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: Cormorant Fishing

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In Yangshuo, there’s nothing much to do after dark except to go cormorant fishing. We started off at the boat landing and got into a rickety wooden boat. Thankfully there was shelter as it soon started to rain. It was far too dark to take decent photos. (At that point my point and shoot camera was one of the crappier models.)

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Our cormorant fisherman came up on his bamboo raft, feathery helpers in tow. The poor fellow had to put on waterproofs because of the drizzle. He unhooked each of his five cormorants from its perch on the raft and tossed them into the water. They went racing underwater and all bets were off for which side of the boat a bird would next pop up from.

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Upon surfacing, a bird would often have a fish or two in its mouth. It would attempt to swallow them whole but a ring around its neck prevented the fish from sliding down. This was when the fishermen would skilfully hook the bird by the foot, grab it and turn it upside down to empty the cormorant of fish. After that, the bird was tossed back into the water to continue its quest. It was a rather odd sight!

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When the show was over, the fisherman caught each bird and put them back in place on the raft. They were so well-trained that they just stood there and made no attempt to go back in the water. All this one did was to show off by flapping its wings open. I suppose they need to dry out somehow!

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Here’s the rather meagre catch of the evening. I suppose they’ll go to the cormorants for their supper! Nobody fishes for the fish here, it’s all for the tourist dollar. Just as well, so the cormorants won’t go too hungry. I asked the fisherman whether it took a lot of skill to fish this way. It was quite funny the way he pooh-poohed the idea, saying that anyone could learn very easily. I’d probably fall off the raft trying to hook a cormorant!

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At the end, we posed for pictures with the nicest cormorant. The fisherman said that this was his best bird and that it was very guai (literally: well-behaved) and that it didn’t bite or steal things. Still, it was a bit intimidating to have a big bird flap its wings open on my shoulder!

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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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