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Monday, July 29, 2002, CST

Day 5, Guilin, I hardly knew ya



We got up early this morning, and after an early breakfast, for which all of the older kids missed, because they slept too late, we said our good-byes to Auntie Rose, Dai Bok, and our new friends from the lab. We’ll see them again on August 5th, when we return to Guangzhou. After checking in at the airport, we boarded a China South Airlines flight to Guilin. Seeing a Boeing 737-800, was a welcome relief to the rickety, old Russian planes we flew in back in 1985, but it was still tarmac boarding, as the new airport is not ready yet.


We arrived at a modern airport, in Guilin, and met our tour guide for this part of the trip, Zuo Hong Ping, or Effie. She explained that she was a Zhuang, one of many minorities in this part of China, although we couldn’t tell. She looked Han to us.  We are now on a tour, and no longer on our own, so we have schedules, and meeting times to adhere to.  If we forget what is next on the agenda, just get on the bus, and see where you end up. Guilin seemed hotter than Guangzhou, because the skies were clearer, and the sun more intense, although it just rained a few days ago. From the airport to the city, it hadn’t changed much, as we drove past rice fields, and farms, except that the highway was a new road.


As we approached the city, it could’ve been any suburban California town, as long as that town was dominated by bicycles, motorcycles, and tour buses.  They have an ordinance in this town, preventing any buildings to exceed 5 stories, lest they block the views of the mountains. We checked in to the Guilin Fu Bo hotel, which was very nice, and modern, just like the Merchant Hotel in Guangzhou. We had a Chinese lunch, in the hotel, which was very good. On the last trip, Guilin was the most rural of our stops, and had some of the worst food. I think we can stop worrying, now. The only thing anyone seems to be able to find, to complain about is getting instant coffee. Since I don’t drink, I can’t relate, and if that is the worst, we are in pretty good shape.


After lunch, we went for a short walk outside the hotel, before heading for our first tour excursion.  Karma and the kids did not really want to go out, until they realized there were dozens of street vendors, hawking their wares, because this was a hot tourist spot. All of a sudden, they were very enthused, and what started as a short walk for Michael and me, turned out to be the entire group, minus Grandpa.  In addition to the street vendors, this is also a hot spot for beggars. There are amputees, and every form of deformities imaginable. They look like Eddie Murphy, in Trading Places, except they are real.


Our first stop was the Reed Flute Caves, which was a stop last time, except I missed it then, because my sister and I took a bicycle ride through the countryside.  This is a pretty neat cave, and at 500 meters, a pretty big one too. This was followed by a trip to a pearl factory, which has only been around for10 years.  We were starting to worry that these tours were going to start looking like the “bring the captive audience to the trinket shop” excursions, and it is always awkward for the guides, since they have to be part salesperson, but when we got to the factory, the kids thought it was the highlight of the trip, and bought out the place.  By now it was clear that you couldn’t sell too much to this group, and Grandpa gave up trying to prevent the marketing and sales aspects. Since we were obviously a soft touch, when it came to spending, the next stop was at a Reflexology clinic for a foot massage.  Apparently these are run by another minority, the Yao people, who never bathe, but take good care of their feet, and believe that the cures to all of your ills depend upon pressure points in your feet.  Here we got a foot massage, combined with acupressure, and a physical diagnosis.  Everyone got one, except Michael and Pat, and I am happy to report that I had the least amount of items in the diagnosis. They produced a jarful of herbs, for each problem they found, but Grandpa let them know that he did not trust in herb medicine, and we all got a kick out of this bit of irony.


It was also at this stop, that I was able to cross the street to a food market, which in China means a menagerie of strange food items, sights and smells. After returning to the hotel, I took another walk, and it was here that I discovered and remembered the Guilin of 1985. Back then, it was a rural countryside of small one-story shacks, and houses, whereas now, it is a modern city, and although not as extreme as Guangzhou, it still sports traffic lights, four-lane, divided streets, and glass buildings. They are even pioneering a free city bus system. On my walk, I was able to find remnants of the old Guilin, which like old Guangzhou, will probably only be here for another few months or so. Effie pointed out several buildings, streets, and bridges that were less than a year old.


Dinner was our first meal that was indistinguishable from a trip to the zoo. Even though we had snake, and other exotics, in Guangzhou, here, they were on display in front of the restaurant in cages. The food was good, however, and after dinner, we took in a show, displaying the folk dances of a few of the representative minorities in this area.


Tomorrow we check out of the hotel, for a trip up the Li River, and a night flight to Xian.



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