Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chinese Driver's Test

I took the test to get my Chinese Driver's License today and I passed! I had been studying from a book that gave about 1000 questions that might be on the test. This was a little tricky because some of the questions contradicted each other. At the actual test, I got a random selection of 100 questions and had to get 90% correct to pass. I took the test on a computer and at the end I was shown a happy, smiling, laughing animated face telling me that I had passed! I took my paperwork up to the front and handed it over. Some other people got the red, sad, crying faces telling them that they had not passed. But, when they took their paperwork up to the front, the man stamped their papers as well. So, it looks like everyone passed!


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Guilin and Yangshuo Trip Part 2

We started our trip to the Longji rice terraces early in the morning on Friday morning (October 3rd). The Zhuang and Yao ethnic people living here have led a simple life from generation to generation. The Yao women are known for their very long hair. They wash their hair using rice water and then wrap it into a bun on their forehead. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of them! Hopefully one of the other people who went on this trip got one or I will just have to get one next time I go down there! The Zhuang people are China's largest minority. The Zhuang women wear hats to cover their hair before they are married. We hiked up into the hills to see the rice terraces.

The village up in the hills reminded me of the Ewok village in the Star Wars movies. There were lots of shops on every walkway. Some people were selling handicrafts (I bought a dress and two aprons) and some were selling food. I even saw soy milk being made by hand and I had a passion fruit for the first time!

We hiked up higher for the sunset and again the next morning for the sunrise. For the tourists, the farmers had strung lights on the terraces, especially where the "Seven Stars Accompanying the Moon" was located. If you click on the picture to the left, it will be larger and hopefully you will be able to see the little lights better. The Seven Stars are the seven round, top terraces. Can you find them all?

We got a great seat on a ledge and watched the sun come up. It was wonderful....except for the mosquito bites that some of us got. There were literally hundreds of other people who were either where we were or higher up the hills watching the sunrise. I didn't see many Westerners on this part of the trip.

If we felt we needing any pampering, there were places where we could get a washair, massage, or even get our foofs massaged! This English is much better than some signs I've seen (and should start taking pictures of)!

We didn't get much sleep at the hotel because our little rooms were right over the dining room and there were many Chinese men ganbei-ing until late!

In the morning, after watching the sunrise and eating breakfast, we walked back down the hills and did a bit more shopping. I thought this little set up looked so darling. Maybe a little story time or lesson had occurred. The little stools are so cute!

After our overnight adventures in the Ewok village - I mean the rice terraces - we headed back to Guilin. Our first stop was a Tea Plantation. We saw where the tea was grown and our guide told us about how they pick different leaves in order to make the different types of tea. Then we saw a demonstration of the whole process. We had a tea ceremony where we tasted different types of tea. Lastly, we visited the gift shop where we all bought tea!

Next, we headed to the Reed Flute Cave. I was really looking forward to this part of the trip....but I was a little disappointed. Only a little. The cave was very interesting and the formations were neat. What I thought was a little over the top was the lighting in the cave. Some areas looked pretty neat, like in the picture to the left, but other areas had lighting that was not well hidden and in all sorts of colors. There was even a light show that you could see with lights embedded in the floor. We didn't stay for the light show because we had just missed the last one and the next one didn't start for some time. It was fun and I am glad that I saw it, but it wouldn't be high on my list to visit another time.

That's about it for the Guilin/Yangshuo trip! Our flight home was less eventful and we were back to work on Monday. As always, there will be more pictures on my flickr site, just as soon as I upload them!

"Zai jian!" says the cormorant fisherman.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Guilin and Yangshuo Trip Part 1

Last Tuesday, I flew down to Guilin with some four other teachers and the parents of one of those teachers and the mom of another teacher. We had staff development on Monday and Tuesday and caught an evening flight that got us to our hotel in Guilin at about 2am the next morning. It was only a 3 or 3 1/2 hour flight, but we started off late and the hotel was 45 minutes from the airport. The flight was pretty bad with screaming kids and a guy who decided to light up halfway through the flight. It was a non-smoking flight, the flight attendants did remind everyone, and there were little no smoking lights lit up all over the airplane just like we are all used to, but he smoked anyway. A Western woman ended up going over to him and pointed at the no smoking light and got him to put it out after a bit.
We woke up early the next morning, Wednesday, to take a cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo. The scenery was lovely and the weather was great as well. There were many boats cruising, but ours was full of us Westerners so every other boat we passed or that passed us, had people waving, yelling "Hello!", and taking our picture. We all got a kick out of the guide for the boat who kept telling us every 10 minutes or so that we were now at the most beautiful part and we should all go to the top of the boat to take pictures.

We also giggled a bit at another group's guide who had to explain to every single one that the round white things in one of the dishes were fish balls. We were sitting right next to the buffet of lunch dishes so we kept hearing, "Those are fish balls." "What is this?" "Fish balls." "What's in this dish?" "They are fish balls." "Fish balls!" It became a running joke the rest of the trip.

We arrived in Yangshuo and tried out our bargaining skills. I bought a "Northface" backpacking backpack for only $22! Of course I put Northface in quotes because everything on West Street where were shopping is a knock-off. So, hopefully the bag lasts for a while, but I figured $22 is fine to spend even if it only lasts a few trips.

The next morning, we got up and rented bikes. We rode our bikes through some pretty busy streets with buses, cars, trucks, motorbikes, and US! Our adrenaline was up especially when we crossed streets and especially when we had to ride through a roundabout with everyone else.

We all made it through the city and eventually we were riding in the countryside along fields and beautiful hills. Of course there were still trucks that would zoom past while blaring their horns, but we tried to focus on the pretty landscape.

We were on our way to a river to float along on bamboo rafts. We finally arrived and Mary and I got on the last raft of our group. We thought something was up, because the man was yelling about putting my bike on the raft and it took our guide yelling at him to finally have us push off to join the rest of the group already floating along.
We eventually met up with another raft with people from our group after the first waterfall. That's right, waterfalls while sitting on little chairs on skinny bamboo rafts. I'm extreme.

I commented that it seemed kind of Disneyland-esque when lo and behold! After the first waterfall, we were brought to a little tent where we could see the picture they took of us going down the waterfall! Mary and I didn't want to stop so we motioned for our raft guy to get us going. Here's where more trouble started.

Our raft guy got a beer and some peanuts and, pointing to his stomach, grunted something to us and sat down. We were a little annoyed because we were told that we were supposed to tip the guy so he wouldn't stop at all the sales tents along the river and because the rest of our group had already left. Finally, he gets the raft going for a second and yells at me. When I turn around, he throws the pole at me that he uses to push the raft. Then he sits to drink his beer and eat his peanuts.

Mary and I started laughing and gave the pole a try but soon we got frustrated as our group got further and further away. Mary decided to give someone a call to let them know we'd be a little later than the rest of the group and tell them about what was going on. By this time, we had realized that our raft guy was totally drunk and we were wondering how the next waterfalls were going to go. Later on the ride, the raft guy threw his beer bottle in the water right next to Mary and splashed her, he told some kids to spray us with waterguns while our cameras were out, and he made us help him carry the bamboo raft across the walls to go over the next waterfalls. We also had to practically leap onto the raft as it went down the waterfall instead of sitting nicely on the chairs as the raft guy pushed it over like every other raft. He knew he was in trouble and when we met up (finally!) with another of our group who spoke Mandarin, he said that he would buy us dinner to make up for it. It made for an interesting raft ride and for some good stories, but I think I want a different raft guy next time.
That night, we saw a light show in Yangshuo. The stage was the river and it was amazing! In the picture to the left, all of the men are standing on bamboo rafts and holding fabric that went across the river. I wish I had a better camera for far away night pictures. A tripod would have helped.

While we were in Guilin and Yangshuo, we realized how expensive Beijing is! A nice dinner in Beijing has been costing us around 100-150RMB, which is about $15-22. Not bad for a nice dinner, we thought. Then we came here, where we stuffed ourselves and had some beers and spent about 30-60 RMB ($4-9)!

Also, I think we got stared at a bit more. I've had my picture taken by people in Beijing, from people who come up and ask me and from people who stand with their camera phones and snap one. But in Yangshuo, twice someone came up to me in the same day to ask for my picture. One mom wanted me to pose with her daughter and a group of girls around 20 also came over and asked to take a picture with me.

That's enough for now. I still need to post about the second half of the trip. We're only at Thursday night!