Arriving in Shikoku

The secret to a happy Jen...

The secret to a happy Jen…

Jen and I are trying to be more diligent about posting promptly after our escapades, so this time we’ve decided to split the blogging between castle and non-castle related material (Although I will also post some of my castle pictures). Trust me, you are in good hands with Jen’s castle-geekery. She purchased a subscription to a Japanese castle magazine (complete with collectible three-ring binder in which to keep the volumes) which contains all variety of deathly boring mundane details… err. I mean, fascinating technical specifications…

Map of our Shikoku loop

Map of our Shikoku loop

At any rate… We took off on a Friday afternoon, after springing Jen from the embassy, grabbed some bentos, jumped a shinkansen, and arrived in Marugame after 9 pm. Our hotel had a view of the bay and islands (not apparent until the next morning when I had a lovely soak in the onsen while enjoying the sea breezes) but due to a typhoon, it was also quite damp. We did discover that the vending machines in the hotel sold both whiskey and squid jerky… I can’t say that either of us decided to partake, but it’s nice to know if we ever had a desperate squid-jerky craving…

Nakazubanjo garden in Marugame

Nakazubanjo garden in Marugame

We spent our first day huddling under our umbrellas, visiting a famous garden, and the first of the castles. (It was around this point that I discovered Jen had brought photocopies of the castle magazine volumes that contained information about the castles we were about to visit…) Aside from the two tourist attractions, Marugame is an industrial and rather un-extraordinary little town that seemed composed primarily of cranes (steel, not feathered) and travel agents. The garden was beautiful — exceedingly well tended, and peopled with packs of touring grannies and hopeful ducks. When we looked up the site online, all we found pictures of was a large red bridge, but in fact some of the sweetest corners of the garden were the small bridges and islands perched over flotillas of white lotus flowers.

bridge, lotus, and teahouse

bridge, lotus, and teahouse

Next, we hopped a train to Matsuyama as the rain increased to a downpour, and had a very cozy ride through the rice paddies. Matsuyama has an adorable street-car public transport system, which chugged along to the Matsuyama castle area. (Note that this was a 2-castle day. Jen was a happy camper.) Walking down the road toward the castle we stopped in a mikan specialty shop and treated ourselves to a mikan juice tasting set — three different types of clementine juices, ranging from quite sweet to downright tangy. Citrus is one of the specialties of Ehime prefecture in Shikoku, and mikans are a particular favorite. I will let Jen tell you more about Matsuyama castle, but let me just say that we both agreed that it was one of our favorites.

view along Matsuyamajo wall

view along Matsuyamajo wall

We lingered in and around the castle until it closed, and then re-boarded a street-car toward our hotel. The hotel was right next to another famous feature of Matsuyama: Dogo Onsen. Dogo Onsen is one of the oldest onsen in Japan, with literary references to it dating back to 759. It has one bath which is reserved only for the imperial family, and is reputed to have healing abilities. Some of you anime geeks will also recognize it as the main building in Spirited Away. The building is quite beautiful, with privacy screens hanging in front of all the upper balconies, a taiko tower on the roof, and egrets all around. There was always a group of Japanese girls in colorful yukata having their photos taken in front, and also a handful of rickshaw runners wearing sports-tabis waiting to pull you around the district in their cart. After some intensive debate we settled on dinner first, onsen later, and so we set off in search of food.

Dogo Onsen

Dogo Onsen

We were distracted on the way by a temple up a massive set of stairs. This turned out to be Isaniwa shrine, which is not one of the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage, but was very cute. The pilgrimage is a sequence of temples visited, traditionally on foot, but now by all manner of transportation, by white-clad Buddhist pilgrims. When I told some of the Japanese ladies at the embassy that we were headed to Shikoku, they said “What are you, a monk?” It’s one of the things that Shikoku is famous for.

Isaniwa shrine, Matsuyama

Isaniwa shrine, Matsuyama

Some of you are probably less impressed by our non-Japanese food adventures, but let me tell you, it’s not everyday you find yourself a D.O.C. pizza italian joint. For all you heathens out there, D.O.C. stands for ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata’, and is the high holy grail of neapolitan pizzas, made with only certain ingredients, in certain ways, and baked in a wood fire oven. Our favorite pizza place in DC had D.O.C. pizzas, but Shikoku was not a place we had anticipated finding a D.O.C. restaurant. We also ordered mussels cooked in sake and garlic, and attracted some stares when Jen (lacking bread for dipping) started just drinking the liquid with a spoon. It really was that good.

Jen at Matsuyamajo

Jen at Matsuyamajo

After dinner, we immersed ourselves in the onsen. The room was lovely, with a nice statue in the center, but it was also crowded. We had to wait a while to get a shower-seat (you have to wash yourself before getting into the water) and then again as we got out. Since there are fewer gaijin (foreigners) in Shikoku, we also got stared at a lot more than usual. The staring is usually subtle, but after being here for a while it’s also always clear when everyone is trying to watch us without looking like they’re just staring. We also opted for the least expensive option — there are other baths with different water (other minerals, other temperatures, other rooms) as well as spa-like perks, and even tea service, none of which we tried. Having concluded a two-castle day, we were happy just to turn in and watch some bizarre Japanese game-show on tv before falling asleep.

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Deep Gomen!

I have been a very very bad blogger, being somewhat hung up on editing together footage of the Narita taiko festival, and also having a rather busy few months.

Jen and Chris enjoying our favorite local sushi shop

Jen and Chris enjoying our favorite local sushi shop

Fortunately Jen has been filling the gap a bit, but I do owe you all a deep gomen! I am temporarily abandoning the taiko video and will come back to it later.

Going-away party for Mike, one of our taiko players

Going-away party for Mike, one of our taiko players

The last two months have been super busy. The Laedlein brigades arrived in mid-April, and while Jen I’m sure will have more to say about that, we had a great time around Tokyo and then they all took off for Kyoto.

Careful scrutiny of the Tokyo Subway map

Careful scrutiny of the Tokyo Subway map

I finished up at my job at the embassy so that I will have more time to travel and help with pack-out. Leaving my office is a bit sad — I’ve become quite attached to my colleagues, and working provides some much-needed structure to my days.

von Laedlein family taiko players

von Laedlein family taiko players

And now that I have left, it’s really dawning on me how little time we have left in Japan. Two years has flown by incredibly quickly and I can’t believe we’re headed out so soon. On top of the temptation to to run screaming into the Japanese wilderness, we are also starting to sort out our moving and DC housing arrangements, which is a job in itself.

Laedleins at Meiji Temple

Laedleins at Meiji Temple

As I left the job, Patty came to visit for two weeks, and we quickly headed out for several days in Kyoto, a hands-on washi-making workshop in Mino, and a gorgeous ryokan in Hakone. I will write more about that in depth later. For now I want to catch up with some of the random things from this spring and early summer.

Azaleas in bloom near the house

Azaleas in bloom near the house

a favorite screen from Kairakuen

a favorite screen from Kairakuen

As Jen posted, spring and summer start festival season, but they’re also the time when the country bursts into bloom. We’ve posted about the cherry blossoms, but the flower culture here is much broader — there are whole calendars showing when certain blossoms are at their peak where in the country.

Roses in the neighborhood park

Roses in the neighborhood park

Wisteria, azaleas, irises, roses… the list goes on. Some gardens are famous for a certain type of flower, but many are also designed to be beautiful at any time of year, with at least one thing in bloom most of the time. In early April Jen and I visited Kairakuen in Mito, which is an hour and a half by express train north-east of Tokyo in Ibaraki prefecture.

bamboo forest at Kairakuen

bamboo forest at Kairakuen

Swans and cygnets under the willows

Swans and cygnets under the willows

We walked along the lake between the station and the garden, which was full of swans and cygnets, black and white, and then through the garden itself, which is particularly special because it’s one of the only famous major gardens that was a garden “of the people” rather than for the leisure of the wealthy and important.

Black Swan

Black Swan

Plum orchard in the afternoon light

Plum orchard in the afternoon light

View from the top of Kairakuen

View from the top of Kairakuen

Another weekend we climbed Mt Mitake, which, like many of the mountains had a nice path up and lots of temples along the way. The trail was lined with white iris-orchid-ish flowers that bloom under the trees in the mountains.

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Jen photographing a little ghoul-face in the stairs on Mt Mitake

Jen photographing a little ghoul-face in the stairs on Mt Mitake

We also went to a “wisteria festival” at a temple that features an extensive wisteria garden hanging over ponds and red bridges. These festivals have their own cuisine — festival-food which can run from the fried-fare you might expect to the somewhat more exotic grilled seafood on a stick.

Wisteria Festival

Wisteria Festival

Jen's favorite, somewhat difficult to eat, festival snack -- a whole grilled squid on a stick

Jen’s favorite, somewhat difficult to eat, festival snack — a whole grilled squid on a stick

One challenge to living over-seas is balancing adjusting to a new diet, with new things available, and also bringing those things with you that you love. Mexican food, it turns out, is one of the hardest things to get in Tokyo. It’s available in a couple restaurants, mostly in the foreigner districts, but it’s not good. And we really can’t live without a nice taco now and then. So we make a lot of our own at the house. Granted, certain adjustments have been made — cabbage, for example, is now a regular edition.

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We are now getting into moving-season for state department employees — most people go from post to post in the summer, and we’ve already seen a number of friends leave. Given the turbulence this causes in the embassy-itself, Jen has been working very hard and will continue to do so through the summer, but we are taking a number of fun trips. The first is to Shikoku, the fourth largest of the islands that make up Japan, and a beautiful mountainous country full of temples and castles. Excited!

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Castle walk

Sunday I took advantage of Tara and Patty being out of town to set off on a Tokyo castle mission.  (Be still your beating hearts, another castle post!) Edo castle would have been one of the biggest–befitting the shogun–but only the foundation stones and a few protected gates remain.  Tokyo still centers around the old castle site, though, starting with our little neighborhood which once sat just outside the outer walls and beside a reservoir.  There’s a 5km jogging track around the inner-moat where the Imperial Palace still stands, but I wanted to trace the outer walls and see what was left.  The path is still clearly visible, sketched out by train lines, a few canals, and Sotoboridori– “castle moat road”–which traces the old perimeter in a roughly 13km ring.

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Green is the castle/palace, the outer ring road is the old outer moat

Starting from our little neighborhood of Akasaka, the closest remnant is the Akasaka-mitsuke neighborhood to the west.  Mitsuke is an approach to a castle gate– one of the guarded entrances across the moat and into the castle grounds.  The castle bridge is gone, but there’s a small ‘historic’ bridge over a bit of the canal, guarded only by helpful traffic cops.

Remants of the walls near Akasaka-mitsuke

Remants of the walls near Akasaka-mitsuke

This neighborhood would have housed estates for major regional lords and the select family members who staying in Tokyo as year-round hostages.  The daimyo’s compounds would also have housed warriors who could help defend the castle if necessary.  A friendly castle guide at the end of my wanderings told me this western approach to Edo castle was considered the most dangerous so three of the strongest vassal families had huge residences there.  The current residences (hotels and impressive-only-by-modern-standards apartment buildings) are manned by small armies of starched bellhops, but they appear to be less intent on repelling the outsiders than on welcoming them further into the city…

No ghosts of samurai past...

No ghosts of samurai past…

After determining there was little else to be found in this neighborhood than a friendly pair of cultists out to introduce reincarnated prime ministers, I popped back out onto the main moat where you can see another of the old bridge crossings and the end of this modern stretch of canal.

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Just across Sotoboridori is the Akasaka Palace– an impressive and totally western looking building, but one built long after the Edo castle period, so merely a distraction from the day’s mission!

Akasaka Palace

Akasaka Palace

Past the Palace, the road keeps looping west and gradually north to Yotsuya, a major train intersection and the beginning of the train/Sotoboridori link-up. It seems fitting considering the hustle and bustle that these canals would have seen in Edo’s heyday, that the roads and train lines are thrumming with traffic.  Although it’s tempting to imagine that the canal commuters would have been less noisy, I’m sure they kicked up considerably more ruckus hawking their wares…

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Yotsuya station and canal

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Yotsuya walls and oblivious pedestrian

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Very organized fishing on the canal

North of Yatsuya, eventually the road curved back into Iidabashi, where Tara, Vida, and I had a lovely canal-side lunch, oh, ages and ages ago.

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Iidabashi canal and canal-side cafe where we had lunch

Iidabashi really struck me as keeping much the same bone-structure as it would have had hundreds of years ago.  The bridge still crosses right between the two old stone foundations where a guarded gate would have stood.  And just on the far side, the streets are positively packed with little restaurants and stores, where its easy to imagine old travelers to Edo could have stopped for the night or a small snack before continuing on in.  One thing I can’t quite wrap my head around– apparently back in the day, you could see Fuji from the hills in this part of town and the guarded bridge into the castle was called Ushigome, or crowded with cows…. Despite the odd smoky truck, I’m sure the roads smell much better now!

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Iidabashi wall and bridge way back when

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Modern day remnants of the old walls by Iidabashi train tracks

Just north of here, you can still get a small feel for a more genteel way of life at Korakuen park, where we went plum blossom viewing recently.  Some of the old castle wall stones were transported here for the garden walls, but I’ve seen them before so I didn’t trek back out there.  On we go!

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Aptly named Suidobashi or waterworks bridge

Next up is Suidobashi, which the friendly guide at the castle grounds reminded me is why Edo/Tokyo was able to become such a massive town– a very efficient waterway that delivered fresh water and removed waste water with relatively few plagues. (And when you have earthquakes, fires, typhoons, and volcanoes to worry about, every little bit helps!)

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Three trains crossing and paralleling the canal as it curves east

Following the water theme, the next major point on the walk is Ochanomizu– or tea water.  This area supplied drinking water to mid-eastern parts of Tokyo until the early 1900s.

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Ochanomizu, as was

It also had a number of large hills, most of which were torn down to make defending the castle easier and to fill in the area east of the castle, which all used to be uninhabited marshland.  This marshy area is partly why the castle walls wouldn’t have extended in a full circle.  (Actually, despite the map I posted in the beginning, the canals wouldn’t have gone in complete circles either, they spiraled in on the castle, leading a hypothetical enemy in vulnerable spirals if you burned your key bridge crossings early.  Since Edo castle was never attacked, I’m sure the ferry boatmen just swore bloody murder at the lack of cross-cutting options.)

Most of the older maps I’ve seen show the walls petering off somewhere around Akihabara, so I turned south there along with Sotobori road and came back along the eastern edge of the castle grounds.  From there, I followed the inner castle moat back to Akasaka, but the inner moat is for another walk and another post!

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A little neighborhood owl seeing me home

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Festival season

Several of Tokyo’s biggest festivals are set for May, so we braved the sea of humanity to join in the revelry!

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Sanja matsuri at Asakusa shrine

Most of these mikoshi festivals start for us with the crowd flow out of the subway stop.  There’s almost no need to consult the map in advance, just join the steam of other camera-toting folks.

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Lining up before the Kanda shrine

The Kanda matsuri is usually every two years, but it wasn’t held in 2011 because of the March 2011 disasters, so this was the first run in four years.  The crowds at the bottom of the street leading to the temple were so packed, there was a queue of mikoshi groups at the bottom waiting their turn and trying to keep the rest of us from elbowing our way into their midst.

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Eventually, even the most tightly-packed crowds move forward, and we begin shuffling toward the main shrine where the portable mikoshi shrine pause briefly for a blessing and head off down one of the side streets to share the good luck for another year. (A short video)

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Shrine-front procession at Kanda

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Sanja matsuri blessing in front of Senso-ji temple

Generally, we stick around for a few of the exits.  The crews that carry these shrines are unbelievably chipper and energetic considering how squished together they are and how heavy the mikoshi are. They generally have a buffer ring of supporters that prevent them from inadvertently staggering off the path, bopping stray tourists in the head with the poles, or ramming the mikoshi in front of them.

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Mashed-up but merry mikoshi bearers

Most of the groups are adults, with the occasional kid on shoulders. But sometimes there are kid-only mikoshi which always get a big cheer from the crowds.

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Matsuri munchkins

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Enjoying the rare sensation of elbow room

Naturally, what would a festival be without food? What am I going to do without readily available grilled squid on a stick? Somehow I don’t see that coming to DC festivals any time soon, so I think I’m going to have to eat my fill from here on in…

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Grilled squid! nomnomnom

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Hanami: Flower Viewing

For our next trick we will assail you with roughly a million pictures of flowers!

In Tokyo the plum blossom season started before we left for China, and we took a couple trips to local parks and temples to see the blooms. We saw Korakuen park quite early in the season and it was still very cold, but at Umegaoka park and Yushima Tenjin temple the blossoms were out in force (as well as the o-hanami-ing spectators.) Normally the following cherry blossom season doesn’t happen until nearly a month later, but because of a warm spell, Jen and I actually flew back into Tokyo in the peak of the cherry blossom bloom. The weather this spring has been a bit strange — summer-like one day, and then frigid again the next. At any rate, exhausted, but determined, we struck out the next day to see the Cherry blossoms around town. The most impressive was at Naka-Meguro, where the canal is lined in Cherry trees, and in the evening lanterns are lit under the branches. We walked from one end of the canal to the other in beautiful weather (despite rather dire weather reports of rain and wind — not good for cherry blossoms) taking lots of photos (as you’ll see), and having a little bench-picnic (not the full-japanese-style hanami all-day picnic and drinking extravaganza, but a nice little snack.) Seeing the lanterns through the cherry blossoms is one of those visions of Japan that I’ll never forget.

We did see a handful of other cherry blossoms around the city after that, but peak-bloom is a big deal for a reason — there’s nothing quite like those clouds of blossoms against the black twisted branches. At any rate, get on with your own hanami below — it’ll take a while to get through them all! 😉

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The Forbidden City and Great Wall

To finish off our China posts, our last few days in Beijing we spent going to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

We took the Beijing subway to the front gate of the forbidden city and saw Tiannamen square on the way. The first impression of both of these things, of course, is of size. Even so, thinking about spending your whole life inside the walls of the forbidden city (as a member of the imperial household) makes me feel claustrophobic — it’s all so squared off and unnatural-looking. So make my official residence the summer palace — trees, water, curving maze-like walkways… infinitely preferable.

Some of the most impressive parts of the forbidden city are the little details — the carvings and paintings. They do have exhibits in some of the buildings you can peer into, but the glass is usually scratched and yellowed, even you can even push your way through the crowds to see inside, and everything in there is covered in years of dust. There were beautiful dragon designs all over the place though, carved, cast, painted, tiled, and so on. One of the dragon displays was a tiled wall, where all the pieces had to be made in advance, and one piece was dropped and shattered during construction, but the workers were so worried that they would be put to death for the error that they kept the mistake a secret and painted a fake wooden tile to replace the lost piece. Apparently the tile was not noticed at the time, although after hundreds of years the paint on that piece has faded and it is now quite evident. And toward the back there was a lovely garden area, with some trees and pagodas and statues and so forth where the ladies would write poetry and chill. It was a very small, competitive world they inhabited, where there were a lot of formalized events (some only on the 9th day of the 9th month of the 9th year…) and behaviors that always had to be observed, with its own little quirks, like moving from one building to another in honor of an ancestor or a change in rank.

The next day we took the train out of Beijing to go to the great wall. The train was the first adventure of the day — you buy tickets and get into a big line (in which, if you don’t pack closely enough to the people in front of you, others will just elbow into the 3 inches of available space) and then you shuffle forward where you show the guy your ticket…. and then you SPRINT. With all of your baggage, children, elderly relatives, and girls in ridiculous shoes in tow — you run down the very long platform, into the train, and claim a seat with your butt. After we caught our breath, the trip was quite pleasant, particularly as the train wound up into the mountains and pieces of the wall could be seen climbing the peaks.

The wall itself was amazing — just hard to imagine building it up and down the mountains back in the day when you don’t have tractors or ropeways. You could see it go up and down the mountains in the most roundabout way, making sure to hit key high points with towers, and heading up very steep rises in others where it looks almost vertical. It’s also very steep in places along the rebuilt area where we could hike and there were a lot of tourists, although since it was a weekday it could have been much worse. We took the less peopled direction and walked all the way to the end, where there were very few people. Given the snow a few days prior, the air was lovely and clear and we got some apparently unheard of blue-sky shots of the wall. On the way back there were more train hijinx (including our train being canceled and me getting headbutted in the solarplexis by a little old lady during the train-sprint.) We had a ton of good food back in Beijing too, from dumplings to sauteed mushrooms to mango ice and on the last night some amazing food along with board games at a friend of Calley’s.

Next up: More cherry blossoms in Tokyo!

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Guilin Mountains

In Southern China, near Guilin, is an area that has the most unearthly, steep, green mountains you can imagine. You’ve probably seen pictures of them before — they’re amazing, and getting to see them is one of those things I never thought I’d actually get to do. I think I probably spent the first several days not saying much, since I was so focused on staring agog at the mountains.

We stayed near a smaller town called Yangshuo, in an adorable little hotel with a restaurant on the roof and a view of “Moon Hill,” a mountain with a natural arch on the top of it. Since there is another rise behind the arch, only a small crescent of sky is visible, which looks a little like the moon, and the thing to do in the little tourist hot-spot below our hotel is get your picture taken “holding the moon in your hand,” usually while also dressed in some rather bizarre and completely neon “traditional dresses.”

The first day in town, after checking out our hotel and grabbing some quick lunch upstairs (bizarrely enough they specialize in Italian food and Chinese food — one of the founders of the hotel had lived in Italy) we headed off for a boat tour of one of the most famous stretches of the Li river, winding through the mountains. The air in Guilin is much cleaner, generally speaking, than Beijing, but it was warm and muggy and there was a lot of fog, so as we went up the river the mountains drifted in and out of view.

After the boat tour we wandered around the nearby town for a while, perusing the shops, but also wandering down a residential street. We didn’t take photos — not wanting to be more intrusive than necessary — but it was a really interesting time of day to meander through. There were kids and dogs everywhere, running around and playing, often with family members sitting on the stoops of their homes, all the doors open and the very bare houses visible inside. Usually you could hear a TV on inside, and sometimes see a large framed Mao portrait hung on the wall. Many of the stoops were littered with pomelo (a large grapefruit-like fruit or sunflower seed husks. The nice thing about China is that they do a fair bit of staring themselves, so I feel perfectly comfortable staring back and checking them out. It’s a very poor part of China, and you can see it in their clothes and their houses.  But the neighborhood we walked through had a strong feeling of community too.

At any rate, we returned to our hotel for dinner (we had, at that point, already become addicted to the very sweet ginger tea they offered there.) The next day we decided to climb moon hill, a very steep ascent that was essentially a staircase going straight up the mountain (Jen counted steps on the way down and got 1073.) By the time we got to the top we were all winded and sweaty, but the view was definitely worth it, and we kicked back up there for a little while, sampling a pomelo and taking pictures. (The pomelo, for the record, was not my favorite thing in the world — tasted like a really bland, dry grapefruit, but wasn’t really sour. Jen also nearly busted something trying to get into the silly thing. Jen also says that this was “not a good example of a pomelo” so perhaps I am unfairly judging pomelos. Interestingly, we suspect they also burn the pomelo rind — outside many of the houses they seemed to be drying large quantities of the stuff.)

After descending, we rented bikes from our hotel and took off across town. We got lunch at the sister-hotel, sitting out looking over the river and sipping fresh fruit juice, and then continued on with the bike-trip. It was a lovely ride, winding through the flat areas between the mountains, very peaceful and pretty (with the occasional interruption of a really foul-smelling pile of trash.) The fields of yellow rapeseed were in bloom, and the Chinese tourists were all wandering among the flowers and taking photos. The area appears to be rapidly developing to accommodate the increase in tourists, so a lot of new buildings were going up, and many others appeared to be only occupied on the first floor, their upstairs just a concrete shell without windows or anything (except sometimes lines with hanging laundry) waiting until the owner has the funds to finish the upper floors. New hotels appear to be going in, and everywhere there were enterprising Chinese folks who wanted to sell you something, guide you somewhere, or let you take a photo with some contrived prop which they’ll then charge you for. We thought we were moderately safe on the bikes (you can just outpace them!) until one enterprising woman decided to pace Jen from her moped, offering various services.

Calley had to head back a day before us, so on her last day there we decided to go Kayaking down one of the Li tributaries. It was a beautiful and peaceful trip, although it was a fair bit of work — the river was wide with no current at all so we had to paddle pretty hard the whole way. After Calley departed, Jen and I headed out to see one of the many caves in the area (we chose this one because it did not seem to require rolling around in the mud — an activity we had not anticipated needing an extra pair of pants for) which was lovely, if perhaps a bit gaudy. They lighted all of the stalactites/stalagmites in a rainbow of colors, which occasionally was pretty, but mostly was just a bit strange.

Unfortunately Jen and I ate something bad that night at dinner, and spent the rest of the night being dramatically ill. All I’m really going to say about that is that two cases of food poisoning and one toilet takes a fair deal of spousal cooperation and teamwork. We had to delay our flight (originally scheduled for the following morning) and spent that day laying in bed feverishly trying not to think about anything related to eggplant. We did finally get on an airplane (still feverish and miserable) and got back safely to Beijing, where surprise, surprise, it had snowed!  We rolled into Calley’s house around 4 am and collapsed gratefully into her spare room.

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