#3 China, January 28, 2002

Dear Everybody,

I’m a bit late with this ‘bulk mailing’ as I’ve been unable to access my hotmail. Now that I’m in a different town, I can.

The plane was an hour late leaving for Nanning, and nobody was there to meet me so I got a taxi and motioned to him that he needed to use his phone. He finally caught on as I showed him the number to dial. It took several attempts by Karen’s daughters to tell him where to bring me, but he finally got it. It was about a 40-minute ride to Karen’s.

Karen is Canadian and has daughters Rachel (16), Elizabeth (12) and Zoey (10). They’re from Victoria, BC and have been here about 9 weeks, but had been in Guangzhou for 18 months previously to being in Canada for one year, in between China trips. Karen teaches at a public school, but it has a special emphasis on languages.

We went to Cynthia’s birthday party, Cynthia being the Chinese wife of Darryl (Canadian) who teaches with Karen.

 

 

 

We took the bus to a restaurant where there were about 6 other Chinese adults and a couple of kids. We had a big buffet (lazy Susan) and Chinese red wine. I brought a bottle of Chardonay for a birthday gift (Ernest and Julio Gallo!). After eating we did karaoke through the TV. I only knew a couple of the Beetle songs, but everyone really enjoyed it.

 

 

The next day started with my taking the bus—it was a green one with no number –just two characters, then a dash, and then more characters. As I was waiting for it one came the opposite direction, did a U-turn and picked me up! In about 6 blocks after picking up two more passengers, the driver pulled over and we all had to get out to board another bus. After 30 minutes I arrived at the train station (my landmark to watch for) and I got out.

Nanning is practically totally under construction. It’s the capital of Guangxi Province, which is considered to be somewhat of a backwater because of its having many different minorities. Another outcome of this is its fierce independence. Even from ancient times, it never became totally “Chinesed.” Even now the minorities have festivals with costumes which I hope to see.

I did some sightseeing (provincial museum with bronze drums) but mostly walked around. I ate at the most wonderful restaurant—a huge place full of people where I walked around to different ‘stations’ and pointed to what I wanted. I had some pot stickers, pork dumplings and a fat barbequed chicken wing with wonderful spicy seasonings. A cook was ‘pulling’ noodles; another was stretching a noodle pastry like throwing a pizza, etc.

I went to the railroad station to buy a train ticket for the next day. What a sea of humanity. I went to the information window (waited in line) and pointed to the characters for Ningming that I had had a man write in my book earlier. The lady said, “Eight o’clock tomorrow?” and I nodded ‘yes’; she wrote some characters on a slip of paper and waved me off. I tried to follow the direction to which she waved me, but all I saw were fruit stands and grocery stores (in the train station!). Then I went a little farther and down some steps—oh yes, there was more—a HUGE ticket-selling hall—16 windows, each with a line about 50 people long!

I got in a line and after awhile I wondered if this would be the right line. So I asked a young man by showing him the slip of paper and asking, “OK?” as I gestured to This line. He nodded, so I stayed put. After 40 minutes I got to the front of the line and presented my slip of paper and money, and received my ticket easily. I took a rush hour bus back to Karen’s; stood contorted over the front seat and hung on for dear life.

That evening I took Karen and family out to dinner. We went to a restaurant on the University campus via two three-wheelers (little motorized taxis). I needed to buy a plastic card, which was then used at each ‘station’ to buy the food. We put the card into a little machine, which then debited the card—really high tech! The food was wonderful. We had about nine dishes plus a bottle of wine, and took home lots of leftovers, all for under $9. (Yes, they do doggie bags). We had pork and eggplant, barbequed pork and peanuts, mild green peppers, broccoli, soup, sweet and sour pork, chicken and vegetables, rice and tea, and maybe some I can’t remember!

On Sunday, up at 5:00 to get a bus to the railway station for the 8:00 train to Ningming. It was pitch dark at 6:20 as I left the apartment having to wake up the gate guard to let me pass. Standing on the corner seemed so dark that I didn’t think I could see the bus and I didn’t think he could see me, so I walked up a few blocks to a more lighted area. There were many people around so it wasn’t scary. Got the bus just fine, and also got on the train with no problems after asking directions many times.

The scenery to Ningming was lovely—farmers plowing with water buffalo, lovely mountains (karst) behind the fields, and small, very rural towns along the way. Ningming was kind of a hellhole, but I had a boy (passenger) on the train platform ask me in English if he could help me. Yes he could! He took me to a tour agency (in a shed) and interpreted while I ‘made a deal’ for a river run on the Zuo River to Huashan.

I set off with a guide (the proprietor’s 14 year old son with braces on his teeth) who knew 20 words of English—which is 18 more than I know in Mandarin. He helped me get lunch—I went in the ‘kitchen’ and pointed—and then we set off in a boat—all to myself, as this is definitely the off season—on the Zuo River. The boat would have accommodated about 10 but I was the lone tourist. We putt-putted along (it sounded just like the African Queen) and in 2 3/4 hours arrived at Huashan.

The scenery on the river with its karst formations and bamboo stands was exquisite. It was a little cool, though, but beautiful! At Husahan we stopped to look at the pictographs—not too dissimilar from the ones that I saw outside of Las Vegas with Jean and Hilary Welna last fall. Hundreds of people and animals, and according to my book, nobody knows who or when.

 

 

 

There was lots of ‘river life’ too, —women standing in the water washing clothes (it is really cool this time of year), little boats going hither and yon, and water buffalo plowing fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stayed that night in a hotel along the river that was beautifully constructed of wood—Dong style. (Dong is one of the minorities). I had a colossal view of the river and karst. It also had colossal rice wine which warmed me up from the cool of the day.

I was awakened at 7:15 am by a man telling me and asking me something. I said, “no,” and he went away. At 8:30 he returned again and told me something. So I got up and opened the door. He seemed to be asking if I was going back to Ningming. I got out my phrase book and pointed to ‘bus’ and drew him a clock face showing 1:00. He said some more, but I didn’t know what.

Later I was walking about, exploring the tiny village when an older woman that I had greeted the day before approached me. She was short, probably a minority and was wearing a pretty plaid headscarf around her head. She spoke to me, and handed me three yam-like things that were still warm from having been cooked. I protested but she insisted on giving me two more. I tried to give them back to her, but she wouldn’t take them. I quickly took her picture before, with a wave and a smile, she strode off up the path. As I watched her go, I noticed that tucked in her belt on her back was a HUGE machete!

About 11:00 the hotel girl and another man asked me about ‘Ningming.’ I used my book to show ‘bus’ and one o’clock (as I had been told by the tour operator). They both nodded ‘no’. I asked several ways and was assured there was no bus any more today, only 7:30 in the morning. (This is apparently what the man this morning was talking about—only this one bus to Ningming) The man gestured that he could take me to Ningming on his motorcycle. With the book I asked ‘Taxi?’ No. ‘Room, roooom’, with appropriate hand gestures. I made the money sign— and he wrote ’20’ on his hand. I wrote ’15’ ($2) and the deal was made. So off we went on his small motorcycle. He even provided a bright purple plastic hat for me to wear.

It was a 30-minute ride on a very dusty, bumpy dirt road, but he drove carefully. The scenery was beautiful but I couldn’t enjoy it fully, as I was nervous. He delivered me to the train station as I had pointed to in the book earlier.

Unlike India, there are virtually no stray dogs to plague me here as this province regularly eats dog meat. And not just the lower classes. Nanning has many restaurants that serve dogpot as a specialty. I may have inadvertently eaten it, for all I know with my pointing as a means of ordering.

On the train back to Nanning I had an English conversation with Zhang Xiao Yan, who wanted to practice her English. She was 20 years old and had five brothers—Karen said that Chairman Mao’s policy of one child really was only enforced in the cities. My book says that minority families are allowed two children by policy. Since none of the one child family children have brothers and sisters, they don’t have cousins or aunts or uncles!

That evening at Karen’s a Chinese friend was making pot stickers, which I helped form. When Rachel started to cook them in boiling water, the propane gas ran out. So they took them to Gail’s apartment to finish cooking. I thought they weren’t too great!

Next morning I again got the bus and the train to Liuzhou. When I had bought my ticket the day before, the departure time was not easily readable as before. So I conferred with another person and they pointed to the 902 numerals. I arrived at the station at 8:00 (the bus was quick that morning) and they boarded me immediately, which surprised me as the day before they only boarded a half-hour before. Mystery clarified when the train pulled out at 8:28. As I studied my ticket again, yes, there was a numeral ‘8’ and some characters, and then the numerals ’28’. So sometimes one just has to rely on luck (and on arriving early as my mother always preached!)

There were two lovely women on the train that I sat with who were so friendly and interested in me. One shared a huge fruit (pomelo, like a grapefruit but not as good), and the other shared steamed buns. A vendor was selling corn on the cob which one lady started to buy, so I quickly insisted on buying the corn. It was way overripe, but they seemed to enjoy theirs.

The one lady was going to Liuzhou, also, and I tried to ask her if there was a train to Ronshui, my final destination. The other lady said, “bus” (in English). Using my phrase book, we determined that I should take a bus. When we arrived at Liuzhou, the ‘pomelo’ lady indicated that I should come with her. She got a taxi and took me to the bus depot, had the taxi wait, took me in to the information desk, inquired, and wrote 14:15 on a paper to show me the departure time, and left. The information girl took me to the ticket counter and instructed her. Everybody is very helpful to me—that’s so nice. I could have managed all this on my own, but not easily!

It’s clear to me that Chinese enjoy sharing food. On buses, trains, sitting at the same table in a restaurant, etc. One can see that it has a slightly different feel than at home. They really seem pleased when you accept their offer.

Rongshui is a small town in the center of many minority villages. They frequently set off long strings of firecrackers that lasted for at least 30 seconds. There was virtually no English in this town—even my hotel had no English sign. I had to inquire where it was several times, pointing to the Chinese characters in my book. There is a lot of karst in southern China and this town, like most has the steep rounded mountains all around it. There were pigs walking in the street, people carrying baskets of produce with a shoulder poll, funny motorcycle taxis (the passenger sat in a ‘sidecar’—a design I had never seen before) and cell phones going off every minute; what contrasts.

The Chinese are very intent on ‘fresh air.’ It was very cold in Rongshui but luckily I had a heater in my room that kept it about 64 degrees. When I went out for breakfast and came back the cleaners had opened the windows, turned off the heat, and turned on the ceiling fan!

That brings me to today. This was one of those nightmarish days that make me wonder why I do this. I got up at 5:00 am to get the only bus (6:30) to Sanjiang. I allowed extra time because I knew it might be difficult to wake the deskclerk to let me out, and I didn’t know if I could find a moto-taxi that early so I thought I might have to walk the six blocks to the bus station in the pitch dark. It was raining to add to the fun, but I did manage to get a mototaxi and arrived at the shed (bus station) at 6:00. Now it turned out that the bus was to leave at 7:00. It was piercingly cold—my feet were blocks of ice. I could see my breath! It had rained for 24 hours so everything was muddy and a mess.

I finally got on the bus, which was pretty rickety and full of died-and-gone-to-hell smokers. The road was very narrow as we began climbing into the mountains. We could barely meet on-coming trucks; in fact there was a big one on its side in the mud.

I finally pulled myself together and began to enjoy the scenery. I have never seen such beautiful gardens (fields) of lettuce, cabbage, spinach and other greens. There were also ‘old’ rice fields, pagodas on the mountains, a few flowers, streams, bridges and wooden houses built by the Dong, a minority group.

After four hours I arrived in Sanjiang, got a hotel (colder than a mackerel), then had a hot noodle dish on the street which was excellent. I finally found the travel agency mentioned in the book and met Lan, a lovely 20-something serious young man who is arranging for a tour of the villages for me tomorrow. Actually things are turning out quite well! I even found two Internet facilities (that is, Lan did) but neither could open my hotmail so I sent an “I’m OK” to Claire using another fellow’s email. I probably won’t get this sent for a few days but will sign off this one and start another—it’s getting too long!!

Have fun, Carol

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