Tag Archives: yangshuo

Haircuts and Peanuts in Fuli Village

Fuli Village: Haircuts, Peanuts, and Paintings

Our crew decided to get up early the next morning and head to Fuli Village. It’s just a 15 minute ride from Yangshuo and this was one of it’s weekly market days. The market was a bustling place.  I especially liked the stalls that sold woven wicker products.

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There was an open-air barber shop and we asked to get Simon’s hair cut. As expected, a crowd gathered round to watch the process and provide their input. One lady was worried that the haircutter was snipping too close to his ears. Someone else was concerned that too much hair was falling into Simon’s shirt collar.   One grandmother wondered if he was a girl and, if not, why we had let his hair get so long anyhow. Another gathered a few locks and held them up to admire the color.   The hairdresser, for her part, was unflappable. When Simon started to shake his head and fuss, she distracted him by giving him……… a pair of scissors. Because, hey, if you’re worried about a toddler squirming too much and getting cut, why WOULDN’T you give him a pair of scissors?

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Keep the snacks comin’ and no one gets hurt.
Post-haircut playtime.
Post-haircut playtime.

From the market, we wandered into the old town and shopped at a painting and calligraphy studio run by the Peng family. The shopkeeper’s whole family are artists.   She showed us the different styles made by her grandfather, father, uncle, mother, and herself.

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Simon wasn’t interested in the artwork. He played in the water bucket outside instead.
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Assembling a fan.

While walking around, we happened to see a market stall where people were making peanut oil. The peanut shells fuel the fire which runs the equipment.

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The peanuts themselves go into this hopper to be smooshed (technical term). The “waste” product that is extruded out of the green machine looks like flat pancakes of peanut butter.   They let it fall onto the floor and then swept it up, so I don’t think it gets eaten by humans.

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The oil that has been separated from the peanuts goes through the last machine, {some sort of magic happens}, and oil pours into the plastic carboys seen by the door.

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I was disturbed by how grimy everything was. Joel was horrified that the workers go to bed smelling like peanuts.

Walking around Fuli, I saw some crepe myrtles in bloom!  They are my favorite and most-missed tree from my childhood in Florida and I had read that they were native to China.

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And finally: the recent terrorist attacks have not gone unnoticed here in the Yangshuo area.  We saw several similar pieces of propaganda featuring knife-wielding terrorists and the police who stop them.  I wish I could read what they said.

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The Highs and Lows of Yangshuo County

This is the story of a day gone wrong. Travel has all sorts of ups and downs. My experience is that the more touristy the area, the more dramatic those highs and lows get. Yangshuo, one of the tourist capitals of China, the land of the incredible karst hills, gave us plenty of both.

On our second full day in Yangshuo, we walked into town and grabbed some tasty western breakfasts.  I even had French toast!  From there we wandered through town and stumbled upon a really cool souvenir shop and everybody bought a souvenir t-shirt. (Simon got two.) I think the name of the place translates to Endless Summer (such a classic touristy name!) but I’m not sure. The shirts have great graphics that represent Yangshuo and at 99 yuan a piece, are a better deal and every bit as cool as the souvenir shirts at Plastered in Beijing.

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Downtown Yangshuo.

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While Simon napped, Mary offered to stay at the hotel so that Joel and I could take a bike ride. On our morning walk to town, we had noticed a nice spot where people were swimming. The plan was for me and Joel to bike there, take a quick swim, and come back. We rented our bikes (the wobbliest one I’ve ridden yet) and cycled towards town. But we were astonished by what we saw at the long bridge. Where yesterday, there had been a single, lonely shopkeeper selling drinks, there were now hundreds of souvenir stands. Why? Because the ferries from Guilin were running and literally thousands of Chinese tourists were pouring out of the boats, across the bridge, and into town. The ferries were clogging the river, honking their horns constantly. Touts were yelling above the crowd and hordes of families filled the street, jam-packed. We had to negotiate our bikes through it all. I tried biking. I tried walking with the bike. No matter, my pulse was racing just from being amongst the crowd. We finally made it through and met up at the other side. But alas, our peaceful swimming spot from this morning had transformed. Gone were the swimmers, the tai chi practitioners, and the grandparents with toddlers. The whole area was packed with tourists. The water was churning from all the ferries passing by, a muddy, wake-filled mess. We took off our socks and shoes and quickly paused for pictures in ankle-deep water. Then, disheartened, we grabbed our bikes and steeled ourselves for the ride home across the bridge.

After regrouping at the hotel, we decided to make one last attempt at sightseeing with Simon. We’d cut through town on the bikes and then visit a nearby village. Meanwhile, Mary went off to a cooking class. We made it across the bridge without incident–the crowds had disappeared–but soon got turned around in Yangshuo. We paused to consult maps and smartphones for directions. Hopped back on our bikes. Not three minutes later, I reached back into my pocket for my phone.

It was gone.


We retraced our path, but to no avail. Lesson learned. Phones do not belong in pockets in a town notorious for petty theft. I thought I’d be OK. I thought we’d be moving fast enough on our bikes. Nope. I’m out one iPhone with all its pictures, itinerary notes, and local Chinese contacts.

We retreated back to the hotel–again–and gave up for the day. Sometimes, you just have to know when you’ve been beat and this was one of those days.

Chinese Painting and Calligraphy

In Yangshuo, you can get all your Chinese culture lessons.  Pretty much anything is on offer.  Mary took an afternoon cooking class.  I saw tai chi and kung fu lessons offered.  Joel and I decided we wanted to try our hand at traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy.  The artist, Zeng Song, came right to our hotel with his supplies.

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First, he taught us a little calligraphy.  I have to say, I found the mechanics difficult.  The paintbrush has such a fine tip and if you press to heavily, you just get a smoosh of ink instead of the graceful lines that are treasured.  Actually, I kinda felt like I was in third grade, learning cursive all over again.  That was a painful experience.  This was fun but every bit as frustrating!

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The teacher would show us a character and then ask us to repeat on our paper. After they were drawn, he’d look at our papers, point at Joel’s, and say “better.” Yep, that’s just how I remember cursive practice.

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The master’s writing. The bottom right three characters say “Xiao Pianzi,” Simon’s Chinese nickname.

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Then it was time for the painting.

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First up were the pandas.

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If you look closely, you’ll see that my panda is hovering mid-air. I’m awesome at this.

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Next was the landscape painting.

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Do I look happy?

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Hey, they didn’t turn out half-bad.  My mountains are too stubby, but I thought Joel’s looked as good as the teacher’s!

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Susie and Mary, on the Road Again

In the summer of ’99, Mary Thompson and I went on our first real roadtrip.  We traveled from Gainesville, Florida to San Antonio, El Paso, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon before heading all the way back to North Carolina and then home.  It was a magical trip.  A couple of weeks and thousands of miles in the hot summer sun with two roommates who somehow managed to not get seriously lost or have a single argument the whole way.  Mary and I just make good travel companions, I guess.

Susie and Mary, Grand Canyon, August 1999.

We decided to see if that’s still holds true, 15 years and half a world away.  Mary arrived in Zhuhai on June 8 and after a few days at our home, we set off on our big adventure.  Unlike the first trip, we have a few more traveling companions (Joel and Simon).

Having no car at our disposal, this road trip features an abundance of alternative transportation methods.  We started out on the bullet train from Tangjia to Guangzhou, and then transferred from Guangzhou South station to Guangzhou Central Railway Station via subway.  Then the cool part: an overnight sleeper train.  Joel and I had traveled by sleeper train in India, but this was our first experience in China.  It was wonderful.  We left Guangzhou at about 7:30 at night and arrived in Guilin early the next morning.  We had decided to book a berth for Simon so that the four of us had a room all to ourselves, which was very comfortable.  Simon even made friends with the family next door.  Their little boy was just a few months older than him.

In the train car.
In the train car.
Simon’s sleeping arrangement on the train.
“We’re on a train!!!!!”

From Guilin, it was a 90 minute bus ride to Yangshuo and then, finally, a brief taxi ride to our hotel, the Li River Retreat.  Readers abroad might be wondering, “Why Guilin?  Never heard of it.”  But you know it, even if you don’t know it’s name.  It’s the place in all those Chinese paintings.

Gao Kegong, b.1248 d. 1310. “Hill Growing to Green and White Clouds.” Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Thanks to amazing karst geology, this is one of the most amazing, unique, awe-inspiring landscapes in the world.  You could easily imagine yourself to be on a foreign planet.  The peaks pop out of the ground as tall, conical pillars dotting the landscape.


We are staying in the Li River Retreat, which is just 2km out of touristy Yangshuo with a view of the Li River and karst hills.  The rooms are pretty nice.

Li River Retreat


But we’re staying here for the view.  Here, take a look out our bedroom window.


We checked in and chilled out.  After all that travel, we were content to just sit on the balcony and enjoy the view.



Joel picked up a book from the lobby bookshelf.  It was a quick read.


We finally gathered the energy to move into Yangshuo for dinner at a vegetarian place called Pure Lotus.  Afterwards, we roamed the streets for a little while.

Hanging out at the ice cream shop.
Simon picks out some wax berries, a new favorite.
Famous Guilin chilies.
Downtown Yangshuo.

The next day, we took a bamboo raft trip down the river.  This is a very popular, very touristy thing to do while in Yangshuo but it was completely worth it.  Mary and I shared one raft while Joel and Simon rode in another.  Each raft had a boatman who steered us with a long pole.  The two-hour trip was a leisurely way to take in the scenery and I only wished for a cold, fruity drink to complete the experience.






Eventually, Simon tired of his dad’s company.  The boatmen pulled up next to one another and Joel handed him off to us.



Once the raft ride was over, we were met by our guide.  The rafts get hauled back to the starting point by truck, but we were going on a bike ride.




We biked for a couple of miles.  The scenery was stunning–massive karst peaks surrounding us, with farm fields in the foreground.




At one point, we came upon a rice paddy that was still being planted. The workers were away on a lunch break.  Our guide, Anna, asked if anybody wanted to learn how to plant rice.  “Sure!” I said.  But Mary and Joel were less enthused and offered to hang back with Simon.  Anna led me into the field and we peeled off our socks and shoes.  “Won’t they be upset that were disturbing their field?”

“Why?!  We are doing their work for them.  They will be surprised and happy when they come back!”


So, here are my impressions of planting rice.  While it is pleasant enough in the short-term, the constant bending and repetitive motions would eventually take a toll on your back.  The water is about five inches deep and steamy hot.  Hotter than bath water–more like a hot tub.  And it’s well fertilized by the cattle in the region.  Let’s not dwell upon the components of that mud that was squishing up between my toes.

Anna grabbed a clump of rice shoots in her left hand.  She instructed me to use my thumb to separate one at a time, which I should transfer to my right hand and poke into the mud.  Sounds simple enough, but the roots and shoots kept tangling for me.  Obviously, if you going to grow enough rice to feed the most populous country in the world, you’re going to have to be faster.  I poked and prodded like the novice I was.


Until Anna encouraged me to work faster, or the leeches would grab me and start sucking my blood.  That’s just the kind of encouragement I needed to pick up the pace.


We finished our bundles and I took a long view of the field.  To my left, the neatly planted rows done by the local farmers.  To the right, the haphazard rows that I managed to plant.  It was quite an eye-opening reminder of the sheer physical exertion of agriculture.


As we cycled on, we saw fishermen in the river and family gravesites.


Our will to stop and admire sights was fast diminishing, though.  It was early afternoon and about 95 degrees out.  The sun was burning bright and hot and we were hungry.




Anna led us to a little lunch spot accurately called the Secret Garden. After filling up, we returned our bicycles and took a taxi back to the hotel.  Simon went down for a nap and we boasted of our plans to process photos, write blog posts, and read up on tomorrow’s activities.  In truth, we were exhausted and accomplished little more than showers and naps.  Tomorrow would be another full day and we needed our rest.