On being Russian in Guilin

Even though by now I’ve been back in the Netherlands for more than two weeks now, I still owe you the full report of my trip to China. I know everybody has got more important things to do (such as watch the so far terribly disappointing Eurocup), but for those interested: here it goes…

Anna Maria, Kim and I left Yangshuo on Sunday April 1st and went to Guilin by bus. Guilin became important in 1372 when emperor Hongwu made Zhou Shouqian the city’s Jinjiang Prince. Since then the city had its own royal family, which ruled until the 1650s. Guilin was also important in the founding of ‘Modern China’, since Sun Yat-sen organised the Nationalists’ “Northern Expedition” here in 1925. We stayed at Hao Flowers Hostel, which was a nice and cosy place. In the evening I was so tired of the whole biking adventure – discussed in my last post – I napped at 10pm before waking up at 11pm to shower and read for a bit. (oh crazy student sleeping cycles)

The next day we walked past the Rong Hu and Shan Hu, two lakes, which used to be the city’s moat in medieval times. There are two pagodas of 40 meters in height, adjacent to Shan Hu lake. We also saw the remains of Gu Nanmen, the old city gates. Less pleasant were the many Chinese visitors who would let their little children poop and piss on the streets as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Well, to them it might be; we were just very grossed out by it. Besides this, people seemed to be surprised to see foreigners (read: white people) so we got pointed and laughed at a lot, which, trust me, can make you feel pretty uncomfortable. At one point, a huge group of Chinese tourists were laughing at us out loud. Kim responded by pointing at them and laughing back, which broke the ice for a conversation. The tourists thought we were Russian, which I thought was interesting since I had never in my life been mistaken to be Russian. Overall, Guilin was much more urban than and definitely not as nice as Yangshuo, so we were glad our house mate Mona had advised us in advance to spend the majority of our time in Yangshuo rather than in Guilin.

Shan Hu Lake with the Riyue Shuang Ta Pagodas

Gu Nanmen

View from Rong Hu Lake

We visited the Jinjiang Princes’ Palace, which was interesting to see. Supposedly, it’s a miniature version of the Forbidden City. In my opinion, it’s much more nature-based than the Forbidden City, with little parks in between all the buildings. However, you’ll have to wait for my post on Beijing for the full story about the Forbidden City. The Jinjiang Princes’ Palace is where Guilin’s royalty lived in the 14th to 17th centuries. The walls around the royal city are still original, whereas the buildings all date from the Qing Dynasty, since the original Ming Dynasty buildings were destroyed during the Ming-Qing transition.

Gate to Jinjiang Princes’ Palace

One of the buildings at Jinjiang Princes’ Palace

“Guilin’s scenery is the best under heaven.”

The estate contains a steep mountain called Duxiu Feng, or: ‘Solitary Beauty Peak’. The mountain looks odd, because it is narrow and extremely high. There is a myth that the tenth prince of the Guilin monarchy opened up a cave at the base of this mountain, which according to Chinese tradition brings bad luck. This, they say, caused the dynasty to fall. The picture above shows an inscription by Wang Zhenggong, a governor living 800 years ago, who wrote the now famous quote about the city ‘Guilin Shanshui Jia Tianxia’, which translates as: “Guilin’s scenery is the best under heaven”. Inside a cave at the base of the peak called ‘Peace Cave’ there are sixty pictures of the ‘Jiazi’ guardians corresponding to a cycle of sixty years. It is well-known the Chinese associate twelve animals of the zodiac with a 12-year cycle, but they do the same with these sixty guardians and a 60-year cycle. People bring gifts to the guardian of a specific year to give luck to a person born in that year.

Jiazi Guardians

View from Solitary Beauty Peak

Finally, there were some fun activities to do at the Palace. For example, we entered a fake civil examination as they were held during the Qing Dynasty. Candidates that did well on these exams could become government officials. The nice thing about this is that people born from poor or infamous families could still become successful, as long as they did well on these exams. As was to be expected, we did not do so well, unfortunately…

Difficult exam…

These people did a lot better on the exam than we did and were initiated as officials as they would have been in the Qing Dynasty

In the evening we took a plane from Guilin to Shanghai. We arrived at our hostel to find the staff had given our room to somebody else because we were too late. I slept in the hostel’s café for a bit, while Kim arranged a room in another hostel. We took a cab to the other hostel at 4am. After a few hours of a sleep we were able to get the room we had originally booked in the other hostel. Next time, I’ll write about the things we did in Shanghai.

I hope you still enjoy reading about my experiences, even though they occurred almost three months ago. 😉


One thought on “On being Russian in Guilin

  1. Hallo Paula,

    Leuk iets over je China reis te horen. Je hebt heel wat indrukken opgedaan. Maar nu weer terug. Ik ben ook benieuwd hoe dat bevalt. hopelijk zien we elkaar op het familiefeest!


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