Zhangjiajie.  (The best part of our China adventure, in my opinion.)

How do you pronounce this word?  My main problem with trying to speak Chinese, or even listen to it, is that the word sounds nothing like the way my brain sees it.  The pronunciation is so different from English.  Zhang looks like it should rhyme with the word “bang.”  But it doesn’t.  It’s more like something that rhymes with the word “lung.”  And the rest of it I can’t even phonetically spell because you can’t even assemble the roman letters in the correct way.  The sounds don’t even translate to spelling!  But after a lot of practice I can say this one word, Zhangjiajie, in Chinese.

After cycling on the Xi’an Ancient City Wall, touring the Muslim Quarter, and having a visit with the vast Terracotta Army, we flew to Zhangjiajie, which is in the mountainous northern Hunan province of Southwestern China.  We arrived on the evening of Friday, March 30.  We are staying at a place that I found on Booking.com called Glass Cube Guesthouse.  I contacted the owners by e-mail to request a pick up service at the airport.  They said yes, they could pick us up for an additional fee.  I confirmed that we were 5 people with not too much luggage.

When we arrived at the Zhangjiajie airport, a man was waiting for us holding a sign with our name on it.  By now we are familiar with exiting the airport and looking for our name among a crowd with dozens of signs.  I think Avalon spotted it first this time.  We piled into his car.  It was essentially a Chinese car made for 4 people, or 5 very, very small, skinny Chinese people.  We squeezed in like a clown car.  We were 6 people total, including our stocky driver.  There is no seatbelt law, obviously!  The ride was about one hour but it felt like 5 hours on a bumpy dirt path, congested with construction vehicles in motion, twisting curves and hilly terrain.  My body was so achy from having one arm wrapped behind Halyard’s head and the other glued to my side and my legs bent and glued together.  Avalon was sitting half on me and half on Kaiyo and none of us were happy about that.

Our driver finally stopped the car in a small parking lot.  He motioned for us to give him our luggage.  We mostly brought backpacks and the kids already had them on their backs so they shook their heads no thanks.  He had a very long stick that he hung some of our bags on and then he carried the bags on the stick behind his neck and across his shoulders.  We set off up some steps.  Some steps turned into a few flights which quickly turned into a stairway to heaven.  Where was this guesthouse?  Was it a castle in the sky?  It was a stair master workout like walking on the Great Wall.  The next day the kids counted the steps and it’s 500 steps high from the street to the guesthouse.

It was too late to hand over the backpacks mid-climb but I think they were wishing they could have transferred them to his stick.  The next photo is on the day we left.  The kids gave him their backpacks that time.  
The Glass Cube Guesthouse is a family run place.  A husband and wife pair run this business and it is the wife’s childhood home.  She showed me photos of herself with her father at the original house.  Her brother is the man who picked us up from the airport.  Her husband is a trim man who is very friendly and he made us tea when we arrived at around 10pm.  They all looked to be in their 40’s.  And NONE of them speak a lick of English, besides hello and bye-bye.  Instead, they communicate using Google Translate.  Luckily the Chinese government isn’t blocking Google Translate and double lucky that Google Translate can actually translate Chinese properly.  It is much more accurate than Japanese to English which is miserable and hilarious at the same time.This guesthouse is in a gorgeous area high up (500 steps high) in the mountains of the Zhangjiajie National Forest.  Our first morning they made us the biggest homemade Chinese breakfast imaginable.  It was a mix of recognizable and unrecognizable.  Lots of bread, both sweet and plain, a lot of egg dishes plus hard boiled eggs, manju meat buns, fruit and veggies, and some meat and fish plus egg soup.  And some very, very strange looking and smelling side dishes.  John tried one and he just about needed to spit it out.  No idea what it was.  I asked for bottled water with every meal they served us.  Here’s a scene from breakfast.  My camera angle wasn’t wide enough to even get it all in.The lobby reception area:Our room was two levels.  John, Avalon and I slept downstairs the boys slept upstairs.  The view from upstairs:We discussed our itinerary with the husband.  He reserved tickets for us to venture across the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge.  His wife wrote a note in Chinese on a piece of scrap paper for us that said something to the effect of “Please take me back to the Glass Cube Guesthouse.  The address is … “  This paper turned out to be gold.  I carried it around like it was our Golden Ticket to safety.

Our first day, Saturday, March 31, the wife at the guesthouse offered to drive us to the south entrance of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, about 7 minutes away.  Since we were running low on cash I asked her to drive us to an ATM machine on the way.  I had trouble accessing cash at the first bank’s ATM machine, only the equivalent of $30 USD would come out.  So, at the park, she got out of her car to show us the ticket windows, the ATM machine and the place to stand in line.  Then she took off.

What happened next, in a nutshell, is that I couldn’t get money out of the ATM because Bank of America didn’t know I was in China and they blocked my ATM card after my initial $30 withdrawal, American Express was still being a pain, and I didn’t know the PIN for any of our Visa cards.  So out of three options we couldn’t get cash from any of them.  Deja Vu Taiwan!  How sad.  On top of all that, the tickets into the park were cash only (of course!) and the fee was more than we had in our wallets.  Well it seemed we needed to go back to the guesthouse for help.

We walked over to some men who looked like they might be taxi drivers waiting around.  I showed them my Golden Ticket.  I should mention that before we left the guesthouse, the owners told us exactly how much it should cost from the south park entrance to their guesthouse so that we would not get ripped off.  Of course the men standing around their cars quoted a price that was 3-4 times what it should have cost.  We said no.  I told them the guesthouse told us it should be cheaper.  They talked to each other in Chinese.  They got on their phones.  Finally one of them said to get in the car.  We all got in.  He drove us back to the guesthouse and the wife was standing by the side of the road waiting for our return.  She got in the car and we all went back to the park entrance together.  She tried to help me with the ATM machine again.  Since BofA had blocked me I just couldn’t get it to work for me.  So she took money out of HER ATM account and gave it to me as a loan!  She gave me around 4,000 Chinese Renminbi which is just over $600 USD.  Once again, the kindness of people we met saved the day.  Amazing hospitality.

Here are photos from the wonderful Glass Cube Guesthouse.  I highly recommend it.  Meeting this kind and outgoing family was certainly one of the highlights of this trip.  And communicating solely by Google Translate really does make the world shrink in an amazing way.

The square building on the right in this photo is the actual glass guesthouse that the husband built.  I think he took his inspiration from the glass bridge and glass walkway that are major attractions in this area.  Why not sleep in a glass house while you are in China for all the other glass structures?  There’s a toilet on the roof, as well as a bathtub.  Peeing under the stars!  What fun.  Avalon and John got to sleep in this glass cube on our second night.Dinner on our first night at the guesthouse:
This is us with the family and staff at the guesthouse.  Everyone was here was so kind and generous, even the furry staff members.Going down 500 steps is easier than going up.  This place was a hidden treasure in the forest.