Guest blogger – Kathleen
Plane, buses and automobiles…oh my! We got up early to catch our flight to Nanning so we could meet our guide to drive to Guiping. The whole family was dressed, packed and ready to go by 6 am but our driver to the airport never showed up. We were told twice that he was near the hotel and would be there shortly but still he did not show. We finally, with less than one hour to check in at the airport, jumped in two cabs and away we went. Upon arriving at the airport one of our luggage carts toppled as we were runninginto the airport. We were then accidentally sent to the check- in for the International Flights instead of the domestic flights, one of the perils of not speaking/reading the language. We realized our mistake after a few minutes and had to run through the terminal to try and reach the domestic flight counters in time. We got in line at 7:20am for our 7:50am flight, and after waiting behind 2 people in line we were told that our flight was closed and we could no longer check in. I begged with the attendant, even playing the “we’re taking our daughter back to see where she was born” card to then be sent to the management counter. Another 10 minutes later the best a very curt man told me was to go back out to the ticket windows to talk with the agents there to see if we could get booked on the next available flight. Fifteen minutes at that window resulted in being told that they could not help us, that we had to work with the original source of the ticket booking, which was Orbitz. I swear we had every phone number, confirmation number, and document imaginable that we thought we would need while here, except for an international number for Orbitz. About another long hour later, after not being able to actually make a call go through to Orbitz, we realized we would have to purchase additional tickets and just get to Nanning. A wonderfully helpful woman at China Eastern Airlines helped us get rebooked on an 11:40 am flight to Nanning. She even was able to sell Tim and I the last two discounted tickets on the flight, which somewhat softened the blow that we were purchasing our second set of tickets for this flight. A 10-minute bus ride to another terminal to catch our new flight helped to round out the saga.
It was certainly not the way we wanted today to go but we did finally board the plane and made it safely to Nanning.
Tim here…Once we landed in Nanning and met our guide named David, we hopped in a van and headed for two withdrawls – cash from a bank and McDonalds for the kids (and me). It had been a tough day and I was ready for something that wouldn’t be challenging. Even though we’ve had good fortune with our Chinese meals, it is so comforting to find something that reminds you of home and the McDonalds here have actually gotten surprising close to tasting the same at home (wasn’t the case last time we were in China). Dave (our friend in Hong Kong) even said the ice is safe to use at McDonalds in China, but we haven’t been brave enough to test that one.
Once our pockets and tummies were full, we left for Guiping. The van driver was the opposite of the one we had in Beijing. He was sloooooow. I’m guessing his van was quite a bit older than the one we rode in in Beijing so I’m not sure if the driver was slow, or if it was just the van that was slow. Anyway, he was one of those annoying drivers who would stay in the left lane even though he was going slower than you and many, many times another car (or large truck or ginormous passenger van) would pass us and purposefully pull directly in front of us. I was way in the back of the van and still got the message – “You should NOT be in the fast lane!!”
We made one stop along the way at a convenience store to grab a drink and use the restroom. Mind you, this is in the middle of pretty much nowhere and it was the only building within miles. The store was very clean and had an interesting selection of goods. I passed on the chicken’s feet in a bag, or the misc. chicken parts in a bag. I did buy some green tea Oreos and regular Oreos. I saw some Skittles, but figured we had enough candy in our bag already. Finding these items so far from home (or ANYWHERE) was good proof of how far companies are extending for profits. Sadly, there were no Hallmark Cards there. Actually, the Chinese culture does not send greeting cards much and we didn’t see any in Beijing, either, in the stores we were in. The good news was that none of our competitors cards were there either!!
When we were back on the road we were treated to some impressive views. The countryside had numerous large peaks that just pop up out of the ground – not so much like a mountain that start low and build higher, but a HUGE rock that just comes straight out. It was actually quite similar to the images we’ve seen of Guilin that I mentioned in an earlier blog. They were beautiful. At one point we left the 4-lane highway and were then on a two-lane. The kids were pretty focused on either a computer (Anna and Kayla kept typing funny letters to me and then eventually started a movie) and Mia was playing games on my phone. Megan was asleep. I wanted to tell them that the most exciting thing was watching the traffic on the road. It was crazy how cars and trucks would pass on this road. It was not uncommon to have two vehicles side by side and then a third car passing in the other direction (so three cars wide) on a two-lane road. As it started getting darker, I was surprised to see how cars seemed hesitant to turn on their headlights, our driver included until our guide told him to. I have been meaning to ask why they hesitate. That made the whole thing a little bit scarier! Then, when it got even darker, most lights were on, but drivers would put on their brights and not turn them on when faced with oncoming traffic. Some of the large trucks had so many lights turn on on the front of the truck that it made it very difficult to see anything at all. And mind you, all the while there are intermittent motorcycles and mopeds on our right hand side (some we were passing and some were passing us). It was crazy. If you were at peace with the possible ending of your life, it was actually entertaining in an odd way.
Along this two-lane road, another very interesting thing to see were small groupings of homes not far from the road. Most appeared to be concrete and had what looked like a one-car garage, but it wasn’t a garage. It was actually a room. In most of these you’d see a table and maybe a few chairs or a couch and then other items strewn about the ground. There seemed to be no delineation between inside and outside – it was like one large living area. It was dark enough that they needed some illumination. Most of these homes had two lights on – one large light (in most cases a single uncovered fluorescent bulb) and then the second light was a TV. There were box TVs and flat screens (but none too large). In most instances there were only a few people to be seen and occasionally you’d see a child or two playing.
I leaned forward and told Kathleen that the line between uninhabitable and habitated (made that word up, I think) was being crossed quite a bit. One home appeared to be more of a lean-to. There was a sturdy wall on one side, a less rigid wall on the back, a roof of sorts propped up on poles and then a van was parked on the opposite side to form a cubby. In more than one building the light was dim enough for me to believe it might be candlelight. Actually, it might have been the hue of the light, too. Most of the lights gave off a bit of a white/blue hue that makes me think of sketchy, underlit laundromats where you’d be nervous to hang out for too long. These other ones were more of a warm color.
These pockets of homes kept popping up. Our guide said we were on the outskirts of Guiping. He later said it was the suburbs of Guiping.
Sidenote – this guide did the exact opposite of our previous guides the last time we were in Nanning. Those guides told us the drive was about 3 hours but said the weather was not good to go to Guiping. So the next day we asked again and they said it was about 4 hours but it might be good to wait. The next time we asked they said 5 hours, so we got the feeling they did not want us to go to Guiping for some reason. This time, once we had our food and money we were told it would be 2.5 hours. It ended up being closer to 3.5 hours.
I knew we were getting very close to the “city” when, amidst these not too impressive homes/buildings (they were getting a bit nicer andreliable), I saw a Honda dealer. It was in a very similar building, but just a bit larger and had a glass window. Then we started seeing more and more groceries and marts that were still open and quite bustling. Finally, there was a long line of unusual street lights that said, “You’ve arrived in Guiping.” The city was very alive. It is hard to describe. There were few buildings taller than five stories and at busy intersections there were many stores still open and quite active. It was probably around 8:30 pm. The closest comparison I can make about the structures of the buildings were brownstones in NYC. I hesitate to use that, though, because that will paint a pretty picture in your mind. These were fairly plain in appearance. It looked as if there was narrow building after narrow building squished together to form one long 4-story building. Each individual building had what looked like a garage opening in the front (pretty much the full width of the building) and then there were a few floors above the garage. I’m unsure if I was seeing residences or businesses or perhaps both.
We stopped several times asking for directions (always gives you a secure feeling) and finally landed at our hotel which was not far from the city square that was very full of people, including children. The hotel was fairly nice, probably not as nice as the hotel we stayed at in Nanning so long ago, but nice. The beds were very firm. Even still, we were all so tired that we went to sleep shortly after crashing into our two rooms – Anna and Kayla with me and Megan and Mia next door with Kathleen. It was the best night of sleep I think I’ve had so far!
Kayla wanted to give a “shout out” to Erica. Hey Erica!