So there we were in Hong Kong for eight days, and it was time to move on to mainland China. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect in this brand new country, but we figured it wouldn’t be as much as a “breeze” as Hong Kong was.
Our first stop in mainland China was Guangzhou (April 12-ish), which probably wouldn’t be worth mentioning except for one of the mornings when this lovely couple took us out to a dim sum breakfast. Backstory: We randomly met this American guy named David in the Hong Kong train station on our way to Guangzhou. He voluntarily came up to us to help us out with buying tickets (how nice!), and was also on the way to Guangzhou, where he lives with his Chinese wife. He gave us his business card and said to call or email if we had any questions about China. A couple days later, we emailed him and asked if he’d like to meet us out for drinks that night. Instead, we ended up meeting him and his wife, Li Yan, for a late breakfast at a dim sum restaurant. This was a really great experience, as we had wanted to try dim sum, but didn’t know how or what to order, especially since most places have menus 100% in Chinese! Anyway, they treated us to a lovely meal, and left us with a positive ending to our 4-day Guangzhou stop. How wonderful!
Next, we were off to Guilin, China, which is a busy little city in southern China with beautiful green rolling hills and lots of traffic! The temperature was HOT and extremely humid and I had been nursing a sinus infection for over a week (probably from the Hong Kong smog) and my throat was starting to hurt as well. On top of it, the culture shock in China was hitting us quite hard, being that it was the most foreign place either of us has visited before. People were pushy, unhelpful, spit on the ground and picked their noses in public, scooters and cars barreled down the street and wouldn’t hesitate to run you over if you got in the way, barely anybody spoke a lick of English, public toilets were smelly and literally porcelain holes-in-the-ground, and we couldn’t find much of any snacks or groceries that were familiar to us (and plus our vegetable and fruit selection was even more limited because in countries like China where the water is unsafe to drink, it’s wise to stay away from any veggies or fruit you can’t peel.)
So yea… I was in great shape.
We spent a few days around Guilin to start, and had heard about this amazing region in the area called “Longsheng,” which is a huge area of hills and mountains where rice is produced. All throughout these rolling hills are beautiful rice terraces that, when viewed from above, make the region one of the most scenic places in China. Awesome! Sounds great! So we went ahead and booked a full-day tour for the day before my birthday, April 20th.
The day before the tour (April 19th), my stomach wasn’t feeling so great. Something just felt off. I wasn’t sick, but just didn’t feel right.
The next day—the morning of our tour—we were up EARLY and bustling about, packing up our stuff for the day. I woke up with the worst sore throat yet, stuffy sinuses, and the stomach ache had gotten WORSE. Drastically worse. To top it off, we noticed it was RAINING outside, which was disheartening since we specifically planned the tour for this day because the supposed weather forecast said April 20th was supposed to be not-so-rainy as the other days surrounding it.
James told me over and over we could just skip the tour and that my health and well-being was most important, but I stubbornly insisted that we go: not only because it was an experience that was supposed to be amazing, but because we had already paid $40/EACH (non-refundable) for the whole-day-tour, which was VERY expensive for our budget! As a kid, I often learned to just “suck it up”, take some medicine, and go to school when I was sick (unless I was EXTREMELY sick, of course), and I have carried this manner throughout life in regards to working and personal matters as well.
Suck it up and get going! I popped a couple peptol bismol pills, packed some extra pills for the road, and off we went!
We loaded into a van with four other travelers, the van driver, and our tour guide. We were informed that it would be a 2-1/2 hour drive to our first stop in a tiny tribal village on the way to the rice terraces.
Great, I thought. No bathroom for the next 2+ hours. Awesome.
We chatted with this nice German couple who were traveling around China, and fortunately the discussions temporarily kept my mind off the pain that was slowly welling up instead of my whole digestive system.
Part-way on our bumpy drive down an unpaved road to the village, we stopped for probably over 15 minutes to wait for road construction. We literally sat there, watching a bulldozer in the middle of the road scoop and move, scoop and move, with no regards to all the cars piling up behind it in both directions. (We later found out this is common throughout small cities and villages in China and Southeast Asia, as it happened numerous times in the following weeks ahead.) Funny enough, all the cars and mopeds quietly and patiently waited, minute after minute, for the bulldozer and dump truck to finish up and move out of the way. Our driver actually got out of the car and had a cigarette while we waited. Hah…what a difference!—Imagine what drivers would have done in the US!?
Anyway, so we finally arrived to our first stop and I rushed for the bathroom. Finally!
BUT — Ugh… this is what I was faced with:
Did I stumble into the men’s bathroom by mistake? Nope!
Folks, let me introduce you to the Chinese public toilet. This is the type of toilet you will be offered in any public establishment throughout China, particularly in smaller and mid-sized cities, and EVEN in nice restaurants and fast food restaurants such as McDonalds and KFC! In larger cities, there will sometimes be one “Western-style-toilet” (sit down toilet) available amongst the 5-15 other hole-in-the-ground type stalls in a place, and often times there may not even be a door.
Anyway . . . our tour group moved on to this “minority village” as they call it, which is basically a small village consisting of native tribal groups that still dress in ethnic clothing and live off their native land. The group of village women put on a nice little show with dancing and singing, and even brought up some men in the audience on stage to “pretend-marry” them to the single girls in the tribe. [Click here to see a video of this tribal show.] Afterwards, back to the bathroom, and then it was lunch time. We actually had a delicious spread of food given to us, had good conversation with our fellow tour-mates, and for a good ten minutes I actually forgot that I was sick!
Back into the van, and then after another drive it was time to hike up the hills to the top for an amazing view of the rice terraces. By now, it was only misting outside (fortunately no medium or heavy rain, thank goodness!) but the fog was really setting in, and NOW JAMES WAS STARTING TO FEEL SICK too! We began our hike up the trails, but we needed to take our time, as the stomach pain was growing for both of us. The rest of the group moved on ahead, and we took our time as needed.
I WAS DETERMINED TO GET TO THE TOP!!! We had come all this way, and there was no way we were turning back at this point!
The next hour or so basically consisted of us slowly climbing stairs, then stopping to rest, and all in between we were frantically searching for bathrooms in the small village restaurants we passed on the way up. Which, by the way, were bathrooms even WORSE than the toilet photo I posted above: They were filthy, dirty, wet (with lord knows what!), and as always in China: no toilet paper! (Don’t worry, we learned that “rule” pretty quickly to always carry your own paper around when you visit public places.) Oh yea, and we actually HAD TO PAY to use some of them!
So we DID finally make it to the top in the end. We were probably a half hour behind the rest of the group, BUT WE MADE IT!
Well, to get an idea of what we were excited to see, here is a photo I grabbed from online of the AMAZING rice terraces and the amazing views we were supposed to see, had it been a nice day outside:
AND, INSTEAD, THIS IS WHAT WE SAW:
Hah! Yep… miles and miles of PURE WHITE FOG! You literally couldn’t see more than 5 feet in front of your face!
Oh well… we TOTALLY laughed at the whole experience, and said we still were very happy we went on the tour, and that we made it to the top of the hike!
We kept saying all along the way, “This sure will be a funny and GREAT story some day!” Yep, it SURE is!
We got back to our hostel room late that afternoon and I happily climbed into bed as soon as we walked through the door. It felt SO GOOD to lie down and rest after the long day we just had.
I said to James, “Tomorrow for my birthday, I want to do NOTHING! Let’s just sleep in, watch movies, and hang around the hostel.” I had a big enough day for the whole week and was content just staying in on my birthday and enjoying each other’s company.
And that’s exactly what we did! Rest, relaxation, and pampering by my boyfriend.
And today, and many years from now, I KNOW we’ll still be laughing about, “That one day when we had food poisoning in China and were determined to trek up the mountain to the top to see a bunch of FOG!”
Happy Birthday to me!
To see photos from Guilin, China, including our crazy tour day, click here.
To see photos from Guangzhou, China, click here.