February 13 Sun and Moon Pagodas, Guilin, China

We left Shangrila Dong Village and drove back to Guilin. After we ate lunch, we made a surprise, unplanned stop. Most Chinese tours include what I call “planned shopping” stops. These are places along the route that are set up to encourage the people on the tour to buy things. And they are not optional, everyone on the tour has to go into the building/factory showroom, watch and listen to the presentation, and walk through the store after the presentation to exit the building. Often, these are very informative and interesting to me, especially if they are real factories. Most of the time they are just “show rooms”, where you will hear a presentation (in Chinese), and see slides or videos.

Since I am making an effort in this blog to document our entire trip to Guilin, I also took photos of this part of the trip.

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Ann standing in front of the tea store entrance

This probably does not look like a tea factory, and it was not. This was just a showroom.

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A very big ball of pu’ur tea

The showrooms tend to have big entrance halls or foyers with fancy displays. This one did. The large ball above is made of pu’ur tea, an expensive fermented and aged tea. That is why it is sitting in a glass display case.

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Women at the tea store drying tea leaves

They were up on a stage in the main entrance hall. This was supposed to give the showroom more authenticity, as in “see how tea is made” as opposed to “come look at the factory where we dry and process the tea leaves.”

Display of awards won by this tea distributor, with a video screen above, in the entrance hall

We did not watch any videos here. In fact, we got to watch the staff rush around to get set up for us in the sales room, because they were not expecting us! Jeff and I had paid more for this tour, so it would not include these planned shopping stops. We (our tour group) had decided to make this stop, not our tour guide. The other two families on this tour had been to Guilin before, and one of the reasons they wanted to go back was because they liked the tea they had purchased in this tea store. They had been asking the guide to take them here since the start of the tour. He was reluctant to go off the tour schedule, but then Jeff got involved in the discussion and pointed out that the tea store was on the route between our lunch stop and our next tour stop. We did not have to go out of our way to make this stop, and it would not put us too much behind schedule. So we stopped here.

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Pu’ur tea pressed into a disc with a rat on it

I took a picture of this rat because I am the Year of the Rat in the Chinese twelve year cycle. These pu’ur tea disks were part of a counter display in the tea sales room our tour group was taken into.

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Saleswoman at the tea store ready to serve tea to customers

The saleswoman above made three teas for us to sample; tea made from Gui (osmanthus) flowers, tea made from Gui flowers and oolong tea leaves, and tea made from dried Luo Han Guo fruit and oolong tea leaves. Luo Han Guo  is a kind of dried brown fruit with round shape, hard but thin shell, and the size of a small orange. It is has long been used as a natural sweetener in China due to its flavor and lack of calories. it grows here in Guilin also. All of these teas are Guilin area specialties, and they were what the members of the tour group had come to buy. And buy they did! The other families in our tour group bought lots of tea here!

Maybe you were wondering why some tours have these planned shopping stops, and other tours don’t? I had wondered about that when I first started going on tours in China. It turns out that a good portion of the tour guide’s income (sometimes most of it!) comes from the commissions he or she earns on the sales made by members of their tour group at these stops. In other words, you don’t tip the tour guide under this system. You just buy lots of stuff at these planned shopping stops! Knowing that this is the system, I always tend to buy something at one of the planned shopping stops, unless I really don’t like the tour guide.

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Traditional Guilin area desserts that were offered for sale at the tea store

Since we were on a more expensive tour that did not have shopping stops, our tour guide was likely well paid by the tour operator. Since this was unplanned stop, I was worried that they might not have given him the commission (large, I am sure, because of the amount of tea purchased in this tea store by those other families!) I have been reassured by some friends here that the tea store did give him a commission on our tour groups sales, because we showed up with him and bought tea, even if we did not have it as a planned tour stop. Jeff and I did not buy any tea, but we did buy some of the delicious desserts pictured above. We got a great deal on them, too, because of the amount of tea sales the store received from other members of our tour group!

We left the tea store to go to the final stop on our tour to see the Sun and Moon Pagodas. There is a photo of these pagodas lit up at night in my earlier blog entry that Jeff took on our nighttime boat cruise on Monday. At that time, the guide on the boat mentioned that these pagodas were recently built.  I thought that meant that they were re-created history, such as this pagoda was built in the style of “such and such” a pagoda elsewhere in China. In short, that they were just another nice tourist attraction recently built in Guilin. I was very wrong about that.

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The Sun and Moon Buddhist Pagodas in Guilin

The Moon Pagoda is made of bricks, and the Sun Pagoda is entirely made of copper. The Sun Pagoda, at nine stories high, is the tallest copper pagoda in the world. The moon pagoda is seven stories high, made of wood and glazed tiles. They have become another symbol of the city of Guilin. Both pagodas are located in the middle of the lake. The Moon Pagoda can be reached by a bridge, but the Sun pagoda must be reached by an underwater passage located between the two pagodas.

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The entrance gate to the two Buddhist pagodas

Here is a view of the Moon Pagoda through the entrance gate to the walkway to the island where it sits.  The two pagodas date back to the Tang dynasty (618-907), when they were part of a city moat. So, they actually drained the lake, and excavated the site about ten years ago. They located the ruins where the pagodas had stood, and rebuilt them on those foundations, according to descriptions written about them during the Tang dynasty. So this restored history, not re-created history.

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A sign explaining the history of the restoration of the two pagodas

The two pagodas are as authentic as they can make them, according to historical records. Although, I do not believe that the Sun Pagoda was originally all copper.

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Moon pagoda

They also found some important ancient relics when they excavated the pagoda site. There was a stone box containing some ancient scrolls written by the Tang emperor at the time, who was a devout Buddhist. These scrolls explain how to relate Buddhism to the Chinese Animal Year calendar. there were also some ancient Buddhist prayer beads and some other relics.

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A Golden Buddha statue and symbols for the twelve animal years of the Chinese calendar

It turns out that these pagodas are one of the most important sites of Buddhism in China! So important, in fact, that Buddhist monks came from all over the world for their re-dedication ceremony.

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Small golden Buddha statue with New Year decorations hanging around him

All of these photos were taken outside of the pagodas, as we were not allowed to take photos inside them. Sometimes, Jeff doesn’t follow those instructions when we go into Buddhist temples and surreptitiously takes photos anyway. He did not do this here, as I think he realized that this was a sacred site.

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Photo of the underwater passageway between the Sun and Moon pagodas

Hard to see this passageway, but I tried to take a photo of it anyway.

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Sun Pagoda in Guilin

In the upper roof of the Sun Pagoda, in a special case, a stupa, is one of the finger bones of the Buddha. This is one of the few sites in China that houses this type of relic. (The other one that we have visited is Famen Buddhist Temple in Xi’An.)

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Cute stone frogs

I just thought these frogs were very cute!

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Ann mimicking a statue of a famous poet in the park near the Guilin  night market street

This is the statue of a famous ancient Chinese scholar who wrote about Guilin. I was mimicking his pose, because it seemed silly. How could he write characters with that ink brush in his hand at that angle?

Our tour guide led us to the night market street after our tour of the Sun and Moon Pagodas. Our flight back to Shenzhen did not leave until very late, so we did not need to go to the airport until 9 pm.

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New Year decorations at the entrance to the Guilin night market street

So we had a few hours to walk around the night market and shop.

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Another view of the entrance to the Guilin night market street

We were supposed to eat dinner here, too. the street below looks rather empty because it was still early, not even dark yet. The night market got a lot busier after dark.

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Ann standing in the middle of the Guilin night market street

I enjoyed walking around this night market a lot, and I would have enjoyed it even more if it hadn’t been so cold.

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Ann standing next to a vendor selling pickled fruit and vegetables

I am eating a pickled pineapple in the above photo. Jeff and I used our night market hours to wander around and see if there were any local specialty foods that we had not tried yet. we had already sampled plenty of Guilin “mi fun” (thick rice noodles), and the local specialty teas and desserts. Neither of us wanted to try the local liquor, and the local hot sauce was very, very spicy, so I did not want to try it again. But we did discover a few things to try. One of them was pickled fruit. In Guilin, they pickle everything! I really liked the pickled pineapple!

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Vendor selling lotus seed dessert

Then there were vendors selling this lotus seed dessert. Dried, powdered lotus seed flour in mixed in a little bit of cold water. the vendor adds some hot water from that steaming kettle, and it thickens up, something like corn starch does. He sprinkled roasted ground peanuts, roasted sesame seeds, and some molasses cane sugar on it, and told us to mix it up before we ate it. It was delicious, with a mild nutty flavor that corn starch does not have! it was also hot, which we appreciated, since we got very cold walking around outside. The temperature was still only about 40 degrees Fahrenheit!

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Ann holding rambutan fruit next to a cart where a vendor was selling them

And I found some fresh rambutan! This is one of my favorite fruits! We bought a large bunch, and I took it back to Longhua in my backpack. I did not have any issues getting it through security at the airport. You often see people traveling with fruit in China, so I guess the security people are used to it.

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