In early February of 2008, my wife Sarah and I, (simply-sarah)
were invited to visit southern China with her parents. This is our story.
The flight in
We got on the plane at LAX, the flight left at 11pm Friday. Same crap with the shoes and all, but our plane was “Southern China Airlines” way out on the tarmac, requiring a bus ride around the runway. It was a 15 hour flight, straight over the top of the globe, up the coast over Alaska, across the Bering strait, and back down over Russia, with a quick curve avoiding North Korea. We got to watch it all on a little TV on the back of the chair that reminded me of the toy TV some of us had as a kid with the paper scroll that rolled across. I figure it was a satellite update, but it could have been a DVD playing the whole time, we would never know.
I slept for about 4 hours on the plane. Sarah, who said she couldn’t sleep on a plane slept more than I did. It was rather uncomfortable with no place to put my feet and a chair that reclined slightly more than 10 degrees. The stewardesses were really pretty, set to make a good impression on a bunch of American tourists. To pass the time, we had loaded the ipod with some videos, and I brought a book Marie recommended called “Days of the endless corvette”. I noticed another formulaic thing that drives me a little nuts in story telling: the concept of disaster happening when someone is late. In the animae Sarah was watching, the guy was late to meet the girl while hanging out with another girl that seemed slightly interested, and when the guy final got there, she was missing due to some disaster. In the book, the main character Earl is off chasing wild honey while his girlfriend was waiting with news of another possible impending disaster that could have been averted, and the girl ends up marrying a guy named Badcock.
We landed in Guangzhou on China time Sunday morning. (lost a day due to the crossing the date line thing).
At the airport, they found a way to get all 9 of us on a golf cart to cross the airport for a connecting flight to Guilin, and the hunt for a cup of coffee was on. The only thing available was an overfancified café, charging 68 yuan for a cappuccino. (that’s about10 bucks) I figured it was typical airport rip-off, and paid it. I got a small fancy cup with a little cookie and a napkin. It was a decent unsweetened cappuccino, but not worth 10 bucks. Sarah’s dad found us and tried to buy coffee for the other people at a better price, arguing about exchange rates and such for a good 5 minutes, but couldn’t. He actually spoke English to me, all he could say though was “10 bucks!” Eventually, our tour bus and guide came to pick us up for our first day actually in China.
Reed flute cave
On our first day on the ground, we took a rattle-y bus ride through a scary looking neighborhood to a tourist trap lunch spot. For a while I thought we were on dirt roads, but when I looked down, I saw pavement. It must have been paved by hand or rolled flat with bamboo shoots or something. It was kind of a scary ride, through endless shacks and brick half-buildings on a road barely wider than the bus. I spotted a hospital with a red cross painted on it, then saw a lot across the street where they were making headstones. After lunch we went to a park in the middle of the very round and steep mountains they are known for in Guilin. On the way in we were bombarded with people trying to sell us touristy stuff with unbelievable pressure that could teach people in Tijuana a few things. Saying no repeatedly does nothing, even when they know you don’t speak Chinese. When we finally got into the building, I was told this was where we were going into the big cave. I wish I had been told before hand, I had bought a special flashlight just for the occasion, and I wasn’t going back across that sea of pushy sales people. In the tourist trap building I found some Olympics souvenirs but were told they were fakes. That’s ok, they were asking the equivalent of 20 bucks for them as best I could tell. They were vinyl puffy sticker things with red strings hanging on them, like rear view mirror luck charms.
The cave was the famous Reed Flute cave. I was just a little disappointed with what they had done, even though they were pretty. They had carved and paved walkways everywhere, drilled holes for lighting, strung wires everywhere, and while the colors accentuated the cave, the exposed lighting itself looked terribly installed. This was an ancient natural phenomenon that was being used strictly to get money from tourists. They even lit up parts of it in ways that prevented you from getting a picture so they could sell you a picture that they made. (My 3watt LED light would have worked here) As the park got more crowded, I started noticing people staring at me; mostly old people. I couldn’t blame them, me being a 6-3 bushy haired American hanging out with 8 Orientals speaking mostly Chou-chow and Vietnamese with a Cantonese tour guide.
Folded Brocade Hill
This hill wasn’t all that high but it was steep. The cave in the picture goes right thru the center, hence the name. you pop out the other side, climb the steep stairs to the top, and you have a great view of the city. You can hire a couple guys to carry you up in a chair, but Sarah’s fear of heights and the fact that the stairs border the edge of a cliff most of their way brought a solid “no” to that idea.
After the hill was a little shopping in a store with various objects embedded with bugs. Some so big they could be on a leash. Lots of weird little things like combs carved from wood, and more pushy sales people. I was just happy to get on the bus to see our hotel that the pamphlet said it was a 5 star. Wow was it not. I would compare it to an old road motel myself. The only thing good was the shower head and some strangely thick triple ply King Hong toilet paper. I would find out later that good TP is important here. We went down to dinner after checking the stuff in, where I fell asleep at the plate due to jet lag and exhaustion. It wasn’t until the next night I noticed how bad the beds were. The next day was the road trip to the spa, a local fave called short hill hot springs. I will reserve a post about toilet paper for a later time, as it has some relevance to this trip.
Short Hill Spa road trip.
OK, if the road trip to the short hill spa didn’t get us ready for Chinese roads, nothing will. This was a popular place for the area, but it was a 3 hour ride up a mountain road, and it took three hours because of the road, not the distance.
The “highway” was 2 lanes wide through the towns, and as wide as wheel ruts when between them. A couple of times, we or another vehicle had to back up to let traffic pass. In another place an attempt to pass became a very bad accident. You suddenly learned why narrow vehicles and scooters are preferred out here. Along the road speckled numerous villages and small towns. One consisted of buildings with foundations cut out of the cliff next to the road, which was between the cliff and the river.
We actual stopped at one of the tiny villages in a tiny valley where the women of the tribe put on a show for us that I didn’t understand much. They wore colorful outfits, fed us rice tea and had very long very thick black hair that they seemed to collect their whole lives.
At the end, we all danced in a circle and the girls each grabbed the butt of one of the guys. When we finally got to the spa at the very end of the road, it seemed similar to every other hotel up front. We got tickets to go in the back where the hot spring was, but Sarah wouldn’t go, she didn’t have a suit. The natural hot water came out the top of one of those dome mountains, and they piped it in to a cooling pond at 60 degrees Celsius (140 F, 333 K) It cooled in various pools down the cove where people could sit in them. The whole set of pools were built out of rock into a little canyon between rock domes. After a relaxing sit in the spring water, it was back in the bus for the 3 hour ride back to town where we had dinner at a city restaurant and then back to the hotel.
That night, being less under influence of exhaustion, we noted the true character of our hotel room.
It was loaded with Brady Bunch style wood furniture with a night stand full of big old radio style switches that controlled the TV, lights, and a radio that didn’t work. The bed was small (obviously less than 6 foot) and uncomfortable. It was like sleeping on a crib mattress in a hammock hung too low to swing, but enough to keep you from rolling over. This night it was harder to sleep. The next day we were going for a boat ride.
Li River boat run
If it wasn’t for the extreme price, I would suggest to my dad the perfect fishing trip there. You can fish just about any way you want, excluding explosives. They even train birds to catch fish. (well actually they tie ropes around their necks so they cant swallow fish they catch).
Before and after the ride was shopping. In the entry store, we saw the worst Loui Viton knock-offs ever, including plated tin crimp corners and stitching that looked like a cheap seat cover. The town afterwards was more shopping. I got a T-shirt for skip that displayed the Olympic symbol. The bargaining started at 75Y and ended at 50. Sarah said her mom could have gotten it for 20. About 3 bucks. I let her bargain for shopping after that.
After our shopping trip we stopped at the West St. Tea Station. We tried several different teas, similar to a wine tasting. I bought some tea balls and some tea candies. I don’t know what the tea is called though, so I have no idea how I’m going to get more. No mater, Sarah’s got more tea our house than I have dishes to put it in.
In the evening, we saw a show that was either a really bad ballet or a decent acrobatic show. The effects were terrible, the story illegible, but some of the tricks neat. The weirdest part was the men coming out in the first act and dancing in nothing but thong underwear, while the women wore enough to stay warm, not the only reversal of men v. women I saw. The next day was busy with the temple, zoo, and flight hop to Sayna. That night we pushed the beds aside and slept on the floor.
Paper and the money its printed on
Something that became painfully obvious when we started using restrooms and restaurants here, was the stinginess about paper. A side effect to huge differences in social classes was the very low production of trash and the high value of paper. Most places burned their trash or dumped it in a concrete slot on the side of the road where it was picked up. There was very little waste, as if it was something you didn’t want, someone else did. I guess this puts paper in higher demand as well.
Along with the strange toilets, that I call the “squatty potties”
No public restrooms had any kind of paper in them at all, including TP. If you want to wipe, BYOP. In all of the restaurants we visited, we got a cloth napkin on only 2 occasions, and paper napkins the other times were often the size of travel Kleenex and came in a couple of envelopes for the whole table. You had to plead with a waitress to get more, or dig through your bag for the nice ones you snagged from the hotel, a nicer eatery, or brought with you from the states. They did use paper money for everything too. While there were coins available, there were also paper notes for some of those coin values. A packet of Kleenex cost 2-5 Yuan. Since a Yuan (Chinese money) was worth 14 cents, a tenth of a Yuan note was literally worth less than a sheet of Kleenex. We exchanged our money for 1400 Yuan when we got there, ($200 US) equivalent to more than the average monthly salary in china. Sarah said she felt rich.
In China, it is possible to live on that amount of money with the cost of living. Imagine you make 1500 a month as ok income, but a TV cost 2000 bucks. Not a plasma, but a 19 inch tube plastic box TV Wallyworld would sell for $79.80 A cheap car cost 50,000 bucks, so you buy a scooter for about 15,000. You could still go to market and get groceries for 20 bucks tho, so you don’t feel to bad. If a roll of TP cost you 5 bucks you’d be stingy with it too, and then you can understand why paper was so valuable to one class while so cheap to another. When I got home, I considered our Costco size TP and paper towel packages differently. In Chinese money, they’d cost about 140 bucks.
Temple and Zoo
The next day was another one of walking a lot. We went to the big temple park, I believe it was called the 7 star park. Inside was a big pushy Buddhist temple and a zoo that had pandas.
I was very uncomfortable through the temple section, as I was pretty much forced to go to a little service. I didn’t understand what was going on. Afterwards, Sarah’s parents were hollered at in mandarin by a monk until he paid for each of us to carry a big giant incense stick to shake at a Buddha and stick in an altar. I was not happy. I told Sarah to keep me out of that next time. I don’t see freedom or true Buddhism if there is no room for choice.
We drove back through Guilin to a jade museum. The centerpiece was a huge ship made entirely from jade stone. On the way I started noticing the amazing amount of construction. A knowledgeable customer at our shop later told me they were building the equivalent of Houston every month in China. At the museum they showed us tons of jade stuff, and gave those that spoke Cantonese a lesson in what makes quality jade. That evening we took a plane to Sanya Bay on Hainan Island.
Food fit for a Ming.
WARNING: THIS POST IS NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH. OK,it is for the squeamish, but I like to watch people squeam.
For those of you who think you know Chinese food, it ain’t P.F Chang’s. It wasn’t much of a shock for me to eat there, because its not hard for me to eat like it here, with a few exceptions. Sarah cooks some food like they do, and so do her parents, so I eat authentic Chinese frequently. In china however, the food is greasier. They even found a way to make greasy soup. Not much was too salty, but when it was, it was way salty. You do notice strangely that there are almost no fat Chinese people. The fattest Chinese guy I saw was on the beach in Sanya wearing a speedo. It seems only wealthy Chinese are fat, supporting my observation that America is the only country where rich people are skinny and poor people are fat. There is very little sugar. None in the meals we ate, and not enough in the deserts. (which we got ourselves in the hotel, not after meals) Breakfasts on our tour were almost always big buffets, and lunch and dinner was almost always a 10 course meal shared between the 9 of us. One evening in Guilin was the most unusual meal. This restaurant (as most others) did not have refrigerators and freezers, the food is still alive. I went with Sarah’s dad to the back where he picked out the fish in the tank to be served up later. Behind us, a man grabbed a duck out of a cage, inducing much quacking, and whacked it on the counter. Quiet. Makes me wonder what would happen if this was in Hollywood. Oh, the animal rights upheaval! Welp, if ya don’t got a fridge, how else do ya do it? You think there gonna anesthetize everything before they cook it? That would cost more than the freezer! Come to think of it, I saw no refrigerated trucks, but I did see many ways to transport live animals, including this:
This day was the most unusual meal of my life. There was a whole pet shop served out, including turtle, snail, and even dog. Yes I ate dog. … Ok, take a minute, …. Breath…. OK, now go back and read that again if you believe in repressed memories. It wasn’t bad, tasted like a cross between chicken and pork. Very small dog tho, couldn’t make the breed, but the whole thing was there to look at. Same with the chicken. Sarah’s dad liked to point the beak out of the plate and spin the lazy Susan and the person it stopped on had to eat it. The last time he did that, Sarah won, and offered it to me. I couldn’t crack the head open like the other guys could, but I ate what I could. They told me its good luck.
Sanya, ah Sanya
To this island, I must return some day.
When the plane first got airborne in the evening of the 13 (I think) I had gotten through maybe a whole chapter before decent started. It was the only flight on the whole trip I got near a window, and if I wasn’t groggy I would have grabbed my camera. Out the window as we turned, I could see the giant 233 foot tall Buddha statue in Yalong bay on its own island, lit up in the mist with triangular spotlights like it was coming in for a landing as well. I have these pics of it, but it looked better at night.
In Sanya bay I saw no other Americans the entire time, and the only English channel on TV was HBO and BBC, and they were subtitled. It did have quite a few Russians, apparently this is their Cancun. The airport had people on bicycles working the tarmac, but the area overall seemed to have more money, and still a lot of construction. Our hotel was near the airport, and it was probably close to a 5 star, the 2nd nicest hotel we stayed in on the whole trip– except that our room was 20 feet from the lobby, and you could hear the commotion in the adjoining room louder than the TV. This hotel and another one later had no private toilet area, the toilet was behind a giant glass door.
The breakfast was a huge and very good buffet, with very good coffee, but no cigars in sight yet. (we kept an eye out through every airport and store we got to looking for cigars, only to find 50 different kinds of cigarettes.)
Cutting in line at the patience counter
Good luck passing on the highway in china.
I used to think that American drivers were dangerous because they depend on common sense that they often do not have. The Chinese are more dangerous because they instead depend on the red dangling thing from their rear view mirror for good luck that they often to not have. I saw that dangling thing through more than a few windshields, a couple of them shattered. In all I saw 5 traffic accidents during my tour. Behind Sarah here, you can see a lone car smashed into a tree.
From the viewpoint of me and Sarah on this trip, we would conclude Chinese people are rude and impatient to the point of requiring a change in our behavior. Waiting at the buffet table to fill my coffee cup, people stepped right in front of me to fill theirs first until I literally touched the person in front of me in line to keep them from cutting. Just about every line we waited in, including getting on planes, you had to mash yourself in to keep your place. Same thing on the road. The traffic lights in Guilin have count down timers on them. Not to when they turn yellow or red but counting till they turn green.
Any spot against the line where your vehicle fits, you can put it there. I had a bus drive right in front of me while I was in a cross-walk. Traffic in most cities is honking buses lined up in the right lanes, with honking taxis swarming around them. If you can imagine the mall on black Friday, and then imagine them all in cars, that is how traffic works out here. I don’t remember seeing a single stop sign anywhere. If theres a spot, even between 2 moving cars, you jump out and take it, and make everyone else slow down and honk. People passed us on the right, went the wrong way on the highway, and moronically walked or drove out right in front of our bus. No one seemed to be in less than a hurry, until the open road where they drove 30 mph, stopped in the middle of the road, or took up 2 lanes.
It wasn’t limited to the ground either. On the small flights between cities, there was no perceptible pre-flight check, and we were taxiing down to the runway before everyone was seated. Kids would run up the loading ramps pushing adults out of the way.
Respect is a side issue of this. At the temple 2 kid siblings were physically fighting in the sacred room containing a very expensive Buddha statue. A young couple on the tram at the temple park would not move over to let us sit down because they didn’t want to get wet. (it had been sprinkling earlier) By this time I was pissed, took advantage of my size, mashed my ass in and forced them to move. I was very disappointed in all with the culture The image of discipline and precision Orientals are known for on TV is not to be found there. Maybe the better behaved got fed up and came here to the US.
Sanya and the Temple by the sea
That next day, I believe it was the 13th, (hard to keep track of time when your following others around) we tromped around another temple area, but this one was huge. This is where we met the most rude people. Just getting into the parking lot looked like a fight, no one looked happy. Kinda like going to church out here. We passed through a gate on the way in that said in Chinese writing that you were entering the second level (heaven). I know this because we actually got an English speaking tour guide! On these grounds are several features the area is known for, including the “most remote point”
and the “southern pillar of the heavens”
There is one area with posters of old people lining the roadway; people in the area that lived over 100 years. There are huge areas for parks full of flowers and topiaries, beaches of white sand, and walkways with waterfalls.
The breakfast buffet had a fork! So I ate a lot. Its OK because all we did that day was walk around the temple grounds, walking on the beach, walking to the tram, but then we found a Vianetta ice cream on a stick. (Not available in the US anymore.) They rent chairs there, but don’t tell anyone, they just ask for money when you sit down. It started raining on the way out, and it kinda remained drizzly the rest of the day. We had eaten a vegetarian lunch at the temple, and that evening we ate at an exclusive restaurant that could learn a bit about exclusive service. Mr. Ma did another chicken head spin, and then we went back to the hotel where we watched a movie, soaked in the giant tub and ate slightly sweetened deserts with a martini and margarita. I Still couldn’t find a cigar.
By this time in the trip, I am starting to recognize Chinese symbols more. West Island in Chinese is 2 letters. One for west, looks like their number 4 popping up and pointing “that way”, and one for “Island”. The number 4 is bad luck to them, maybe this is subliminally why they don’t like the west. This is supposedly where the locals go to get away. It was a 20 minute boat ride out on a “fast boat”: a floating delaminating fiberglass tub with an outboard motor, driven by a guy with no facial expressions. The rides at this park included being dragged in the air behind a boat tied to a pleated tarp, riding a 70cc ATC in a 50 yard circle for 20 minutes for 100Y, or riding in a golf bus to an “amusement park” on the other end of the island. We picked the later. The “amusement park” was an even smaller island of rocks and stairs leading to a giant concrete bull with a mysterious antenna sticking out of its back.
To get there, we passed through the villagers area where more men with expressionless faces stood. Since this only lasted 30 minutes or so, and it was too cold to swim, we got more Popsicles, walked on the coral corpsed beach, and laid in hammocks and read. Out on the water outside this island was the oldest floating object I’d ever seen. It didn’t look like a Chinese junx, it looked like a 400 year old sailing ship with the masts cut off.
It was sad to say goodbye to the nice hotel, but that was before I saw the next one. That evening we packed up and went north up the mountain on the island, to the Narada Hot Springs resort.
Narada Hot Springs
Damn this place was nice. This was a 5 star, and it was about 100 bucks a night (700Y) Huge hot tub in the room, 5 pools, 5 natural hot spa’s all in the mountains of a rain forest. I think it was called the 5 fingers mountain. Warmish and humid normally, it was rather cool when we went. Me, the tour guide, and another guy in our group couldn’t decide what to do first, since we wouldn’t be there very long. I forget the name of it but one hot spa had fish in it that supposedly nibbled you clean as you sat in it. I called it the tickle-pond. Me and Sarah decided to get some snackable stuff, I had a glass of wine sent to the room, and we filled up the hot tub. One of the snacks was called dragon beard candy.
It was interesting, but not that flavorful. Sarah said there was much better stuff out there. We didn’t keep the leftovers. The next morning, after a wonderful breakfast buffet complete with musician and leaking coconut trees, I went to try out the tickle pond. I found out it didn’t open until 11, after we were leaving. I tried to enjoy some of the other stuff, but the pools were too cold and the spas to hot. Sarah’s dad, the older wiry guy and me got the hotel staff to cart us up to the other spas until we got to a little grotto full of different size pools with different kinds of water and seats in them. We finally found one the right temp there. After souping for about an hour, we went back to clean up and check out for our next adventure, a hike up the 7 fairies trail.
There is a scan of the brochure on my Flikr page
In china, a vehicle with 4 wheels and more than 3 cylinders is like an SUV with a V8 out here. Gas was about $4 a gallon when it was under $3 here. There are no emissions regulations that I could see. However, many buses and scooters are electric. In China are some of the strangest cars you will ever see. One of them is in the video on my myspace page. It looks like the bastard child of a moped and a pickup. Like most smaller vehicles, (and some larger ones) it has 3 wheels. This one is driven by the front wheel, and the entire drive train is mounted on a metal bracket on top of this wheel. There is no suspension, and not much variance in speed. It probably goes 12 mph whether its empty, fully loaded, or on any grade. The steering pivots this entire contraption. Probably the simplest vehicle that can carry half a ton on the planet. Another ugly truck is something on the island that looks like a normal truck with a lawnmower engine in front instead of a front clip. The most common 4 wheel vehicle is a micro-van. Many companies make these, one of them we called the “star trek van” because of its logo.
One of the most interesting things l learned; over there, a big bike is 125cc. Most are 50-70cc. The guide was shocked when I told him how fast we drive, and that a 600cc bike was a small bike here. He could not grasp the concept of NASCAR, but then again, many Americans cant either.
7 Fairy Mountain
Back when we stayed at the Sanya beach hotel, me and Sarah bought Crocs. I was going to buy some here, but they cost to much for what they were. Down there, they were 250 Y, (30ish bucks). As we left that hotel for the last time, I discovered my crocs were very uncomfortable to wear on the beach. Luckily one of the guys had forgotten his suitcase, so we had to stop back there. Since others decided to use the restroom, I grabbed the Crocs and went back to the lobby store. It took a bit of bargaining help from the translator, but for another 50Y I got another pair in exchange that were much more comfortable. I still needed my Novado Big 5 hikers for one more event; the hike up the 7 fairy mountain, named for the 7 peaks at the top. The hike was supposed to be a simple 3k, but when you get on the trail you find out this is 3 kilometers of almost pure staircase. Most of the group gave up early, but the wiry guy took off ahead of all of us. Me and Sarah made it a little more than half way. The guide with us said this is the farthest up he had been. We took a rest and headed back down. At the bottom, we had to wait for wiry guy to come back, it seemed to take forever. The driver even gave up going all the way up, and the rest of us joked that he reached the top and fell asleep up there. While we hiked and while we waited, me and the guide talked about what guys always talk about; bikes cars, and technology. When Wiry finally returned, we got back on the bus and crossed the rest of Hainan island rain forest (in mostly rain), stopping at the weirdest hotel on the trip; the HNA resort.
Mid Hainan Island, HNA Resort.
OK, this was so not a 5 star hotel. In a word: yuck. It was on huge property, and it was a huge place, but yuck. Certain parts of the hotel had this nasty smell to them that Sarah said smelled like really cheap cleaner. There were strange things in the room, like packets of genital cleaner in the bathroom, and an aids booklet and a condom in the nightstand. It rained or was misty the whole time, but since it was in a rain forest, I wasn’t surprised. The rooms came with umbrellas. When it was dry enough to go for a walk, me and Sarah adventured the grounds after dinner (which tasted metallic, probably because of the water). On our walk we found a novel concept of a driving range and a mini golf course on the same lawn. (I didn’t see anyone distributing helmets.) They also had a nice large, but sparsely populated tickle-pond, and quite a few nice looking pools, and a few not so nice. There was an ocean view on the map, but we didn’t see any. There was a night club that was having some sort of pageant, and a store that was open 24 hours. After exploring, we went back to get some bottled water, a beer and some snacks here. We watched Dick & Jane on TV, English with subtitles. The chocolate was nasty, made with coconut oil cocoa. The whole place made me feel sick. Lots of strange people there, and lots of Russians, but no cigars. I was glad to get out of there.
Hainan to Haikou road trip.
The next few hours were just a bus on the highway in the rain. The roads got much better, looking a lot like European freeways, no toll booths like the crappier ones. They had a newly build railway too. We got off the freeway and rumbled down local roads twice. The first time to visit supposedly famous botanical gardens, and secondly to a supposedly famous zoo. The botanical was nice, lots of interesting plants, a coffee orchard, and huge fruit growing on trees.
We had a tasting of their coffees and teas, pretty good stuff. I got a deck of cards with pictures of island locations on them. Still no cigars. The zoo was a Jurassic Park style drive through for the first part, and later a walk through part with cages. Pretty neat stuff with tigers, lions, ligers and tigons (mixtures of the 2).
We drove all the way across the island to the north tip where if it wasn’t foggy, you should be able to see the mainland. We got to our hotel on the northern shore; a Sheraton. We walked exhausted into the lobby and what do my eyes behold: CIGARS!!! AH, finally….
Haikou Sheraton, with cigars.
The cigars were in a small humidor on the center table of the lobby. I found a very polite bartender to get one for me. This was starting to look very 5 star, especially with the prices. A single cigar ranged in price from 155Y to 400Y. That’s about 20 to 50 bucks for one cigar. The 155 was a Modelo that would usually 5 bucks over here. I bought it anyway. Me and Sarah looked at the desert assembly / ice cream bar and went for a walk while we decided what to get. The bar had good alcohol too, I got a Tiger beer to go with the cigar. I also snagged some unusually long matches to go with the pair. The polite bartender set out nuts and crackers for us and freshly made our deserts. A couple of singers and a pianist entertained the 2 of us, and being a rarely seen American in those parts, I appeared to give one singer the giggles to the point that she avoided looking at me. When we finished the deserts, we tipped the singers and bartender well and went back to our room to fill the hot-tub and find a movie. That’s when we took a star off. The roof leaked, we found the tubs overflow vent wasn’t hooked to the drain. The floor had a drain, but it was not at the low point of the floor. This resulted in a pool in the bathroom. A nudge of the poorly assembled towel rack sent the towels into a splash on the floor. I don’t remember what the movie was, it might have been Memoirs of a Geisha. The next morning was a wonderful breakfast buffet, and off we were to the airport.
My own slice of China.
Sarah’s dad has a different appreciation of the orient than some people. Sarah’s family, for those of you who don’t know, are Chinese blood, possibly Chou Zhou (since they speak that language to each other). The came here through a sponsor from Viet Nam, where some of her family still lives, to Florida. Sarah arrived on the planet only weeks after they got here. She is the first of her family to be born on US soil. Her mother and father speak no English (that they will admit to), and are practicing Buddhists. They relate well to and feel deeply for the native people we saw in China. I remember when we stopped at a local village on one of the road trips in the hills. they lived in conditions i would consider rough camping at best. Mr. Ma walked among some of the families and small children that looked unaffected by modern times, and had very little money. He smiled and laughed with the kids, and gave out money. Many times he tipped waiters and servants with red envelopes with unknown amounts of money in it, but I am sure he gave away hundreds of dollars. He was the only one in the group that showed this affection. Why? He probably was once one of them, part of a poor family, probably just like the children we saw, probably had a few memories of rich people passing through. Now he gets to be one. Mr. Ma is very successful now, a businessman in the LA area importing herbs and spices special to Orientals. After this trip to china, I may have lost a bit of respect for some people, I gained a lot for him.
Flight to Guangzhou.
Not much of an eventful morning. We got out late to the airport for another short hop from the island to the mainland. We met business friends of Sarah’s dad that lived in the city, and had a very late dim-sum lunch in a “Japanese” restaurant with tables that looked like boats. Only a few hours later we took a cab to a very high class restaurant. The city of Guangzhou is massive, and if you adjust your paradigm, you’d think you were in LA.
McDonald’s are more abundant there than star bucks are here. They even have KFC, Starbuck’s and 7-11. The cab ride was only 3 bucks (20Y) to go probably about a mile, and we passed 3 McDonald’s to get there. The next day was lightly scheduled, so we walked to a street near the hotel where there were 2 7-11′s, a McDonald’s and a Starbuck’s on the same block. Sarah was looking for a specific brand of noodles, but didn’t find any. We walked into the Starbuck’s, and it was like suddenly walking into LA. Everything looked exactly like a US Starbuck’s, and everyone spoke English. The sizes were the same (which I was happy for because everywhere else you get coffee it came in a tiny cup) so I got the vente mocha. They had additional drinks with chai tea, so Sarah tried one of those. Then we went to the McDonald’s.
It had a pizza hut upstairs, and was a little bigger than a normal Micky D’s, and was open 24 hours. They didn’t have apple pie, but they had banana and sweet taro. And like some of us remember in the old days, they were FRIED!! The price was a tad cheaper, 2 pies for 6Y. We got extra for Sarah’s mom, who liked sweet taro. Later that day, we visited a couple tourist stops.
Last 3 traps
On our last day in china, we saw 3 tourist traps. first was the statue of 5 goats.
The story is that the land was barren until the magical 5 goats brought fruitfulness and prosperity to the land, and made it habitable. As far as I am aware, there is only one thing 5 goats can do to make land fertile, and i don’t understand celebrating that. The next stop was the museum for the first president of china. this was a theater with impressive architecture. It was a huge heavy span with no support beams. While it doesn’t look like much in the picture, it was actually a bit scary to sit inside the theater and look at the amount of roof and weight hanging over your head. The last stop was the big wow. This was the Chouzhou museum. The pictures would suggest these people had a lot of time on their hands. These are the people that spoke Chowchou, the language Sarah’s family speaks. Most impressive is the 7 layer ball. they actually carve 7 balls within each other, each detailed, each free inside the bigger one.
That evening we ate at another creepy restaurant before heading to the airport for the flight out.
Guangzhou’s proximity to Hong Kong makes their airport kinda like Ontario International to LAX except both are bigger. We pushed suitcases into line while we waited for Russians to lighten their baggage of hotel slippers and plumbing materials so they could get them under max. I had been slightly disappointed that i hadn’t gotten to do the shopping in guangzhou I had hoped for. Sarah’s dads friend gave me an e-mail address to find Olympic stuff and have it sent. I couldn’t find a fan for my mom that had a butterfly on it. We scanned the gift shops through the airports inner sanctum, looking at ridiculous disappointments. All i had gotten was the t-shirt and some book-marks for my sister’s from the carving museum. Then near the end of the row of gates, I finally found a fan. Then came the big surprise of the day: a fully licensed Olympic Souvenir shop! prices weren’t too bad. we spend the rest of our yuan there, pretty much bought them out of pin sets.
The plane trip was headache generating. I tried to sleep, kinda like a Great Dane sleeping in a child’s lawn chair. I watched the corny movie on the speckley screen, ate noodles, noticed the flight attendants weren’t near as pretty on the return flight, and 12 hours later landed at LAX. Exhausted, we got home Tuesday night around 9, about 45 minutes before the time we took off. then we slept for almost 2 days straight.
This map has red circles around where we went. There are more photos on my flicker link.
I sent my thanks to the Ma family for inviting me, and they are already planning next year. I don’t know. they want to go to Viet-Nam. I’m thinking Mardi Gras.