we arrived in jianshui around 7am, with the sun just rising. because jianshui wasn't the final destination, the driver didn't pull into the bus station, but instead dropped me off at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. times like that you can't play cheap: i hailed the first taxicab i saw and got a ride to the station (about 2km away, but 2km too long with all my gear, it was only RMB$4 anyway), where i knocked on the glass door of the traffic hotel, waking up the guard sleeping on duty, who gave me a room. i took it sight unseen, which can be risky, but i've had so much luck with these traffic hotels, i decided to gamble. the room i got was on the 3rd floor, sunny location with a great view of the all the bus parked at the station as well as the green hills in the far background. the room was also so clean that i was able to walk around in the bathroom without shoes, a rarity.
after i called my parents to let them know i arrived in jianshui safe and sound, i took a hot shower and then went out looking for breakfast. right downstairs, some street vendor selling rice noodles for RMB$3 a bowl. at the bus station i helped out two french tourists buy tickets to yuanyang. it was quite a power trip, being the translator, and i admired their french travel book, which had a plethora of info on jianshui (LP has nothing on this city, and until a few days ago, i didn't even know it existed). later i took a bus to "yianzedong" AKA swallows' hole, apparently a large cave where swallows live. about 20km outside of town, the driver dropped me off on the side of the bus highway. i ran across the busy lanes to the other side, where minivans and motorcycles were waiting to give people like me a ride to yianzedong.
yianzedong is a complete ripoff, like many tourist sites here in china. the admission was extortion rate: RMB$80 just to get in, and you're forced to hire a guide for another RMB$30. i complained but there was nothing i could do and nobody there was going to give me a discount. i explained to the guide about my special condition, that my chinese is a 6-year old chinese, so she has to talk to me like a child in order for me to completely understand. she then basically spit out everything she memorized as a robot tour guide, even down to dumb jokes without bothering to pause for the punchline. it was kind of a waste of time, and she seemed to be reluctant to answer any questions since it'd deviate from her script. i found out that midsummer is when the swallows are most active, and now there are almost no swallows. she tried to get me to stick around for a performance but i decided to go wander on my own. she finished the tour by bringing me to the gift shop, but i got out of there fast, and took the ferry back out of the cave. later i found out there's a secret way where you can still get inside for free (by going to the parking lot and walking a forest path), but i'd already paid.
i grabbed a three-wheeled tuktuk back to the highway and flagged down a bus. i kind of like this chinese system where any place can be a bus stop. the return trip was RMB$12, a bit pricy, but they had a tv showing some hong kong crime drama movie.
back at the hotel, it was another hot shower, a bit more rest, before i was back outside again, this time to find lunch. once again, i found it downstairs, this time in the form of smelly tofu, jianshui style. i bought 10 tofu squares for RMB$1. the woman kept track of how many i ate my dropping a corn kernel into a little metal dish everytime i took another tofu. somebody told me that jianshui is famous for its smelly tofu, but it's still not taiwanese smelly tofu.
the bus station and the traffic hotel is actually a bit of a distance from the city center, about a 20 minute walk in hot weather. i managed to make it to the old city gate and was surprised that they didn't charge any admission to climb up. that's when i fell in love with jianshui. walking to the gate, i'd already passed a lot of old chinese homes, but up high, i could see that jianshui was like a lijiang or a dali, but without all that commercialism, and still retained a lot of that ancient chinese city flavor. i can't believe LP doesn't mention jianshui at all, because it should be right up there on every china traveler's list of places to visit. i climbed back down the gate and walked the length of a cobblestoned street lined with just normal chinese shops, nothing touristy. the architecture was what really impressed me, and occasionally i'd wander down an alley to get some photos.
i made it to the confucian temple, where once again i was forced to pay a high entrance fee (RMB$60). after much complaining, i handed the guard the money and went inside. it's a nice place and the weather today made for some great photos, but i wasn't that impressed, and wouldn't really recommend it for future travelers unless you have a hard-on for confucian history (or if you get really nice weather and need some chinese temple photos to complete your collection).
i managed to grab a bus (no.13) back to the hotel. i showered, i snacked, i napped, then i woke up once more, this time looking for dinner. the street vendors downstairs had already packed up for the day, so i was forced to go back into the city center. nobody could give me any change for the bus so i was forced to walk. the early evening soon became dark before i found a place to eat, some barbecue restaurant, but i just had a bowl of noodles. the restaurant was kind of weird, seemed to be runned by a couple of high school kids. i didn't have too much an appetite (maybe due to all the snacks i ate at the hotel), and ate less than half the noodle before i paid and left (RMB$5).
i climbed the city gate; it was too dark to get any good photos, but i had a brief chat with a jianshui native, an animated old man whom i couldn't understand half the things he was saying (he was speaking to me in jianshuinese), but we managed to chat anyway. he managed to pick up that i was dongbei chinese, but i think it was a lucky guess. afterwards i grabbed the no.13 bus back to the hotel, getting off a few stops early to visit this internet cafe (more like an internet sweatshop warehouse, with 200+ computers).
i like jianshui so much, i'm going to stick another another day, before going to yuanyang. just a month left before i return to boston!
i'll post photos tomorrow (in about 12 more hours).
update: those who read this post earlier and saw a lot of garbage characters, that's because the computer i was on was set to chinese input system, and translated a few characters into chinese when i made the post. i'm fixing it now, as well as adding photos.