Friday, September 14, 2007

Sep 14 – Reed Flute Cave, To Chongquing

We were awake around 6:00 am this time; early but not as bad as before. We went to sleep around midnight due to the night out with our new found friends. We packed our belongings and went down to breakfast. We were uncertain if the other couple were early or later risers, so we did not knock on their door next to our room to call them down for breakfast together.

As we were heading back to our room, J&D were arriving for their breakfast. Since the only elevator is slow and always in use, we walk up and down the stairs every time possible. Once we completed the packing we went down to the lobby to settle our bill and checkout. J&D were there already and we started to chat some more.

I wish I had the presence of mind, at some point during our time together to take a picture of this lovely couple we enjoyed so much. We found many similarities of spirit. Now I cannot remember what they look like. I gave them my address card and extended an invitation to call upon us if ever they wanted to visit Toronto.

We hugged and waved good-bye and they went off to their next destination as did we. Around 9:00 am, we are driven back to Guilin where we will continue on the next leg of the itinerary.

Fubo Hill is a pretty park surrounding a hill which has a staircase carved into the stone. We climb up to the top to have a view of Guilin. Since this area is noted for its beautiful scenery, buildings are not permitted to be taller that the surrounding hills. In the city there are super structures, office and residential buildings shooting up but they do not interfere with the view of the mountains. The stairs were easier that the steps at the Great Wall. Although it was hot and humid, we took our time, had rests and easily made it to the top and back down without being winded. The gardens were so picturesque and well manicured. It never ceases to impress me, how clean and aesthetically pleasing and beautifully landscaped the streets, edges of the highways and roads and the tourist traps are maintained.












Reed Flute Cave was astounding and awe inspiring. It was more impressive than the caves in New Zealand because 1) we were allowed in to view the rock formations up close, 2) each feature was staged complete with lighting, labels, a guide to point each figure or scene out and sound effects to enhance the experience, 3) much create energy was used to impress the grandeur and stimulate the imagination, 4) it is mind-boggling the labour involved in carving the flooring, steps and paths to lead us around the historical site.

It is frightening how commercialized the attraction is but not in a crass way. It is the fact that they have tampered so much with nature to make this a story-like exhibit for tourists. We left with the impression of beauty, grace, dignity, historical records of bygone lifestyles and the artistry of many periods. Poetry flowed from the rocks to our senses, weaving stories about the history and significance of symbols and omens to this culture.




At the end was a huge, flat, open area with a small lake.


The immense cave was a huge echo chamber and when a tour group entered, their presence was most disruptive. Their guide had a microphone and her voice boomed and destroyed the ambiance. We were pleased when they finished quickly and left the cave to our solitude. In retrospect, we realized that we should have taken more time and walked through at a slower pace. We had more than 2 hours left to do other things before flying out of Guilin.

Wendy schedules our lunch for 1:00 pm at a restaurant near the airport. I am finding it difficult to speak any mandarin words that guides have attempted to teach me. Needless to say, I cannot remember the names of restaurants where we have eaten. When the guides carry on about the various emperors in whatever dynasty or that scholar and prince, my eyes start to roll and I cannot grasp or remember what is being said. Even if I want desperately to understand, it seems like my brain goes into befuddled mode when a name is mentioned.

We have a leisurely lunch which is orchestrated by Wendy. She does a masterful job of ensuring that we are happy, well treated and all details are explained in advance so that we are not disappointed. She went to great lengths to tell us that the luncheon on the Li River boat cruise was not fancy, lower in quality than in restaurants. She is such a delightful person because she is enthusiastic about her profession; she is vibrant, energetic, and perceptive, remembers your needs (i.e. Stuart wants two glasses of coke), goes the extra distance and never complains.

We thank her for taking the extra time to escort us to optional places and she said it is her pleasure, as she has nothing else to do and is happy to be busy. She is just the best guide that we have had so far. We are so pleased; we double the rate of the gratuity.

We arrive at the airport and Wendy efficiently navigates the system, quickly checking us in and making sure we get the best of whatever she can get for us. It was sad to say good-bye to her and she stands there until the bitter end when we disappear out of her sight. She is such a sweet endearing young woman. Stuart said that she looked like a relative, when we were walking down the street arm in arm; she was gently leading me safety through the streets. She is ever so attentive, telling us to mind our head, guard our belongings, watch for pick-pockets and hang on tight to our passports and currency.

She says that her parents are farmers who have little exposure to the country outside their area. Although they are not educated, they are not prohibiting their daughter from getting an education. However, due to their limited abilities to finance or even advise her, she feels lost and uncertain about what her options are and how to go about it. I have no doubt that once she settles on a destination; she will navigate her way there with much speed and determination. She is a strong, and ambitious force.

She has an older sister who is married with two children already, willing to remain where she is and not rise above her lot. Wendy worries about her two brothers who live at home and content to stay there for now. She wants them to get off the proverbial sofa and work hard to gain financial independence, as she has. She worries that they will be farmers like her parents. Isn’t it funny how the women with greater oppression are more receptive to change and rising above their situation for a better life.

Wendy enjoys meeting people, talking, learning from her tourists what is in the world outside of her home town. She loves the beauty and relative serenity of Guilin. She would like to travel to Beijing, hopefully get an office job. She fears loosing her position as a tourist guide in this province which she so loves. She does not like the pollution of the big city and I have to agree, Guilin is large but not as crazy as Beijing or Xian.

We arrive in Chongquing at about 4:30 pm.


Jenny our guide for the next leg of the tour, is a shy, reserved young woman who works as a translator during the day and on the weekends she is a tour guide. I have to admit, she is easily flustered and not enamoured with this city and it comes through in the way she describes the sights and problems. Our driver, on the other hand is well seasoned and probably the oldest of all the drivers. We are driven around in a 4 door sedan this time; not a minivan as in all the other cities.

She says that there are many weddings happening in the city, it difficult get seating in a restaurant so we dine near the airport. At the restaurant we discuss what the options are for tomorrow. We look at our book, “The Lonely Planet” and the zoo is not listed as a highlight or a point of interest. Jennie mentions a smaller, older museum of the 3Gorges and a cable car ride from the middle island to one of the outer islands. We agree that seeing the peaks and city skyline is far more interesting than some animals in an unknown zoo, off the beaten track, so it was settled. Jennie is concerned that we will not get a credit for not visiting the zoo and that there are extra charges for the entrance fees for the other sights. By now, Stuart is accustomed to saying, “I will pay the extra to enjoy what I want even when it is not included.”

The JW Marriott is in the heart of downtown, close to the pulse of the night life. This is quite a different place with skyscrapers going up everywhere.


We checked in, settled into the room and decided to go for a stroll. We were only going to have one night here, so we went out to look over a little of the noise. We walked down to a pedestrian mall and people watched for a while..

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