The bus trip was an all-Chinese affair except for Ross and me. The tour guide was worried about what to do with us at first, but I was confident that some other tourist on that bus would speak enough English to translate the vital bits to us, like "be back on the bus by 2:00."
And we were right. We were seated right behind Carol, a charming lady on vacation with her family who kept us in the loop. And while our cute young tour guide could talk -- and talk -- to her captive audience, we already knew enough about Yan'an and Mao's time there to understand what we were seeing.
This is a difficult place to live and to make a living because of the scarcity of arable farmland. No wonder the peasants hollowed caves out of the hills for their homes, barns and storage. But once the Communists arrived, the city of Yan'an came in for some aerial bombardment from the Japanese, and what buildings there were in Yan'an were destroyed. Now its a not especially lovely city and the most notable buildings are the museum and theater dedicated to the Good Ol' Days, plus some amazingly swank hotels for visiting Communist officials. Unlike the friendly people of our "hometown" Zibo, who smile at us and call out "hello," the good citizens of Yan'an just stared at Ross and me.
It wasn't drizzling on this day -- the umbrellas that you see are used by Chinese ladies as parasols.
Our next step was the Wouku or Teakettle Spout Falls on the Yellow River. What really struck us about this place was the relaxed attitude toward safety barriers. Hey, you want to look at the falls? We assume that you know all about slippery when wet, gravity, and the way hyperactive kids behave when leaning out over a precipice to look down at rushing water. It's on you, folks.
The bedrooms were pretty down-at-heel, lit with fluorescent lights, and I remarked to Ross that if I had walked into a place like this upon first arriving in China, I would have felt a bit downcast. And of course the mattress was very firm. As we were travelling with the locals and determined to fit in and not act like privileged Westerners, we took it all in stride.
We saw a Mao impersonator in Yan'an by the way; he looked just like the Great Helmsman, right down to the cigarette in his hand. I didn't make any smart remarks to him, nor to my fellow tourists about my real opinion.