roadside noodles

Our good friends Curry and Erica invited us to come and visit their family in Guilin for the weekend.  This would be my first time visiting as a guest in a Chinese household and I was both curious and excited to see firsthand how a Chinese family lived.  Curry picked us up in his mini-van early and we hit the road.  We took the “scenic” drive over the hills on the back roads and once we were clear of the mountains around Yangshuo (photo above), we began crossing some flat lands on the way to Guilin.

Curry and Erica drive this route to Guilin to visit family and know all of the local restaurants.  As we were quite hungry we gladly accepted his suggestion that we pull over to his favorite noodle cafe.  There are no pancakes, bacon and eggs in China, noodles are on the menu and I would soon I would fall in love with them.

The restaurant was a simple open sided building much like the local restaurant that we frequented in Yangshuo.  It was a family run business and we said hello to grandma and the family’s little child.

We ordered up four bowls of noodles and everyone added the ingredients that they liked specific to their bowl; chilli, peanuts, seaweed, onions and all sorts of other spices and condiments.  We all happily slurped out noodles using our chopsticks and they were so good that I went back for a second bowl.  The photo may not look like much, but the noodles tasted wonderful; the flavor of all the spices just sparked with taste.

Once we were back on the road, Anya announced that she wanted to buy a bag of pamellos and take them to Erica’s mother as a hospitality gift.  Curry pulled over and started shopping for a bag and I spotted the vendor’s little girl as she played in the family business.  I thought that she was quite adorable and shot a few photos of her.

She watched closely as Anya munched away on her sunflower seeds - Anya is always eating sunflower seeds (more on that later).  Anya offered some to the little girl and she happily accepted.  I have always thought Chinese children especially cute.

Anya did notice that some children were dressed 1/2 in boys clothes and 1/2 in girls clothes.  We would run into this again and again; I’ll post some photos and a blog post about this subject later.  When we asked Erica about this, she said that parents and grandparents “disguise” their children to confuse evil spirits who may want to take the children away.  If the child is not known as a boy or girl, the spirits won’t know who to take.  I had read in the book The Good Earth that it is also customary for Chinese people to never mention if a child is good looking for fear that the child will be snatched by spirits.  One should only comment that a child is bland or ugly looking in order to confuse them.

Back on the road to Guilin we passed through more and more of the beautiful mountains that give Guanxi Province some of the most photographed vistas in China.  On my way to a super weekend…


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Wu Sheng Temple

While touring Xingping, icame across the Wu Sheng Temple that is a contemporary museum of sorts.  It houses some Ming Dynasty artifacts and also has some Qing era exhibits.  The photo above is shot just inside the front door threashold and is of a Ming Dynasty bell that was rung for Imperial and cerimonial purposes.

In 1998, Bill and Chelsea Clinton visited this site when they were taking a tour down the Li River.  I once read that Bill and Hillary made more overseas trips than any other Presidential family in American history.  It is nice to know that my tax dollars could fund their extensive vacations.  Well, they did pick a nice spot to visit; this area is perhaps one of the most photographed areas in China and is known for is picturesque mountains and rivers.

Inside the coutyard of the temple-museum there was a beautiful view of the mountains and the grounds were decorated elaborately with ponds, garden plants and various statues and ancient artifacts.  Facing towards the museum (lower photo), you can see that the building is open to the outside permitting sunlight to reach to the exhibits.  The building, over 500 years old is in wonderful preservation – its massive beams have held up well through the years.

Inside there were many ancient plaques and memorials.  There were various exhibits showing local costumes and other artifacts from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Some of the Ming era costumes are brightly colored and I couldn’t help but think of what it must have looked like, 5 centuries ago, with so many people dressed in clothes like this.  I am sure that the peasants were in grey or other subdued colors and leaders and royalty must have really stood out with clothes like these.


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Xingping

Located on one of the more popular Li River rafting routes, Xingping rests just upstream from Yangshuo.  Many tourists take motor rafts from Yangshuo and travel upstream to Xingping and some even continue all the way to Yangdi.  Xingping is a sleepy and quiet town nestled in the green mountains that run past Yangshuo.  Were it not for the tourists sightseeing along the Li River, Xingping might never see any people besides the locals.

This small town is surrounded by small farms (photo above) and also relies on fishing and tourism.  As I walked from the boat landing towards the Xingping Bridge, I watched as the local peasants carried water to their crops.  They carried the water in buckets connected to a yoke and carried across the top of their back.  Watching them fish water from the well and then carry it to the crops I wondered how little the lives of the peasants have changed in two thousand years?  I saw another man sharpening his sickle and another chopping bamboo near his motorcycle.

Crossing over the Li River at the Xingping bridge, I saw another man as he fished.  His canoe was very long and I wondered how he was able to keep from flipping it over.  Aside from the man washing his dog on the other side of the bridge and the murmured chatting of some Chinese locals, it was very quiet and we lingered as we walked into Xingping enjoying the serenity of the moment.

I paused on the bridge to get a good look at the Li River and the surrounding mountains.  From this vantage point, I am looking up the river back towards Yangdi with Yangshuo downriver and behind me.  Unfortunately, the grey skies dampened much of the colors in the photos but mountains shrouded in mists did provide a surreal grey look.

Inside of Xingping, it looks like many other little Chinese towns with narrow streets and houses decorated with traditional ornaments.  Xingping did have the added boost of the tourist trade and some expats as well as Chinese visiting from other cities could be seen.  I noticed a thriving dog population that ran the streets unchecked – for now…

Catering to the tourists, many of the local vendors had street-side tables selling all of the common Chinese knick-knacks: “ancient” Chinese coins, bracelets, jewelry of all kinds, post cards, embroidery, brass book ends and all of the other “touristy” things that look good – until you get them home and then they become dust magnets.  I did pick up some souvenir coins for the nieces and nephews and a few post cards to mail to the family.

There seemed to be quite a few restaurants, cafes, hotels and guest houses catering towards the expat community – or so I supposed as most signs were written in Chinese and English.  Many of the cafes and restaurants looked downright inviting and I wished that I had a few days more to stay overnight in Xingping and “relax” a bit over a cold beer or a cup of coffee.  Unlike Yangshuo with its bustling movements of people (primarily tourists) even though Xingping had some tourists, it was very mellow and relaxed.  If any anyone is passing through Xingping while on a river tour, I’d recommend staying overnight, at least one night, to see the best of the town.

As I walked down the main “tourist” road I noticed that down the alleyways, the town wasn’t so big and one could easily walk 100 meters and be back in the farmland that surrounds it.

The walk from the main part of town towards the bus station carried me through the heart of the residential portion of town.  I was late in the afternoon and I was going to catch the last bus back to Yangshuo.  At the dinner hour I was able to walk through the city mostly unnoticed.  It was one of my first chances to see into the homes of the Chinese as many had left their doors ajar to allow the smoke from the dinner fire to escape.  I saw this Chinese boy in the threshold of his family home.  His hood should give you an idea of the temperature…

At this bicycle shop I was able to squeeze off a flash photo before the bike repairman noticed me.  Despite the growing numbers of cars and even more motorcycles, the bicycle is still a staple means of transportation in China.  This man was probably trying to finish up a  last repair before his wife called him in for dinner.

Most laundry is still dried on clothes lines in China and you often see laundry hanging to dry.  You’ll also notice the family’s shoes deposited outside the door to keep the floors clean inside.

I am not sure what the Palmello skins are used for.  I believe that I was told that they are dried and used for soup flavoring.  The Palmello is a popular fruit in this region of China and I ate them with regularity.  It is large, about the size of a melon, is yellow in color and has the consistency of a large orange.  I suppose that it tastes a bit like a flavorless orange.

One of the homes had some home-made sausages drying from the upstairs balcony.  What type of meat it was is anyone’s guess.  With the lack of refrigeration in many homes, I noticed that it was common to take home a chicken for dinner while it was still alive and slaughter it yourself.  Other products, like sausage, that do not require refrigeration seemed to be a staple item on the menu in this area.

Most of the homes had red banners and blessings written around the entry ways.  Many were decorated with lamps and I noticed more and more decorations as it came closer to Chinese New Year.

As I walked quietly from one house to the next, I often surprised the Chinese families who were sitting around their dinner tables slurping their dinner and chatting away.  A smile and a quick “knee-how” (hello) usually was returned with a smile and a quizzical stare.  Most families waved “no” as I held my camera up to take a photo.  With the low lighting, it was difficult to shoot a photo without the flash and shooting flash photography on the sly is close to impossible.  As  result, I didn’t take any photos of Chinese families as they ate.  I think that it was better to yield to their wishes than to be impolite by taking an unwanted photo.

I came to one home that had its double wide front door wide open.  I could hear the family in the next room eating, their chopsticks clicking the insides of dishes and a mellow conversation of Chinese.  I was quite pleased when I saw this Mao shrine and quickly captured a photo before anyone noticed.  Mao is still revered in China as the Godfather of the modern Chinese state.  He is still respected by most Chinese that I met despite what we have learned about him in recent history; most notably that he is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese (50+ million alone in the 1958-1962 famine).  Every Chinese person that I talked to had no idea how widespread the ’58-62 famine was.  Those that heard of it parroted back the State’s line that unfair Russian trade policies caused some hunger, but no real famine.  Yes, I do believe that censorship and the absence of dissenting voices has created an information “black hole” for most Chinese people.


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