Meeting the pandas

We flew to Guilin, where we only spent a night, and then moved on by a boat to Yangshou. We had a four hour cruise on the Li river, surrounded by karsts mountains and pinnacles, it was quite a photogenic journey.

Yangshou is a hippy paradise, a bit like Kathmandu, where everything caters for Western tourists - banana pancakes for the morning, great bars with large plasma TVs for the nights, plenty of cheap batik clothes, hiking opportunities, internet cafes, and so on. If you think your country is full with cheap Chinese clothes, come to China and you will see the REALLY BIG amount of cheap and crap Chinese clothes... Also, as the city has only one main street - simply called the Western Street - if you walk there second time, all the shopkeepers already know you so it is easy to feel straight at home and familiar with the place. I love these little laid-back paradises.

On our first evening we went to a light show again, this is very popular in China and the best is here in Yangshou. It is more like a performance here - set on the river, with the mountains behind and over 700 actors in gorgeous costumes show little pieces of Chinese stories with great music and lighting. It was absolutely fantastic, directed by a famous Chinese director who made The Hero or the Red Lantern. We could not see the stages, so it seemed that all those actors were walking on the water. They were surrounded by local fishermen with lanterns on their boats, so overall it was very spectacular.

This morning, like all other sport-loving Chinese, I got up early and went to the park to practice thai-chi. Apart from getting up early, it was very enjoyable, helped by an instructor. Yangshou caters for its many Western tourists with plenty of crash-courses, from thai-chi through cooking and mandarin to calligraphy, painting or local games. I then went back to sleep a bit, then did some retail-therapy, or put it nicer, I helped the local economy by spending some cash at the souvenir shops. Later I visited a massage doctor (recommended by the thai-chi teacher, to make sure I am in good hands) who worked on my aching shoulder and made miracles to it. In the evening we joined some local fishermen to go out onto the river to catch fish with the help of cormorants. It is a bit cruel as the animals' necks are fixed in a way that they cannot eat the fish, only swallow it, and later they spit it back to a basket. Luckily we did not have to have those fish for dinner.

The food is quite good in general, although I am not always sure what I have. Yesterday I had some sponge-looking something in my soup which turned out to be bamboo-roots. Local delicacies include fish head broth, frog eggs, pig intestines, wild rabbit and such, but I try to stick to more familiar things. No, not the chips, as my English group-mates, but try to find interesting combination of known ingredients, such as the mango duck I had for dinner tonight.

Buying souvenirs does not seem to be a problem, rather what NOT to buy or WHERE to put what I buy. As we do not have a bus on our own on the whole journey, but we use multiple vehicles, like train, boat, bus and several internal flights, I have to limit my luggage to the main bag and one carry-on, which are full already.

We spent some time among stunning rice terraces in Longji area - there were so many shades of green that I had to shoot a whole roll of film. The local stilt houses with large red lantern just added some nice color to the photos. The area is also home to some local tribes, the most interesting of which were the Yao, where the woman grow their hair to incredible length. Unfortunately they wore it pinned-up and only let it down for us if we paid some money.

We stayed in a guesthouse and had communal lunch and dinner. About 10 people sit around a table with rolling middle and all food is served to that circulating part. It is great because we each of us could try all different dishes. It is always a huge decision-time for me to order food in restaurants, this makes it easy. We were served bees fried in garlic as dessert, but I would have preferred some chocolate-cake....

Next morning we took a bus to the nearest airport, visiting a teahouse on our way. We learnt about the different types of tea, its processing and sampled some type. I was very surprised to hear (and so were my English group-mates) that the green tea has the highest caffeine content. What we knew in Europe that is has no caffeine at all - probably decaf version is sold in our part of the world, but that's bad news as during the decaf process the good ingredients are lost as well. We also visited a Chinese medical center, where we got free foot massage, which was just what we needed.

This morning we all got up very excited, and I guess, so were the pandas in the Chengdu research center, because this was the day to visit them. They are even cuter live than on pictures, I just wished I could hug one. All they do whole day is to munch bamboo and sleep. We were extremely lucky because just a month ago some babies were born so we could see some little ones as well. It is very difficult to have babies, because it is not easy for a panda to find another one (there are only around 1500 in the world) and they are solitary nature as well. Not only that, they are extremely choosy, who to mate. So it is not easy for the pandas, either....

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