Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2001 05:55:17 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: travels in china
Travel in China has generally been easier than I've been cautioned about. No one really speaks English, of course, but more people than I expected know at least some rudiments, and with a phrasebook it's been okay. It may be difficult to get train reservations, but I couldn't really say -- I've found myself repeatedly on buses, which have been excellent. (Long- distance buses in China have stewardesses. (Flight attendants?).)
The weather, unfortunately, has not cooperated. For my first three days in the country, it rained more or less non-stop, and now I am out of dry clothes. I haven't spent as much time out looking around as I would have liked because it just got too unpleasant being damp all the time in towns where there was no central heating. Not in stores, not in the bus station, not in my hotel rooms. (The Chinese generally just keep all the doors and windows open all the time -- why not, I suppose, if there's no heat to keep in anyway.) The temperature, for reference, hasn't really been cold, for which I am grateful, just around 15 C (60 F). I just don't have room in my pack to carry a decent jacket, and so the rain has been a problem.
Anyway, am in Guangzhou (Canton) now, where they do seem to have heat. I hadn't really intended to come here -- after running late in Thailand and Cambodia, I had planned to jump straight to Hong Kong -- but the fast ferry down the Xi River from Wuzhou to Hong Kong I had planned to take turned out not to exist. Or at least, nobody I asked in Wuzhou seemed to think so.
I don't mind, really -- it seems to be a pretty interesting city, and I think I might try to do some shopping tomorrow. It's supposed to be cheaper here than Hong Kong.
Internet service here is unexpectedly hard to come by. Everywhere I've been until China, from Singapore and Bangkok to Phnom Penh and Hanoi, even at the beach, you could hardly turn around without tripping over an internet cafe or lan-gaming center. Sometimes, like in Cambodia, they're in hotels because only foreigners can afford them, but other times, like in Hanoi, they're in every back alley and are filled with locals. (In Hanoi, internet access costs 20 cents/hour.)
In China, they're impossible to find without a map. Guangzhou is not a poor city -- 4 million people, a shiny new metro, expensive brand-name shopping, everybody has a cell phone -- but my guidebook lists only two options for internet access. Luxury hotel business centres for $20 an hour, or the Meet Internet Cafe, where I have gone, for $0.70/hour. These are the nicest machines I've seen on this trip, with fancy big LCD flatscreens and fast connections; the problem is not that people here can't afford net access, but that this is the People's Republic of China.
Before I was allowed to log in, I had to fill out a form asking not just for my name but my birthdate, home address, telephone number, profession, and passport (or national ID) number. The log in screen also required me to agree to a series of policies, of which the first was "All users are prohibited to act against the related policies, rules & regulation of the government of P.R.C." Teenagers under 18 are apparently allowed to use the net only on statutory holidays(!) and kids under 14 are allowed in only accompanied by a guardian.
Hotels are also a bit eccentric here. You of course have to fill out extensive forms to check in; the content of the forms isn't unusual so much as the fact that the clerks actually seem to care that you write legibly. You can't count on having windows that close properly or even doors that keep out the draft, but you *can* count on having a large thermos bottle of hot water provided for your tea. The floors are probably tile, and a pair of plastic sandals is provided for going to the bathroom. You will probably not be given an actual key to your room; instead you just get a laminated card which you show to the floor attendant, who then opens your door for you. In the government-run hotel in Guiping, the main light switch wasn't even in the room -- the light could only be turned on or off from out in the hallway.
Hm. I've rambled on at vast length about infrastructure. I have, in fact, looked at the scenery a bit, too, but most of it wasn't the kind of thing that would be very interesting to read about. Nanning, Guiping, and Wuzhou are smallish cities -- Nanning is a provincial capital -- without much in the way of tourist attractions. They were interesting mostly for seeing what ordinary China is like, when nothing is put on for tourists, and in fact I didn't see a single other Westerner between when I checked out of my hotel in Nanning and when I was checking in here in Guangzhou. Also, nobody tried to sell me anything I didn't want or to guide me to some place I didn't want to go; these facts are not unrelated.
At a family-run cafe in Guiping, I think everyone gathered round to watch the foreigner eat. At a sidewalk stall in Wuzhou, a squad of schoolchildren did the same, and amused themselves vastly by saying over and over "Hello" and "I am pleased to meet you." When I went in to a shop to buy a razor, half a dozen other patrons in the shop (or maybe just within earshot) came over to offer opinions on brands. (The one I bought, incidentally, turned out to be worse than the dull one I meant to replace.)
In the evening in Guiping when I was wandering around seeing what nightlife there was (not much), three young local guys, dressed better than I was, insisted I come with them for a drink. Four girls showed up to join them (or possibly were invited to meet the foreigner), and for a few hours we sat around outside (under a thin plastic tarp), ate a lot, drank a little, and played some dice games I didn't understand. The phrasebook didn't allow very deep conversation, but it was something to do.
It's been interesting.
c. -- colin | opportunity calls from a payphone, bruno. you never roald | get a chance to call it back. (christopher baldwin)