Monday, January 11, 2010

Guilin : Day 6 Longji

We left Yangshuo in a private van driven by Xiao Jiang ("Little Say", remember him?). Our agreed fare was 600 Yuan/RM300/US$83 from Yangshuo to Longji (4 hours, because Little Say drove at 50 kmph) and back to Guilin and we were to provide meals and accommodation. If we took the bus, it would have cost us less than half that amount but that would have meant that when we got to Longji, which we knew nothing about, we would not have any transport.

Longji (meaning the dragon's backbone) is only 2 hours from Guilin, hidden in the mist and slopes of hills. It is an area famous for terraced rice fields, like those in Bali. I love Longji for the scenery (although it was not at its best that time of the year, the terraces being brown and heavy mist covered the hills most of the time) and the fact that the Zhuang people of that area still keep their traditional way of life. Because it was cold, the famous long haired girls of Longji were not out to show off their floor-length tresses.

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We got to the gate of Ping An Village in Longji at 2:30 pm and confusion awaited us. We were told that we needed to pay an entrance fee to get pass the gate into the village. To buy the entrance fee, we'd need to show our accommodation booking but we didn't make prior booking so we couldn't buy the entrance fare. Tour guides and hotel agents then surrounded us, all claiming to have the best inns up in the mountains. Hub settled on Countryside Inn, the cost being the highest. He figured that that would be the safest bet. Besides, 'highest' was only 120 Yuan/RM60/US$17 per room. Once we paid for the rooms, we were allowed through the gate. Porters grabbed our bags, hoisting them over the baskets on their backs, charging 20-30 Yuan depending on the size.
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We followed the porters up the hill, admiring the terraced rice fields around us. It was misty, but we could still see the surrounding scenery. Up and up we climbed and I had to stop and buy a boiled sweet potato because I hadn't eaten anything since my bowl of instant noodles the night before. The sweet potato was amazingly smooth, sweet and full of aroma, almost like perfume.
We turned a corner and there stood multi-storeyed wooden houses, ancient and beautiful with the mist thickening around them. I felt like I was back in time by 700 years (the rice fields of Longji were first cultivated around 1300 AD). Yi and Hub wondered at the scenery while my sons walked on like they'd seen it before. Another example of why (most) men are from Mars.

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Our inn was good and clean. Because we took two rooms and it was low season, Little Say was given a free room. We spent the afternoon exploring the village, going up and down the narrow steps of the paths that connect the houses. Imagine a whole village of 800 people perched on hills, connected by steep stone paths. The lower and scenic-facing slopes were taken up by inns while the houses of the villagers were in the background. Some areas were off-limits by their smells: pigs kept underneath some houses gave off a stench that stopped me from walking further. Chickens and ducks searched for food and a rat rotted on the path; I nearly stepped on it. That was Longji--breathtakingly beautiful but shocking when you look close, especially between and under the houses.
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The mist thickened and it got very cold (4 C at night) so we returned to the inn to rest. I was awakened by the chill in my body (despite the heater in the room) and went downstairs to the lounge where my boys were playing computer games (the internet service up in Longji was fast but Blogger, Facebook and most sites were blocked by the government. The only service available was the email) and my Hub, Yi and Little Say were watching Liu sanjie, the movie. An Israeli couple with two toddlers checked in, speaking beautiful perfect Mandarin that put us all to shame. A backpacker walked in. Vic was from Poland and he and I spent the next hour exchanging travel tales, warming our hands (and my frozen toes which were numb) over glowing charcoals placed in an old wok. He told me about a village wedding that he was invited to in Yunnan, up north, and how he was told to run for the forest when his stomach acted up after the feast. As he ran, a pig followed him. The rest is up to your imagination but Vic's timing was quite bad because right after he told me how he realized with horror that the pig probably habitually ran after anyone who ran into the forest, we were called to dinner. If you remember, I didn't have a proper meal in two days because of all the spitting I saw in Yangshuo (and Guilin) and I totally lost my appetite. I watched as my family hungrily ate all the food; I nibbled on some to keep warm/alive. In China, veggies and pigs are human-manure organic, I concluded. I just couldn't tell them at that point about the pig because they were going "Wah, seriously tasty meal!" Wey was a little upset about our Guilin trip by then because meat was always served sliced thinly (not in chunks) and in small portions. He obsessed about the food he wanted to eat when we get home.

Vic was in another Longji village, a couple of hours away, a few days before. He said the trekking was great and that we must trek to a totally remote village about 2 hours away once the weather got better. But the next morning, our last day in Longji, we woke up to mist so thick we couldn't see beyond 10 meters. We packed to leave Longji because the mist was not going to clear. It was so unfortunate because Longji was so amazingly beautiful and off the beaten tourist path at that time of the year.
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A simple dish of scrambled eggs with Chinese chives.

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'Return to the wok' or twice-cooked pork was superb, I was told.

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Another tasty dish was tofu in soya beans sauce.

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Waxed bacon with dried bamboo shoots.

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This brinjal dish was so good that I went into the kitchen to ask the chef for the recipe but he was non-responsive, saying only that a good douban jiang (soy bean chili paste) made the dish good.
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Yi or Ming dropped this onto Wey's side plate and it made him sick. When we were small, my sister and I would dig the brains (that whitish pulp) out with our chopstick. It was yum but now it does look rather gross. For those who don't know, this is the head of a chicken, likely a cockerel.

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Cobs of corn drying at the front of every house, stored to feed the pigs in winter.

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Bamboo filled with rice and meat or shrimps and toasted over fire. And we thought lemang was only found in Malaysia.

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The next morning, my boys ordered pizza for breakfast while Yi, Hub and I ate instant noodles. That pizza looked good and I was impressed that they had mozzarella up in the hills but my boys said it tasted of dried bamboo. In Guilin, if you smell pee, remember it is likely to be a kind of bamboo (very tasty) and not pee.

On the way down, we passed stalls selling souvenirs and other stuff. Hub stopped at a stall, taken in by some black seeds called 'Mandarin Duck Fruit' (yingyang guo), and asked me for 30 Yuan. Now, if you know me, you'll know it's hard to sell me anything, from direct sell products to insurance. I am by nature a very discerning person. I would've stopped Hub, because I've never believed in all those claims of certain plants curing hypertension or diabetes or cholesterol or whatever. But since it was 30 Yuan, I gave him the money and moved on to the next stall where I bought 20 Yuan worth of dried black ants that were supposed to turn white hairs into black. Did I just say I am a discerning person? I didn't really believe it, but I bought it to play a trick on my mom.
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In China, the hand-held balance scale is the most common weighing instrument and it is useful for short-changing customers.

You must read on, for your sake, if you ever go to China. After coming home, Hub remembered the mandarin duck fruits that he bought and did a search on the net after which he came to me, tail between his legs. Instead of 30 Yuan, he had bought 300 Yuan/RM150/US$42 of mandarin duck fruits (one handful only) and he now suspects that he had been duped. You can read stories about how people were tricked into buying the seeds at a stall up in the slopes of Longji on the net but only if you google in Chinese. The story is the same as Hub's: He stopped to look at the dried lizards and strange produce at a stall where a well-dressed man with his wife were haggling the price of the seeds. The man asked for the real stuff, wild mandarin duck fruits, not the cultivated ones, and the lady seller pulled out a bag from under the table and and poured the 'wild' seeds out. The man, who claimed that he's a Chinese herbalist from Guangzhou, bargained for a lower price, telling Hub in a lowered voice that in China, the standard haggling rule is to slash prices by 70%. He then told Hub the wonders of the seeds (cure for hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, insomnia, whatever--that would be a red flag for me, if I was there to hear it) and asked that Hub get some because he was buying as much as he could.
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Hub wants this lady on a 'Wanted' list but then they probably work in a team, rotating their shifts in selling dried mountian lizards, mandarin fruits/seeds and other rubbish to gullible tourists.

Be very very careful when shopping in China. Expensive tea leaves can turn out to be inferior leaves, face creams can be full of mercury and jade can be glass injected with dye. Everybody is out to get the tourists, and the government can't or wouldn't control the situation.

Longji is most beautiful when the rice terraces are green in the spring and summer and when they are golden in the fall. I've seen photos of Longji in those two seasons and it looked like Shangri La.

7 comments:

Risa said...

Even through the haze that looks breathtaking. Unfortune about those seeds, but I couldn't help but giggle - seems like something out of a movie!

TeaLady said...

What a beautiful place to stay and see. It is often so much better to go off the beaten path. We try when we travel, but it is hard today to find some 'untouched' places.

I love reading about your travels.

Mina said...

I enjoy your travel posts which make me laugh and educate me about the places that you visit. My favorite blog!

zurin said...

Ill pass on the pee bamboo..but that pizza looks good and the scrambled egg reminds me of my childhood scrambled eggs with sliced onions !yummm:))

Big Boys Oven said...

beautiful longji and defintely will not simply buy things! :)

Steve said...

Amazing scenery. And that twice cooked pork and bringals forced me to go to a chinese supermarket and buy the ingredients to make them. Love your blog!

terri@adailyobsession said...

risa: china is one big tricky place to visit...

tealady: tq. yes, i do appreciate cities once in a while but it's the less known places tt are special

mina: mine too:))

zurin: yes, food is yum in china. you must visit one day:)

bbo: we only spent rm1000 each for the 7 day trip bc we didn't buy much :))

steve: tq. how did d brinjals turn out? not an easy veg to cook unless u use lots of oil

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