The Li River tour had been a peaceful, nature-loving quiet time with the added attraction of the Pipsqueak really opening up for the first time. Our short time in Yangshuo at the end of the cruise had been noisy (as in very), hot (as in very very), and really kinda cool -- and perhaps more than just a tad nerve-wracking, with a touch of "adoption-only" experience to season it at the very end.
Now we just had to get back to our hotel in Guilin in one piece.
The set of rice paddies that made up the field extended for acres, with a surprisingly small concrete irrigation canal splitting it down the middle. I was surprised at how closely the rice resembled large heads of wheat or similar grain, and at how little water there was in the paddies themselves. Somehow it didn't look at all the way I'd imagined it would -- but this was a large community farm on relatively flat land, not a small set of paddies carved out of a hillside as in some of the more touristy postcard photos. I didn't try any, but several of the group popped a couple of grains directly from the plants into their mouths and said they were a little crunchy with a slightly nutty taste; it seems the "rice" flavor doesn't really come out 'til the grains have been husked & washed. I tried for a few photos of the artistique variety, and then it was back on the bus.
Oh, a note about the 4th photo (the one looking back down the road, with the rear of our bus just visible on the right side)... You'll notice that the distance between the edge of the road and the edge of a three-foot drop into the irrigation canal is only about 3-4 feet, max. For many miles, this was how the road was made: tarmac ending suddenly in grass (often without any trees or other obstructions), with a sheer drop anywhere from a couple of feet to just a few inches beyond. Apparently, the Chinese authorities don't believe in wasting guardrails or curbstones on flat highways! (Dude, on this road you really need to follow the straight and narrow!)
We continued along the road, passing through small towns every few miles. These all looked pretty much the same; a few houses, then many small shops one right after the other, often with dozens of motorbikes and strange half-motorcycle/half-pickup vehicles parked out in front... a few more houses, and then a few miles of farms & rice paddies before the next town. We'd also periodically get a reminder of the rural nature of the area as we'd pass older men or young children herding cows, ducks, or the occasional water buffalo along the side of the road.
We also saw plenty of reminders of why none of us could be paid enough to drive in China. We were on a relatively flat, straight road, with two well-marked lanes of ample width and -- when space allowed -- shoulders along the side (just watch out for those drainage ditches!) Somehow, it just wasn't enough; we all quickly lost count of the "omigoshes" and "holycows" and just plain gasps as we saw one dangerous maneuver after another, usually involving disparate vehicles of all possible shapes and sizes. For example, here's a quick photo I took of a typical calm moment on the road:
I draw your attention to the large white tour bus cutting off the blue tricycle truck -- which is itself crowding the smaller 3-wheel vehicle that had just pelted the motorcycle with dust and dirt -- as it veers back into its lane after swinging out onto the wrong side of the road into the path of an equally large bus (just barely visible on the left) in an attempt to get past the slower traffic only to be stymied by a large truck (just barely visible between the bus & blue carrier) that had itself just veered into oncoming traffic to avoid flattening another small vehicle... Yep, just another typical drive on a Chinese road... la de da, who's worried, not <yikes!> me...
Don't ask me how, but everyone avoided hitting everyone else, and we made it all the way back to Guilin in (relative) safety. Not to the hotel, though; first we made a stop at an art gallery for a demonstration of the traditional style of ink painting. We had the usual set of curious looks (and smiles for the kiddos) as we entered through a group of local folks, and made our way upstairs to where we seemed to be almost the only non-employees in the building. In one of a series of rooms with a wide variety of paintings hanging on the walls (everything ranging from classic style paintings on bamboo scrolls to almost photorealistic nude women, to the embarrassed amusement of the older girls), there were several rows of chairs set up facing a small table & easel. We took our seats and one of the gallery docents told us a little about the classic style of painting and the long-established rules that governed how certain things were supposed to be depicted. (For example, distance is as much a function of shading as of perspective; the farther an object was supposed to be from the viewer, the more diluted the ink to keep its image lighter & less tinted than closer objects.)
There was a large piece of blank rice paper hanging on the easel, and she introduced a young-looking man who picked up a brush from the table, dipped it in water and then the classic hollowed-out stone holding black ink, and began to move it over the paper. It was amazing to see; he made a short sideways stroke, then moved the brush smoothly down the paper with a little jerk at the end to leave a long grey stripe with slightly wider dark lines at either end. He repeated the motion a couple of times, and all of a sudden I had to blurt out, "That's bamboo!" and in seconds the abstract lines that seemed to just appear under the brush resolved into several stalks of the plant, with different strokes making leaves, stems, and other plants in the background. In just a few minutes, the artist had almost magically turned the blank paper into a black-and-white study of bamboo stalks, which he finished off with the classic "chop" in red ink. I've watched artists work in a variety of media, but I'd never seen such abstract motions create such concrete shapes so quickly. The artist didn't speak English, but the docent told us the craft had been passed from grandfather to father to son -- and it "only" took him 26 years of training to reach his current level of skill!
We got back to the hotel hot, tired and sweaty but happy with the day so far. There was still some time before dinner so we set up a Skype session with our folks back home, and the Pipsqueak again showed she was beginning to open up by actually interacting with them on the screen -- not only following the motion in the picture but actually reacting to their voices and movements. It was obvious that the quiet little bundle of baby we'd met just a couple of days earlier was coming out of her shell and had a personality all her own -- but the best was yet to come.
Once the shock had worn off -- AJ & I had gotten into the habit of seating Miri between us, and I think we both grabbed her simultaneously when she stood up -- the Pipsqueak decided that high chairs were for wimps and insisted on sitting in her mommy's lap (probably because it brought her closer to the food). Although she eventually stopped eating after totaling two bowls of congee and a bunch of other food all by herself, my niece kept burbling and babbling and singing, occasionally even laughing as if she'd just told herself a particularly good joke. We just went along for the ride, amazed at how expressive & verbal our little changeling had suddenly become... and loving every minute of it. We knew there was still a (potentially) bumpy road ahead, but our concerns over bonding & adjustment issues seemed to be fading away as we watched...
Eventually, even the Pipsqueak's batteries began to run a little low, and everyone made their way back upstairs to the rooms for the night. It had been a long (hot), eventful day, and now it was time to rest up for the next day's adventures. We got a quieter, low-key version of dinner's show as AJ got the Pipsqueak ready for bed, and she quickly dropped off to sleep after being put in the crib between our beds. I did a quick blog update as AJ fell asleep, and then -- unforgiving as my mattress was -- quickly dozed off myself.
NEXT: The beautiful Reed Flute Cave and nuclear-powered diapers...!
My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅-- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!