Well today was a jammed packed day if there ever was one. I feel but like I have so much to write about, have almost a feeling that if I wrote it all down I would be boring people to death.
We touched down this morning at 5:30am local time before catching a flight to Guilin. Canton airport feels quite large and empty. It’s so large, and Canton so smoggy you can actually see smog inside the building when looking down the long halls. Reminiscent of LA before a raft of clean air initiatives from what I hear. The process of changing flights was nothing unusual, and we had a ton of time to waste sitting around waiting for our flight.
Once in Guilin the lying and money grubbing began. First up was a lady working at the information desk that told us that the bus would drop us 20 minutes walk from the bus terminal and we would need a taxi. As it turns out it would drop us just 1km from the bus terminal and it took us 10 minutes of walking with us needing to stop to ask for directions. She also told us that Yangshuo doesn’t offer river tours anymore and that she could arrange one for us there in Guilin. Yea, whatever. Then once we were outside immediately people start harassing us for business. All this is expected though and we’re ready to just wave people away until we get our bearings and start off in the right direction. Our bus we knew was 18Y from the guide book, but getting to it we’re first told 30Y. Another American couple is on the bus, they had taken the hard sell and paid 30. I managed to steer them away from another hard sell from a “boat captain” on the bus trying to get their business.
On the bus into town we met another traveler, a business student from Boston College studying Asian business practices. Her semester just ended, but before she goes back for summer session shes taking 4 days to go on vacation. As it turns out shes also headed to Yangshuo so we offer to let her tag along since we had at least some idea of how we were getting there.
Now my first impression on traffic in Guilin is that it’s busy and somewhat chaotic with lots of honking. I’d later revise that assessment. On the way down to Yangshuo by bus it became apparent just how crazy drivers are here. Honking all the time, forcing motorists going the opposite way to drive on the shoulder, passing other buses and trucks at a slow speed differential knowing there is oncoming traffic under the assumption the people going the other way will move to the right side of the lane. Crazy stuff.
You get a sense of how quickly the country is changing looking out the window. Everything is new or being rebuilt. There isn’t much trace of what was left behind. There are parts that remind me strongly of my visit to the old eastern block countries I’ve visited like Praha and Budapest. The quick economic opening of the country has put things moving at an accelerated pace. There is a thirst by those unhappy of their previous lot in life doing anything and everything they can to improve it. There is a sense of focus in everything going on. To me that’s almost a shame. I wish I had a bit more context to draw on than just my history lessons, but I can draw a lot of parallels with post war Japan. The old culture is being quickly replaced with the new, and I worry in a generation’s time there will be a feeling of loss among the people, that they’ve given up something important from their past for their future. Now I don’t think I can weigh in on if this is a good thing or not. There is definitely something to be said for the great quality of life improvements they’re experiencing, and being a computer nerd myself I might make the same choices in the same position. But putting on my traveler’s hat, I’m wanting to see what I feel like we lack in America, especially on the west coast, a strong sense of culture.
Yanghuo is a pretty town, though still very rough around the edges in places. The river snakes past the city and a vibrant lane of stores serves up customers. We chose the White Lion Inn because it’s run by an American man who we were hoping to get some help planning our visit from, but also because it’s located down on the tourist centric West St.
Apparently West St. has changed a lot in the last 5 years according to Jeff the owner. All of the buildings on West St. used to be required to keep up a style harkening back to 400 years ago and there was a relaxed quite atmosphere much like small towns in France. Now though when you go out at night it’s probably much more like Ios in Greece. People are everywhere, so thick it’s hard to walk, music blaring from all different directions in dissonant chords leaving the sounds of the city as chaotic as the roads. Our hotel right in the thick of it.
We spent most of the afternoon just exploring the city, getting our bearings, figuring out what we might want to do with the rest of our day. We had heard from the girl on the bus that there was some amazing show at night on the river that shouldn’t be missed being produced by the same man who was put in charge of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, and we all know how amazing that was. We decided to shell out the $40 to go figuring we had nothing else to do that night having just arrived. On the way to the show I got a real taste of craziness on the roads. Everyone is going everywhere with no sense of order at all. People driving on the wrong side of the road. Constant honking, and incredibly close calls the entire way. I’m amazed at how aware people are here of where exactly down to the inch the corners of their car is. I can’t imagine hardly anyone in LA has quite that much awareness of the vehicle they’re driving, though judging from how much the chaos effects the speed of the driving I wouldn’t trade our orderly efficient driving for this.
When we got back to our hotel the clubs were in full effect, blasting music from all sides. We were not pleased. After a very long day the last thing we wanted was to not get a good night’s sleep. Ear plugs helped, but I could still heart the thud thud thud of the bass. No bueno. I was so exhausted though I pretty much passed out and slept until 7am.