Unfortunately, due to my lack of ability in Chinese, as I got off the plane and followed the herd into Guilin airport, I mistakenly ticked the boxes declaring I had every disease known to man, and subsequently had to spend several minutes convincing customs officials otherwise. Albeit from a distance, as none of them wanted to catch anything.
The ordeal over, I caught up to my patiently waiting Taiwanese wife, Anita, and we hurried out of the terminal to find the other ten members of our tour group.
“Oh… too Chinese la,” she announced, seeing the traditional decoration outside.
“Well, we are in China,” I reminded her, “maybe that has something to do with it?”
“And too fake, la,” she continued, ignoring me.
“Now you’re just being rude – at least they’re trying to make it look nice,” although I had to admit that luminous purple palm trees and plastic coconuts probably weren’t to everyone’s taste.
We got on the bus with everyone else and I tried to catch forty winks while a round faced Chinese lady with a microphone babbled away about something or other. After a while she sang a song, which I found rather disconcerting and embarrassing, but everyone else seemed to love. Concerning the rest of her speech, all I managed to pick up were ‘KMT’ and ‘pineapple’, both of which I’m pretty sure were wrong.
The bus trundled towards town, and soon we were able to see some of the fantastic scenery that I had been promised. It was already getting dark, but we could still make out what seemed to be dozens of tree-covered mountains crowding around us – either that, or it was clouds, cunningly shaped like anti-mountains, which I found rather unlikely. All the while the tour guide was still bollocking along ten to the dozen and I began to wonder if she was paid by the word, like Charles Dickens.
“Will this woman ever shut up?” I asked Anita.
“Shh,” she said, “interesting,” although I was pretty sure she’d just spent the last ten minutes trying to get some sleep.
An indeterminate amount of time later I was beginning to think ‘Guilin Airport’ might be a slightly inappropriate name, given that we were surely halfway to Shangahi by now and hadn’t seen hide nor hair of anything resembling a five-star hotel. When we finally did arrive, the guide walked us off the bus, still talking like someone was repeatedly pulling a string on her back.
“She’s not gonna follow us to our room is she?”
Anita didn’t answer that. In the last three years she’s become rather good at deciding whether it’s worth responding to anything I say.
Apparently, it usually isn’t.
The ‘Waterfall’ hotel in Guilin actually was five star, which surprised me as I’d been expecting some dodgy rip off one-star type place with fancy decorating (possibly including luminous palm trees). I was somewhat disappointed in the evening meal we were immediately ushered into, though, as I didn’t feel it was right that I should have risked my life flying Air Macau to China, the home of tea, only to be served Lipton Yellow Label at my first evening meal. Don’t get me wrong, I like Lipton Yellow Label, but you wouldn’t fly to Brazil for a Nescafe instant, now, would you*?
The night market next to the hotel was nothing of the sort. It was, instead, a tourist trap of a place, far removed from Guilin proper and consisting of various ‘SunCome’ grocery stores which only sold overpriced souvenir goods. Dotted around there was also a KFC, a McDonalds and several disco clubs, with names like ‘Champagne’, ‘Heaven’s heaven’, and curiously, ‘Since 1996’ which might have been for paedophiles. In any case, there were lots of little boys outside it trying to give me a rose, which seemed extremely Cambodian. Anyway, we managed to get out of the market without being completely fleeced, although I was offered ‘hot sess’ three times and Anita bought some dodgy chestnuts. As the clock wound its way towards midnight we found a beauty shop nearby and submitted ourselves to a 12RMB (50 NTD) hair wash each, which we both thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone. If they ever happen to be in Guilin wanting their hair washed.
*Actually, there was a time living in Romania when i would definitely have done this.