It’s been a month of China firsts.
My first apartment cockroach (not great), my first fig and cream wheat pastry (sounds odd but was GREAT), my first time getting shoved into the window on the bus by an old lady with her eye on my seat (neutral).
Under the DOUBLEPLUSGOtOD column was my first trip out of Shenzhen (discounting Hong Kong which is so close it barely counts, and the work trip to Huizhou which was lovely but also doesn’t count since it was basically a field trip)
My First China Trip was to Guilin, a smaller city in southern China, about 3 hours away by high speed train (The high speed train is my new obsession. It can take you anywhere in mainland at 300 km/hr but isn’t too fast to take in the scenery.) Guilin isn’t very flashy -I had never heard of it before coming to China- but it is unbelievably beautiful. (Just Google image it. Obama visited and apparently called it “Heaven on earth”) Guilin is famous for its lakes and rivers, surrounded by incredible karst mountains. It really cannot be described, and the pictures I took are weak, so again, google google google. (Or as we sometimes have to say in China, bing it. ha.)
I went with some friends from work, including one friend who is from Guilin and so knew everything to eat and the best way to get everywhere. We saw the Elephant Trunk Hill and the mountains in Xinping that are featured on the back of the 20 RMB bill. These were very obviously touristy areas but were still stunning enough that I didn’t care. The 20 kuai view involved multiple different motorcart rides through one way unpaved roads winding through hills.
Several more tippy motorcart rides, a ferry ride, and a steep, muddy incline later, we rented a small boat to ride on the river among the karst in Yangshuo. The boats-which are supposed to be bamboo, but are mostly plastic, as my friend ruefully explained- were loud but the view once again defied description. Our boat driver said that Clinton had been there, I didn’t come up with the Chinese for the “xiansheng haishi taitai” until too late to bring it back up organically. Everything was so beautiful that I didn’t even mind when our boat driver was unable to make the turn against the current to take us back, and ended up kicking us out on a sandbar while he tried it solo, then had us wade through the water to be picked up in deeper water on the other side. Who cares? As long as I get to stay in this beautiful place longer.
Beautiful tourist traps aside, one of the best moments of the trip was having dinner with my friend’s family. It was May Day, so her parents and aunts and uncles made plate after plate of dumplings and were only too happy to fill the bellies of their daughter’s foreign friends. After we had each eaten about 1000 dumplings each, we helped make some. Lynn’s parents were legit, they made the dough and everything. I consider myself pretty well versed in mandu making, but they taught me more elaborate methods of folding and crimping the dumplings. I don’t really know what it was, but something about making dumplings late at night with Lynn’s parents was fulfilling. I hadn’t cooked food outside of eggs and noodles in some time, and making the dumplings partially reminded me of trying out recipes at home with my friends for dinner or tea parties, and partially reminded me of making mandu with my mom. (One of the last things I did before getting on the plane to China was make manduguk with my mom. We ended up accidentally not cooking them fully in the broth, but I was so nervous about my flight I barely noticed.)
Another night, in Yangshuo, we saw a musical show on the river. Everything was in Chinese, but it mostly consisted of disconnected acts so language barrier wasn’t an issue. The show began at dusk, with the karst hazy in the background. As the night grew darker, the mountains were lit up, to gasps of amazement. The best word to describe the show would be “spectable”. The performers floated around on (possibly real?) bamboo boats, there was fantastic lighting, there was fire, there was a giant crescent moon floating on the water that a girl ran around on, all with those mountains in the background. It was an amazing sight. It was also the first time that I was briefly, devastatingly homesick. Maybe it was the music, this is the longest I have gone in my life without taking part in some music group, and the beautiful singing reminded me of my old life. Maybe it was because I felt like my parents would’ve liked the show, too. Maybe I was just moved by the spectacle in general. It wasn’t a bad pain, sort of a sweet sadness. And my friend reassured me, ‘This made me cry the first time I saw it, too.”