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Not only does it look fun, but the mango sticky rice was delicious!
We started out on our trip to South China with great hopes that it would be a relaxing yet exciting time, seeing new things and places, and experiencing the culture up close. Even with the burglary of our hotel and our status as somewhat “criminals”, a good time was still had by all and we enjoyed our time on planes, trains, and taxis, buses, bicycles, boats, bamboo rafts, and on foot.
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I was impressed that this bird was working on his Chinese.

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Bamboo rice as well as bamboo chicken are served and cooked inside the hollowed out bamboo. The bamboo rice has pork cooked in it as well to add flavor.

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It constantly amazes me the percentage of people who live at what most in the US would consider an unacceptable level or in poverty but the reality of it is that that is the norm in a lot of the world that we have seen. What might seem uncomfortable for us might just be okay for someone else, or the way that they have always done things. I think that is one of the greatest lessons you learn when you get out of your comfort zone and see the world for yourself: tolerance, acceptance, and understanding that just because it isn’t the way you think it should be or should be done doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.
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We saw a funeral in process and it involved a professional crier and a lot of ceremony to take the individual to the final resting place.

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This is an example of a Chinese cemetery, though you can see individual tombs all throughout the countryside.

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The Sun and Moon Pagodas in Guilin

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The use of lots of lights on almost all the buildings in China make it really beautiful at night.

That in no way is an endorsement of the chaotic system of traffic not-control that is the norm in China. I am sure it was a much simpler and safer place back when everyone got around on their bike. I read an article in the newspaper here that said there are 40 million cars and 21 people on the streets at any given time, and crossing the streets relies on quick reflexes and flexibility for both the pedestrian and the bicyclist. The cars use the horn just to tell you they are going to hit you if you don’t hurry up and don’t consider the option of slowing down a little bit to let you save yourself.
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I found it interesting that many of the homes that we passed were still getting their water from a hand pump.

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This time of year the fields were full of white and yellow flowers.

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You would think we were in Georgia with the vine covered buildings.

The author of the article likened it to the running of the bulls in Pamplona and I would have to agree. The joy and freedoms that car ownership offer are great but not really necessary in big Chinese cities with lots of great public transportation options and huge pollution problems. I think it all is a result of poor vision from years of looking at school books at their desks so they seem to have lost their distance vision. Either way, you roll the dice and take your chances if you want to get from point A to point B in China.
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At the Yaoshon scenic spot, there were a lot of locks chained to the railings. The kids told me they signify locking your love in to save it.

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When the Chinese visit the various temples,they tie red ribbons with their hopes and desires for their lives on the trees or whatever is available.

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The lights inside the Reed Flute Cave made it look really cool.

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The cave got its name from the type of reed growing outside, which can be made into melodious flutes.

We started our trip with the bullet train to Shanghai at 185 mph: I assumed there were no seatbelts because you wouldn’t survive a crash at that speed anyway.
He headed out by plane to Guilin which, like most cities in China, has millions of people and about 100 Starbucks locations in town. We stayed at the Guilin Riverside Hostel (which I would highly recommend as it was a good location at a reasonable price) and they arranged all the tours for us from the hostel. You could also walk anywhere you wanted to through town and easily find your way back as it is right on the river.
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We went out to the Longi Terraced Rice Fields --which are the rolling highs of gold in the fall and the glistening water pools and green in the spring – but are the brown cloud covered hills in the winter. Still, you could get the idea and enjoy the warm day we had as we rode up the chair lift. I was amazed that when the terraces flood, the locals actually use the oxen to plow up the ground. While we were bicycling around the countryside, we saw lots of farmers using a tilling tool that was the width of two pitchforks to break up the soil by hand (and that seemed to be the norm).
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This time of year seemed to be when the oxen had their babies as every mom seemed to have a little one kicking up its heels in the mud nearby. I imagine the plowing starts again in about a month and seemed very labor intensive with each plant put in by hand. The terraces were built during the Yuan Dynasty (1200s) and cultivate every corner of the valley, forest, and cliffs. Some areas are an acre with others are just strips with a few rows of seedlings.
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I think this is an Oriental Honey Buzzard that we saw along the river.

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Shan Lake in Guilin had lots of pretty bridges and pagodas that were lit up at night.

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This pig was very happy to see us and came out to say hello!

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The karsts landscapes can be seen in almost every picture background.

Others sights in Guilin included the Sun and Moon Pagodas which were out in the middle of Shan Lake. It would have been nice to know ahead of time that there had been a fire in October and one of the pagodas was under repair but that’s the way it goes sometimes. There is an underwater tunnel that connects them (under repair) and the Sun pagoda is the only one in the world with an elevator (also under repair). I would guess smoking or fireworks started the fire but that might just be based on the usual suspects.
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We also visited the Reed Flute Cave which was pretty impressive. Again, tell me the English tour is at 10:30 and 2:00 before I get there at 9:00. We have an information highway but it doesn’t seem to get the vital information you need posted. I guess too much room and time being taken up following the Kardashians or Honey Booboo.

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I believe this is a black shoulder Kite. It looks pretty regal in the top of the trees.

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The mist over the Li River as the fishermen paddled their rafts was very tranquil.

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I believe this is in the Titmouse bird family. I think I have a picture of its cousin from South America as well!

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The Taiwan Blue Magpie as the coolest one we saw. We had to track it up in the trees by its call but finally I got a decent picture.


Before we left Gulin,we went up to Yao Mountain by unsecured ski lift and got a good dose of fresh air and countryside views. The best part though was the toboggan ride down on the giant slide. It reminded me of when we went as kids to the Alpine Slide near the Enchanted Forest. Again, you couldn’t really go all out because if you did fly off the side, there was no guarantee of what kind of medical attention you might get and we don’t know how to say “I think it is broken” in Chinese.
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From a bird's eye view, you can see all the tiled roofs in the old villages.

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A kitchen in one of the old villages.

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If you keep the chickens in the kitchen, they are ready when you are!

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In many of the old villages, you could still see the original wooden frameworks and designs.

Our final stop was the Solitary Beauty Park which was neither solitary nor full of beauty. It had a big house billed as a sort of “palace” and some caves and hills to climb. You couldn’t go in the Peace Cave without a guide who had the secret key (which was unfair as you didn’t need a guide to get in the park), and you couldn’t read in the Reading Cave because everyone was trying to look in it; but, apparently the cultural aspects of the park have historical value to the city and it looks good on the brochure.


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This was the "palace" at Solitary Beauty Park; it was more like a plantation house in the Old South.
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Workers sorting the kumquats for shipping.

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Baskets and baskets of kumquats could be seen all along the roadsides.
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The gas stations were crazy, few, and far between with no order. You felt you had to take advantage of whenever you could get to the pump because people kept cutting in.

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At the funeral, the family would make a decorative display that is put over the tomb at the cemetery. The funeral decorations remind me of the displays from the Flower Festival in Medellin but made with paper. When my students saw pictures of my parents at the Flower Festival in Medellin, they were a little startled because they thought they were happy at a funeral!


We were okay either way other than the fact that our taxi for the day apparently had decided that our day was over and had deserted us so we had to hike back to the hostel. It was a good chance to people watch and take a picture of the lovely “Nappy New Year” sign in the marketplace. Every time I read bad English I wonder if anything translated into Chinese in the states has the same problem or do we pay the right person to translate it. It would be okay either way because then they could laugh at us too.
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Fishing with the cormorants

We decided to take the Li-jiang River cruise to Yangshuo instead of the bus to enjoy the views and even though it was cold and a bit cloudy, it was worth it for the peace and quiet. Now, there were about ten riverboats with approx. 100 people on each boat headed down at the same time, along with I don’t know how many bamboo rafts that we passed at different points on the river, but still, for China, it was peaceful. You only thought Colombians were loud because you haven’t been to China; I give the tranquil and environmental award to the Japanese.
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At the park in Yangshuo, they had decorations like at Christmas in South America. They were lit up at night.

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Everywhere you looked, you would see the Chinese playing a Chinese card game with thin cards. Apparently it involved gambling as well and could involve quite intense play.

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This is the wind and rain bridge, built by the Yong people, with only wooden elements.

On the river journey, the guide was pointing out all these special formations we were supposed to be seeing in the karsts (which according to Wikipedia are landscapes formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks including limestone, dolomite and gypsum. It is characterized by sinkholes, caves, and underground drainage systems) or the mountainous peaks at different heights you see all throughout the landscape.
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Steve at the wind and rain bridge

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Lots of red paper messages were available to put around the doorways of buildings and homes for the new year.

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Steve at Moon Hill.

Someone tried to say the whole place was underwater at one time and after the water was displaced, this is what was left. I guess it could be but either way, it made for an interesting geographic feature.
Images from some of the old villages

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The funny part was we could never see all the “images” in the rocks we were supposed to see (nine horses over here, Hello Kitty over there) but we could see a lot that we made up so it was all good. I don’t know who they were trying to fool with the special “Hello Kitty” mountain but you could see that shape anywhere you looked.
Images from the Long Hair Show

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The show highlighted the daily life in the village.

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Steve with his new "wife".

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The beginning of the marriage ceremony started with the "brides" covered up.

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During the wedding dancing, the other women would pinch the groom's bottom, I can't remember to give them luck or for luck.

There are many day laborers to pick the oranges, kumquats, and persimmons this time of year and as the hills were covered with fruit. I can guess it takes a lot of work as apparently they have been harvesting kumquats for the last 300 years – 87,000 tons last year worth about 64 million dollars. I don't remember a lot of Chinese kumquats in the Walmart produce section, but maybe they sell them all on this side of the world.
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The streets in Yangshuo once the holiday started. Yikes!


We stopped in Huangluo village to see a local folk show with the Yao “Long Hair” minority. Minority seems to be the word used for the local indigenous people and long-haired is exactly what they were.
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You can see the woman in the background with the "extra" hair which was saved from their first haircutting.
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This woman would be married with children
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This woman would be unmarried because of the simple black head covering.

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This woman is married but doesn't have children yet.



Apparently in this region, the women only cut their hair once (between 16-18 years of age) and they save that hair, as well as any hair they brush out. Those two “parts” along with the hair that continues to grow are all wound together on top of their heads. It is interesting enough to see that they have a whole show around it! For the men of the region, they look for not only the hair but for big feet, a big rear-end, and a big voice when they are looking for a spouse. You can tell a woman’s marital status by their hairdo: a black head covering means not married; a “snail” in the front is married; a “dragon” looping around the head is married with children. Steve ended up marrying a local on stage but I think it is like Las Vegas in that “what happens in Huangluo stays in Huangluo”.
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Finally, he had to carry his new "bride" away.

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Steve had to sing a song to his "bride" and give her a token of love (that he purchased backstage before the show)

After walking through the towns of Guilin and Yangshuo, we realized that our Chinese name was “Hello Just Looking!” You really can’t deny it since that is what we were doing and I have to say I preferred that to the later title of “Hello Money!” All items were subject to barter and negotiation and most people were very pleasant to barter with. A couple seemed to prefer not dealing with us but at least they didn't have a sign out saying “Americans not welcome here” like we saw for the Japanese. Still no love lost between the two countries for some people. As always, there was a McDonald's in town for when you just needed a break from the Chinese food.
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I don’t feel I am exaggerating when I say there are a million old villages that you can see throughout China. If you want to see how people lived in the old days (and many seem to still be living) you can walk the streets and right into some of the people’s living rooms. It reminded me of medieval times because the villages were usually surrounded by a gated wall and connected by alleys and passageways. If you got up on a rooftop, you could see the maze and find your way out if you were lost. We even went to the old fishing village made famous by Bill Clinton’s trip there back in the 1990s. The villagers really wanted to show us where he had stood and the pictures they had with Bill because we were supposed to be impressed, I guess, because we are Americans. I was more interested in finding a secret passageway or interesting trinket on a lady’s dusty shelf of antiquities.
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Lots of people like to go on the bamboo rafts to enjoy the river.

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This was the Dragon Bridge, an old stone bridge in the region.

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The best part of the trip, for me, was bicycling through the countryside. The worst part of it was bicycling through the countryside with a map that would have better served as a coloring page for a kid at a Pizza Hut.
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During the show, hundreds of fisherman went back and forth on the river on their rafts, waving a giant red ribbon as they went.

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The light show told the story of a young girl going from her village so you see the "locals" on the shore and the fishermen in the water helping her on her journey.

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The "angel" in the middle is the girl on her way across the river.

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At one point,there were a hundred people stretched across the river in meandering line that weaved back and forth in different lights and patterns.

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This shows you a little better image of the fishermen and the red ribbon.

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The fishermen would lift the red ribbon up and down to create the look of a huge wave across the river.

One of the most impressive shows we have seen in our travels was the Impression Sanjie Liu. It was a show done on the river with about 300 actors playing the parts in an old Chinese story told out on the river through fishermen, villagers, and assorted dancers. The lights and choreography were really impressive and done by the same person responsible for the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. The only downside is that, like any performance we have been to including the movie theater, many Chinese people talk through everything and have a problem staying in their seats. For me it is just a respect issue for the performers and the people around me but culturally, it seems to be the norm, one I hope changes over time.
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This gives you an idea of the old village wall construction.

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A good example of the karsts

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The day after the fireworks

Luckily there was always someone along the way that could point is in the right or other direction so we would eventually get back to town. Inevitably, it would be the road that was either really uphill or a few miles back that we decided not to take. It was great though when we were going through the small villages out on what was supposedly a road but more like a concrete path or dirt path, or muddy trail through the bamboo that was considered the "road to town". We were blessed not to be caught in the rain and always had the energy to pedal or push our one speed bikes where we needed to go.

We saw lots of new birds in the trees along with birds in the river fishing for a living. The fishermen in the area use the Cormorants to dive for the big fish and put a ring around their necks so that they can't swallow them. The birds got the small fish and seemed to be taken care of for the most part so I guess it was a good way to use your natural resources.
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The Chinese Goshawk


Steve has decided that the expression needed to be changed from "I wouldn't do it for all the tea in China" to "I wouldn't do it for all the chickens in China" because it sure seemed like there were a lot of them. "A chicken in every pot" could definitely be accomplished here.
We also rented a scooter several days which let us explore farther into the countryside. We drove up to a rain and wind bridge which is typical of the region and built by the Dong people. The construction is all without nails and only involves wood connections. Most of the bridges of this type are over 100 years old but I have more confidence in them than some of the roads and tunnels that seem to be "thrown up" over night. You go in some of the buildings that look good on the outside but on the inside look like military base housing from the 1950s. We saw a lot of the old stone bridges as well that connected villages across the river. Some villages didn't have any bridges so we would have to take a ferry or a bamboo raft across of we wanted to visit the town.
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Again, a million old towns to see throughout the country! Only one had a little old man to go along with it as a tour guide though, and he was hilarious as he told us about his village in Chinese and we nodded along as if we understood. He had to show us everything to make sure we got our $3.00 worth. I wish we had video taped us talking to him in English and him talking to us in Chinese because I know we would have laughed and laughed. It rated right up there with Steve playing "Driving Miss Daisy" when we were lost or frustrated with where we were trying to go. Every time I would start to cry or tear up my map he would say, "I is just trying to get you to Fuli Miss Daisy" and we would continue in circles in about a three mile radius for another 30 minutes. Everyone we asked would point us in the right direction which apparently was the way we had come but we just couldn't believe there was only one way to get back to Fuli and it was the crazy half baked way we had come cross country. I am serious when I say it was a mud trail through the bamboo that the oxen used and wasn't wider than a sidewalk.
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This shows you a little of the construction of the rain and wind bridge.

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I didn't care that it said "Old Man" toilet because it was better than the Chinese alternative.

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There were real roads around but apparently the way to Fuli didn't rate a better road. Our real problem was we knew the last turnoff was a dirt path but we couldn't find it and went back and forth through the village trying to find it. After asking about four different people, we stopped at this car full of people and asked them. They tried to tell us in Chinese and use sign language, and then tried to get their son who took English in school to help but he said he took English but didn't speak English. Well, we were not going to give up and they really wanted to help us so they stopped a motorcycle that was going by and found out he was going to Fuli and got him to let us follow him to the turnoff. It was a hallelujah moment.
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Local market day in Fuli had lots of green vegetables available.

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It was a pleasant ride back down the river on the bamboo raft after our bike ride.

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Moon Hill was another sight we stopped to see that was pretty interesting. Luckily we went on a slower day when there were few tourists there (I am sure when Richard Nixon visited he picked a day like this as well!) and were able to take the secret, don't go this way path that everyone said to go on to be able to climb to the peak and get a 360 view of the area. Now, it would have been better had it not rained heavily the day before but we still made it up and back down, only falling a couple times but not enough to slide off the hillside.

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Our vacation was cut short by having our passports and cash stolen the first week. We didn't let it ruin our time though and tried to make the best of the situation. What was most frustrating was that I always keep our passports on me but decided to put them in the hotel safe this time with our extra cash. Who would have thought that burglars would break into the hotel and steal the entire safe?
It is funny that I had been having nightmares the night that the theft occurred and couldn't sleep. I was actually awake when it was happening and heard the noise but didn't associate it with something bad happening; good in some ways I guess. It just felt like evil was all around me and it apparently was.They say that people get crazy before the spring festival holiday because their families back in their hometowns are expecting them to bring back money to support them so thefts are way up this time of year. The robbery was so calculated though as the thieves knew where to avoid the cameras and brought all the right tools that it didn't seem an action of desperate poor people.
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Once dry, the noodles are bundled and sold in the local markets.

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Rice noodles drying were common in many places.

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The outdoor barber seemed very popular. Steve read that one of the New Year's traditions was to get a new haircut.

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You could find any type of vegetable at the local market.

We never expected to get our money back and just let it go. If you go with the fact that it was all God's money anyway, it doesn't seem so bad! We refused to let Satan get us down and take the joy out of this time; I half expected our laundry and get it "misplaced" just for an extra dig, but it actually came back early! We both agreed that if it had been a poor person or someone really desperate in need it wouldn't have seemed so bad as compared to a calculated and deliberate theft. We no longer believe the "oh, there isn't crime in China" mantra we have heard as ours was the third incident we heard of from travelers we have met so far.
We were blessed that the owner of the hotel was a man of integrity and he replaced our stolen cash, and the fact that our passports would have expired next year and we can replace them here in China. The process has not be easy and we have felt like criminals without our ID; we joke that criminals have it better because we have to pay for our own way to the police station. We spent about 20 hours in police stations trying to get the paperwork we needed and another three hours at the embassy to get the process going.
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Steve bought this bull in Yangshuo and was excited about its rugged design until he had to carry it back home by way of foot, taxi, plane, train, and car.
It was surprising that we got on a plane and a train with the paperwork we had, but had to go to the police station in Shanghai just to get permission to be able to stay in a hotel for one night! For a little while we thought we were going to have to sleep on the street or the train station but we finally got it worked out.

The trip was a good experience to just go with the flow and practice patience and realize that you can't control what happens, but you can control your reaction or response to it.
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The end of the Spring Festival holiday comes with the Red Lantern Festival. For three days, dancing dragons go through the streets and visit local merchants who have had good luck in the previous year and they get donations that go toward local charities and needy causes. I have seen the traditional dragon costume with the people underneath it, but this was a first for a true lantern dragon. There was close to 100 people from the local community making up this dragon, and we determined that they were probably on the streets for about 8-12 hours the night we saw them so it takes quite a commitment to be a part of the celebration.
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The sequence of events is that the merchant lets it be known that he would like the dragon to visit his house or place of business. The merchant provides the fireworks and when the dragon shows up at the door, you set off the fireworks and then the dragon head literally comes into your house to be "fed" with red envelopes filled with money. In the house we were at, the tail came in 11 times to be "fed". It was crazy as it went in and out with the 20 or so people on the tail running in and out of the house each time.
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This is one tradition that seems to be well-maintained in China as you could see red lanterns in the windows of many buildings as we drove back home and it was beautiful.
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As part of the festival, there was also an outdoor Chinese opera. The actors had the serious opera makeup on and told a traditional Chinese story through their song and actions. It was too bad it was raining so they didn't have a big crowd, but good for us because we had the chance to see it up close.
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With a little less than four months in this school year, who knows what else we will see. Experiencing the culture first hand has been really amazing and helped us to see life from another perspective. It's interesting how similar cultures are in some aspects while totally different in others.




The end of the Spring Festival holiday comes with the Red Lantern Festival. For three days, dancing dragons go through the streets and visit local merchants who have had good luck in the previous year and they get donations that go toward local charities and needy causes. I have seen the traditional dragon costume with the people underneath it, but this was a first for a true lantern dragon. There was close to 150 people from the local community making up this dragon, and we determined that they were probably on the streets for about 8-12 hours the night we saw them so it takes quite a commitment to be a part of the celebration. The sequence of events is that the merchant lets it be known that he would like the dragon to visit his house or place of business. The merchant provides the fireworks and when the dragon shows up at the door, you set off the fireworks and then the dragon head literally comes into your house to be "fed" with red envelopes filled with money. In the house we were at, the tail came in 11 times to be "fed". It was crazy as it went in and out with the 20 or so people on the tail running in and out of the house each time.
This is one tradition that seems to be well-maintained in China as you could see red lanterns in the windows of many buildings as we drove back home and it was beautiful.
As part of the festival, there was also an outdoor Chinese opera. The actors had the serious opera makeup on and told a traditional Chinese story through their song and actions. It was too bad it was raining so they didn't have a big crowd, but good for us because we had the chance to see it up close.