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Mike and Lee’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 03 Aug 2008

Location: Shanghai, China

MapIt is just after midnight in Shanghai and we’re on the bus from the airport to the city and our hotel. The flight from Guilin was very full and somewhat turbulent, but we landed safely if rather roughly with a hard bounce. Perhaps a new pilot just got his/her wings! During the flight there was an altercation a few rows in front of us that created a stir, eventually resolved by the flight attendants.
Before I tell about our day today, I have to correct the post from Yangshuo about the show we saw. It was actually directed by moviemaker Zhang Yimou. He also directed the movies “Raise the Red Lantern” and “Red Sorghum.”
Now for our day today. We left Yangshuo by bus back to Guilin in the rain. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of a rice farmer and his/her water buffalo, plowing a paddy. The message of that stop was that raising rice is so difficult that children are taught not to waste a single grain—“each grain of rice is a drop of sweat.” Interesting that in America we were told to eat all our food and not waste because there were starving children in China. Hmmm.
One of the interesting parts of this trip was seeing water buffalos strolling across the highway either singly or in groups. Despite the traffic going along fairly regularly both ways, these beasts seem oblivious to any potential danger. They remind us again of the contrasts we see here--from skyscrapers to rice paddies, air travel to water buffalos, China fits it all together in intricate patterns of an ancient culture that is bounding into the future with enthusiasm.
Arriving back in Guilin we went to the Reed Flute Cave. It's quite a tourist attraction, complete with specal lighting inside and many stalactite and stalagmite formations with names conjured up by the imaginations of those who came before us. On this rainy day, it was wetter than usual, so we stepped through carefully. One cavern can hold as many as 2000 people, they say, and they've had cocktail parties and even black-tie dinners in there.
It was reminiscent of other caves in the States and elsewhere except that in addition to the gift shop outside there was actually a spot inside where they sell rocks. The best story about this cave is that local people kept its existence a secret for many years, using it as a shelter in World War II when the Japanese were bombing this area.
After lunch, we headed for Fubo Park, a nice little riverside park that includes a hill with 326 steps to the top, its own little cave with Buddhist inscriptions and a nice walk along the river. We watched local folks swimming, fishing and even washing clothes just below the park. All along the shore are makeshift houseboats.
We then went to a local university campus on the site of an ancient imperial prince's palace. Apparently he fell out of favor due to an overzealous ambition and was banished from Nanking to this part of China where his descendants lived for centuries. Now their former home has become a haven for students in many disciplines, including art. We visited the art department's gallery and saw a demonstration of traditional Chinese painting, done with ink and brushes of goat and wolf hair. Several of us bought paintings done by either students, teachers or professors. Once again, a stop on our tour included the omnipresent shopping experience.
Then, with time to kill before our late flight, we stopped at a local hotel in a park where some walked, some went for reflexology (the popular foot massage that has become a fad here) or happy hour in the hotel bar. It was a good time to chat about both what we've seen here and our lives at home.
Finally, off to dinner, then the airport for our flight to Shanghai. The terminal was crowded, but in the midst of hundreds of people one of our folks from Toronto sat down right next to a woman of Chinese descent who lives in Toronto. That old small world saying proves true again.
We've now transitioned into our hotel here in the heart of Shanghai. It's lovely, obviously either new or newly renovated. What we'll all welcome is beds that seem a bit softer than we've found in most of our accommodations. Tomorrow we explore Shanghai.