October 8, 2004

Trip Start Aug 08, 2004
Trip End Aug 2005

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Flag of China  ,
Friday, October 8, 2004

A group of 6 of us traveled south to Guanxi Province to visit the cities of Guilin and Yangshuo. We departed on the evening of October first, which is National Day. This is also one of the worst times to travel in China, which became very apparent when we reached the train station in Changsha. The waiting room at the station teemed with people-hundreds and hundreds of them calmly sitting on top of one another. The ringing of the bell to announce that our train was boarding was reminiscent of the gates being opened at a horse race. People shot out of their corrals throwing elbows left and right to get to the platform. All I could do was hold on tight to my luggage and try not to get trampled. China is not for the shy or faint of heart.

We traveled by hard sleeper, 6 bunk beds to a compartment. I use the term compartment loosely, since that implies a private room. Which was definitely not the case. The whole train car was open, people walking through constantly. I could barely see through the thick haze of smoke. I saw a baby pee in the aisle, then watched as the urine slowly trickled its way down towards our bunks. The kid might have had the right idea though, given the state of the bathrooms. Thankfully the lights went out a couple of hours later. I was wondering how I would get any sleep, what with half a dozen people observing us closely at any given moment.

We arrived in Guilin at 5am, and by 9am had already seen the sun rise over Elephant Rock and climbed up the largest peak in town. The mountains amazed me-huge rocky formations jutting to obscene heights from right out of the ground. Although Guilin is a hotspot for Chinese tourists, it is still worth visiting. I appreciated the cleanliness more than anything else. Not once did I step in a loogie on the sidewalk.

Walking around town at night we happened to walk by a stall in which a man was hard at work preparing a cat to eat. Yes that's right, a cat. It was skinned, so completely bald and shiny, and had obviously been dead for awhile since its legs were stiffly sticking straight up into the air. I've recently seriously contemplated becoming a vegetarian.

The next day we boarded a boat for a cruise down the Lijiang River to Yangshuo. Yangshuo reminded me a little of a ski town, nestled in the mountains and full of quaint touristy shops. Since it is reknowned as a backpacker's paradise, we were expecting to see foreigners. We just weren't prepared to see them on every street corner. In a delirious frenzy, we explored West Street, which is lined completely with Western restaurants. Instead of bar hopping, we went restaurant hopping and worked our way down the street. Veggie burgers, pizza, French fries, apple pie, even nachos...all of them had a suspiciously Chinese flair to them, but I didn't care.

The next day we set off on a day-long trek alongside the river. We walked through remote villages, through rice paddies, crossed the river on bamboo rafts. I have never seen scenery quite like that, except in National Geographic. I can't believe how much I've missed blue skies and fresh air.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I spent another day or so in Changsha resting before returning to the joys of the fireworks, dining hall slop, dusty classrooms, screaming kids, eccentric Nigerians, frustrations and weirdness. Traveling revived me, and I am looking forward to many more happy journeys.
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