Saturday, April 24, 2004

Yangshuo and Suzhou

It's been way too long since i updated this blog...a combination of just being extremely busy and extreme laziness. I've really been neglecting my studying a little over the last few weeks, but I don't feel like my chinese is neccessarily worse for it. Basically if I have an opportunity to hang out with chinese people or see something new and interesting here at the cost of my grades, I've decided that it's worth it. I came here to learn chinese and experience china, not to do well on chinese tests, so I've been trying to live it up a little lately.

I never posted the rest of the Yangshuo story. The three of us ended up just staying in that city for the whole week. We had planned to go to one other place, but my friend got rather seriously sick so we stayed there the whole time. It was a great time overall, and I met some interesting people. We rode bikes around a couple days just to check out the countryside, but didn't go into any of the famous sites mainly because of the obscene prices they were charging for the tickets. When I see a price of $10 US to get into a cave, I just think of the rediculous meal I could buy with that money and decide not to go in, and then when you leave the entrance and have ten old women literally run over to you to try and sell you water or drinks because they seemingly need the $.25 they will make off that bottle so badly, it makes the price seem even more obscene. Furthermore, when you already have an empty bottle of water, and one of the women asks to take it from you because she can carry it to some place and get paid $.001 to recycle it (we asked how much she gets), there is just no way I'm going in. Plus, it's just a cave, seen them before, or it's a weird shaped mountain, or an extraordinarily large tree, or some famous author's mansion. Pretty much every tourist site in China that I've had to pay to go into has been grossly overrated. Many chinese people say "O, this place is so famous for blah blah blah blah, you have to go see it" and it turns out to be some old home you pay $5 to go into and it's the same chinese mansion I've seen 10 times already. It was like $5 to get into the Grand Palace area in Bangkok, and $40 for a 3 day pass to Angkor Wat, two of the most incredible sights I've ever seen - China is really cheap overall, but so many of these tourist sites are just ripoffs. Anyway, sorry for the rant, just got back from Suzhou, where all the tourist sites were very expensive and it annoyed me. I could go on a long tangent about why the prices are so expensive, with the supply and demand of domestic tourism in china, but I think I'll save that for another time...

Here are some pics of Yangshuo, it is an amazingly beautiful area:

Anyway, so Yangshuo was nice and relaxing, just the spring break I wanted. Bought some cool stuff, ate a lot of great food, especially homemade apple crumble and hot gooey chocolate cake...there are very few good desserts in chinese food. The trainride back wasn't as cool as the trainride there, but it was still kind of interesting. On both train-rides we taught people how to play Egyptian Ratscrew (the card game) and people really liked it. If I could start an egyptian ratscrew phenomenon here in china it would definitely be one of the premier accomplishments in my life (I see people playing cards here all the time, usually it's a variation of Asshole with gambling involved). Of course, I destroyed everyone I've played here at Ratscrew...I don't think i've lost at that game since I was a little kid...I am the Screwmaster.

The week was also pretty fun. Teaching the kids last sunday went alright, it's so much easier now with the chinese teacher to help me and the fact that I'm just better at teaching after having a little experience. Don't have to teach tomorrow or the next weekend because of the Labor Day holiday, it's a week long here, and it's one of the most popular times to travel. I'm looking forward to going to some of Hangzhou's tourists spots and checking out the crowds.

I went to Suzhou yesterday, a city that is famous for its gardens. There is a saying that innumerable chinese people have told me that goes like this "In heaven there is paradise, on earth there is Hangzhou and Suzhou." I figured since I'm in Hangzhou, I should check out Suzhou also since it's only 2 hours away. Definitely not paradise. It was cool though, had a good time. I had a "friend" there to show me around. This is kind of interesting: When I was in Wuzhen this girl wanted to take a picture with me and some of us other foreigners (a pretty common thing at tourist spots), so we started talking to her and she is an english major in suzhou. I figured since I planned to go to Suzhou and at the time had just bought a cell phone, should get her number. Got her number and kept in touch over txt messaging the last month or so, and finally went with a friend to Suzhou yesterday and she showed us around. But not only did she show us around, she paid for everything. Bought us all our meals, snacks, and paid for every cab. We tried very hard to pay for stuff, or at least pay for one good meal, but she refused. At the end, she gave us bookmarks that she hand-embroidered. It was pretty weird, but she was just incredibly nice and sweet. The sites in Suzhou were nice and worthwhile, but I probably would have been disappointed with the city just going and seeing some tourist sites.