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Published: March 18th 2007
The train ride to Guilin was pleasant, and I had two english-speaking students to keep me company. One was a tour-guide heading to Guilin to get an internship, and the other was actually studying in the city, so she recommended several things to see. When we arrived I got my first taste of Chinese queuing as we massed to leave the station. It seems that you have to show your ticket to leave as well as enter the station. Wouldn't want a couple of people to get a free ride now, that certainly wouldn't be very communist.
I hoofed it about half a mile to the hotel listed in the lonely planet as the "backpacker standby". The place was essentially empty, and my "dorm" room turned out to be a ratty double for 60 yuan ($7.50). I was not pleased to be isolated from the center as well as other travelers, so I made it a priority to find an internet cafe to track down a real hostel.
I ended up walking the mile or so into the city center, and as I reached the central square I saw the Golden Arches. Of course I made a beeline for
Finally, some real food
the Micky D's and ordered a double cheeseburger meal for about 2 bucks. After eating (and boy was it good), I walked across the river and wandered around for a bit before stumbling upon one of the massive internet gaming centers that are so common in China. It took almost 10 minutes before I was even able to sit down at a computer, because the person at the desk didn't speak a word of english and chinese people kept coming up and stepping in front of me. I was persistent, though, and finally I just put money down on the counter and got a card with a login and password in return and was able to get online.
I managed to track down two hostels in Guilin, and so I walked by both on the way back to the hotel. I also grabbed some groceries for dinner since I couldn't figure out how to order inside the massive buffet listed in the Lonely Planet. I stood around for a good 10 minutes without a single person even approaching me. China is so different from SE Asia in some ways. In Vietnam, someone would have come over the minute I
came in the door -- they want your business. Here, they're either afraid or don't care and so you have to be extremely proactive. It definitely takes some getting used to.
The next morning I checked out and headed over to the Guilin Flowers hostel, which was right across the street from the train station. If I hadn't been so hell-bent on following the lonely planet I might have noticed it and saved a wasted night at the hotel. The hostel was comfortable, and I met a german guy named Grischka who is a journeyman carpenter out on his customary period of travel. We hung out for a bit and then met two german girls who were also staying at the hostel. The four of us headed out to a nice restaurant for dinner where the girls (who speak good chinese) ordered some fantastic food. The plan was to head to a bar along the river, and so we set out to find it. We didn't know exactly what it was called, or even where it was, but we soon came across a place with music blaring out onto the street.
We decided to go in, and we
descended down a flight of stairs into a loud, flashy bar full of locals and complete with a shiny metal pole. They offered us seats in front of the pole, but we declined and got a table about 15 feet away from the tiny stage. We ordered some (expensive) beers and settled in. After a couple of minutes one of the girls turned to me and said "I think this is a gay bar." Grischka and I looked around and as we counted guy after guy, we reached the same conclusion. However, we didn't have a chance to even consider this twist before the show started. A guy and a girl came out onto the stage and spent the next 10 minutes doing some pretty, ahem, "exotic" dancing. The dancers went backstage to change and we went back to our beers. A couple minutes later, I noticed that they had come out of the back room, but something was wrong. The girl wasn't a girl any more. He had been so convincing on stage that we were all sure (Grischka denies it, but the girls don't) that he was a she.
It wasn't long before some guys came over
and started chatting with the group of us. The girls were having a great time and even went so far as to say that they were a couple, which the Chinese guys had no trouble believing, it seems. As for Grischka and I, we spent most of the evening playing a dice game with a couple of Chinese guys. I don't remember the rules, I don't think they ever really told us, but you rolled five dice and the loser had to drink a shot of beer. Weak Chinese beer. Not very difficult! I do think that we "lost" a rather disproportionate amount of the time, but with the beer we were drinking it wasn't exactly a problem to keep up. It turned out that all four of us had a blast and we were wished a rather fond (for Grischka at least) farewell by a couple of the guys at the bar.
I spent the next day hanging out at the hostel because the weather took a significant turn for the worse and got quite chilly and rainy. That evening we went back out and headed to a noodle place where we got a tasty noodle soup for the enormous sum of 2 yuan ($0.25). It's quite possible, and tasty, to eat on the cheap in China, but you have to know where to go and what (how) to order. After eating we headed back to the hostel and had a couple beers before heading off to bed.
The next morning I got up around 9 and caught the bus to Yangshuo, so stay tuned for that entry.
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