Guilin page 1 of Carter's China Trip


"I'm Ricky, short but cute," was the way our guide for Guilin introduced himself.  Ricky is Han Chinese but has lived in this area since he was five.  He studied language and tourism in Beijing and has been a guide here for eight years.  

I note he is Han Chinese because Guilin is a minority area--one of the few in China.  92% of the population of China is Han.  There are 55 official minorities making up the other 8% of the population.  This is the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and therefore the chief executive officer cannot be Han Chinese.  There are four distinct minority populations residing in this area, the Zhuang, Miao, Dong and Yao.


Zoomed map of area traveled in China. We flew to Guilin, in the south, near where we started the trip.  

map modified from the CIA Factbook web map of China


Guilin is an old city dating back more than two millennia, but small by Chinese standards.  As we came into the city we did not see the high rises and the new construction we had seen elsewhere.  But, every street seemed to be under construction.  Ricky assured it would be much better in a couple of years.

We saw a number of people on bicycles, motorbikes and small motorcycles.  Everyone on a motorized bike was wearing a helmet.  Their helmets are not as bulky as ours but they are sturdy.  We asked about this and we told it is the law and people obey.  Perhaps this is a local law for no one could remember seeing so many helmets elsewhere in China.  In the photo above, just to the left of the street light is a sign with the numbers 88.  These lighted signs show the number of seconds until the light will change.  We saw such signs in Guilin and Wuhan.

  We checked into the Guilin Park Hotel, after driving over a narrow causeway where people were fishing in holes in the vegetation covering the large lake in front of the hotel.  

There was a wedding reception gathered in front of the hotel.  The bride, dressed all in white, was busy lighting cigarettes and giving them out to guests.  Young folks seemed to be inhaling for their first time.  We were told that passing out lit cigarettes to guest is a common custom.  Because of the size of the wedding party we had to go out to eat that evening.  


I found my Internet connection in the business office of hotel that evening.  Here for the first time I encountered the use of a modem.  I made my connection and read some email.  I then composed a lengthy  message to send to many colleagues.  It took about 20 minutes to write this.  When I clicked to send the message I found the modem had dropped my connection.  Everything I had written was lost.  Of course they charged for the time I was not connected.  This was not a good experience.  Be forewarned--watch out for standard telephone modems in Internet cafes.

The  next morning it was raining as we prepared for our trip down the Li River.  We took a bus through the city to the put in a few miles south of the city.  Some of the maps show that in the past they started the river trips in the city, but now all boardings are well outside the city.  We put in at Zhujiang Wharf on the east side of the river but the Chinese put in was on the west side of the river.  It is interesting that there are two separate put ins, one for Chinese and another for non-Chinese.

This morning I grabbed the bus seat in front, with Joanne.  I wanted to see the countryside.  However, our driver believed the horn was the most important tool on the bus.  I was greatly bothered by the constant honking because it was very loud and hurt my ears.  I was also uncertain what the driver expected people to do when he honked his horn.  I think he wanted everyone to abandon the road to him--sharing the road was not one of his principles.  Suffice it to say, I did not ride up front again.

By the time we got to the landing it had stopped raining.  It was gray and misty, as we boarded the boat.  This was a two-story craft, with the lower deck enclosed for dining and bad  weather.  I made my way to the upper deck and positioned myself along the front rail, just behind the air horn.  I soon inserted my earplugs.  It was a great place to start down the river.  The temperature was almost cool but  it was not raining.  

  Our boat jockeyed for the lead with a boat filled with Chinese.  We waved as we passed each other.  We got to see them fixing food on the fantail of the boat when they were in front of us.   

The Li River is the name we use for this small river draining the Guangxi Zhuang Province.  The Li is famous because of the spectacular landforms bordering the River.  Scenes from this area are often used to represent China.  Most Physical Geography textbooks will have a photo of the landforms of this area.  This is an area of limestone and the landforms reflect the karst environment.  Later, we visited large caves, another reflection of the limestone base.

As we cruised down the River we saw many cultural artifacts in addition to the landforms through the mists.  Look, three water buffalo swimming off to the left.  Oh, there are a bunch of kids swimming.  There is someone diving down and harvesting vegetation to feed his animals.  There is a family crossing the river on a bamboo raft. 

There is another village where people live by farming and fishing.  Wow, a bamboo raft with cormorants tied to the raft.  After a while we saw places being built to house tourists who would like to stay here for a few days.  This is an interesting mix of outside tourism looking in on traditional society.  Many of the residents along the river seemed to have no connection with the tourists floating by every day.


Here is my friend Chen practicing a traditional Chinese custom.  Gosh, I thought only Americans did things like this.  

This photo is looking back upriver.  Yes, it was dark and gray, but beautiful and mysterious.


On board the crew of the ship was selling the usual beer and soft drinks.  And, for kicks you could buy a shot of snake wine--served from a large bottle with a snake coiled up inside.  I deferred.  Later we saw many opportunities to buy bottles of snake wine.  If you think this is gross, remember we take pride in drinking Tequila with a worm in the bottom of the bottle.  Perhaps I missed a great flavor experience but those who tried it did not rave about the taste.

On our boat were a pair of sisters from Vancouver.  I got into a conversation with them.  They were two of five sisters, of Chinese ancestry but now third generation in Vancouver.  This was their first time to visit China.  They were a lively pair, part of a group of seven persons from Canada.  At some point I volunteered to take a photo of the group.  Suddenly, I had five or more cameras thrust on me for everyone wanted their own version of the group photo. 

We had our usual multi-course dinner on the boat.  Our tour of the Li ended in Yangshuo.  As we pulled up to the dock we saw some of the bamboo rafts out of the water.  Here we see a blue plastic basket to hold the fish.  Obviously, these rafts are used by the cormorant fishermen.  It seems to be an effective technology.

When we docked they were waiting for us, ready to take our cash.  As we got off the boat there were old men with a pair of cormorants perched on a stick across their shoulders.  For a fee you could take their photo.  The half mile walk to the bus was nothing but hawkers and stalls.  This commercialism detracted from the pleasant trip down the river. 

On the way back to our hotel we stopped to see rice growing.  This is short rice with the beautiful scenery in the distance.

We had seen many rice fields from afar but wanted to see paddy rice close up.  We got to wander along the levees separating the fields.  I paid someone 2 for taking photos.  I suspect that was an older person who showed up to collect money and was not the farmer who was busy working in his fields.  But, paying someone assuaged our consciences.  I am glad we had that opportunity to see the fields.

Here we see rice straw--the rice plants cut and the stalks stacked to dry.  I do  not know how they use this straw but it makes a nice image.  You can see the shoots of new rice growing between the stacks.


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Return to the beginning of Carter's China travels

Dr. James R. Carter, Geography-Geology Department,  Illinois State University,