Last week, Alan, Elijah, and I made our way from Shijiazhuang to Guilin on a train that wound its way through five provinces, taking nearly 25 hours to reach our destination. We were able to purchase hard-sleeper tickets, which reserve one bunk per person in a train car crammed with bunk-beds reaching to the ceiling. Six bunks are grouped together in two rows of three-bunk stacks. Our bunks were next to a family traveling from Beijing to their hometown of Guilin–a father, mother, little boy, baby girl, and an old grandmother. The girl had beautiful, bright eyes, and she stared and laughed at us constantly. When she got fussy, her grandmother lifted the girl onto her back, and the mother tied the girl in place on the grandmother’s back so she could walk around and quiet her down. I am always amazed at how strong even the oldest people here are in China. I constantly see them carrying heavy loads, or even just their grand-babies. Although the train journey was ridiculously long, it really wasn’t so bad, because I came prepared with a stack of books and a multitude of snacks. Our train left SJZ close to noon, so I read all afternoon, slept most of the night, and then read again all morning till the train stopped close to 1 pm.
When we got off the train in Guilin, I was happy to notice so much green around us. Shijiazhuang is such a dry place, so seeing all the trees and other plants growing thickly in Guilin was a nice change. The weather was chilly and rainy though, so we rushed to get something to eat and then to find our hostel. The first meal we had in Guilin turned into my favorite so far on this trip. You choose your toppings (I usually choose either duck or pork with vegetables), and then they steam rice in a clay pot, and then put the rest of the ingredients on top. It’s really simple, but so delicious. Plus, most of these restaurants have pictures on the wall of each menu item, so that definitely helped us. I pointed to one dish that looked good and asked the cook what kind of meat it was, and he immediately started bobbing his head and flapping his arms up and down like wings, and then threw in some duck noises for good measure. And man, that duck meat was great.
While in Guilin, it was drizzly and cold most of the time, but we still enjoyed our stay and had some great day trips to see the sights in the area. Guilin is famous for its karst mountain landscape and the beautiful Li River, and we made the most of our time there. The hostel we booked was nice, and not just because it had two kittens tumbling all over the place that I kept coaxing to sit with me. The service was helpful, the food was pretty good, and I spent some time reading and playing some card games in the common area. Some hostels make you want to just stay in your room when you’re not out and about, but this one had a nice atmosphere that didn’t make me feel like holing up.
I’ll post more in detail soon about the day trips we took to Longji Rice Terraces and to Yangshuo!