. The room also has a small double closet – though for barely three nights, it is hardly worth unpacking, which is problematic, as there are no suitcase stands and not a lot of floor space to put your suitcase for the duration. We did gain some more useful floor space to be able to live out of our suitcases for the few days after pushing the beds together, so it is workable for just a few days.

The room also has a kettle and a tea making facilities, though we are not provided any milk, so it is for green or herbal tea mostly. Additionally there is a small refrigerator in the room, large enough for a six pack of beer, a few bottles of water and perhaps a couple of soft drinks. You are allowed to bring beer onboard with you, but it is for consumption in the staterooms only and not in the public areas of the ship. When you arrive the fridge will likely be turned off or even unplugged to safe power, so they will tell you there is a ‘cool box’ for already cool things, but if you push the fridge aside you can plug it in easily enough.

All rooms on the ship appear to be exactly the same dimensions, except there are some suites on the top floor, Floor 6, which have a larger living space, bigger couches and mores space all round. Unfortunately these larger, upscale rooms are not accessible by the elevator. So every time you wish to go to your room, you need to go to level 5 and then walk up two flights of stairs – with steps that are of irregular height… I thought I was going to trip on the way back down as the steps are an odd height.

For the first night onboard, dinner is not included – so your guide will recommend that you take something for dinner onboard with you or you can opt to have a set menu dinner in the dining room or served in your room for RMB80 (approximately AU$17 at time of writing). I wasn’t particularly hungry so Mr K ordered dinner to the room – and when it turned up, it took three wait staff to bring it all in! The $17 set menu dinner was like a 7 course meal… sticky rice, a chicken and mushroom dish, some kung pao chicken, vegetable congee, an eggplant dish, a green beans dish, an enormous soup of some sort, some fries and ketchup, a plate of fruit, and some cake, It more than fed both of us and there were left overs that got sent back with the dirty plates. So glad he didn’t order dinner for two!

IMG_9408.JPG We discovered that you can get a unlimited bag of laundry done for RMB200 (about AU$40), which means for the 3 nights we are here, we can keep giving them back dirty clothes by 8pm at night and get them back by 8am the next day. When you’ve been travelling for 5 weeks, laundry becomes a big deal, especially when this tour has had no down time for spending on your own to find a laundromat, and the cost of doing laundry in the four and five star hotels they have us staying in is even worse than luxury cruise ship laundry prices! Will update this when the first bagful comes back to see if they have over starched or killed any delicate items. (You have to handwash your smalls when travelling, if they kill the lace or elastics on your bras… I can’t imagine trying trying to shop for bras for someone as busty as I am, in China!) Edit: laundry all came back in good order. Nothing over starched or pressed to within an inch of its life. Bonus!


Announcements over the public address system seem to be coming in Chinese, German and English, and on the first day the announcements were not quite as loud and obnoxious as Guilin airport, but not far off it. However, the first thing in the morning there were PA announcements that came on with soft music followed by a calm, gentle voice telling everyone about breakfast and the shore excursions for the morning. Which just goes to show – they know how to be unobtrusive, but usually chose not to be.

Something else I think is a handy tip…  Our breakfast and lunch meals which are included in the fare are served buffet style (dinner is a la carte), and we learned to get to the buffet as early as possible – and I mean EARLY, like as soon as it is announced over the public address system.  Not because you might miss out on something to eat – you won’t, there is too much food if anything – but because there are plenty of children who take a second pass at the buffet.  On their first pass, they seem to be with their parents who are helping them fill their plates, after that, they are helping themselves, and unfortunately are picking up all the food with their hands.  It’s a norovirus outbreak waiting to happen.

The Captain’s Welcoming Banquet was a bit of an eye opener.  There were several welcoming speeches in Chinese, English and German (large group of Austrian and Swiss on this trip), and the Europeans were politely listening to the speeches and toasts and applauding their appreciation for the ship’s company where appropriate.  The Chinese guests appeared to be not listening at all, paid no attention, didn’t applaud or toast with the rest of us and were already hoeing into the meals placed on the tables.  We noticed that the Chinese guests were served different dishes to the foreign guests as well.  Not only that, the Chinese guests were literally, ‘eat and run’ – up and out the door within about 20 minutes flat, whereas the foreign tourists were lingering over their meals, engaging in conversation and having additional beverages… beer and soft drink is cheap (not as cheap as on shore, but cheap), wine on the otherhand was ridiculous – an Australian Penfolds Rawsons Retreat Cabernet Sauvignon was 280RMB which is just shy of AU$60 for a AU$10 bottle of wine. Even the few domestic wines on board were that price and higher.

The following night was the Captains Farewell Banquet where we saw the same tableau enacted with different speeches.

What else? Getting on and off the ship is total chaos. The domestic passengers have no problem pushing you out of the way or cutting queues. They also let their children absolutely run amok (we have been told this is the ‘little emperor / little empress’ result of China’s one child policy, but that children are extremely disciplined when bring managed by their teachers at school.  Painful but true. Also the tour guides can’t seem to have their speakers on at a reasonable volume so it’s full bore audio assault all the time not a relaxing environment at all.

Overall, the ship was so-so. Not sure if I’d say it was five star ship… but it probably is for China.

Chongqing – Pandas, Old Town and Hongya Cave

Long transfer day today.  First a drive back from Yangshou to Guilin (about two hours), a flight from Guilin to Chongqing (about two hours), then meet up with a new guide – Royce, who took us to a lovely restaurant for lunch.  I kinda inadvertently killed lunch though.  Chongqing is in the middle of Szechwan Province and people here have a penchance for strong spicy foods – lots of chili for sale in the markets.  Anyway, it is the home of famous Kung Pao Chicken dish, so we thought we would have that for lunch… only Mr K thought he had better tell the staff that I don’t like my food too spicy, and asked for them to go mild on the chili.  But when the meal came out, it was all Kung and no Pao at all, they had omitted all the chili instead of just going easy on it.  It was still very tasty, but I can just imagine some cranky chef in the kitchen going, ‘Bloody foreigners, ruining my cooking with their no chili cooking!’, when all we wanted was not to have to reach for glasses of milk.  🙂  Oh well, the rest of lunch was delicious – rice, some strange duck dish and some dumplings.  We really are being very well fed on this trip.

After lunch we head off to the Chongqing Zoo to meet some giant pandas!  I have bee to zoos all over the world, and I don’t think I have ever seen pandas before, so it is kinda cool to get to see them here in China.  Unforutnatey due to deforestation, the great panda are endangered.  Everyone knows this already, and sadly numbers are down around the 1000 mark, which is very sad for China and the world.  Our guide tried to tell us that due to global warming the pandas don’t have the inclination for the ‘marriage and the babies, they have no sex’ so most panda conceptions are occuring through artificial reproductive technology now.  Also very sad.  This week the Chengdou Panda Research Centre saw two baby pandas born, and the country rejoices at news like this… but it feels like too little too late.  Great pandas live to about 25-35 years old and consume 30kgs of bamboo per day.  They really are a magnificent animal, and I hope efforts to preserve them bear better and faster fruit than they seem to be so far.  This is Youyou, she was born here in 2006: 



 After visiting the great pandas at the Chongqing Zoo, we went for a drive to the Old Town, which is the only part of Chongqing that survived the significant bombing that Japan reigned down on the region in World War II.    The Old Town is from the feudal Qing Dynasty which lasted from 1645 to 1911.  Chongqing is now an enormous metropolis, a city of some 32 million people, that is roughly the population of Canada crammed into one city.  It is by far, China’s biggest city by population, but not by land mass.  


 Our drive to the Old Town took us past a myriad of highrise apartment buildings as all the local live in very high density housing.  As you can imagine the traffic is more than crazy and it feels even worse than Beijing… horns getting a good work out all the time, and cars just going in everywhich direction.  Chaotic is the only way to describe it.  

The Old Town, however, retains much of its original charm and original buildings.  There are some vignettes set up to show what life used to be like in the Qing Dynasty.  The large statue of Emperor Yu dominates the main hall, any time a statue is depicted with a shovel in this shape it is alway Emperor Yu.  People come to pay homage here, make wishes and leave blessings.  It feels like a Buddhist temple, but it is a historical and political site, not a religious site.


 After we left the Old Town, we went for a fly by visit to a local cave called the Hongya Cave.  It is a small (10m deep) cave with a pretty waterfall spilling from it.  A large hotel was built beside the waterfall many years ago along with an obligatory shopping centre.  So we had a wander around the area before heading to our river cruise ship – the President No 7.  We have three nights on the President No 7 sailing down the Yangtze River.  I’m very much looking forward to all the beautiful scenery.

Guilin – Li River Cruise

Today we went on a river cruise down the Li River or the Lijiang. It is a beautiful river of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region – Autonomous Regions are areas of China not run by the central government but rateher, more run by minorities nationalities.  While 95% of the Chinese population are Han, there are 92 different minority nationalities tha the goverment offeres certain tax breaks and concessions (such as a relaxation of the one child policy for minorities).  Anyway, the Li River flows 83 kilometres from Guilin to Yangshuo, (I am sure it is longer than that, but that is the section that the tourist cruises cover.  It is a very recognisable topography – very iconic from Chinese landscape painting etc, and the mountains that you see in the are are called ‘karst’ mountains.  The Li River is a highlight of the Guilin region and has recently been considered in the top 15 rivers in the world.   
The unusual karst landscape and it’s distinctive mountains.  Below is a grove of ‘phoenix tail’ bamboo planted alone the river banks to stabilise soil erosion.  Our guide, Sue, insisted that the bamboo was named for looking like a phoenix tail, but personally, I strongly doubt any one actually knows what a phoenix tail looks like, so… yeah.  It is beautiful and feathery looking though.    There are so many craft cruising on the Li River – from traditional bamboo rafts (or the not so romantic or attractive, modern PVC pipe equivalent) through to the air conditioned three level boat sightseeing boats. 
  The Li River views are so famous, they are depicted on the RMB 20 yuan note.  So we found ourselves in one section of the river trip, surrounded by people holding up money and taking photos.   
    The river is crazy busy.  Guilin sees 10,000,000 tourist a year, the bulk of which will do a Li River trip of some sort.
    Cormorant fishing is still very much a part of the rural Chinese lifestyle.  Many domesticated cormorants live out their later lives like this one, being a photo model for tourists rather than catching fish all night.  
  Upon reaching Yangshou, we went for a quick wander through the West Street Markets – also known as the Foreigner Markets… or Hello Markets.  This is tourist central, so all manner of cheap shit is for sale at vastly overinflated prices.  As it turns out, in the north – Beijing etc, foreigners are known as ‘Big nose’ people… but here in the South, the foreigner tourists are knosn as ‘Hello’ people.  This is the Hello Market because you will constantly hear the stall holders saying ‘Hello, hat?’… ‘Hello, scarf?’… ‘Hello, fan?’… ‘Hello, postcard?’ etc.  So now when I’m hearing someone saying ‘hello’, I am unsure if they are actually offering me a greeting or just calling me a foreigner to their friends.  😛   
Ginger sticky taffy… gorgeous golden coloured sweets that are stretched and pulled until flattened and cut to shapes.  After the markets, we went to visit a typical Chinese house that belonged to a Ming Dynasty General.  This house has belonged to the same family for the last four hundred years, Mr Pan and his wife and brother’s widow still live in the house.  The front entrance of the house is dressed in red paper New Year’s blessings that get replaced every year, wishing health, happiness, luck and longevity on the occupants.  Above the door is a large plague which reads, ‘Pan House’.  
A traditional millstone used for grinding soybeans and water into the curd paste that the Pan family uses to make tofu.  The water and soybeans are dropped in the top, and the wooden lever is worked back and forth to turn the grindstone.  The main court yard to the house.  Ahead is the main kitchen and dining space to the right is the main living roo which contains a family ‘shrine’.  
In the middle of the courtyard is the water pump, which goes to a well 13m underground.  The water is used for cooking, cleaning, drinking and watering plants etc.  While the water is safe for the inhabitants to drink, it would probably cause considerable gastro distress to any of us.  The water is cool and clear and comes from a natural spring.  I thought this was amazing… in many European castles and churches, you can see wear on the steps where thousands of steps of hundreds of years have worn away the stone so you can see the well trod path of people long dead.  The round divets on these stone steps are caused by the water dripping off the same roof for hundreds of years onto the same spot on the same step.  Incredibly cool.  
This is a traditional raincoat made out of thatched grass.  Worn with the hat, it would keep the workers dry enough to keep working in the rice fields even during fairly heavy rain.  Now of course, with modern rainproof materials, no one would wear one of these – they are really heavy even when dry.  The family shrine contains a picture of the General, and the Emperor and Empress.  At the top of the image you will see a dragon and phoenix also to represent the Emperor and Empress.  To the right of the blessings are the tablets with the names of the family ancestors.  And dead centre on the table you can see a bottle of rice wine (spirits) and snake wine (more spirits) that Mr Pan has some of every day.  
    The original kitchen – fire wood is still used for cooking, adn the only place for the smoke to escape is through two small windows high in the roof, but they actually wanted the smoke to accumulate in the kitchen, as they would hang meats in the rafters to cure the meats before refrigeration.  So the entire kitchen doubled as a smoke house.
  Weaving equipment – the Pan’s also grew cotton, and it is prevalent in the region.  
China has large rural farming communities – about 64% of the population are farmers. In the past, the farmers used to work for the landlords, and about 80% of the land was owned by these landlords, meaning the bulk of the profits from the farmers hard work went straight into the weathy landlord’s pockets.  In 1958, as part of the cultural revolution, all land became owned by the Chinese governement, and was re-distributed to each farmer, so they could gain a bigger portion of their work.  Now, farmers can choose what they grow, and they only have to give a portion of their profits to the goverment – it used to be that the bulk of their money went in agriculture taxes (a system that was in place for 2600 years) – but now they are required to sell a portion of their produce to the government, contribution another portion to the local provincial stock piles, and the bulk of it now belongs to the family.  So farmers in China are seeing more wealth over recent generations, which is allowing them to buy and build decent housing and improve their standar of living.  Rice fields, this one about a month from harvest:     
    A farmer can apply to be allocated a ‘mu’ of land – which is a parcel of about 20x30m.  If there are four people in the family that are farmers, they can have one mu each.  One mu can yield about 400-500kg of rice per harvest, adn there are two harvests each year.

Farmers in this region also use their mu to grow, watermelon, oranges, tangerines, pomellos, grapes, passionfruit, lotus flowers (seeds, roots etc) peanuts, cabbage and all sorts of things.  They can also choose to enclose their mu and turn it into fish farming.  Many rice farmers also grow small fish, shrimps, snails and other aquatic animals to suplement their income while waiting for the rice harvest.  Even the rice stalks are well used after the harvest – either as feed for water buffalo (local beast of burden during plowing and harvest times), as raw materials for rice paper and some even burn it to return nitrogens to the soil for the next planting.  This is the Luyoung RIver, which connects to the Li River.  It is a very popular spot for Chinese tourists (domestic tourist) to go rafting.  When our guide mentioned rafting, I immediately thought… white water rafting, but it turns out she meant, going out for an afternoon spin on a bamboo raft.  People are ferried up and down a section of the river for 180Y each (about AU$33 each) with water guns to squirt at each other.  It’s a bit like a gondala ride in Venice, only nothing like it at all!
    And there were thousands of peopel out rafting this afternoon… and I can’t for the life of me understand why – because nearly every Chinese person I have met so far CAN NOT SWIM. In fact they are petrified of putting their heads under water.  Go figure.
   Tonight, we are off to a local show, so I will have to update on that later.  🙂 


We went to see the Impression Sanjie Liu show this evening, knowing very little about it except that it was directed by Yimou Zhang, who directed several films – Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower – and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.  The show is set in a purpose built ampitheatre that seats approximately 3,000 people (three shows a night in peak season) and utilizes the Li River as the stage and has a spectacular natural backdrop of twelve karst mountains.  

The show includes modern and classical music composed by famous Chinese musicians and is designed to give impressions of the daily life of the people who live on and around the Li River. It also gives insight into the ethnic minorities of the area and their dress and music styles.  The aspects of local living in Yangshou were quite prominently featured with water buffalo, cormorants, fisherman, bicycles, markets etc, included in the activities depicted.  Oh, and there are over 600 performers in the show, many of whom are amateurs and whose real professionas are as local fishermen and farmers… which represents about 1/60th of Yangshou’s entire population of 30,000.  I was unable to get any decent photos given the dark lighting and moving performers, but have hunted down what I could find to give an idea…   


The show was quite the spectacle and I would highly recommend it to anyone coming to the Guilin/Yangshou area… though I have to say, I am not getting used to Chinese crowds.  Even when at a considerably pricey show (tickets were about AU$55 each), the Chinese people in the crowd show a distinct lack of consideration for their neighbours, in this case fellow theatre goers.  They talked throughout – and I don’t mean whispering, I mean held loud conversations and laughed while performers were singing and dancing.  They took useless flash photos with tablets constantly ruining the view for everyone behind them.  They didn’t applaud at the end of various acts, and I was astounded when the show finished and the crowd showed no signs of appreciation at all – no applause, no other acknowlegement that they had even been watching a performance.  In fact many got up to leave 5-10 minutes before the final acts of the show occured.  There were even people taking phone calls and blocking one ear to try and hear the person on the phone and talking loudly over the music, during the performance.  I will never get used to the people here, and their complete lack of awareness or care for the comfort of the people around them.  :/