If you read my last post, you know that I’ve returned to the States for the first time in over a year and a half. (If you didn’t read my last post, then I guess you have some homework to do, huh? What are you waiting for? Go. Read. Now. I’ll wait.)
Also, if you read the last post, you know that I’m seriously behind on telling you about all the awesome places I visited during my last month of traveling in Asia – not to mention all the amazing food I ate. (Again, if you didn’t read my last post, then you might want to get on it already. Because, seriously, you’re missing out.)
Being the over-sharer that I am, I’d feel really bad not telling you all about my trip. I mean, that would just be plain selfish of me, right?
Besides, I kind of have this habit of eating sixty-five meals a day while I’m traveling because I tell myself I need to try everything so I can blog about it later.
So in order to fill you in on all my summer travels and to justify the fact that I can no longer fit into my pants, I’ve come up with a new bloggy series called, “That Time I Went Somewhere And Ate Tons of Amazing Food Just So I Could Write About It On My Blog But Then I Never Did Because I Was Probably Too Busy Going Somewhere Else or Eating Something Else. Or I Was Taking a Nap.”
Or just “That Time I…” for short.
To kick things off, I’m going to start by telling you all about the time last month I took a group tour to the Longsheng Rice Terraces near Guilin, China. Despite not being particularly fond of group tours. Or rice fields. (That’s what happens when you spend two months weeding them.)
Let’s get started, shall we? (Well, all of you who read my last post can get started. All of you who didn’t read the last post can get started over there. Like, now. Seriously. What are you waiting for?)After the last few years of living and traveling in Asia, I’ve gotten pretty used to people approaching me trying to sell me everything from package tours to postcards to puppies.
In Kunming, I had a man walk up to me on the street, open up his jacket and pull out a squirmy puppy which he wanted to sell me. Frankly, a puppy doesn’t really seem like something you should buy from some guy’s jacket, but, really, what do I know? I’m very rarely in the business of buying puppies.
My usual response when approached by a tout is to shake my head, smile vaguely, look off into the distance and keep on walking.
I’d like to think this technique makes me look pleasant yet unapproachable and mysterious.
In actuality, I suspect I look partially demented like I’ve recently suffered some kind of brain trauma.
Either way, it’s a technique that totally works. So, you know, feel free to use it during your next trip.On my third morning in the tourist-packed city of Guilin in Southern China, I was wandering down one of the city’s pretty, tree-lined sidewalks, when I was approached by a short, barrel-chested man with a crew cut.
“Hello! You are beautiful,” he began.
While my first reaction was to keep on walking, I stopped to listen anyway.
Because, you have to admit, the man had a valid point.
He gestured towards a nearby travel agency, “Do you want to go on a boat cruise or a group tour, pretty lady?”
But that didn’t stop me from following him into his shop to be plied with brochures and more compliments on my stunning beauty.
After which, I signed up for a nighttime boat cruise and not one but two group tours.I should probably mention here that I don’t even like group tours.
Mostly because I’m not a morning person.
Or a big groups of people kind of person.
Or a be-on-time-to-anything-that-I’m-not-getting-paid-to-be-on-time-to kind of person.
And, you see, group tours kind of have a way of combining all of those things I don’t like.
All on to one big huge tour bus.
And, in China, there is often some kind of matching hat component involved. And I don’t really do matching hats.
But if there’s one way to get me to do anything I wouldn’t normally do it’s to call me beautiful.
Surprisingly, this kind of thing very rarely happens to me.
I can’t imagine why.
Okay, maybe I can.The first group tour I signed up for was for the Longsheng rice terraces, which are located about two hours outside of Guilin.
Nicknamed Longji titian or Dragon’s Backbone, the terraces are built along the side of the mountain, in a way that’s said to resemble the scales on a dragon’s back.
This tour left at the dreadfully early time of eight o’clock in the morning the next day. Because, apparently, rice terraces are the kind of thing that you need to see really early in the day, or they’ll totally go bad or something.When I dragged myself on to the tour bus the next morning, I was greeted by an entire busload of people and our adorable, perky tour guide. By the way she chirpily introduced herself, I could tell she was clearly both a morning person and a big groups of people person.
Despite all that, I really kind of liked her.
Probably because she didn’t make me wear a hat.
And because she couldn’t remember my name, so every time she wanted to get my attention she’d call me “beautiful girl.” (It’s like everyone involved in the Guilin tourism industry was required to call me beautiful. If only this could be a requirement of everyone everywhere.)
As I made my way to the one remaining seat way in the very back of the bus, I noticed that I was the only non-Chinese person on board.
Judging from the stares and whispers I was getting, it was possible everyone thought I was part of the day’s attractions.
I started to wish I had taken a bit more care with my appearance. Maybe I could have actually bothered to do something with my hair – like comb it or something. Or, you know, put on a clean pair of pants.As the bus trundled out of town in the direction of Longsheng, our adorable tour guide launched into an hour-long spiel in Mandarin complete with singing.
The entire tour group was in rapture.
Even I was entertained.
And I couldn’t understand a word of it
She then delivered an abridged version in English just for me. “Hey, you, beautiful girl,” she yelled down the length of the bus to get my attention.
The entire busload of people turned around to look at me.
Or to look for the beautiful girl she kept referring to.
I’m not sure.
At the end of her English explanation, she informed me that if I wanted I could join an optional tour of an ethnic minority village after we visited the rice terraces. The tour would cost an extra fifteen dollars and take two hours.
The travel agent hadn’t mentioned anything about this optional tour when I’d signed up for the trip, and, frankly, it didn’t sound like anything I’d be interested in. I’d been on similar tours in Thailand — in which the so-called village turned out to be a disappointing collection of ramshackle huts constructed merely for the entertainment of tour groups.
This wasn’t really an experience I wanted to repeat again.
But I found myself handing over my fifteen bucks anyway.
Because, hey, everybody else was doing it.
And, okay, it helped that she kept on calling me beautiful. Seriously, guys, it’s like my kryptonite or something.Getting to the rice terraces required a particularly twisty, nauseating hour-long ride up the side of the mountain during which the bus hurtled through hairpin turns at breakneck speed — not really bothering to slow down for stuff like cars or landslides or car accidents caused by landslides.
We finally arrived at the tiny mountainside village of Ping’an, located at the base of the rice terraces.
As we tumbled out of the bus, our tour guide informed us that our first stop was lunch. Because there’s really nothing like a few brushes with death and a couple bouts of motion sickness to work up your appetite.
We stopped at a village restaurant which served up the local specialty — meat and rice cooked inside stalks of bamboo.
Outside of the restaurant, a muscle-bound, shirtless man hacked away at the bamboo with a machete.
While nearby a woman shoved the food-stuffed bamboo into a blazing grill.
As I was devouring my meal of chicken and rice, one of my fellow tour group members handed me a paper cup full of the local rice wine – which was surprisingly sweet and mild.
Another member of the tour insisted on paying for my meal.
I started to think this whole group tour business wasn’t so bad after all – what with the half-naked men and the booze and the having my meals paid for and the being called beautiful all the time.
Yep, I could certainly grow accustomed to this.After lunch, our tour guide informed us we had two hours to explore on our own. She assured us this would be plenty of time to climb up the mountain and take pictures of the rice terraces and then get back to the bus.
And it probably would have been enough time, if you weren’t like me and constantly taking pictures of pretty things.
And funny signs.
And cheesy hats.
And people wearing cheesy hats.
By the time I got to the top, I was already running behind almost everybody else in my group. And there were a bunch of people wearing cheesy hats and doing cheesy poses, so I had to take pictures of them, too. I mean, how could I not?
I was already running kind of late for the bus, so I tried to make it quick.
But it took a while (and a whole lot of safety pins) to get me stuffed into that costume. Apparently, they don’t make ethnic minority dresses for sturdy girls like myself.
Plus, the husband-wife team who were manning the stall that rented out the costumes to tourists kept on calling me beautiful and insisting they take more pictures of me.
And, well, we all know what happens when people call me that.What’s been your most memorable group tour experience?