A few months ago, mum found out about a cheap shopping tour to China that’s aimed at bringing Chinese people living elsewhere, back to visit their homeland. Basically, for an insanely low price, you get transport, accommodation and a tour of a city. The only catch being that you get taken to a few factories/shops aimed at large tour groups that exist solely to pressure you into buying their products. You are obligated to listen to their sales pitch, but theoretically don’t have to buy anything. I randomly decided to follow my parents and 3 of mum’s friends along on a 6 day trip to Guilin (southern China). Of the 6 of us, only mum and SY spoke Mandarin, the rest of us (dad, myself, W and K) hear the language as angry background noise. The tour group had 21 people total, most of which spoke english and a few others that were tagging along and couldn’t understand margarin either. We spent one night in Hong Kong on the way there.
Day 2 of our trip was never going to be a super exciting day. It was basically just the second travel day to get to our end destination, or as the travel agent who booked us the tour would say – day one of the tour: The Arrival. It has always bothered me that tours consider the first day of the tour to be the day you arrive, even if you don’t do anything else that day. But since I voluntarily joined my parents on this trip, I can’t really be complaining about that kind of thing. Other things however….
Woke up unusually early for me, I guess jet lag was to blame, perhaps along with us forgetting to shut the curtains so the sunlight was streaming in and the dry air circulating in the room, which seemed to be doing its best to make me feel more sick than before. We all met for breakfast at 7.30am. Buffet selection was great but since I’m not normally awake at this hour, my body couldn’t handle mass amounts of food intake and I just had to watch everyone else enjoy multiple platefuls of food. I originally wanted to do a bunch of walking/shopping in the 3 or so hours we had before having to leave for the airport again, but since everyone thought it was a good idea, we ended up going together….but not for another 30+ mins cos they had to go back to their rooms to pack and get ready. Honestly, we’re all here with carry on luggage only, how much re packing really needs to be done??
We did a slow dawdle up Nathan Road towards the Ladies Market only to discover that the market’s opening hours are from midday to 11pm! Sigh, so no street market shopping for me 🙁 It would have made way more sense to stay out later last night and sleep in this morning but we didn’t think of that at the time. Then we came across H&M and would’ve gone inside except that their hours start at 11am. So basically, there nothing is open in Hong Kong until lunchtime. If you’re a morning person, don’t even bother trying to be productive here. We meandered our way back to the hotel to collect our things then took the 1hr A21 bus ride back to HKIA. What I’ve now discovered is that there is description for the pace at which we walk, and it’s called ‘Parent Speed’. Pretty much, doesn’t matter how fast I’m walking, mum will always be 10 or more steps behind. Always. Even when you’re walking at the pace of a snail. That is unless she’s angry or has suddenly made a decision, in which case she’s ignoring you and is 5 steps in front.
I had a window seat on the Dragon Air flight into Guilin and thought I might be able to see some great views on descent. Haha. No way. It was so cloudy and foggy and plus China’s air pollution, you pretty much don’t see anything until a few moments before landing. The thickness and unhealthiness of the air hits you as soon as you exit the airport. I can already predict that I’m going to feel worse before I start feeling better.
The funny thing about stopping over in Hong Kong prior to getting to China is that the differences between the two places becomes much more obvious. Take toilets for example. In HK, everywhere was clean, well signed, bright and the toilets flushed automatically. At Guilin airport, the lights were so dim you’d think they were having a power shortage, the signage was so poor that I actually had to ask the cleaner which door was the ladies, majority were squat toilets (which I’ve hated since forever) and the toilet paper is near the sinks and has to be taken before going in the cubicles. Yep, was caught out unaware on that one :/
We’re staying at the JinShuiWan International Hotel on the outskirts of Guilin and from the moment we enter, I remember all the terrifying stories I’ve heard about China. Like the woman that got decapitated cos she was walking out of a lift when it suddenly dropped and chopped up her body. Note to self: don’t loiter in lifts, run in and out of them! The hotel is dull (possibly because none of the lights inside seemed to be turned on – really, what is their problem with actually using lights?!), but spacious; we actually have space to move in the rooms here. The view from the room is pretty but the room phone is beside the toilet. Why did they think that of all the spots in the room, next to the toilet made the best sense?? I have literally NEVER sat on the toilet and thought hey, at this exact moment I need to call the concierge for something. Never. I suppose a toilet phone would be handy in public toilets at the moment you realise you’re without toilet paper…so at Guilin airport for instance. There are No Smoking Signs everywhere in the hotel, but for each sign, there is also an ash tray of some form present nearby. I feel like that’s giving mixed signals.
Of our group of 6, only 2 people actually speak mandarin so we heavily rely on them to translate and relay information to us since no one here really speaks English. (Funny right? Seeing as we’re on a Mandarin speaking tour of Guilin.) There was a bit a of confusion at reception when we checked in as we had asked for 2 twin rooms and one double but were told we were getting 3 double-bed rooms. Apparently the hotel is “at capacity” so not only can they not change our rooms but we only get 1 key card per room. We got upstairs only to find that all the rooms had 2 double beds each. There was also some mix up with the WiFi: she kept telling us the password but didn’t communicate what the network name was. Turns out each room has it’s own router so when you put the key card in the slot beside the door, it brings up a network with your room number and then you use the password. Or, you can just use the master password to connect to any other room’s network; theres really no reason to have to use your own. It took us about 30 mins to figure this out. If this is any indication of how communication is like, it’s going to be a very interesting trip.
The street the hotel is on is a main road with lots of traffic. We walked along one side to find a restaurant to eat at and would’ve crossed over to walk back however as there were no cross roads in the half hour that we walked, there were also no traffic lights to cross at. And traffic here doesn’t appear to follow any rules, they weave in and out and on to foot paths and back again. Signage is merely decorative. I think the new main aim for this holiday will be to try not to die in a vehicle accident.
Not sure how the hotel is at full capacity, there didn’t seem to be any other tourists around. Or maybe just no white tourists; dad sticks out like an albino giraffe in a penguin enclosure. This particular part of Guilin that we saw today felt dirty, polluted and pretty boring. I really hope the places we go to on the tour are actually fun and interesting. We ended up eating dinner at the restaurant beside the hotel. The girl at the hotel reception desk had described it as “world famous”. Sure. (interestingly, there a place down the road also called World Famous.) After ordering, the waiter put a giant sand timer on the table, said a quick explanation and left. Typically, Mum’s translation was only that it was a timer that went for 28 minutes. Well, Duh. Did it mean food would arrive in 28 mins? Or that it would all arrive before 28 mins? Or that we had to finish eating in 28 mins? She didn’t know. Again with the miscommunication and the problems with only having 2 people understand … if they don’t bother paying attention or didn’t understand themselves, then the rest of us have no hope! (FYI all the food came within the 28 mins)
Back in the room I tried charging my phone only to find that it wouldn’t charge. Tried various combinations of chargers, charging points, adaptors and nothing was working. It’s amazing how fast your world crashes when you suddenly have problems with technology. Or maybe thats just me and my deep set hatred for anything IT related. Everything else charged fine once I found the correct combination of cords and plugs to use. China is strange in that each wall socket is different. Some are universal, some are Aus points, some are European. Guess they couldn’t make up their minds which world region to follow. In an effort to stay connected to the outside world, I borrowed Dad’s laptop to use my email. Of course all the IT systems would gang up on me at once! My email didn’t recognise the laptop so would either text my now-dead phone or email my hotmail email address. Tried logging into hotmail only to get the same problem: a text to a number i didn’t even recognise or a verification email to the original email I already couldn’t access. Facebook is blocked in China and whatsapp web only works if your phone is on to connect with the computer code. Unbelievable. Maybe some music would sooth my anger….nope: “Spotify is not available in your current location.” I suppose I can live without outside communication for a few days, but I needed time to mentally prepare to be cut off from the world and I didn’t get that. Any future mental issue I’m sure will be directly relatable to this very night. Hopefully tomorrow is better kind of interesting than today.
family holiday, Guilin