Guilin! Picture paintings of China with the steep karst rock formations jetting up out of the otherwise flat land, with fog at their peaks above and bamboo rafts moved by long poles below. That’s Guilin. We are here.
Truth is we are still trying to convince our bodies to catch up with the time zone, but we forge on. Rather than a hotel, we are in an apartment—on the 13th floor, surrounded by Chinese families and ordinary life. The courtyard had exercise equipment and a big boxwood maze—for taking walks for good health, our guide says, and probably for contemplation, but it seems pretty good for running wild in and chasing your sister too.
We drove about two hours to a tranquil place called Yansou where we rode bamboo rafts slowly up the river with the rocky karst formations jetting up into the midst around us. The great excitement of the ride was when the raft charged down a little three foot waterfall, plunging the front part of the long raft under water and splashing it’s squealing riders. We spotted a painter with his easel on the bank, painting what Chinese artists have painted for hundreds of years. It was one of those hours of life to be held onto forever.
We had a cooking class, with all of us dressed up in hats and aprons. We didn’t let our seven year olds wield the vegetable clever, but we did let them each control their own flaming wok. They were amazing. Our dumplings had creative shapes and our vegetable noodles were a little bland, but we were proud of our efforts!
In an ancient Chinese village with a thousand years of history, a wrinkled man with hands deformed from arthritis waved us into his dirt-floor home from his wheel chair. He lives in just two tiny rooms, poorly lit and cluttered with clothes and life, but he proudly showed us his old carved bed, an ancient treasure of time long past.
We’ve seen silk larvae in their cocoons and touched the silk they spin. We watched children no older than ours doing anatomy-defying stunts in an acrobat show full of laser lights, parasols, rock music, and ballet. We walked on mud walls between fields where the farmers were hoeing. We saw a baby buffalo with its mother walk up and over an old stone bridge. We strolled by a Buddhist temple with incense burning. We walked through town with venders selling live fish in plastic tubs, chicken feet, and pig heads. We learned how tea is grown and harvested, then had a tea ceremony where we learned to tap our fingers three times to say thank you for being served, and to hold our cups with polite and complicated fingers.
To the kids, I think the best of has not been any of these adventures, but has been playing in the courtyard of our apartment building. This afternoon when the sun came out, so too did the little children and babies. Language is no barrier for Miranda and Phoebe. They had the babies counting with them in Chinese, chasing them in the maze, and playing on the seesaw. There is much confusion over Phoebe. We mostly just ignore it and once in a while explain it. Our life back home is full of international adoption, so we blend in. Here, not so.
And now for some voices from the children. First, from Miranda, on our scenic visit up Yaoshan Mountain and the Reed Flute Caves:
At the top of the mountain we got off and we walked around a little. We saw a little bit of dancing from some Chinese women, a.k.a. a minority group. We also went all the way to the highest point of the platform and saw most of Guilin. We saw Buddhas and two white RABBITS with leashes on. The mountains were so beautiful. They were rocky and smooth at the same time. Each one had its own unique shape. Mama noticed that the mountains look like they are layered. The front ones look the darkest, and as you go back Mama says they look lighter and lighter.
Part 2: Going halfway down. We got back on the cable cars, and this time our number was 78. We said Nihao to some of the people who were going up on the other side. People loved my hair! (Well, you don’t see very curly hair in China every day.) We were watching for our old number, and as we got close to the half-point where we would get off, we found our old number, 113! There was a young woman (not one of the dancers) and a little boy. We said Nihao to them and they said hello back, in English!
Reed Flute Caves: Really amazing! Actually, it was just a cave with lights, but it made it look amazing. Inside the cave there are stalagmites and stalactites that thousands and thousands of years old. They even went back to the age of the dinosaurs, and the age of the Qin (pronounced “Chin”) Dynasty. There were beautiful little ponds of water that weren’t very big. The water was so still that you could see amazing reflections that made them look like they were growing out of the water. One of my favorite parts is when my guide Judy found a hollow part of the stalagmite. I knocked on it and it almost sounded like tom-tom drums. One of the shapes I saw was a frog, a lion, and a big patch of snow (which they called a waterfall but I think looked like snow).
Phoebe would like to share her journal: “I landed in China. So far, I’ve been in two places, Chengdu and Guilin. I went to the panda reserve. I got a big panda. When I got here I got a little panda too. Now they are baby and mom. And I got my little panda March 8th. And I got my big panda on March 9th. Now I am at the apartment. See you tomorrow!
Good morning! Time to tell you something. I woke up at something like 9:22 a.m. Then I had breakfast and went to the tea farm. I had tea at the tea farm. Then I drove home and got out my friendship bracelet and did a little bit. Then I wrote a little bit in my notebook. Then I went to bed.”
For the next few days, we are on our own, without a guide. The pace should slow down. I’m thankful for the Mandarin lessons I’ve listened to the last few months, but it isn’t nearly enough! Here’s to adventure!