Hello friends. Our time in mainland China has started off a little slowly as it has been rainy and cold outside. We took the opportunity to stay in our wonderful hotel and do schoolwork for a few days. We are in an area that sees a lot of tourism, most of which is from within China. As foreigners, we are a huge curiousity here (read - stared at constantly). When we called to see if there was a car service offered from the airport to the hotel we didn't even give our names and they knew who we were. Big clue that no other English speaking guests were arriving the same day. They were definitely expecting us! They are curious about us and we are curious about them. This is as foreign as our travels have taken us. There are so many interesting things to sit back and take in. The menu at the hotel restaurant for instance has "wild cat and snake soup" listed. I am not that adventurous of an eater, but if I were, I think I might prefer those meats to be in separate soups. Cat soup for lunch and the snake soup for dinner. Actually that doesn't sound much better. We'll pass. Another curiousity for us is the toilet in our hotel room. It has more buttons than the Space Shuttle. You have options for cleaning yourself, drying, deodorizing, heating both the seat and the water for cleaning, on and on. I'm pretty sure there is button to order room service delivery right to the bathroom! We have also enjoyed tuning into the Chinese tv shows. Big toss up which we prefer; game shows that we don't understand or swordfighting dramas that we don't understand. All are entertaining with AG adding his own voiceover. We had a good couple of down days until Celeste couldn't go without chocolate any longer and sent Dad out in the pouring rain to find M&Ms!
Today the sun came out and we hired a driver and an English tour guide to take us around Guilin. Guilin is a "small" city we have been told by several people, only 700,000 within the city limits and 2 million counting the outskirts - just tiny! Our guide, Sophie, took us first to the Reed Flute Cave. In addition to the cave itself and the lightshow with beautiful Chinese music, there were ancient turtles that we, of course, paid extra to go look at (suckers)! Sure they are over 1300 years old! That really seems possible! My favorite thing about the cave was either a lost in translation thing or a Chinese thing, still deciding. Sophie told us to use our imagination as to what the limestone formations might look like. Then she would ask us our thoughts. We might answer, "a mushroom", and she would respond, "That is an acceptable answer". We might respond, "a sleeping dragon" and she would say, "No. Keep looking." This cracked me up. When using your imagination is there a right or wrong answer? Apparently in China there is!
Sophie also took us to the government run, Tea Research Institute for a lesson on tea production and a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. We all loved this. White, black, oolong, compressed...we got the skinny! Back in Italy, Anthony said that he would buy each of us a special souvenier anywhere along the trip. I bought a leather jacket before he had the words out of his mouth. Celeste chose a watch and Nina has been holding back, searching for the perfect treat. Today she chose a tea set that is both traditional and very beautiful. If you are ever at our home please have her give you the full tea ceremony treatment!
We went to Yao Mountain, the highest of all the mounded peaks in Guilin. Because of all the rain the past few days the views were especially misty and beautiful. We rode the chairlift up and the alpine slide down. If you happen to have ridden an alpine slide with us before and you witnessed both AG and I riding at mach speed, wiping out and limping and bleeding for days afterwards (you know who you are), you will be happy to know that we didn't risk an ER visit in China and behaved on the way down!
We had lunch in a local noodle shop that Sophie said she has never taken clients to before, only friends. I felt so honored that she knew we would love eating like the locals. The entire lunch for all 5 of us came to 3 USD. It was delish! Sophie taught us 6 Chinese words today and she quizzed us over lunch. We now know "yes, no, hello, thank you, mouth and Reed Flute Cave" (this one might not be particularly useful).
To wrap up our day we went on a boat ride down the Li River. We saw many temples, beautiful bridges and locals going about their daily lives. Tomorrow we take an extended boat tour down the Li River to our next location, Yangshuo. We really like the idea of hiring guides here as we would be otherwise lost. So we have hooked up with a tourguide/couple, Sunny and Andy, I love them just from their names. They are going to show us the sights for the next few days. On the agenda are rice terraces, a bike tour, a bamboo raft ride, and a night water and light show choreographed by the man who put together the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics. We are looking forward to it all!