Enter the Dragon
Each time we venture through an immigration point we feel both a sense of accomplishment and giddy curiosity. As we waved goodbye to Hong Kong and its many lovely conveniences, we found ourselves in a territory completely foreign to both of us – China.
They like to shoot snot-rockets and hock lugies in public, the Chinese. And their table manners are lacking a certain polish as they chew with their mouths wide open, lips flapping freely in the wind, tongues slapping against their spit-soaked food. We never got used to it but we eventually accepted it; much like we came to understand that if we couldn’t hear our chef hock up a pesky wad of flem back in the kitchen, then our meal must not have been prepared with upmost authenticity.
We scheduled an overnight sleeper bus to Guilin. We were quite the attraction at the bus station waiting area. People didn’t quite know what to make of two very white westerners with large unwieldy backpacks and we didn’t quite know what to make of the Chinese characters on our bus tickets. For the first time since we’d been in Asia, we were actually feeling a little out of our element.
The bus experience turned out to be somewhat pleasant. Instead of seats, the over-night buses are basically a bunch of mini bunk beds, three rows wide and several deep. The inside looks like a rolling hospital for little people. The sheets seemed* clean and we were given mini trash cans and a plastic bag to store our shoes.
Entertainment starred the guy in the bunk next to me – I’ll call him Big Sigh. He would belt out massive yawns and loud exclamations of what I assume was either boredom or exhaustion. Nick and I hung out on my bunk eating Chinese junk food (not as delicious as Japanese junk food) listening to Big Sigh and hoping to catch a glimpse of the traffic paradigm we had read so much about. Sure enough, within minutes of departure, we hit an expansive intersection with fuel chugging vehicles moving in every possible direction. Swarms of cars, buses, motorbikes, and some other random contraptions with wheels and attached motors were all sharing the road with complete and utter disregard for traffic lights and safety signals.
I don’t even know why they bother with traffic lights, honestly. It’s absolute mayhem out there. We saw a guy on a scooter carrying five feet of crates (presumably full of chickens) blatantly run a red light causing four lanes of buses to slam on their deafeningly loud brakes. However, despite all the craziness and apparent anarchy on the Chinese roads, their system actually seems to work quite well. I suppose that notion holds true for several aspects of China. The driver turned the lights off on the bus around 8:30PM and Nick immediately zonked out. I watched an episode of Mad Men then was rocked to sleep by the gentle vibrations of Big Sigh’s snoring.
We awake in mainland China.
Guilin is surrounded by some beautiful countryside but the city itself is a bit grimy. There are a lot of vehicles and as a result, a lot of air pollution. The traffic situation confirmed that we were still in China.
Despite two days of rain, we took a couple of short hikes including one around the Elephant Trunk Hill area. We ventured into a cave close to our hostel that was rigged with lots of bright, multi-colored spotlights highlighting the cave’s stalactites, stalagmites, and funky rock formations. The effects were a bit over the top and somewhat a detraction from the cave’s natural beauty but we’re quickly learning that a lot of the country’s relics are often adorned with aesthetic touches that are a bit on the garish side.
On one of our outings we were approached by a group of college students with a questionnaire. They were insanely excited to see us and practice their English. We filled out the questionnaire for them and asked for some translations and a restaurant recommendation. They gave us a short lesson in Mandarin and escorted us to a local Guilin-style noodle place.
We met a handful of Aussies, and UK folks at our hostel. Lots of fascinating conversations ensued over our short stay here. If you ever find yourself in Guilin, Wada Hostel is a good place to be. We also started learning a recurring lesson, getting around in Southern China was going to get increasingly more difficult. Lost and confused would be a daily state of being.