Time flies when you are having fun. I am already in Guilin（桂林) of Guangxi province (广西), 2 hours flight south of Xi’An (西安). It’s still China, but there is certainly a different aura to this place compared to the north. It is very much a ‘town’ compared to other cities, with a population of around 1.34 million. Ethnic minorities (namely Zhuang (壮族) and Yao (瑶族) people) play a significant role here, and gives the area its unique flavour. There is a common saying about cities in China, which goes something like this:
去北京看墙头 (Go to Beijing to see walls)
去西安看坟头 (Go to Xi’an to see morgues)
去上海看人头 (Go to Shanghai to see people)
去苏州看美女 (Go to Suzhou to see beautiful women)
去桂林看山头 (Go to Guilin to see mountains)
And that is exactly what Guilin has to offer, i.e. loads and loads of mountains. The town is practically built around these mountains!
There is something very ‘south-east Asian’ about the town, and I almost feel at home when I hung around the city. To begin with… it smells south-east Asian (durians)..
They eat south-east Asian food (火锅)..
And the night markets are even south-east Asian (tent-style):
And heck the local’s accents sounds south-east Asian! It’s probably the closest accent you can get to Malaysian/Singaporean Chinese accent without the ‘Lah’ at the end of each sentence! Malaysian/Singaporean Chinese will definitely feel at home over here!
To add to this, way back when I was a little kid, when one mentions Guilin, we think ‘刘三姐’ (3rd Sister Liu), who was a very famous mountain folk singer, from a fictional film. Join any city tour in Guilin, and you will definitely be treated to a snippet of the 1961 classic, filmed right here in Guilin. It features a witty young lady that sings mountain folk songs to fight her rights against greedy landlords, and finds love at the same time. Even as a kid, I remembered watching this multiple times, whether I wanted to or not. It was just everywhere!
I was only in primary school, when this was popular. And as a kid, I was not aware of the political message behind the story. The movie was obviously pro communism, presenting the most ideal view of socialism you can imagine. And back in the 80s, in a nationalistic country like Malaysia, people used to get jailed for watching this film, for supporting communism! That is how influential this film was!
Putting the political message aside, the film had and still does have a tremendous effect on the city, in terms of bringing tourism here. It’s not just a popular destination for international tourist, but the locals as well!
Typical tours of Guilin usually starts with getting on a boat on a 2-4 hours ride along the Lijiang river (漓江), sipping beer, and gets trigger happy with their camera onboard.
This will usually follow this with a bamboo raft ride on the upper Lijiang river where the waters are calmer:
A typical westerner, however, will also get on a bicycle cycling along the same river to enjoy the same view. A semi-westerner like me chose a slightly lazier way, and got an electric bike (电瓶车) instead:
And if you’re like my parents, why not have a passenger carry an umbrella to add a level of ‘comfort’ to the ride:
Either way, the focus is really all mountains and river. So much so, that the most famous director in the country, Zhang Yimou (张艺谋), made the water & mountain a permanent stage for its award-winning show called “Impressions of Third Sister Liu” (印象刘三姐).
For the uninitiated, Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) is the director responsible for the opening ceremony of the Chinese Olympics in 2008. He is definitely a well regarded artist, and have done many of these “Impression” shows around the country. This one in Guilin started showing in 2004, that is 4 years before the Olympics.
If you have seen the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, then you are probably well aware of what you get in this show. Each performance features around 600 performers sourced from nearby villages! Imagine the scale and amount of effort to get this started, all performed on water!
If you want to see more of the photos, check this site out:
What is interesting is that, this show threw up some controversy a while back, when it initially featured an all nude performance by the star performer. There are certainly some suggestions from photos posted on the internet that it could be true for example:
Unfortunately, it was too controversial and was eventually taken off. It certainly wasn’t all nude when I watched the show although it may look like it from a distance! Apparently this controversy resulted in increased binocular sales!!! *Sigh*
Regardless, for 2200 yuan (~AUD$35) a ticket, it was definitely worth watching. And just to finish the night off, you can’t go wrong with the night streets of Yang Shuo (阳朔), not far from the show. It does have the nickname of ‘洋人街’ (Westerner’s Street), which is probably well deserved, as you’ll probably see more western tourists here than any other parts of Guangxi province!
For me, those streets probably border lines over commercialization, and becomes slightly unauthentic. On the plus side, you’ll definitely be able to find better quality coffee, and plenty of Italian pizzas, pastas, and even rap music if that’s what you are into. I am just here for the buzz, and 1 night here is enough for me. Oh, besides, where else in the world can you get a ‘5D’ movie experience?
Don’t even ask me what that is…
My trip here to Guilin was probably a little rushed, and probably would have been nicer if it was spread out over 4-5 days to soak in all these pretty surroundings. It’s certainly a great place to relax and just chill and you have the option to do it your way, i.e. either quietly near the moutains, or party hard at Yangshuo (阳朔). The choice is yours.
Now.. off to the next city…