Installment #6: Guiyang
|Reunited with Wang Jun at the Guiyang airport|
This morning we got up at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for our flight to Guiyang to see our dear friend Wang Jun and his family. We said goodbye to our new friend Keely at the Chengdu airport, and took an Air China flight which arrived in Guiyang at 9:50. After picking up our luggage, we saw Wang Jun immediately and he gave us a big hug. He said that he'd call our driver. We were secretly hoping that it was Mr. Zhou, our driver from last October. We waited on the curb and as the van approached, Wang Jun said, "Look who it is!" Mr. Zhou had a huge smile on his face and was waving at us happily from behind the wheel! We were so excited. He got out of the van to greet us and gave us big hugs. We were so happy to be together again as a foursome!
|Craig and Mr. Zhou at lunch|
We drove to a satellite district of Guiyang called Guanshanhu District. They are building many highrise apartments and moving government agencies here, as a way to relieve congestion in the city proper. We ate lunch and were surprised and delighted that we all ate together. Typical China guide protocol is that the guide eats with the driver, separate from the guests. Wang Jun said he was breaking his own rules, but we came up with a loophole - we are friends now,. not clients!
We enjoyed our lunch of spicy dishes and it was as though we had never left. I showed them some photos of us with the pandas and dressed up for the opera on my tablet.
After lunch, we went for a walk in the nice new Guanshanhu Park. The four of us enjoyed the park together. It was hot today, and the park was beautifully landscaped. There was a nice lake and you could see the modern architecture of the new city in the distance. There were playgrounds and statues depicting the ethnic minorities of the province. Signage encouraged environmental responsibility. We saw lotus blossoms and small turtles in a pond, and we noticed many birds.
|Lotus and turtles, Guanshanhu Park|
|Wang Jun and Xiao Yi's beautiful engagement photo|
|Wang Jun and Xiao Yi hard at work cooking an elaborate dinner|
|Wang Jun and his "little thing", daughter Ziting|
|Ziting with Steph|
|Dinner: Mr. Zhou, Wang Jun's mother, Xiao Yi's mother holding Ziting, Xiao Yi, Wang Jun, and Craig|
|Ziting and Xiao Yi's mother|
|Craig says goodnight to Ziting|
We arrived at the Sheraton, where we had stayed in October. It is a very nice hotel and we felt immediately at home. We check in, unwound, and went to sleep.
The next morning, May 1, after a nice breakfast at the hotel, we checked out and met Wang Jun and Mr. Zhou at 9:30. There was traffic getting out of town. It was a national holiday (Labor Day), and everyone had the day off. Highway tolls were free, which encouraged many people to travel by car.
We arrived at the town where the Huangguoshu Waterfall is located. The town was closed to traffic due to the influx of holiday tourists, so Mr. Zhou found a parking spot and we went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. As usual, locals at the restaurant were trying to sneak photos fo us, but we happily posed with their children, etc.
Afterwards we walked to a shuttle bus stop and took the shuttle bus to the entrance to the smaller "thundering" waterfall (Doupotang). We got off the bus and walked on some nice walkways to the waterfall. Lots of families were visiting the waterfalls today. It was a sunny, hot day. The waterfall was very beautiful, and though "small" in relation to the main attraction, it was nonetheless impressive.
Craig was feeling good, and we couldn't resist the chance to walk behind a waterfall. But we really appreciated Wang Jun's concern for his well-being. So we continued down the path until we got a to a point where we could no longer pass. We had encountered the queue to the waterfall. It was not single-file. People were crammed in the width of the walkway, shoulder to shoulder, as close to one another as possible. Nobody seemed bothered by this. The sun was very hot and people were doing what they could to shade themselves while they waited. People held up umbrellas, which were just at the right height to poke us in the eye, so we had to be vigilant. Fathers could be seen wearing their wives' frilly hats or their children's animal-shaped hats, just to get the sun off of their heads.
|Queue to walk behind the water of Huangguoshu Falls|
|Huangguoshu Falls with a rainbow in its mist|
|Steph behind Huangguoshu Falls (note the long queue for the waterfall in the background)|
|Craig and his new friends behind Huangguoshu Falls|
Because of this, we found that many people wanted photos with us in the spray of the waterfall. We obliged and they kept switching out, one after the next. We felt like rock stars and we wanted to give back to our public.
It was a great experience all around. We reunited with Wang Jun, who seemed relieved that we were ok, since we had taken so long to emerge from the cave. We explained that we had just been making new friends, and he shook his head, saying that only we would extract something so positive out of a very crowded destination.
We walked down to rejoin the main path. We were all tired after waiting so long in the hot sun, so we didn't want to walk all the way back out. Instead we took the "Grand Escalator", a 350 meter long escalator which is the longest sightseeing escalator in the world. It was billed as a site unto itself, and required purchasing a ticket to ride it.
There were beautiful bonsai gardens and hawker stalls on the way to the bus stop. The late afternoon light was beautiful on the plants and flowers. We took a crowded shuttle bus back. There were no seats available, so we were prepared to stand. The very courteous Chinese tourists made a seat available. Craig graciously sat down, as his MS makes it difficult for him to stand on a moving vehicle. I was perfectly happy to stand, but a nice lady and her young daughter insisted that I perch on the end of their seats. Everyone was so friendly and kind to us!
We met up with Mr. Zhou and drove the short drive to the Tunpu Hotel. We checked in at 6 o'clock. This was a new resort complex with many small chalets with a few guest rooms in each, along with a common TV room. It had a lodge/camp feel to the architecture, and there were various restaurants, a pool, and a bar on the premises. Wang Jun said that he would make a dinner reservation for 7 o'clock. With all of the tourists who were staying here for the holiday, we wondered if that was even possible.
We took quick showers to freshen up after our day in the sun, and I washed some waterfall dirt off of our pants and shirts. Wang Jun stopped in at our room at 7 o'clock, and we met up with Mr. Zhou and walked to one of the on-site restaurants (The Homely Dish Diner). Although they had taken Wang Jun's reservation, they did not actually have a table for us (that Seinfeld rental car episode comes to mind). It was smoky and crowded inside, but there was an outdoor deck. We preferred sitting outdoors, so we could either wait for a fancy outdoor table, or we could barbecue at one of the round wrought iron tables which had a hibachi in the middle. When presented with this choice, we opted for the barbecue, as it was a new experience. The whole atmosphere was kind of like camping anyway (though the rooms were quite nice), so it seemed appropriate.
|Mr. Zhou and Wang Jun barbecue a delicious dinner|
|Craig, Mr. Zhou, and Wang Jun after the barbecue|
We thanked them for the experience, and Wang Jun told us not to say thank you. We are family now. He had been saying this last night as well, when we had thanked his family for the lovely dinner. But we feel so sincerely thankful, that we automatically want to express it. Wang Jun explained that saying thanks among family and close friends seemed fake; people do things for one another because they want to, and as long as it makes the other person happy, no thanks is required. We said it would be hard for us not to thank them, but we would try, as we wanted to respect their cultural norms. We asked them not to be offended if we relapsed, and any time we would normally say thank you, we ended up saying "Good!" with a big smile. It became an in-joke.
We were feeling full but there were still entire plates of food which had not yet been cooked. And it was so good we just kept eating until it was gone. We kept refilling our plate with chili powder, covering every bit of our food with it and devouring it. Everything was delicious and we had a lovely evening enjoying one another's company over a leisurely dinner.
At 9 o'clock, we said our goodnights. We could hear Chinese rock music coming from nearby, so Craig and I walked over to the pool / bar area where a band was playing. As I took photos, and man and his young daughter approached Craig. She was carrying a small lantern. They said hello and offered Craig a cigarette, which he politely refused. The man then mimed having a drink and gestured for us to follow him. As much as we would have loved to have had a drink and chatted with him, we explained via sign language that we really should get to bed. It had been a long day in the sun and we should play it safe. It also seemed like they were on their way back to their room to put the little girl to bed.
|Friendly tourist and his young daughter at the resort|
Many people were out and about as we walked back to the room, and they all said nihao and smiled. When we went into the common room, a young man was watching basketball. We wondered if it would be noisy overnight. Luckily that wasn't a problem, and we went to bed at 10:30.
The next morning we walked to one of the restaurants on the premises for breakfast at around 8 o'clock. It was a Chinese buffet, and there was a narrow balcony outside the dining room. I was looking for a table out there and the hotel photographer got a waitress to clear a table for me. As we ate, he came over to photograph us. Maybe we were the first Americans who ever stayed there? We tried to pose for a photo, but he wouldn't bite. He waited until we shoved noodles and dumplings into our face with our chopsticks, and then took close-ups. So be on the lookout for unflattering shots of us in their next brochure!
|Waterfall at the Dragon Palace|
After breakfast, we checked out shortly before 9 o'clock. We were worried that the Dragon Palace, our next stop, might be as crowded as the waterfall was yesterday. But when we got there, it was no comparison. We walked along bridges and saw a cool waterfall inside a cave. We got photos with several people but we tried to keep moving so we could beat the crowds and make it back to Guiyang in time for dinner with the family. We got to the entrance to the boat ride and the corrals were empty. We got right onto a small boat and Wang Jun waved to us from the dock.
|Boats about to enter the Dragon Palace water caves|
|Stalactites lit up and reflecting in the water in the Dragon Palace|
|Stalactites lit up and reflecting in the water in the Dragon Palace|
|Craig and Wang Jun leaving the Dragon Palace|
We drove past his office building and went to the Flower and Bird Market. They dropped us off in the parking lot next to a statue of Chairman Mao, and Wang Jun gave us from 2:30-4 to wander by ourselves. Though the name calls out flowers and birds, you can buy just about anything in the narrow meandering alleys of this market. Fish, turtles, tadpoles, birds, rabbits, mice, incense, kitchen goods, tea, traditional Chinese medicine, porcelain, etc. None of the salespeople in the market were pushy at all. It almost seemed weird not to be accosted.
|Craig at the Guiyang bird and flower market|
|Wide load coming down a narrow alley at the Guiyang bird and flower market|
|View of the First Scholar's Pavilion (Jiaxiu Tower) from our room at the Sheraton Guiyang|
We had just under an hour to freshen up and then we met Wang Jun at 5 o'clock in the lobby. We said, "You told us not to say anything about the room, but...good." It was very difficult not to say thank you for arranging this room upgrade! We drove back to Wang Jun's neighborhood, and went to his sister's building this time, another condo in the same complex. We rode the elevator up to the 23rd floor, where were greeted by his sister Chen Xiaohong and her husband Yuan Huizhong, as well as Wang Jun's mom, Chen Rulan. We got the tour of the condo. Wang Jun's sister speaks some English, and apologized that her daughter Yuan Siyuan was not home for the holiday (she had an exam at university this weekend).
|Steph, Ziting, and Craig|
|Xiao Yi and Ziting|
|Ziting with Wang Jun's mother|
|Wang Jun's mother, Wang Jun's sister, Xiao Yi, and Ziting|
|Wang Jun's brother-in-law and Mr. Zhou|
The family told us that this is nothing compared to their spring festival feasts, where they often serve more than 20 dishes in a single meal! They invited us to visit for the spring festival within the next couple of years, so that we could spend time together, enjoy the celebration, meet the extended family, etc. It sounded fantastic and we will definitely make it a priority to come back and see our Chinese family! Wang Jun started to list off other things we could do in the area, and that he would like to take us to the hot springs and also karaoke (Lost in Translation sprang to mind again...What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?)
|Ziting and Wang Jun's sister|
|Wang Jun, Ziting, and Xiao Yi|