We’ve left the Urumichi area, which means oasis. It is part of the Gobi desert and we saw oil refineries that the government controls. We are headed for Guilin, pronounced guay-leen and the roadsides are lush with terraced gardens. In 1998, this area flooded and 1500 people died. The government let the area return to farmland and forest. Makes me think of New Orleans, where the best solution is to let the river have its way, but we don’t have an autocratic government, we have property rights and developers rights and political sensitivity. The horrifically expensive taxpayer fix will result in more flooding, reduced wetlands necessary to buffer severe storms, more loss of property and life, and eventually the City of New Orleans will sink anyway. The Army Corps of Engineers keeps building levees and moving sand from one beach to another ignoring science and heeding the popular political fix.
Clustered housing here is practical and uses less land than individual farms. A collective. It is a method that can stifle innovation and experimentation. But, Vicki says, it is tried and true. After all, people have occupied the area along the Li River since 214 B.C. Why not high rises? Because no one can build higher than 20 floors so not to obscure the view of the beautiful mountains. Oh, my. A sentiment to admire.
Guilin was destroyed by Japanese bombs, but has been rebuilt. We are aghast when Vicki calls Guilin a small city of only 640,000 people covering 67 kilometers. We stop at a tea factory for a formal tea tasting. As in days of old, tea is packed into bales, bricks, wheels and multiple sized rounds. We find the same shapes we saw in Jiliang that we didn’t recognize as tea. Not a tea bag in sight.
Everything here is loose leaf and smells divine. The city is famous for its osthumansis (acacia) trees that are in bloom. Intensely fragrant, like orange blossoms, they are used to make wine, tea and perfume. Guilin has 13 nationalities. The Yau and Dow are predominant. There are 3,000 caves in the mountains here, many of them open to tourists.
This magnificently carved wooden Buddha tray is outfitted with a gas burner and we are about to taste ten different kinds of tea. The rules are thus: First, you smell the cup. Then you sniff the tea and chew the leaves a bit to make sure it is good and strong. Then hot water is poured in the cup to warm it while the tea is brewing in hot (not boiling) water. You surround the cup with your hands to warm them. You can drink the water or pour it out before the tea is poured. Then you slurp noisily. That is considered the best way. It was fun. Then there was theatrics of tea. A dragon tea pot that turns from green to red when the hot water is poured into it. And a baby boy tea pot that pisses into your cup when the water heats it. There was a lot of slurping and laughing and talking and comparing. They sell aged, 28 year old Puer tea, said to reduce blood pressure, cure diabetes and clean your liver. You can use the leaves nine times before the flavor and benefits disappear. Hmmm! I bought some. It stayed flavorful for about four cups made with the same leaves. Their cups are smaller than mine, though.
We get to our beautiful hotel and Michal is taken by a carved jade dragon boat. Priceless. It is a free day for us and we can wander the town and eat anywhere we want though Vicki warns us to beware of pick pockets and even some merchants are rip-off artists. Our stop here is to boat up the Li River and see a part of old China and some famous, mystical rock formations.
Guilin is quite modern and university students go to coffee shops like Western students do. The whole city smells like orange blossoms though we don’t see the trees. The Dau people hold a folk song festival in Guilin in the spring. The Dau people have a beautiful courtship ritual. A woman throws her bouquet at the man she wants. If he catches it, that is his acceptance and they are one.
As we gaze around we run into Vicki and she points out a modern Chinese pharmacy.
Kind of reminds us of a fish and herb market. But, there are lizards and insects and worms and animal parts, very clean and dried.
The Chinese have centuries of medicinal experimentation with herbs and such and it seems prudent to respect it, even while we know many remedies don’t work, such as rhinoceros horn and other animal parts. Our own drug companies have learned much from the Chinese. They are healthy people.
After dinner we load into a boat near these Twin Pagodas for a ride on the Li and Peach Blossum Rivers as they merge together and form four city lakes. These pagodas are joined underwater and one can swim into and out of them. At night they are lit up beautifully.
Pictures are impossible, but you get the idea, anyway. The lake shores on all sides are lit up like Christmas trees. Entertainers sing from various famous boat replicas, like the Marble boat from the Summer Palace, and a dragon boat. Bands play modern and traditional music every section of the way. You see people dining on shore or in pretty boats as you continually pass under bridges, all replicas of famous bridges. Twelve of them. Each has frescoes of great beauty and interest. We point and guess, the Brooklyn Bridge, Golden Gate, Glass Bridge, Cambridge Math Class Bridge. We didn’t recognize them all. It was another dreamland journey as we stayed mesmerized by the passing scenes. Near the turning point we saw fishermen night fishing with their cormorants. The boatman smacks them with his cane if they try to steal a fish out of the basket and pretend they caught it. He calls to them, “Ai, ai, ai!” The birds continually fly out and back. We see live fish, flopping in the baskets that will soon be delivered to a local restaurant. Another magical experience that clings forever in memory.