China Can Be Smooth As Silk
with Jovana Arnaut

Inching up Mount Danxia

I couldn't breathe when I reached the top of Mount Danxia in China's Guangdong province.

It was partly because of its majestic view and partly because I spent the last hour clambering up its steep steps - close to 1,000 according to our tour guide Kobe. The steps spiralled around and along Danxia's great, red-rock walls. There were Buddhist messages carved into the mountain side and even a Buddhist temple at the top housing a golden statue of a Happy Buddha. Monks were also there silently, almost cat-like, strolling the property. They managed to gracefully stride up the steps while I clung to the railings. The steps were terrifying. I made the mistake of looking behind me but Kobe reminded me to keep moving forward. To keep breathing.

The streets of Guangzhou
A week before the trip I was in a frightening car accident. The accident made me think about death, what I cherished about life and why I spent so much time worrying about things I couldn't control. I was frightened of going on the trip to China. My mind kept formulating and obsessing over all of the things that could go wrong.

The anxiety simmered a bit when I boarded the China Eastern Airlines flight in YYZ. We had the privilege of flying business class – it was actually my 1 st time. They have their own menu in there! And I was able to lay down flat. How cool is that? I slept for 10 hours straight which thankfully didn't leave a lot of time for worry.

Canton Tower
We landed in Shanghai and jumped onto another flight to Guangzhou, Guangdong's capital city. We met Kobe there and he took us to the Hotel Landmark Canton - our base as we spent 3 days exploring the region.

Guangzhou was over the top. Everything seemed to be decorated and lit up. There were red lanterns hanging from the trees and Christmas-like light bulbs sparkling on the skyscrapers - one of them being Canton Tower, the highest tower in China and the 3 rd tallest in the word. It had heart-stopping views of the city. Of course, we went to the highest point at 488 meters. I gripped the railing and snailed closer to the edge and looked down. I felt my anxiety rising again.

Pearl River At Night
The tower is situated on the Pearl River, China's 3 rd longest river. Xi Jiang, the 'West River,' Bei Jiang, the 'North River' and Dong Jiang, the 'East River' all flow into it. We took a night cruise on the Pearl and admired the glistening buildings decorated with bright lights. From a distance, Canton Tower, as Kobe pointed out, looked like a beautiful lady with the Bubble Tram acting as her necklace. The Bubble Tram is one of the attractions found on top of Canton Tower. It sits 455 meters high and scoots around the tower providing views of the city below.

We were often instructed to use our imaginations in order to see hidden meanings in our surroundings. The Chinese people were very in touch with the landscape and their history. They were very welcoming and hospitable and the expressions and gestures they used filled me with such serenity.
Barbara Huang, China National Tourist Office -
Toronto and Zhang Zhelin, Vice General Director,
Guangdong Province Tourism Board

This was evident during out meeting with the Guangdong Province Tourism Board. “It is a great delight to welcome friends coming from afar," said Zhang Zhelin, Vice General Director. “We have kept the tradition of friendship with Canada and great importance is placed on furthering our cooperation with Canada through tourism."
In 2014, there were 259,000 Canadian tourists entering China and 100,000 Chinese tourists entering Canada who originated in Guangdong province. Zhelin believes that these numbers and interactions can grow and the tourism board has invested in promoting Guangdong's attractions. “We have huge potential and a huge business opportunity in front of us," Zhelin said.

Posing with the Male Stone
In contrast to the metropolitan lifestyle in Guangzhou, the province also has natural and historic sites. Danxia, as mentioned above, is one of those sites.

The mountain range is located in the northeastern suburbs of Sheoguan City. It is a UNESCO Global Geopark and covers an area of 292 km sq. with more than 600 geomorphological landscapes. The mountain range formed from 960 to 1127 AD and the theme found throughout depicts the circle of life. There's even a mountain called the Male Stone which resembles the male sex organ and Female Mountain which resembles the female organ – no use of imagination was needed to identify these.

Diolou Houses in Zili Village, Kaiping
The Diolou houses in Kaiping were another historic site. We visited the Zili Village which was founded in 1837 during the Qing Dynasty. The village was run by the Fang family and used for protection against bandits. The houses featured feng-shui construction principles and included a mix of Chinese and Western architecture. Zili had 63 households, 9 water towers, 6 cottage style villas, 175 villagers and 248 compatriots from overseas including Hong Kong and Macau. Only 1 family is living there now – the rest of the village is a UNESCO site and is used as a tourist attraction.

Cruising on the Li River
Discovering that 'Zili' meant 'self-reliance' struck a tender cord with me. Starting out with so much anxiety at the beginning of the trip, I noticed that it slowly diminished day by day as I delved into China's bustling culture, savoury food and alluring people. I learned the importance of staying in the moment and fully focusing on the country's intricate history and thrilling scenery.

Guilin was the definition of a city with thrilling scenery. It was vibrant. The Li River was one of its highlights and an important part of Guilin's livelihood. Life revolves around it. Our hotel - the Guilin Grand Link - was actually nestled beside it.

Lighted pagodas in Guilin
One night, we took a cruise along the river onboard a bamboo boat. As it slowly meandered through Guilin, we enjoyed the many lighted Pagodas and could listen to the buzz of the city and all the people out and about. There were so many things going on that I wasn't able to concentrate on my worries.

Guilin is over 2,000 years old. It has a warm, subtropical climate and is full of pedestrian walkways, bars and restaurants, shopping quarters and, like many of the sites we visited, vital history. According to Justin, our tour guide in the city, Guilin was underwater 2 billion years ago. When the earth shifted, the mountains rose up and created the staggering scenery surrounding the city.

Longji rice terraces
Elephant Trunk Hill is actually the symbol of Guilin. “If you use your imagination you can see it," Justin said. “You can train your mind to believe anything," - another lesson that struck a cord.

Today, Guilin welcomes 12 million tourists a year – its population is 4.5 million with ethnic groups including the Yao and the Han people. Yao culture is in fact the main culture in Guilin. We visited the Yao Minority Village and their Longji rice terraces which were cultivated in the 13 th century during the Yuan Dynasty. We even had the opportunity to watch a performance - The Impressions Liu San Jie - that showed the life and labour of the Yao culture.

The stage for the The Impressions Liu San Jie
The show used the landscape as the stage. The 600 person cast emerged from the valleys and the river, and the mountains were lit up in electric colours. The 3,000 person audience was thoroughly impressed not only by the scenery but also by the performance.

When the 600 cast members walked onto the Li River in lighted costumes for the final number, I was astonished - that Impressions performance depicted my entire experience in China. The country's bustling and overloaded streets distracted me and its spectacular landscape and gentleness calmed me.

As we were disembarking the train at the airport and preparing to go home, the announcer ended her message by saying: “Enjoy your trip and have a pleasant life."

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