Postcards from Guangxi

A bridge in Guilin.

A bridge in Guilin, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

A street performer in Guilin. The sign on the left says: "Don't eat cats and dogs. Don't eat friends." The other one says, "With global warming comes smog/haze. The country (government) should ban firecrackers."

A woman I passed on the way to my hostel in Guilin. The sign on the left says, “Don’t eat cats and dogs. Don’t eat friends.” The other one says, “With global warming comes smog/haze. The country (government) should ban firecrackers.” Fireworks are commonly used to celebrate Chinese New Year, but some people have called for a ban on them to curb air pollution.

In a cab, somewhere between Guilin and Yangshuo.

In a cab, somewhere between Guilin and Yangshuo county.

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Yangshuo county, one of the most popular tourist destinations in China.

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Biking through an old town outside Yangshuo county.

Man on the Moon Hill

To get a birds-eye view of Yangshuo’s picturesque scenery, I hiked up a hill a few miles south of the county’s bustling center.

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Moon Hill.

The hill is known for its natural arch, and the Chinese call it Yueliang shan (月亮山), which literally translates into moon mountain. Sections of the 1,250-foot hike to the arch are steep, but the trail is paved with concrete steps. Continue reading

Scenery unforgettable; the camera bag, not so much

I’ve traveled enough that preparing for a trip has become routine. The night before I leave, I make sure essential items have already been packed. Plenty of clean underwear. Passport. Cellphone charger. ATM card. Digital SLR camera.

I sleep easier knowing that when I wake up the following morning, all I have to worry about is brushing my teeth (never optional) and showering (sometimes optional).

For Chinese New Year, I traveled to Yangshuo (阳朔), a county in southern China’s Guangxi (广西)Zhuang Autonomous Region. Because of its unique landscape, Guangxi is a place I’d been wanting to visit ever since I moved to China. The province’s karst peaks give it an otherworldly feel. Continue reading

The USA isn’t the only melting pot around

To practice my Chinese, I make an effort to strike up conversations with strangers in Beijing. One thing I’ve discovered is that almost none of the people I meet are from here.

They come to the Chinese capital from all over the country to study or work, and make up a significant portion of the city’s 20 million residents. Nearly one in three people in Beijing are migrant workers, according to China Daily.

This becomes most apparent during Chinese New Year, when everyone who isn’t a native Beijinger returns home to celebrate the holiday with their families. Bustling neighborhoods slow to a crawl. Beijing’s notoriously bad traffic becomes manageable. I can even usually find a seat on the subway, which feels like a luxury because it’s so overcrowded most of the time.

The 40-day travel rush around the Spring Festival period is called chunyun. According to Xinhua News Agency, Chinese passengers will make an estimated 3.62 billion trips during this year’s chunyun, which is commonly referred to as the world’s largest annual human migration.

Cart puller.

A man drags his luggage behind an electric bike in Beijing. The capital empties out in the week leading up to the Spring Festival holiday, with millions returning to their hometowns.

The holiday travel puts a huge strain on China’s rail and air transportation networks. A friend of mine who runs a restaurant in Beijing said last week that his waitresses have had trouble getting train tickets home. One lined up outside a ticket office before dawn several days in a row, but came up empty-handed, he said.

I’ll be traveling during chunyun, but not to visit family. I’m flying to Yangshuo in southern China, a small city known for its karst peaks, which inspired the artwork on the back of the 20 yuan bill.

I should have plenty of opportunities to practice speaking Chinese while wandering through the countryside. And, with it being Spring Festival, I might even meet a few “real” locals.