August in China: Zhuang and Dong Food

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In the Zhuang village, one of the local specialties was bamboo sticky rice. Glutinous rice was soaked in water and mixed with corn, mushroom and carrot. The mixture was then stuffed into a bamboo section then roasted over a charcoal fire. The fragrant rice would swell to fill up the whole container and form a delicate layer of rice paper coating the entire length of bamboo. It was delicious.

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It’s probably one of the earliest convenience foods. Locals would take the prepared raw bamboo packets with them as they went into the forest to work. For lunch, they would build a fire and cook the bamboo packets. Et voila! Lunch on the go. The best part was that the packaging is biodegradable and left in the forest. Free hands to take timber back to the village.

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For the tourists’ bamboo rice, grills were put behind the restaurant. Check out the nifty built-in handle carved out of the bamboo.

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At the Dong village, we ducked into this little noodle shop for lunch.  It was the only food shop in the vicinity and it had only one dish on the menu. The best part was watching our noodles made before our eyes outside the little shack. This was mingling with the locals at its best.

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As we eagerly waited for our noodles, this group of boys happily slurped theirs down. They were eating with such gusto, it had to be good.

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And it was! This version was slightly lighter than the one in Yangshuo. It had far more fresh vegetables (pumpkin shoots, very yummy) in it and there was the option of adding extra chilli to taste. Wonderful. It cost all of ¥3 per bowl.

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August in China: Food in Yangshuo and Guilin

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The first night in Yangshuo was my first time in a less developed part of China. Tortoise and I thought we’d eat at one of the bustling local restaurants. I was so amused when our crockery arrived pre-sterilised in a vacuum pack. There was no need for the usual rinsing with a splash of hot water. No pictures of the dinner we had because we were too hungry and forgot to take pictures. We had beer duck (pi jiu ya) which was quite spicy but had no trace of beer in it. We had difficulty finding the meat as all the pieces seemed to be nothing but bone and gristle. I suppose that’s the consequence of being in the countryside.

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The next morning we staggered out for breakfast at this makeshift stall selling Guilin mifen (rice noodles). The lady would hand over a bowl of noodles topped with minced meat and black fungus, and then it’s up to the customer to add the ingredients to taste. There was piping hot pork stock (of course fortified with msg), several kinds of pickles and boiled soy beans.

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It was a delicious combination. I particularly liked the kang kong and long bean pickles and developed a taste for them from then on. The combination of ferment, sour and spicy was so addictive that for the rest of the trip I’d often seek out Guilin noodles or anything with long bean pickle in them.

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Stopping for lunch, we also had horse noodles (ma rou fen). It’s been a long time since I last had horse (that was in sandwiches in Germany). It tasted a bit like venison and was quite robust and pleasingly chewy. I liked it, but Guilin noodles are still better.

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August in China: Bicycle Trip in the Karst

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In the morning, Tortoise and I decided to brave the rain and go cycling in the karst area.  Sure, the weather wasn’t the best but the clouds, while obscuring the view slightly, made it even more romantic and atmospheric. There were a few intriguing sights to see and of course a few calories to burn.

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It all looked rather lovely and we almost forgot that we were living in modern civilisation. Almost forgot until we almost got run over by this tour bus!

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We passed by a few atrocities like this ghastly butterfly advertising some Butterfly Springs. We wisely ignored it and headed on.

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After a couple hours on our extraordinarily slow single gear bikes, with everyone and his mum overtaking us, we finally made it to our destination. This is Yue Liang Shan (Moon Hill), with the oddest circular archway I’ve ever seen.

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It was a slippery one-hour climb up. Thankfully the monotony of climbing the steps was broken by the fun-with-English signs along the way.

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I suppose in their concern for the safety of tourists, they forgot that people might fall over from laughing at their odd translations!

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After coming back down from the hill, we cycled back in the rain, happy that we were on the way back instead of on the way there, like these people here.

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We also passed by another section of the Li River and where there was more bamboo rafting and water shooting going on.

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With the hills looming and the river flowing placidly alongside the colourful umbrellas, it was a lovely sight. No wonder so many tourists visited.

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August in China: Yangshuo

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Tortoise and I headed over to Yangshuo, which was about a couple of hours away by coach. While still touristy, this place certainly has a lot more charm than Guilin. It has slightly cheesy but very atmospheric restored ancient street, complete with old-style inns and dining places. It was fantastic walking down the street and looking up to see the hills looming above.

Still, there was no escaping the tourists. Check out the number of tour buses and coaches in the small tourist parking area.

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We made arrangements through our guest house for a trip on the Li River. After about an hour on public transport in a packed minibus and then a modified jumbo tuk-tuk of sorts, we came face to face with one of the most famous images in China.

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This appears on the back of a ¥20 note so we had no choice but to follow the lead of the domestic tourists to whip out our prepared notes for a photo!

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We then got onto our private bamboo raft and chugged up the river. It’s a pity that the sun was in our eyes and the light wasn’t good for photos. You’ll just have to make do with the ones here.

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The limestone formations here covered the gamut of weird and wonderful. Our map described a good 10 names of features we could hardly make out. After a couple of times shouting over the phut-phut of the engine to our raft driver, we gave up trying to figure out which name corresponded to which spot. It was all starting to look the same kinds of weird to us.

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Before long, other rafts carrying domestic tourists came by and starting spraying water on us. They’d bought plastic spray guns from street vendors and indiscriminately drenched passing rafts. We beseeched our bewildered raftman to avoid them as far as possible. He probably wondered why we didn’t want to have fun playing in the magical murky waters. No good pictures of the water fights for fear of getting too close and then being caught in the crossfire!

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August in China: Guilin City

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Tortoise had flown into Guilin with me. She’d have her weekend getaway after which I’d part ways with her and head northwest.

Guilin is one of those places whose name alone evokes so many romantic images of beautiful shan shui (literally: water and mountain) landscapes. Even those who’ve not been to Guilin before wax lyrical about the beauty of the place. However, the city itself is a bit of a letdown as there’s no escape from the grey monoliths of commerce. Granted, it’s prettier than the average second tier city in China, with tree-lined avenues and parks dotting the city. Aside from the few parks, there’s not much else to Guilin city.

One such park is the famous Xiang Bi Shan (literally: elephant trunk hill). One of the bizarre rock formations looks exactly like the side profile of an elephant half-immersed in the water. Tortoise and I weren’t too keen on paying the ridiculous entrance fees just to see a lump of rock. If memory serves me right, it cost ¥60 here.

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The park designers were devilishly smart in planning this place. We managed to spy the rock formation through the gate and past lush trees and shrubbery. We could just about see it with the naked eye, but it was impossible to snap a picture from the outside at all. We gave up and sat at the outside, instead snapping a picture of this tiny elephant holding up the concrete railing.

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A minor attraction in the area are the Sun and Moon Pavilions (ri yue ta). They’re prettily set in a lake and the reflection from the recent rain made it rather pretty.

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Tortoise and I sat at the park for a while just observing the numerous domestic tour groups passing through the area. There was an elevated platform in front of the pavilions on which groups like to pose for pictures. Here’s one of a group from Hainan University.

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And here’s another of a family with two very bouncy and thoroughly spoilt little girls. We were fascinated by new dynamics in family structure. The function of the adults were just to dispense money and attention. The kids seemed to run the show and had every whim met. They were also experts in acting cute. Check out the heart pose in the picture below.

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After dinner, we passed by the pavilions again. I think it’s a lot prettier in the dark. No prizes for guessing which pavilion is which!

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