BootsnAll Travel Network

China – Leaving the British Commonwealth

On Wednesday evening, I caught the ferry from Hong Kong to Nansha which is an industrial suburb of Guangzhou. The trip went by quickly as the ferry was relatively new and fast. On the trip I met a Canadian named Terry (the only other foreigner on board). He was just moving to Guangzhou to take a computer science teaching position in Clifford Estates where I was going. He was married to a Chinese lady and they were going to live in Clifford Estates. Upon arrival in Nansha, I swiftly moved through immigration and then into the line for the metal detector. The metal detector seemed to go off as everyone went through including me yet the guards never checked anyone. After clearing customs, Terry and I caught the bus for Clifford Estates. The bus driver never sold me a ticket. Upon exiting the bus at Clifford Estates, a guard wanted my non existent ticket. After much finger pointing, in Chinese which I didn’t understand, and English which they didn’t understand, I had to go back to the bus driver and buy a ticket for 15 yuan (7.5 yuan = 1 US dollar). I was then met by Kemble who was to be my host in Guangzhou. Kemble and his wife Zallari are an Indian couple who are friends of a friend. They currently work in China in the jewelry industry. After meeting Kemble, we walked through Clifford Estates to his apartment. Clifford Estates is a very large planned suburb of Guangzhou built by a developer named Clifford. (Lots of things there are named after Clifford). After meeting Zallari and dropping off my bags, we went to eat at a Thai restuarant. After eating, we went to watch Zallari take salsa lessons. It was sort of surreal to spend my first night in China watching a group of Chinese and Indian people learn to salsa. I must say they are good as this was the intermediate class. My last action of the night was to call Terry and arrange to go sightseeing with him as we had discussed on the bus trip. Kemble and his wife were working.

The next morning I met Terry, his wife Susan, and Susan’s daughter Karen at the bus station. They had never really seen Guangzhou either as they were new to the area. We caught the bus to downtown. Our first stop after getting off the bus was a temple called Guangxia Si (I think). It was very similar to other temples that I had seen in Hong Kong. As Susan was not a Buddhist she could not shed much more light on the temple. She could read the writing though. After leaving the temple, we browsed various shops as we made our way to a mosque. Most Chinese shops are very small and the owners live above them. I was still having some stomach trouble at this point and Susan gave me a vial of herbs to swallow which are supposed to help the stomach, We went to a pharmacy and bought a few more vials for me. I am still not sure what they are as Susan did the buying. They seem to help. Upon arrival at the mosque, a lady exiting invited us in. We were soon stopped though by a man asking if we were Muslim. We said no and were told we couldn’t go in. From the outside though, we could still see the minaret built in 627 AD. It is the oldest minaret outside of Mecca. (Someone please correct me if this is wrong.) After being expelled from the mosque, we made due with eating at a Muslim restaurant next door. The bread was the highlight of the meal for me. It was freshly baked flat bread. I am assuming all of the food was prepared in the Halal method (like kosher for Jews). The bill for four people came to 100 yuan. This included several drinks and at least four food dishes from which we ate communally. The remainder of the time in Guangzhou was spent on Shamian Dao which is an island in the Pearl River. The island is full of colonial buildings and parks built during the days of European colonization after the Opium wars. We then took the subway to Shiqiao. Before catching the bus back to Clifford Estates, we all had foot massages at a local shop. Our feet were first washed and then massaged along with our shoulders. The masseusses were vision impaired or blind. The bill for this hour of luxury came to 35 yuan. I spent the evening with Kemble and Zallari at a nice Chinese restaurant. Even though this was a very upscale resturant, most meals were $10 or less. The most expensive bottle of wine was 368 yuan. I couldn’t resist ordering a big ice cream desert.

I spent my last day in Guangzhou watching movies as I was very tired from Hong Kong. Kemble was nice enough to get my bus tickets to Yangshou for me while he was at work. Our last evening together was spent at a restaurant/bar frequented by many expatriots. The restaurant hosts different parties throughout the year including pajama parties and Hawaiian nights. The parties bring in a lot of business as they are a new phenomena to the Chinese. I did meet one of the owners who was a blond haired Chinese man.

On Saturday, I got up and went to the bus station to find my bus. I found someone who could understand me to show me the gate. I was a bit early and watched the bus boarding process which seemed to involve a lot of yelling for some reason. As it got closer to my departure time, I started playing match the Chinese symbols. There were several buses leaving from each door so I tried to match the symbols on my ticket with the symbols on the front of the bus. As it turned out, the bus I was supposed to get on didn’t have the symbols on my ticket as it wasn’t the bus’ final destination. I found the right bus by showing people my ticket and going to the bus they pointed to. I got on the bus still not entirely sure it was the right one. The bus was a sleeper bus which would be okay at night but was annoying as this was a day trip. In Chinese sleeper buses, there are no seat, only beds. There are three rows stacked two high. Each bed is about the size one finds on a train. I spent the entire day lying down with my only respite being bathroom breaks at some nasty bathrooms. We did stop for lunch at what was maybe a truck stop. I got lots of stares as I was the only foreigner in sight. My lunch consisted of sandwiches that Zallari had prepared for me. The onboard entertainment on the bus was Jackie Chan movies in Chinese and a comedy show (also in Chinese) that seemed to involve people making lots of stupid faces. The only skit I understood involved a reenactment of the Titanic scene with a Chinese woman singing Celine Dion’s Titanic song as only the Chinese can. All this of course was played at tremendous volume I guess to overcome the horn which the bus driver seemed to press for the entire trip. I arrived in Yangshou at 6:00 pm. After checking to make sure my ears weren’t bleeding, I made my way through town looking for my hotel. I finally found it and checked into my single room at the Sweet Hotel (60 yuan a night). My room was small, but very clean. It had its own bathroom which had an infamous squat toilet. At least I could practice using it in private.

Yangshou is a small touristy town south of Gulin. It is famous for its limestone karsts which surround the town and are featured in many Chinese paintings. Karsts are small limestone peaks that jut out of the ground. They are covered in trees and surrounded by small villages and rice fields. Yangshou is very well known to Westerners and has basically a Chinese and Western part. The western part is full of stores selling fake goods, hotels, and streetside cafes. The Chinese people come in from the villages and follow you around trying to sell you all sorts of handicrafts and pirated DVD’s. The town seems to be very popular amongst the Spanish and French. Not long after arriving at the hotel, I met a group of four Spanish people who were renting bikes the next day along with a local guide. I decided to join them. After this, I had a supper consisting of a pizza made with yak cheese.

Early the next day, we met our guide named Jane who lived in a nearby village. She took us to collect our bikes which seemed on the verge of falling apart. I had ridden most of the day with my bike in a high gear so the chain wouldn’t slip. On the way out of town, we had to make our way amongst buses, motorbikes, other bikes, and cars who all fight for a position on the road. During the course of doing this, I hit the door of a parked truck while trying to avoid a bus. The door left a nice gash (long but not very deep) on my upper arm. I was anxious to clean the wound as the truck was very dirty. I asked if there was a pharmacy nearby. Jane informed me we would pass one. In the meantime, I used some alcohol hand cleaner to get the dirt from around the wound. The “pharmacy” was actually a rural treatment center filled with old people sitting outside with IV’s. I went in to ask for a bandage but was actually treated there. They sat me down and rubbed something on the wound from an old bottle. I think and hope it was Betadyne. They then taped over the cut. After paying 6 yuan, we were own our merry way. We spent the day riding through villages and rice fields looking at the river and the karsts. We stopped to climb one of the karsts called Moon Hill. The climb was up very steep steps. The climb was a sweaty one as it is very humid here. The top afforded great views of the surrounding country but the view was obscured by an ever present haze from the humidity and heat. It was interesting to speak with Jane. She had one child as allowed by the government. She expressed that she was happy to have had a boy as girls are not as important. I know this sentiment exist in China but it was surprising to here it expressed by a woman. I think this sentiment is mainly held in the rural villages.

On Monday, I spent the day looking around town. I made a stop at the police station to try to extend my visa. The office was staffed by young Chinese girls so I thought maybe I could flirt my way to a longer visa. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out this way as I was directed to the line staffed by a an older gruff looking policeman who informed me I couldn’t extend my visa in Yangshou. For the evening, I booked a cruise on a river. I came down to the lobby at 4:00 to meet my escort who was supposed to take me to the bus. I met four Italians who were coming with me. We were all taken to the bus station and put on a bus. The bus was soon packed as only the developing world can. There were 49 people for the twenty or so seats. We actually stopped to pick up more people on the way. We were met by another woman at the bus stop. She tried to arrange a minibus to take us to the river. This involved her and another lady screaming at each other as the other lady wanted the minibus (I think). The other lady won and we had to wait. We finally were loaded into this minibus-go-kart type contraption and taken to the river. Here we boarded the boat for our cruise. Let me preface by saying that all transportation in China so far is tiny. The boat chairs were no exception and looked like something from my preschool days. I went to sit on the front of the boat so that my knees weren’t in my chin. The river was beautiful and surrounded by steep peaks. The river was also full of fisherman using nets to catch fish and families swimming and cooking meals on boats by the shore. We stopped at an island full of people selling fish, pictures, and water buffalo rides. After the cruise, the bus back to town was just as crowded. As I and the Italians were the last to get on, we had no seats. The 17 seat bus was loaded with 37 people. I had to stand with my head in the roof emergency hatch so that I could stand upright. At least I got fresh air as the hatch was open. One of the Italian girls was sitting on the bus steps behind a Chinese lady who was standing. Apparently the Chinese lady had some gas as the Italian girl soon stood up as well. She mentioned something about maybe the lady had eaten fish. I ended the day by going with the Italians to have a full body massage at Dr. Lilli Li’s Clinic.

Yesterday I went on a bus trip to the Longsheng Rice Terraces. I thought I was just booking a bus so that I could go hiking, but apparently I was on a package tour and spent the day following a flag. The terraces extend up some very large mountain sides. They are farmed by a minority group in China whose name translates into the Long Hair People. All of the women have hair over 2 meters in length. They wear one of three hair styles depending on their status in life (unmarried, married no kids, kids). One traditional form of greeting is for the women to pinch your butt or front upper thigh if they like you. In one village full of wooden houses on a mountain side, we stopped to have lunch. I had bamboo rice which is made by stuffing rice and other unknown things into a shoot of bamboo and cooking it over a fire. You eat the rice by breaking open the bamboo. The village was laid out on a path consisting of many steps that climbed through the terraces. I am not sure how much of the village was really built just for tourist though. It was full of cafes and hotels. Old women ran around aggressively trying to get me to buy postcards and jewelry which took away some of my enjoyment of seeing the terraces. Those tired by the long climb to the top could choose to be carried down in chairs carried by two men. Upon leaving the terraces, a group of us took an earlier bus down the mountain. We had to wait for the rest of the group. A group of old women descended upon us full of baskets of trinkets. While they were trying to sell us goods, they proceeded to pinch us as well. This resulted in us scrambling around trying to avoid getting pinched as they pinch quite hard. It soon became a game of directing the pinching ladies to the unwary which they seemed to enjoy greatly as they would start laughing quite hard when the people jumped. I soon learned that trying to pinch them back made them run away. They only seemed to want to interact with the foreigners. When I tried to get rid of one lady by trying to get her to go sell to some Chinese, she frowned and said no never. The Chinese must not buy anything. At least this passed the time while we waited for our bus.

Today I am am going to Guilin. I am not sure what there is to do there but I would like to try to get my visa extended. My guidebook mentions that they do it quickly there and I would like to get it out of the way. I am also going to try to get my train tickets to Shanghai. I booked them through a travel agency. I had to go to several agencies to find one that would sell me first class tickets. They couldn’t get my tickets in time in Yangshou, so I have to call a guy in Gulin who is supposed to bring them to me. We will see if this works out.


Chinese People: For the most part, they seem to be quite happy. They can be a bit short with each other though. They are usually willing to try to help you if they can.

Tours: You always eventually get what you paid for but they can be quite disorganized. They always seem to involve more costs than you were orginally told. They always leave out that you have to pay for a bus or something else, so it’s good to bring more money.

Horns: China is a loud country. By law, Chinese drivers must use their horn when overtaking anything on the road. As the roads are packed, this leads the drivers to basically just stay on the horn.

British Commonwealth: China is my first non British colony country. This means that I am finally in a place where everything is not called Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth is not on all of the money. I am back on the right side of the road which now looks strange to me.

Blog Entry Length: Internet use is much cheaper here (about 2.5 yuan per hour as opposed to $3-$5) so my blog lengths are longer. On the downside I am now spending up to three hours on one entry. I hope they aren’t too long.

Hosts: I would like to thank Kemble and Zallari for hosting me in Guangzhou. They were very generous.

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4 Responses to “China – Leaving the British Commonwealth”

  1. Kellie Says:

    Wow! Sounds like you are having quite the adventure! Very interesting. I can’t wait to see more pictures. Love you!

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  3. mark v Says:

    barry..keep up the details and long is what makes reading it so much fun.

    i laughed out loud with the description of you watching a chinese movie of a chinese woman singing “celone dione song the way only a chinese can”

    or the part where you are standing with your head in the emergency vent…got a big chuckle out of that image

    you thrown in educational chits on culture (chinese women wearing hair in 3 styles to signify status) I even am learning from these essays..

    and please continue with the “dickensian” descriptions suchas the “mini bus go kart type contraption”…

    it is in the details of your prose that these literary gems sparkle…ha

    can’t wait for barry does shanghai..amazing you haven’t been arrested, accosted or taken advantage yet..stay safe my friend.

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  5. Gashwin Says:

    You were turned out of that mosque? That’s nuts! I went in and took photos! (Check my flickr page) … but then, maybe I look more Muslim than you … 🙂 I do think this is a rather ancient mosque, indicating that Islam arrived this far East quite early.

    Glad that things worked out so well for Kem and Z, and good talking to you.

    And I certainly hope that the folks you met on your last day were expatriates, and not expatriots … 🙂

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  7. Preeti Says:

    I would think that being pinched where frogs might lick should count as being accosted, but maybe Mark V has a different take on that than I do. Anyway, I agree with him – the entries are never too long or detailed for all your faithful readers. I feel like I’m in the Victorian era reading Dickens’s latest in serial form.

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