Moon Hill

As I approached the last days of my holiday and faced the grim prospect of returning to work, Curry and Erica invited us out for dinner.  The told us that they knew of a lovely restaurant atop a hotel with a view of Moon Hill.  I had wanted, since I had visited Yansghuo, to climb to the top of Moon Hill but the opportunity never presented itself.  I promised that I would climb it on my next visit but did look forward to the prospect of seeing a nice view of it before I went home.  Sure enough, when we arrived at the hotel, there was indeed a spectacular view of the mountain with the hole pierced right through it.  The hole is quite round but from this close proximity we could only see the upper half of the circle.  Later, Anya did climb it and said that it provided wonderful views of Yangshuo and its beautiful mountains.

At the front door of the hotel and restaurant we could see the aftermath of the New Years celebrations; huge piles of fireworks discards were everywhere.  Even though it was a few days past New Years, the rockets and bombs were still exploding with regularity.  Occasionally, one would explode rather nearby and I would have an Iraq flashback, just for a second, before I realized I was in a safe and happy place.

Throughout dinner, the inside of the darkened restaurant was lightened by the flashes of the rocket explosions and the windows rattled with the nearby “booms.”  I thought of how much money it must take to keep a barrage going for a solid week and thought of the newfound affluence of China and its people.

Erica brought her baby, little Dodo, who we finally met for the first time after hearing about her for so many months.  Her sister and niece also came along and it was nice to sit down to a proper “family” meal.

The restaurant was Italian in style and pulled off an incredible bruschetta, pizza and the garlic bread was phenomenal.  We made a selection of an imported Italian Chianti and toasted to friends and good times together.  I will really miss my Chinese friends and hope that we will stay in touch after my departure.

 


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Fireworks!

Chinese New Year = Happiness for any man or boy from America who has been deprived of the privilege of lighting off fireworks for so many years.  And do the Chinese know how to do it.  Imagine the Disneyland fireworks display but going off on each street corner.  I’m not kidding, huge 5″ and 8″ mortar bombs that launch 8, 10 and 12 pound bombs several hundred feet into the air.  I’m surprised no one was killed…

As we finished dinner and cracked open the second bottle of wine, I began looking over my wonderful collection of bombs and rockets.  At the prompting of the other party guests, I posed “Rambo” style with my explosives just before I began lighting them off.

To set the mood properly, I must explain that fireworks had been going off all week long: mortar bombs, skyrockets and long strings of firecrackers.  As I’d said in an earlier post, Chinese firecrackers put their little American cousins to shame.  The Chinese firecrackers are about as thick as a cigarette and about an inch and a half long.  The body is constructed of cement and when they explode, rock shrapnel flies everywhere and they are about as loud as a 9mm handgun.  A string of them is like standing next to 3 guys with Mp5 submachineguns on full auto – all firing at once.

By New Years Eve (this day), the strings of firecrackers and bombs were continuous.  You couldn’t count to ten – any time of the day – without hearing some firework commotion in the distance.  I was quite happy to add to the commotion and began with some acorn sized cherry bombs.  I was wise enough to light them and run away as I didn’t want to lose any fingers (yes, they are powerful enough to separate digits).  And I am surprised that more Chinese aren’t blind; if it wasn’t for my sunglasses, I certainly would be!

After I lit of this cherry bomb and ran away, Anya snapped the shutter just as it blew up.  You can see the shrapnel flying towards the camera over 20 feet away!  Yes, these fireworks really pack a punch!

 

Next up, I lit off a string of firecrackers.  During the day, I could rely on my sunglasses to protect my eyes but at night it was too dark to see.  So, I closed one eye and held the camera in front of the other eye.  While my eye was protected, my face was constantly splattered with cement dust and small cement rocks; I had little red welts all over my face the next morning.

 

 

Then came the skyrockets.  As you can see in the video, they are quite loud, even when 100′ or more high.  If one was to blow up near you it would be quite a bang.  The Chinese seemed to be good sports and have good aim about their fireworks as I didn’t see any fires, broken out windows or anyone otherwise injured.  I still shake my head thinking about it.

 

 

I heard a loud string of firecrackers going off in an open stairwell in an apartment overlooking the police station.  When I came to get a closer look I found that the policemen (who were on duty) had a bigger arsenal than mine.  They were firing Roman candles with wanton abandon causing as much ruckus as the people who lived nearby.

 

 

Even at 1 hour to midnight the roar of the fireworks increased and increased.

 

 

Finally, at midnight, the girls lit off some sparkler cones that I bought especially for them.  It was a festive mood and everyone was dancing and singing and you could barely hear due to the overwhelming bangs and booms and stings of firecrackers.  As we approached midnight, the sound became a strong roar – something like at the Superbowl or a playoff game – except that instead of screaming fans, you had never ending strings of hundreds of thousands of firecrackers and mortar bombs exploding.

Right at midnight, between our dancing and singing, we went up on the roof to view the firework show that was in all directions and went as far as the eye could see.  Realize, we are only in Guilin, a relatively small city in China, and we are in the suburbs on the outskirts of town and still the fireworks were this intense.  I met other westerners on the flight home who were in downtown Beijing at hotels on the 10th floor who explained that they had to keep all the windows open or else they would be broken by the shock waves.  The firework shows went on for hours.

All of these fireworks that you see are not the local high school, the city or Disneyland, these are the fireworks that local people and business men were lighting off.  China’s industry and wealth has grown in the last decades and the Chinese are displaying their newly acquired riches in the forms of grand and colorful firework shows.  Just as many American communities compete for the biggest lawn and roof light show at Christmas time, the Chinese compete with gunpowder.

 

 

I can say, it was quite a show – and one that I will not soon forget!


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gifts from America

As we were preparing our visit to China for the Lunar New Year holiday, we decided to brin some gifts for Erica and her family to say “thank you” for all of the hospitality that they showed us last Christmas.  We went shopping in Hood River, Oregon and no matter what store we went to, everything was made in China.  Hard as it was, we kept searching and just couldn’t believe that almost nothing is made in the US anymore.

We searched for the better part of a week when Anya found a local “tree hugger” shop that advertised “local products made by local artists.”  Sure enough, they had some beautiful sweat shirts advertising the beautiful Hood River (the city and river).  We purchased “hoodies” for the whole family and when we arrived we presented them with their gifts.  I’m sure that they will be a big hit and make wonderful conversation pieces especially considering the stir we made with our last visit.

Anya also wanted to get a “house” gift that the entire family could enjoy and we found a beautiful boutique shop in downtown Hood River.  The artist that owns this small shop makes hand-made ceramic bowls and vases that are painted with bright colors and flowers and are then are glossed and fired in an oven.  The pieces looked quite durable and we found a beautiful red fruit bowl that we thought would match the red motif of any Chinese home.  The friendly clerk packaged the bowl and I carried it all the way to China in my carry-on bag handling it with extra care so that it would not break.

The bowl was a big hit and our Chinese “Mom” immediately filled it with nuts, candy and fruits to serve to her New Years guests that would be coming the next morning.  I am sure that she will proudly display it for years saying her American “kids” brought it to her from America.

Throughout the evening – it was New Years Eve – we exchanged gifts, drank wine, talked, watched tv, ate and of course, lit off fireworks.  Due to the length of the post, I decided to make the fireworks post a separate entry.  In the photo below, I set the camera timer and we all posed for a group photo.

As the evening festivities continues, Erica’s Mom wanted to tell us a story about the stir that our last visit caused.  She said that the town elders and visitors at the community center talked about it for weeks.  The photos that we had taken and been in last December had been developed and added to the “wall of fame” in the community center building.  She said that government officials from Beijing had come to visit the town Mayor and Council and had asked about the westerners who had visited.  She said that they were very impressed that westerners had come to this small community to visit.  Erica’s Mom was beaming with pride.  In the photo below, she and Erica are displaying duplicates of the photos that were on display in the community center.


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