Beijing, China

Our Great Wall trip also included a few days in Beijing, the capital of China. With a population of 21.5 million people, Beijing is the nation's second-largest city after Shanghai.

It is a modern city known for the ancient temples, the Forbidden City, Olympic stadiums and terrible pollution.  It also has some of the most expensive real estate in the world. 


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As pretty as the modern part of the city is, we preferred the hutongs (residential neighborhoods which form the heart of Old Beijing). 



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He's a big boy.


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Doesn't this meal look good?  Having translation problems with a menu that was in Chinese characters, we ordered this dish by pointing at a photo.  When it arrived at the table D took a bite and assessed it to be kidneys.  We then googled "kidney" in Chinese and showed it to our waiter.  He nodded yes and I ate rice. 


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The next three photos are my favorite of the trip.  Peanuts anyone?



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Obviously someone likes peanuts.  Look closely at his mouth.


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So did he fall asleep with the peanuts in his mouth or did someone place them there?  So funny!






It is always interesting to see the different modes of transportation in various countries.



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This one is so cute!


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Most everywhere we travel in Asia a post-lunch nap is essential for shopkeepers.  And they really do not care if customers come in to shop.  Yes, the sleeping lady on the cot is the owner.  I decided not to buy so I did not need to wake her up!


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 The summer Palace

The Summer Palace was built in 1750 and was destroyed in the war of 1860.  It was restored on its original foundations in 1886 and is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design.  It was used for the Imperial family to get away from the heat of the forbidden city.  Today it is only used for tourism.


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The Forbidden City

Also known as the Palace Museum, it lies at the city center of Beijing, and once served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911).



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The Forbidden City was declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987.  It holds the title of the world's largest preservation of wooden structures from ancient world.



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Around one million artifacts are housed within the Palace Museum and they are considered Chinese National Heritage items and under the protection of the Chinese government.


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I can't end this blog without a little clip of my shopping! 

First, here is D at the market... patiently waiting for me.  What a great hubby!



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It was a large indoor market with many treasures.



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Look at all the chops (stamps)!!  Did you know that in many Asian countries they still use chops in lieu of signatures for personal documents, office paperwork, contracts, art, or any item requiring acknowledgement or authorship?



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Me, happy with my purchases!  The vendor was very excited that I was so interested in the chops.


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This vendor was very popular.  He was selling seed pods from a Banyon tree.  They are really fun as you have no idea what it will look like until he polishes it.  People analyzed the pods forever until they picked one.  I guess they knew what they were looking for.  We bought a few. 


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I was exhausted after my shopping and made D get me a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel.  As always... safety first!


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With all of our travel in Asian, we had never seen this.  It was in the closet of our hotel.  To be used in case of a nuclear attack... we are glad we did not have to use it. 


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This was a quick trip but we really enjoyed seeing the city of Beijing!

Hong Kong - a beautiful, modern city


Hong Kong

August 2014





This was our second trip to Hong Kong, the first was in 2003 and it was our very first visit to an Asian country.  Never in a million years would we have thought we were going to live in Asia!  We forgot how beautiful Hong Kong is with its modern buildings juxtaposed with natural beauty.





It has a wonderful blend of old and new...


Old adn new


and a little unusual...






Technically Hong Kong is not a country - it is considered a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China.  Although under Chinese control, Hong Kong retains its own independent nature.  It has its own money, passports, and legal system.







Below is the view from our hotel.  I just love the reflections in the building windows.









The Markets


A half-naked man smoking a cigarette - looks like he is posing for the sexiest fisherman's calendar  :  )











The markets were very orderly, clean, and neat.  Hong Kong in general is a pretty clean city.  Not quite Singapore clean, but still clean.













Food and tea...


We visited a very unique cafe - the Cat Cafe.  Where cats were free to roam all over, even in the kitchen!  Pretty sure you will not see this in the United States.   Click  here to read more about it on my art blog, ma vie trouvee.





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A very unusual tea spout.






My lunch one day - and I was very happy that it came out looking exactly like the photo as there was no English signs.










Temples and parks


The Chi Lin Nunnery was founded in 1934 but was rebuilt in the 1990s following the style of Tang Dynasty traditional Chinese architecture.





Nan Lian Garden, created in 2006, is a Tang-style landscaped Chinese garden of classical elegance based on the blueprint of the famous Jiangshouju Garden in Shanxi Province.






Harbor Views

The Hong Kong Skyline is said to be one of the most beautiful skylines in the world. 












The “Avenue of Stars” is modeled after Hollywood's Walk of Fame.  It honors celebrities in Hong Kong‘s film industry.  







City Streets - chaotic and colorful...








We get to spend 10 days in Hong Kong again in November.  I can't wait to explore more of this interesting city!


China: Part II - Rice terraces of Longji and the city of Guilin


The Dragon Back Rice Terraces

Longji, China


This truly was a magical place... with breathtaking scenery.


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Our arrival

It was quite the event just getting to our hotel.  Luckily, I had researched enough to know that we should not attempt to carry our suitcases on our own.  When our driver stopped at the entrance to the village and several people came towards us with baskets, we knew what to expect.  No English was spoken as we negotiated the price to carry both suitcases.

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One of the suitcases was too heavy for one man to carry, so it was placed in a special carrier.  Note: Many of the carriers we saw were little old ladies!

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It was worth the hike up to our hotel.  We had the most amazing view from our hotel window!



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This shot was taken with the window open - just stunning!


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A quick lunch at our hotel before a mini-hike.  They had a sweet little dining area.


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... with an awesome view, of course.


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We enjoyed a local specialty, rice with bacon, cooked in bamboo.  The locals call it zhutongfan (baked bamboo rice).



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They put the rice, along with peanuts, bacon, beans or other materials into the bamboo tubes and grill it on an open fire.  Very tasty.


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We headed out for an hour-and-a-half hike on our first afternoon.  We were very lucky, as there were very few tourists the entire visit.

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Located in Longsheng County in China, the Longji Rice Terraces are one of the most magnificent sights we have seen. 

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They can be traced back 1000 years ago, to the Yuan Dynasty; however, most of the rice terraces were built during the Ming Dynasty, 500 years ago. 

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The terraces are distinctly different during the four seasons of the year.  In the spring, the seeds are planted so you see rivers of glistening water.  In the summer, lush green shoots (this is what we saw).  In the fall they turn a golden color and in winter, they are covered in a layer of silvery frost.


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Living among the rice fields are ethnic minority groups.  China has a total of 56 Ethnic Minority Groups.  In Longji, the three largest groups are the Yao, Zhuang, and Miao.


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During the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), many minority groups were forced to flee to the mountains. Being primarily an agarian society, they needed to find a way to continue agriculture on the steep sides of the mountains. They ingeniously turned the mountains into terraced rice fields and have been farming them ever since.


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The little village of Ping' An


We stayed in Ping'An, a 300-year-old minority village.  There are about 200 families living in this small village. 


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We saw many of the women wearing their traditional, colorful headwear.


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There was a lot of corn...not sure where they were growing it!



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Me, in front of our hotel, ready for the "what we were told was a 4-hour walk, but turned into a 6-hour" walk!


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 The 6-hour walk...

We started the journey in Ping An.   


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Many sites recommend that you pick up a guide for the walk.  We did not have a guide, and we did not have any problems.  The path is well marked.

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In the next two photos you can really see how the trail twists and turns along the terrace edge.   


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During our walk we saw many of the local people - most of them working in the rice fields.



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The famous longhaired women


The Yao women wear bright pink embroidered clothing with heavy silver earrings. They are famous for their extremely long hair and are listed in the Guinness Book of World's Records.


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They only cut their hair twice during their lives. Once when they reach eighteen, and again when they marry. They keep the cut lengths of hair and wear them wrapped around on their heads.  The older woman is holding the woman in pink's two cuts of hair.  We were teasing her that the long hair was fake.  She spoke a little English and was quite funny.


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Below she is twisting the cut hair back into her real hair.

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Unmarried women coil their hair and cover it with a black kerchief while married women twist their bundles and coil it into a bun on the top of their head.  So the woman below was never married.


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You can see how the weight of the earring has torn her ear.  I read that the larger the earring, the wealthier they are.


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The people of this community work hard for very little money.


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No cars were allowed in the town and they certainly could not go on the terraces.  The common way to carry things along the narrow terrace paths was with a mule.

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We thought it was interesting the way he carried his knife.

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Don't try this at home.  This woman had to be in her late 70's - early 80's.  Why was she climbing on the roof?


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To tend to her red hot peppers.  At least she has a chair to take a rest. 


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 More amazing scenery.



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The bright green rice plants looked like ribbons wrapped around the mountain.



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A well deserved lunch break.  We ate a snickers bar and peanuts for lunch!  How about that view?


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The terraces looked like a three-dimensional sculptures that changed every corner we took.


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We ended our walk in the village of Dazhai. 



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New friends we met along the hike, all staying at our village.  A couple from Amsterdam and one young woman from France (living in India).  We had to wait two hours until the bus came to take us back to Ping An.  We ended up having dinner with the Dutch couple. 


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Locals at a store across from the bus stop.



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Rain and Rest

The next morning heavy fog rolled in.  We thought it would burn off, but by 11:00 the heavy rains started.  We did not mind.  After the long day of walking the day before, it was nice to take a break and enjoy the unique views the fog brought to the area.

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Below you can see two locals carrying a lazy tourist up the mountain in bamboo sedan chairs.  We saw 20 or so of these on the day it rained and they were not all Westerners, there were Chinese tourists as well.

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After the rain, a very different view of the terraces, equally as beautiful.



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We would love to go back three more times so we could see the different seasons of the rice fields.  We highly recommend a visit here!



Guilin - Capital of Guangxi Province


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We spent the last day and a half of our vacation in Guilin.  It was more beautiful and more modern then we were expecting.  Still a lack of Engish spoken, but all signs and menus were in English.  We found people to be very friendly and they went out of their way to help us.

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Guilin has a history dating back more than 2,000 years.  It mixes old world charm with modern conveniences... including cheap shopping!  You can visit my art blog to see what we bought.


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Like many Asian cities, the people used the sidewalks as living areas.  Here they are playing cards and dominoes.


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As far as the eye can see, people were exercising in the morning in the park across from our hotel.


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We were guessing these ladies all worked for a hotel.  What fun to start the day with exercise.  Check out the young lady to the far right - in her high heels!


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Older ladies dancing with fans.


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We really enjoyed Guilin.  Many people just use it to fly into and then only visit the Karst Mountains and the rice fields.  If you come to this area, you need to allow a day or two to enjoy this fun city. 



China: Part I - Yangshuo Region


Yangshuo, China


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We flew into the city of Guilin, and immediately drove south for an hour and a half to the small village of Jiuxian (shown below).  Talk about being off the beaten path!  It is in the Guangxi Province of southern China, about 15 minutes outside of Yangshuo, the largest town in the area.  


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We picked this region to visit because it is known for its beautiful scenery created by the amazing Karst mountains. The Karst Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are made of limestone.  South China is one of the most well known Karst areas in the world and Yangshuo is a rare example of this specific topography in terms of its scale and uniqueness.  



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Our hotel, Yangshuo Secret Garden, was charming. Fengzi and Faye restored five 200-year-old Qing Dynasty houses and created a hotel just over a year ago.  Currently it has six rooms, two of which are suites.  Despite its remoteness, it was a very nice boutique hotel.

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The buildings are linked by small gardens, courtyards, and shared sitting rooms.  They have a restaurant on-site with a really good chef.  We enjoyed many of his dishes, especially the twice-cooked pork.  A quick note about the lack of English spoken in China.  It was on par with Russia, except that they had signs and menus in English which made a huge difference in helping us to nagivigate throughout the country.



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Bamboo rafting down the Yangshuo River


We spent a peaceful afternoon on the water.  At first we were concerned this might be too touristy, but it turned out to be our favorite event in this region.  Once we proceded past the launching point, there were no other tourist boats in sight and we enjoyed 90 minutes of jaw-dropping scenery.


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We climbed aboard the two-seater bamboo raft guided by a man with a long bamboo pole.  The current is very gentle so we basically just floated down the river.   He pointed out interesting scenes along the way, most of which we could not understand because he only spoke in Chinese; but, he was friendly and enthuiastic so we politely nodded our heads and took  photos of what he pointed to.

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A group of boys having fun swimming under the famous 400-year-old Yulong Bridge.



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It was a slightly hazy day, but we were told that is was perfect for photographing  reflections on the water.  They were right; we had gorgeous mirror images of the mountains.


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Local people use bamboo rafts as daily transportation up and down the river between their houses, markets, and rice paddies.





We saw two wedding photo shoots while we were rafting.  Talk about drop dead gorgeous.... the bride, the scenery, and the photos.  It was like a fairytale!


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 The second couple:

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The last section of the river was an area where people were playing with squirt guns and swimming.  It surprised us after having such a peaceful ride.  Most were Chinese tourists and they did not hesitate to squirt us with water!  I was squealing "please don't squirt me" - D was just laughing!


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Our little village, Jiuxian 


We enjoyed wandering around our small village and seeing how the local people live.  It was as if we stepped back in time 100 years.  Most of the old stone homes do not have electricity - so no televisions, no refrigerators, and no Internet!  In some homes, they still use charcoal or kerosene stoves.  All of them kept their front doors open so it was easy to look inside their very modest homes.


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This sweet woman let me take her photo.... for a small fee.  Unfortunately, everyone, young and old, put out their hand when we asked if we could take their photo.  Most we just skipped, but this woman interested me with so much character to her face.



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The women above and below are wearing the tradional blue/purple dress of the region; with fabric which has a very small circular pattern.


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This woman did let me take her photo without asking for money, one of the few.  Her expression looks like she has a good secret to tell.



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It is fascinating how different countries stack hay.  Something that you would think would be done universally.  I need to write a book on this - hay stacking around the globe  :  )  


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Many of the houses had cotton, peanuts, and rice drying in the front yards.



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Two watchdogs keeping a close eye on their family rice...or maybe just a soft spot for a nap on top of the rice kernals.



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These two were a little more alert - keeping watch from on top of the roof.  How DID they get up there?


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An advertisement on the side of a building.


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The photo was taken in the early morning hours, with a little fog rolling in.


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The next was taken at sunset in our village.  The sun setting cast a beautiful pink glow on the mountains.


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A rice field that was recently harvested.  All the scenes were so beautiful with the Karst Mountains peeking through the background. 



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It was humbling to see how simple they live in today's modern world.


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The food market in Fuli town.


This was NOT a tourist sight.  It was the local market and we were the only westerners there.  It was chaotic, like no other market we have ever experienced...and we have seen quite a few!



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It was a very large market and had a very active food court, with our favorite tiny chairs.



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We saw everything at the market  - men enjoying tea on the tiny chairs...


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A half-naked butcher...



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A barber...

Where D wanted to get a shave with a straight blade -  "it would be a great photo for the blog".  My response...No!  Are you crazy?  What if they accidently cut you... no telling what you might get.  He left pouting......told me I was a "joy squasher".   


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A witch doctor... 

He was not for show, as I mentioned, we were the only westerns there.  This was the real deal.  He was treating a woman's shoulder with a magical blend.  This is when I wished I could understand the language.  


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We saw bored children.....



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Fruit and veggie sellers...



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Butchers and fish mongers...



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And noodle vendors...



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But what fascinated us the most, were the chicken and duck vendors.



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How they housed them...


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How they weighed them...


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How they displayed the cleaned ones...


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How they carry them (look near the front wheel). The chicken is still alive for the ride home.


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Even how they took naps with them  :  )


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Rafting down the Li River


The Li River was as scenic as the Yangshuo River.  The mountains seemed to be denser on this river. 



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This trip was on a motorized raft, but still just the two of us with a gondolier.  Most of this region of China is covered in fog year round, but that added to the mystique of the river.  Every corner we went around was more spectacular than the last.


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The Li River originates in the Mao'er Mountains in Xing'an County and flows in a southern direction through Guilin.


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The unusual Karst topography hillsides have been compared to those at Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, which we visited in May of this year.  Both are beautiful sights to see and very different.


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People still live on the water the way they have for centuries. 


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The town of Xingping


The raft ride ended in the town of Xingping, an ancient town with a history of more than 1300 years. You can see beautiful examples of the Ming Dynasty architecture, and fine wood carving dating back to more than five hundred years.



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Since the raft trips end here, you would think it would be very touristy.  But it was not.  We were there around lunch time and the streets were empty.  The scene below demonstrates what every single shop keeper seems to do during lunch in rural China: They either take a nap or play cards.  Most play cards, and we must have seen hundreds of Chinese workers playing cards every afternoon during this trip.


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We went back to the town of Fuli as we read there was a very quaint part of town we missed and it was one of the oldest towns in the area, over 800 years old.  I like this photo of the young girls, the new generation in a town so rich with history.  They look like they are having fun.


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I call this photo "the storyteller".  Doesn't it look like the wee one is deep in a story and the others are hanging on to every word he says?



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I have to share the second photo of the group - precious!


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Ohhhhh and one more!


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And this little guy...if you look closely you will see the whole back of his pants are slit open.  I have never seen this in any other country, but here, it was quite common.  All the little children under 3 or so had split pants - no they could just pee freely.  Where did they pee you ask - everywhere!   In the streets, in the stores.... not the cleanliest method!



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Hey grandma - wait for me!


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They were celebrating the festival of the ghost when were visiting.  We went around for two days saying it was the goat festival.  We were confused when we were at the market because we didn't see any goats.  We even told a few people (other tourists) that it was the festival the goat.  We eventually learned it was "ghost" not "goat".  Not the only miscommunication we had during the trip  :  )


In the photo below, the woman is preparing a chicken.  We learned that the family would eat the chicken that was offered to the ghost for dinner that evening.


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The ghost festival is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month. The entire month is actually called ghost month.  But the big celebration is during the full moon.  It represents the connections between the living and the dead, earth and heaven, body and soul.


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Activities of the festival include preparing ritual offerings of food, and burning ghost money (or paper money) to please the ghosts and spirits as well as deities and ancestors. 


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Starting in the early evening – we heard random firecrackers going off all over our little village and in the distance.  We were told that this was done to scare away the ghosts.  I felt pretty sure I was not going to see any ghosts that night.



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Most homes have a photo of Mao Tse-Tung taped to the wall.  Commonly referred to as Chairman Mao, he was a Chinese communist revolutionary, political theorist and politician and the founding father of the People's Republic of China (PRC).


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Fuli town is famous for their handmade folding fans.  Each fan is one of a kind. 


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Artists  use bamboo to make the fan ribs, and tissue paper for its covering.  Below, the spines of the fans are drying in the sun.


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Each one is hand painted, mainly with scenes of area landscape, as well as local culture.  We did not buy one. Not really our style of decor.


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That afternoon we visited Yangshuo, the largest town in the area.  It is nestled in the Karst mountains.  Yangshuo is ancient, over 1,000 years old. It was populated during the Jin Dynasty (265-420AD).


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Isn't this a great photo? 


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 This town had the most beautiful McDonald's setting in the world. 


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It had a more modern feel then the smaller towns we had visited.


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My FAVORITE dish of the entire trip - eggplant hotpot with pork.  Perfectly spiced - a little hot.  I had it many times during the trip,  but this version was the best!


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We really did ride in this little truck-like cart, on the highway!  We are not sure he was an official taxi.  We think he just saw two westerns and figured he could get a little money.  We were desperate for a ride, so all parties were happy.


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The local dentist office...



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and the barber shop.


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The ubiquitous lunch scene... with the afternoon card game.


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A random photo of D that I really like.

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We had so many facintating photos we wanted to share - but the blog just got too long.  So I put them in a slide show - with music.  We hope you enjoy it!




Click here for part two of the China adventure - The striking Dragon Rice Terraces of Ping An.