Anyone for Chinese!

Trip Start Oct 27, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Nanning City Hostel, Tel +86 15277717217

Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Thursday, August 18, 2011

   After nearly 10 months on the road, it time for a new chapter in my travels as I leave south-east Asia behind. And what could be better than moving onto one of the world's largest countries, containing around 20% of the world population. For much of the last four millennia of human history, the Chinese civilisations dominated the intellectual and technological advancements of the time; being the first civilisations to construct a written language, as well as other cultural achievements. This often bring about the Chinese comparison, "While your (European) ancestors ran around in animal hides with spears, my (Chinese) ancestors were contemplating Philosophy and art".  Although the Chinese did see an early domination of science, art, and the economy; they did suffer huge decline during the growth of the European industrial revolution that pushed Britain forward as the world’s leading superpower. And it is only in the last couple of decades that China has returned to its former position of economic power.

                I initially enter China under the cover of darkness aboard the night train from Hanoi to Nanning (南宁), in the southern province of Guangxi (桂). After spending almost 3hrs crossing the border between the two communistic countries, and with little sleep aboard the rocking sleeper train, I was eager to disembark and find my hostel.

                China was a whole new world, a new country with a completely different rulebook to a game I had yet learnt to play. My first problem would be the language barrier, in both the written and spoken word. Unlike most of south-east Asia, English is rarely used in daily life; especially in the more remote provinces; and only a small percentage of signs may feature English word or western characters. Thankfully I managed to locate an English speaking (if only basic) member of staff who was able to point me in the direction of a bank to change my money (1 - 10, yun).

                With so many people to move around the city, over 6.6 million, it is important for the public transport to run cheaply and efficiently. In Nanning it is possible board any one of the buses, and travel to nearly anywhere in the city for 1 (10p). And with so many buses roaming the streets, you never have to wait long, although they can be filled to bursting point especially during rush hour early in the morning. Once on the bus I attempt to work out my stop, gesturing some amusing sign language to the other bus users with the help of a map I downloaded from the internet. But despite my best efforts, I am unloaded onto the wrong stop. Thankfully after much looking around, I am helped by a local man who agrees to take me to the hostel after he buys me lunch.

                It turns out his name was Jimmy, and he worked as an interior designer in Nanning after having gone to University here. We head to local noodle restaurant, and he is interested to find out why I have come to China, and what I am looking to do in Nanning. As I explain my adventure, he offers to act as my tour guide, showing me all of Nanning best sites. After lunch he offers to take me to his friend’s tea Shop, where I can sample some real Chinese tea. As I looked at his scooter, something didn’t seem right, as it was missing an exhaust pipe and was a lot smaller than the other bikes I have seen on my travels. I then notice that it is hooked up to an electrical outlet, and realised that it is battery powered. As I looked around I suddenly noticed that over half of the scooters on Nanning’s roads were actually riding down the road silently with their electric motors; Jimmy then informed me that petrol bike are slowly being phased out in the city, and that he didn’t require a license to use his bike.

                We arrived at the tea shop just as the rain began to fall, and were welcomed inside by the owner. Drunk unsweetened, and without milk (how very un-British!), Chinese tea is served in small ceramic 'egg cups’.  Jimmy explains the etiquette that you must never fill your cup first, as it must be filled by others. And how I must say thank you to someone filling my cup by tapping the table twice with my index and middle finger; he went on to explain that this tradition was introduced by a visiting emperor who didn’t want to speak to the servant who filled his cup, so thanked him by tapping his fingers on the table.

                After tea and feeling very tired after the long train ride the night before, Jimmy takes me on his overloaded scooter to my hostel. Nanning City Hostel, located around 2km from the city centre, sits hidden among a large apartment complex near to Guangxi Botanical gardens. Feeling more like a home stay, this small hostel only holds 10 guests and offers all you will need for a stay in Nanning including kitchen, WiFi, T.V. and DVD, plus free laundry. Popular with guest heading into Vietnam; the American owner, Winston, can arrange visas commission free, which can save you lots of time to explore the city. He also has lots of advice regarding further travel in China, and around the province of Guangxi.

                Exploring the city, I recommend spending some time in Nanning’s ‘People Park’, which is located within walking distance of the hostel. Also known as ‘White Dragon Park’, it was built in 1951 around Bailong lake (白龙湖), and has since seen the addition of a large amusement park and sea-life centre. At the weekend the park is extremely popular with the local residence, practicing Tai Chi, skating around the park, or visiting the botanic gardens. It was great to watch this new world, and the people that filled it going about their ordinary life, even if I did become a tourist attraction with lots of local taking my picture.

                As promised Jimmy arranged to take me around Nanning, and in particular show me the food market on Zhongshan road (中山路) in the downtown area. Offering everything from BBQ crocodile to fried sparrow, this busy smoky street is an assault on the senses filling you nose with some amazing smells. With Jimmy’s help I set out on a culinary exploration, sampling snails, fried rice dough with soya bean milk, old style tea, and Chinese dumpling; but I managed to stay clear of the BBQ pigs’ penis. Although generally the Chinese are very honest, and helpful toward tourist, you will find thieves and pickpockets will target you in a crowd, especially as most westerners are a good couple of inches taller than everyone else. Be careful at night, and when by yourself, keeping all valuables in secure zipped pockets; and also checking over your shoulder every now and then to see if any unsavoury characters are following you. Crowded buses are also a prime hunting ground of the pickpocket, and normally target when the bus picks up new passengers as the push pass you.

Goodbye Grizzley Adams

                Whilst on my ride through Vietnam I decided to grow out my beard, showing off my Anglo-Saxon heritage in all its ginger glory. But after continual remarks from the Vietnamese that I look like Wayne Rooney or the legendary monkey king known as  Sūn Wkōng from the novel ‘Journey to the West’ (西), I decided that a trim was in order before I moved on to Yangshuo. Requiring more razor blades than a depressed ‘Goth’ I set to work taming the mess till I eventually reached my new Chinese look. I Hope you like.
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