Sunday, April 7, 2013

We Had The Most Amazing Day!

Hello from Yangshuo, China!
It was an early day for these two travelers--we were awake at 3:15 a.m. and left our hotel in Hong Kong at 5:15. Our taxi ride to Hong Kong International Apirport took about 30 minutes in the early morning light traffic.
We went straight for Starbucks for a cup of coffee, and then found a restaturant for a quick breakfast. We checked in for our flight, got our boarding passes and explored the airport a bit. It's a very efficient airport--but it is H-U-G-E!
Our flight to Guiling was a short one--about 1 hr 10 minutes. We flew on DragonAir and we were pretty impressed. The service was great and we had very roomy seats with lots of leg room.
Once we landed in Guilin we had to go though immigration, which was quick and easy. Our guide for the next 3 days, Amy, was right there to pick us up. She is a delightful woman, friendly and thoughtful. She is proud of her home town, and gladly answers our many, many questions! We also have a driver, who is Amy's son.
Amy told us a little about herself--she was born and raised in a small village near Yangshuo. She told us she is "just a farmer's wife", she and her husband grow rice, oranges, kumquats and pomelos! And of course, she also works as a guide. She learned English by talking to tourists and her customers.
Our plan for today was for Amy to pick us up at the airport, drive us to the small town of Yangdi where we would ride a bamboo raft to the next small village of Xingpin, about a 2 hour ride. But our plans were changed, as the river was too high due to recent rains. We are hoping to reschedule this for Monday.
So what to do now? Amy had a suggestion for us. She explained that we were lucky to be here during the 3 day Qing Ming Holiday (Tomb Sweeping Festival). This yearly family holiday is celebrated by visiting the tombs of their ancestors--doing maintenance and landscaping, but most importantly honoring their ancestors by burning paper offerings, leaving their loved ones favorite food, lighting candles, and burning paper money so thier loved ones can be prosperous in the afterlife. Firecrackers are then set off.
Today was the day that Amy's family was celebrating and visiting her familys tombs--and she asked us to join them for the Festival and then lunch at their family home. Of course we said yes---and what a great day we had!
Our first view of those beautiful karsts--on our way from the airport to Amy's village:

From the airport we drove straight to Amy's old village where she was born and raised. We parked the van on the outskirts of the village--many of the streets were too small for cars! We walked the rest of the way to her family's tombs. It was a pretty walk through some kumquat groves, over a few hills and through the lush country side.
Her family was very welcoming, telling us "hello" in their best English, and we said "ni hao" in our best Chinese! It was fascinating to watch them tidy up the tombs and place their offerings. The whole family gets into the act, right down to the young children. There were offerings of whole chickens, fruit and small bowls of rice. Candles and incense were lit, and finally a large string of VERY loud firecrackers was set off! What a priviledge to see this, we were humbled.
Some of the tombs:

Oldest tomb

Some of Amy's family setting out food offerings, getting ready to light the firecrackers:

After the tomb sweeping we walked through the village to Amy's familly's house.
David, Amy and Amy's brother walking through the village:
Along the way to Amy's family home:

Amy's brother--washing his hands in the new village well.  There are separate "squares" for washing clothes, dishes, vegetables, etc:

Walking through the village:

Woman working in the fields:

Beautiful view from the village:

Amy's childhood home--her whole family lived in one small room on the left. (The home we visited was a newer home)

Amy's village:
 After arriving at Amy's family home, she introduced us to her entire family and we were warmly welcomed as the "guests of honor" and given the best chairs in the house.   What a feast they were setting out--there were bowls and bowls of food such as: stuffed bitter melon, bok choi in a steaming hot broth, stewed chicken (and yes, the feet were in the pot!) There was a steamed dish of duck and taro, fried carp, and a few other items I wasn't sure of! Beer was served--a locally brewed beer that was really pretty tasty.
Just a few of the many dishes:

Amy showing us steamed rice and chestnuts wrapped in leaves--it was really good!

Mmmm-good stuff:

Gathered around the table:

Amy's nephew--typical teen, looking at his iPhone! (he was very proud of it)

Amy's younger sister and her daughter:

Now I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being VERY nervous about eating this lovely family's food. After seeing them wash the dishes in the same water pond as the laundry, etc--I wasn't too sure. I was more than a little worried that our tender American tummies wouldn't be able to handle some unfamiliar "bugs"--but so far, so good.  Most importantly, we did NOT want to offend Amy's family. We truly felt honored to be asked to join them on this important festival day.
We chose as wisely as we could--eating some fresh local oranges, and two of the dishes that looked steaming hot.  We did our best with our chopsticks and there was some good natured laughter about our skills.

Not long after the meal began Amy's brother set a glass in front of David. Amy explained this was strawberry wine, but David later swore was straight grain alcohol! They tried to get me to try some but I gently declined, explaining (fibbing Cheesy grin just a bit!) !hat I reallly don't drink alcohol.
Now the toasting begain! Several toasts later and amid lots of laughter, David managed to drink all that strawberry "wine" and turn his glass upside down at the same time as Amy's brother! 
Amy's father--he kept trying to get me to drink "the hard stuff"!

David and Amy's father:

Whew!  Glasses upside down at last!

We had the best time! The whole family was gracious and welcoming, and seemed genuinely pleased to have us there. We were both charmed by Amy's fater, who is a very spry 87 years old. She said he regularly rides his bicycle into the village. We had some great conversations, even though Amy and a couple of the younger teens were the only ones with any English language skills. They had many questions about where we lived, etc., and of course we had many questions about their village and their lives.
Soon it was time to leave, and we both gave our heartfelt thanks to each member of this lovely family for letting us share their holiday. After much handshaking and many thank you's (pronounces "shay-shay" in Chinese!) we drove back into the small town of Yangshou.
Amy dropped us off right in front of our hotel, The Magnolia Inn. She gave us a big hug, and thanked us for meeting her family and joining their festival. What a sweetheart she is--we are both glad we have two more days to spend with her!
We checked in and walked up two flights of stairs to our room. It's spacious and very clean with a nice bath and shower. The beds, however, are hard as rocks--which seems to be the norm in China!
Our room:

View from our window:

Small canal behind our hotel:

We quickly unpacked and hit the street to explore Yangshuo. Parts of the town are VERY touristy, with many shops and vendors selling the usual "junque". Some of the vendors are aggressive, even grabbing your arm and following you down the street! We both try to remember they are trying to make a living and feed their families; but it is interesting, to say the least.
We walked away from the very touristy area for a few blocks, and enjoyed the more "local" sights. Today was market day in Yangshuo, so we walked through the market--lots of good looking produce, and some other interesting items such as pig intestines and stomach, chicken feet, etc.
Farmer's market:

David found his new favorite food!
By now we were very hungry--breakfast was many hours ago, and our lunch had been very light.  We looked at several menus, and chose a restaurant with outdoor seating. We especially wanted to try one of the local specialties; "beer fish". This is fish cooked in beer and served with vegetables. It was just OK, the fish was cut into small pieces and was very hard to eat. The flavor was great, though. We also had some stir-fried noodles and an order of pork fried dumplings, which were our favorite. Of course, we shared a bottle of that locally brewed beer.
Beer Fish:

Yummy noodles:

Delicious dumplings:

David showing off his new chopstick skills!

Good local beer:

Even though the food wasn't the best, we enjoyed our dinner--the people watching was fun, and we talked about how lucky we were to have spent the afternoon with Amy's family.  
We are truly the "Lucky Lunds"!


pat Hey Di and Dave, It took me a little bit of time to catch on to this blog, but hopefully you will get this comment. What a great experience you two are having. Reminds me of my trip to Ecuador. Amy sounds like a wonderful host and what an honor to be able to spend time with her family and participate in their customs. Thanks for all the pictures. I love the mountains/hills in the back ground. And I'm impressed with your food choices - chicken feet and all . . . . I can hardly wait to see you in person and hear about all of your adventures. Thanks for the pictures and, again, I AM SO ENVIOUS! Hugs from Spudsville.....
Sherry What a wonderful adventure you are having. Looks like your day with Amy's family was very special and gave you a chance to see what the area is really like. I have really been enjoying your blog---just couldn't get my comments to post. We are really enjoying all of your pictures too.

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