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China: Day 3 – Rural Culture via Bamboo Rafts and a Beautifully Chaotic Bike Ride

So I said we might not write again until Nanjing, but unfortunately Sarah’s poor tummy has been socked with round one of a mystery Chinese punch, so I’ve had a little time this evening to collect the pictures from today and write an update.

Today (Saturday) was our second and unfortunately final “recharge” day out here in the countryside, as this quick portion of the trip comes to an end tomorrow when we fly to the little lotus’ city. We knew coming in that by choosing a remote area of China like Yangshuo, we’d not only want to relax a bit… but more importantly, see a unique part of the little lotus’ birth country. When one day she asks us “What is China like?”, we want to be able to share both the urban and the rural side of the story. Visiting only Nanjing and Guangzhou (both required) would be like only visiting Chicago and Atlanta, then describing America. Even in our two weeks here stopping at five different cities, it would be impossible to fully understand this vast land.

So as easy as it would have been to be “river bums” again today, we instead chose to venture deep into the countryside to visit nearby villages. We started the day early with another breakfast by the Yulong River. But to our surprise, our breakfast of green tea and Guilin rice noodles concluded with the first wave of hundreds of small, handmade, bamboo rafts that would float down the river, one after another, over the course of the day (check out the video below). These rafts are used by farmers for transport, and of course by (mostly Asian) tourists hoping to see the sights via native passageways. Funny enough, as we sat in our wooden chairs watching the first round of rafts pass by, many locals would wave to us and every so often one would yell a friendly “hal-lo!” over to us on the shore. They were likely surprised to hear this 6+ foot white man fire back an even friendlier “nǐhǎo!”. We had a couple of good chuckles (especially with the two or three locals who sang loudly as they rowed), and it further reaffirmed our belief that we’re all brothers and sisters in this world, regardless of place or circumstance.

After breakfast, we hopped on a couple of rickety bikes that the retreat loaned us, and after 10 minutes of trying to decipher broken English at the front desk to comprehend directions… we decided to wing it and set out peddling along the small country road. The goal was to end up at a sister hotel in Moon Hill Village for lunch, and my-oh-my what sights and sounds we encountered along the way.

If this is considered rural China, then we may be in for a frantic awakening once we reach the big cities. We continue to grapple with the conflicting emotions about the China we’ve seen so far being so rich with scenic beauty, and the people being so pragmatically pleasant at heart… but to be quite honest, it’s just plain filthy and loud everywhere you look other than the untouched nature in the distance. As we rode our bikes today to the nearby villages, we got our first taste of exhaust smog and I’m now quite sure muffler emission checks don’t exist in this neck of the woods. And, holy cow, these are some horn-happy people! Notice the street sign in the pictures below that *attempts* to keep the noise down in residential areas.

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Along the route we passed miles and miles of street vendors hawking tofu patties, eggcakes, and whole fish (like scales, fins, and all) on the hot grill built into the back of their bike carts. We saw the quintessential headless chicken lying lifeless in one man’s basket. And to continue to animal theme, we also unfortunately saw the classic monkeys-in-costumes bit in the packed town square, for which these two animal lovers pouted a bit. Once we arrived in Moon Hill Village, the chaos only escalated as, come to find out, this is a fairly touristy area for the Chinese themselves.

So all said, we finally made it to the sister hotel in this small, lively village that sits beneath a famous karst peak with a giant hole naturally cut-out of the side. But upon walking up and seeing a “chef” washing greens in a water pump on the ground outside, noticing a health warning at the door about virus outbreaks in this area of China, and realizing that there were no other diners in the entire place… we decided to just use it as an opportunity to take a few pictures from the gorgeous rooftop patio, then be on our way. I was coincidentally glad to have my camera accessible to capture the previously mentioned squatty potty (pictured below, and a “nice” one at that!). So after a few miles of nervous peddling out to our destination, it turned out to be a backpack treasure trove of bottled water and mixed-nuts from America for lunch.

Outside of our retreat hotel this morning and night, we saw only four other westerners (read: white folk!) all day, which we are actually kind of embracing as a fun change of pace. Our eyes continue to be drawn to every small Chinese child, and for obvious reasons our hearts are pulled especially to the baby girls we’ve seen. And maybe too we have a soft spot for the safety of the babies NOT in bike seats and definitely NOT in helmets, and those standing carelessly on moving motor scooters. Again, these people are carefree and seemingly happy. In all the honking, traffic, pollution, and headless-chicken-buying madness, the only time we saw anyone upset was the monkey man at me for taking pictures. For this overall enjoyable temperament that we’ve noticed so far, we can definitely learn something.

And did I mention that the scenery continues to be breathtaking, muffler smoke and all? It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and even looking back at our pictures tonight it’s as if we’re looking at something on TV. Country roads, rice fields, bikes, scooters, ancient pomelo groves, and farmers. This is China as we pictured it.

As I wrap up this update, I ask that you please keep Sarah in your prayers. She has spent the last five hours shuffling between the bathroom and bed, so I’m downstairs in the restaurant now ordering some food to take her back up in the room. Here’s hoping it’s just some bacteria from food earlier that will pass soon, or maybe it was that resident hotel cat we’ve seen eating off plates after tables cleared. Again, beautifully different. The only way to describe what we’ve seen so far.

We leave here tomorrow (Sunday) morning at 9am to catch a 12:30pm flight from Guilin to Nanjing. Once there, our local guide (who we hear might actually work for our international adoption agency, Holt) will have full details about when and how we’ll meet our Jujube on Monday. Once we know more, you’ll know more. We’re in this together. Like Rose and Jack from Titantic… you jump, we jump. We adopt the cutest little nugget this side of the Dragon River, you do too.

Good night! And by the next blog post, we’ll be using the word TOMORROW to describe THE DAY!

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"I am a lotus flower – delicate, fragile, yet strong... floating, unfolding, and blossoming into the life where I belong.”