Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Macau and Guangzhou and Guilin, oh my!

I realized yesterday the reasons my posts have been less-than-riveting as of late: it's because I have no stories to tell. The reason I have had no good stories to tell is that we haven't been suffering for the past three weeks or so. What have I had to say about Hong Kong? We ate great food, had Starbucks coffee every day, hung out with fabulous people, and used excruciatingly clean public toilets. However, we may be tottering over the edge of change here, as we're in China, in a cold hostel room that smells like fried eggs and kerosene, with a construction zone (and its associated noises) outside our improperly sealed window.

We left Hong Kong last Friday and took the "luxury" TurboJet ferry to Macau. Our afternoon in Macau involved wandering the streets of the old city, with its winding, narrow streets and millions of bakeries, where we sampled treats both Chinese and Portuguese in origin. We visited the ruins of St. Paul's and saw the famous Red Light District, and I even saw my first really obvious Chinese hooker -- in broad daylight. The evening in Macau involved trying to find a restaurant for dinner in the casino district -- a difficult feat. We finally settled for the "noodle shop" in the Grand Lisboa Casino, which was less noodle shop and more glitzy, Vegas-inspired show, with Cirque-inspired entertainers pouring Chinese tea from pots with metre-long spouts, and chefs behind glass windows preparing handmade noodles with flare. Following dinner, we visited the slot machines of the Grand Lisboa, Macau's old dame, with her crystal chandeliers and gold lame wallpaper; the Galaxy, all purple sparkles and lavender floodlights; and the Wynn, slick and grandiose and by far the most populated place we saw. Our visits to the slot machines had us quadrupling our original investment, but we got greedy in the end and lost it all.

On Saturday we took an afternoon bus to Guangzhou, which places us firmly and definitely in mainland China. The border crossing in Macau went as smoothly as it could, given the circumstances. We really need to work on some key phrases in Chinese, or I need to learn how to say, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Chinese," as every official here has tried to give me a dressing-down in what should be my native tongue every time we make a mistake. We missed our first bus because I was in line for the toilets; a girl for the bus company offered to go into the washroom to find me and let me know that we were late, but was confounded and couldn't find me because I blended in. She was looking for the wife of the white guy outside the washroom, not one of her own. Our actual ride and arrival in Guangzhou were unremarkable, and we settled into our lovely hotel (with free wi-fi!) for the night.

The next morning we went for a stroll in Shamien Island, which is a lovely green space away from the neon lights and traffic of the rest of the city. It was teeming with brides having photos taken; they were dressed in white rental dresses (one with brown cowboy boots underneath) being and being doted upon by grooms in white rental tuxedos. It was also teeming with western couples holding adorable Chinese baby girls, a sight that made my heart both happy and sad simultaneously. The sadness of knowing that these couples have had years of childless heartache and the sadness that these baby girls are unwanted for the fact that they are girls, was quickly erased by the happiness in their eyes and in their smiles as they looked around at their new families. Our guess is that there's an orphanage in Guangzhou (aren't we smart!) and that the American Consulate on Shamien Island was a necessary stop on the way home, so they spent their day walking in the park and in the urban coffee shops with their new strollers and baby slings. Some very canny shopkeepers on Shamien Island have prepared for the baby onslaught by stocking their shelves exclusively with cuter-than-cute clothing for baby girls. I wanted it all, but settled for a coffee instead.

In our infinite wisdom, we opted for an overnight train from Guangzhou to Guilin. Actually, it was more that we had no choice; we'd taken overnight trains before, in China and also more recently in India, and we knew that the overnight train experience was usually crowded and sleepless. This ride, however, was different: it was not crowded, but it was still pretty much sleepless. The train stopped every 30 to 60 minutes to let on new passengers, and the one or two that trickled on had to find their berths, then get into them, stow their luggage, and settle in for the night, all in the dark. It would be hard to do these things quietly in these conditions anyway, but I'm not convinced that they were actually trying to be quiet. At least with the scarcity of passengers, the toilets remained relatively clean.

And now -- we're in Guilin. It's pretty freakin' cold for us, with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees Celsius, as we've been in tropical and subtropical climes for the past ten weeks. However, our hostel is very nice, and the city is pleasant, with lovely hills and a river as a backdrop to a typically Chinese urban scene: wide, paved walkways, tall buildings, and neon signs from end to end. Yesterday we went for a stroll in the Seven Star Park, one of China's most famed tourist attractions, and explored a cave with fantastic natural rock and mineral formations (and some very unnatural neon accent lights) before feeding peanuts to some very enthusiastic (and very fat!) macaque monkeys at the zoo. Next up: Cultural show, a visit to the Dragon's Backbone rice paddies near Longsheng, and a river cruise to Yangshuo.


karen your little sis said...

Great review! Glad to have chatted with you last night. Miss you!

Jen Shepard said...

So this comment window is in Thai again.... no idea what I'm doing. I am glad you are enjoying Yangshuo! We loved it, but it was also a bit warmer when we were there.... My good friend and her husband (from Seattle but met while working in China) are adopting a boy with a cleft-palate from China in the next few months. No one seems to want these kiddos, as you are right, they all go for the girls. The trendiness of it all bothers her, but....hmmm....