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China, the Way I Saw It – Episode VI – Guilin and the Li River
We arrived at Guilin airport around ten in the morning. The facilities and surroundings were as bleak as Beijing, but there were no armed soldiers walking around, and that was a good thing.
Charles pulled into the busy parking lot to deliver a car to the hotel while we observed the many vendors selling odd snacks and souvenirs. We learned that this town is a tourist area, which was evident from the many westerners who were wondering about the airport. I marveled when two young boys bought a dried lizard on a stick from a bent and scarred shopkeeper with a mangled hand and continued munching on it.
The guy next to me with a deep Texas drawl smiled and remarked, “I’ve been to two World’s Fairs and I’ve been on a goat, but I’ve never seen one like this!” Well, I missed the goat spin, but I’ve never seen one before. Charles returned in a van and we headed to the hotel.
The Li River Hotel was our second experience with a Chinese owned and operated hotel. The room was a bit cleaner than in Harbin, but it was far from Edith’s well-functioning facility. The sad part… there was a new Holiday Inn two hundred yards down the street.
“Sorry guys. I didn’t know about the new hotel when I booked the trip. We’ll stay there next time, I promise!” Charles responded to the flood of complaints.
My room had linoleum on the floor…and six inches up the wall. Whoever measured it was a foot too long, but instead of cutting it off, they ran the excess up the wall. Well, well. It needs to hold the water in case of a flood.
We voted and unanimously decided to eat at the new Holiday Inn.
“We have a rest day tomorrow,” Charles informed. “I’ve booked us a spot on the Li River cruise. It should be very interesting.” These words proved inadequate to describe our experience.
The river water was muddy and polluted, full of floating debris. I expected this. The ship was crowded…overcrowded wouldn’t be more accurate. If you got up from your seat to take pictures, forget it. A Chinese vacationed at your place… and they didn’t want to get up. The only hope was to play the same game. Within half an hour, none of our groups were sitting together.
The scenery was beautiful and interesting. The gray and black mountains, steep and pointed, looked like upside-down ice cream cones. Ancient tombs carved into the hillsides could be seen through the undergrowth. Women washing clothes and people washing their bodies were a common sight. Groves of willow trees lined the banks of the river and provided a tasty treat for the hundreds of water buffalo along the way.
Food was served on board. Mine came in a small box that had obviously been used before. Looking around, it was clear that most of the boxes had been used before. When the box was opened, there was a small amount of fried rice, three shriveled shrimp and a pair of wooden chopsticks…also used before. I wasn’t aware of the fact, but I must have been staring at the unappetizing morsels for some time when the lady next to me motioned to the box and then pointed to her chest. I will eat that, was the obvious question. I assured him it wasn’t and handed him the box. The content quickly disappeared.
I was approaching the railing to take a photo of one of the tombs when we passed an identical tour boat heading back to Guilin. At that moment, I was very grateful that I handed over the food box to my fellow passenger. At the back of the passing boat, where the food was being prepared, three Chinese workers wiped out the used cans with rags and loaded them for the next run. That was scary, but not the highlight. A crew member was washing his feet in the same large pot where the shrimp were cooked. That was the highlight. We all had a lot of laughs that night at the new Holiday Inn drinks.
It started to sink in at this point. What we saw was not a movie or some fictional play about life in a foreign country. What we saw was the real China. A culture we’ve never heard of…a culture most people will never see. I knew then that one day I would write these stories.
The next morning we were having breakfast at the Holiday Inn when we were interrupted by two young Chinese, one male and one female.
“Are you from America?” asked the female. His voice was delicate, like a tiny bell, and his English was quite good. They both smiled widely.
“Yes, we are,” came the answer from several of us.
“I’m Foo Yee and this is Miss Hu. We were sent from our factory to accompany you on the train to Liuchou. The young man was short (not surprising), with a round face and always a big smile. The girl was tiny, her figure barely changed, but she was very attractive and… okay, I say. It was pretty sexy.
“I am the assistant of our factory manager, Mr. Chong Pei. I will be the one to translate all the documents and interpret for your visit. Miss Hu is my assistant. The train will leave in two hours. We must not be late or I face my manager’s music. ” Foo Yee’s grin grew even wider.
I smiled too. Humorous Chinese man. Sense of humor in English.
“I can’t wait for my first train ride in China,” I remarked. I had no idea what was in store for us.
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#China #Episode #Guilin #River