If you haven't read the post of the journey and ride that finally found me hanging in Guilin you should take a quick moment and read it here.
Guilin is a pleasant small Chinese city of about 500,000 people. Famous within China for its amazing scenery. Artists, writers and those who've inscribed everything from cave walls to etchings have touted Guilin as the most beautiful place in the world. Sitting on the western bank of the Li Jiang river Guilin is surrounded by unique limestone karst peaks.
Waking up after our crazy journey to this bustling town — yet peaceful compared to Guangzhou or HK — we sauntered along the river looking for a good cup of coffee. We immediately became victim (very willingly you should know) to a graduate student from Bejing who wanted to practice her English while convincing us to participate in a marketing research survey.
Shortly after this we met Ling and Xi. A recent graduate and her roommate, Ling immediately expressed excitement and desire to hang with Americans to practice her English and “hang out”. She lamented that she liked Americans more than many of the foreign visitors who come to Guilin because most Americans she said, will talk to her. Others wave their arms at her or tell her to go away. It's not like she's selling anything. Just a friendly Chinese girl looking to express herself in a new language while hoping to learn about faraway lands. Can't blame her.
Bryan and I went for breakfast and within minutes of leaving the eatery we were graced by the beautiful duo of Ling and Xi. This friendship and companionship helped us immensely as we wandered the streets of Guilin. Always eager to dive into the real culture I asked Ling to take me to the market. Eager to see snakes, turtles and an assortment of colorful and exotic edible plants they guided us through the streets to the local market.
I could feel a bit of apprehension as we walked through the alley covered with market umbrellas, fabric strung between roof tops, puddles of muddy water dotted the concrete and dirt. Mud.
“This is not very nice,” Ling warned. “Very dirty market this.”
“Dirty?” I asked thinking that I'm in China and I'm not looking for a Safeway or Ralph's supermarket. “It's ok. I'm very understandable.”
“Dirty,” Ling warned.
Deep down it really wasn't dirty to her. But she was worried that I'd perceive this market as dingy, dirty and unsanitary. Which maybe it was. But this is the way of life her. Hell. I've got my Hepatitis A & B and a host of other shots injected into my system. Bring it on, Ling. I'm ready.
Gotta hand it to Ling. She's knows the cardinal rule of all rules: manage expectations. This market wasn't that dirty. Sure raw meat sits own in plane view. Merchants waiting for customers fall asleep on stacks of fruit and vegetables. Yeah. There were the turtles for sale. Even a dog. But you can be assured that Bryan (at 6'3″ and me blonde and extremely white) and I gathered quite the crowd at the market.
We enjoyed an amazing lunch with these girls and while I was curious about snake, I really wasn't ready to take part in that much of culture. Yet. Later we asked our new found friends to take us to find some tea. And we hopped a cab and cruised through Guilin to a cramped street that was clearly a destination to only locals in the know. And that's where we met the magician. At least that's what it looked like.
A tiny storefront with only chinese characters stenciled to the glass we found him. The magician. The walls lined with exotic teas. Exotic to me. And tiny almost miniature tea pots and little glasses. All signed by some Chinese craftsman. Behind a wall of glass jars holding tea leaves he sat. Hovering over a marble or stone platter fitted with drainage. A small rubber hose connected to a tiny nipple on the stone platter was the conduit for spent hot water and tea to drain cleanly and out of sight — to the floor.
He speaks no English. But he has the accoutrements. We find some tea and he boils water. pours it into a large pot. Filters it with tea, then into a small pot. Then lots of waving motion as he performs Jackson Pollackesque moves with the water and tea over the cups. Letting them runneth over.
Handing us the delicate cups he smiles and reveals his dental challenge. Long stringy hair falls over an aging but innocent looking face. It's receding. He looks like a wizard. But he's the magician. The magic of tea. Tea in China. In Guilin.
Bryan and I walked out of there amped on great tea and a few bags under our arms. Didn't get any photos of the magician. But some amazing video. I hope I can find time to edit and post this a bit later. Stay tuned.
Photos: (1) The Southwestern City of Guilin with the Li Jiang River and scenic limestone karst peaks gracing the landscape. (2) Ling and Xi our translators, tour guides and good friends while in Guilin area. (3) Meat. Meat. And meat at the market in Guilin. (4) Care for some fish? (5) Spices and dry goods at Guilin market. (6) Snake is on the menu. If you dare.