We took a short bus ride from Yangshou to Guilin. It was just over an hour. Guilin is one of China’s major highlights as far as tourism goes. Many people come to Guilin as part of a package holiday. It is a shame that most don’t get away to the smaller town of Yangshou. Guilin is a beautiful city with places of interest, but Yangshou is where you want to be for the really beautiful scenery and laid back atmosphere. Since we have enough time we decided to check out Guilin as well.
When we arrived at the bus station in Guilin there were a few touts trying to take us to different hotels. We just ignored them. From experience we have learned this is the best way to deal with them. If you even start to speak they will never let up. Unfortunately a simple “no thank you” does not work, in fact saying no thank you twenty times does not seem to work!
We spotted a lady who had just got off a bus. She had a large plastic shopping bag with handles. It had a live duck in it. All you could see was its head sticking out of a hole on the bottom of the bag. It was quite funny watching the lady carry it through the crowds of people. The duck was moving his head around looking at everything they passed.
Hotel Communication Breakdown
After checking out a few hotels we settled in at the Osmanthus Hotel, it’s very close to the bus station. It was an adequate hotel. A few of the staff could speak some English. The price was 280 Yuan for a double, $40 Canadian. For a bigger city like Guilin this was a fair price. The hotel had a restaurant, pool, air conditioning and all the other usual hotel amenities. For vegetarians there was nothing to eat in the restaurant other than rice and some over cooked vegetables in the usual oily liquid.
The location was fairly convenient to everything we wanted to get to. Despite a few problems we had, we would recommend it. It was located right across the street from the river promenade. We had an excellent view from our room in the day and at night.
We did have a few issues during our stay. We had originally checked in for 2 nights. The way most places in China do the check in is this….. you pay one large amount of money up front that they call a deposit. It will usually be the cost of your number of nights stay plus an extra 200 Yuan. At check out you settle up the bill and pay more or get a refund accordingly.
After our second night we went to the reception desk and asked to stay another night. You think this would be a simple procedure. We had already payed the deposit for the original 2 nights, so we should just pay another 280, the cost of one more night. The girl at the counter said we had to pay another 400 yuan. We asked her why. She said you have to pay the deposit. We continued to explain we had already paid the deposit and just wanted to stay another night.
A man now came into the scene who looked like some kind of supervisor. He got into the whole mess and started punching numbers into the calculator to justify the 400 yuan. It seemed the more we questioned, the more he would keep punching numbers into the calculator. It seemed he was now getting somewhat embarrassed as he started to realize it wasn’t adding up. He then said we were to pay 320 yuan. By this time we were tired of the whole situation and agreed to pay it, even though it was still wrong.
The next day when we returned to our hotel room after a day’s outing, the hotel card would not let us into our room. We went downstairs to the reception desk. The girl scanned our card and said you need to pay more deposit. Jack and I both were getting really cranky with this issue. We said no we did not, we have already paid all of the deposits. A lady behind the counter who seemed to have things together a bit more looked at our booking in the computer. She said everything was fine and reprogrammed our card to open our room door.
Now if we could only have air conditioning! A lot of hotels we have stayed at use the same set up for the air conditioning and the electricity for the rooms. Your key has a magnetic device in it. When you enter your room you place it in a slot by the door. This allows the electricity and air conditioning to work. It stops people from leaving the air con and lights, etc on when they leave. This makes sense and is a great idea. We have never had a problem with it. We have always had access to the air conditioning the entire time we are in the room.
The Osmanthus didn’t seem to operate in the same way. They shut off the air sometime in the middle of the night. We would both end up waking up sweltering and covered in sweat. Jack phoned the front desk and told them it was not working. They said they would send someone to our room to look at it. Within a few minutes the air magically turned on before anyone even came to look at it. It didn’t stay on for long though. We phoned again and got the same response, someone will come up to the room to look at it. Jack told them it is not broken, someone has shut it off.
We were later told the air is only turned on at certain times. We were told that when it is not on it is cool enough outside and we should open our windows and let the breeze in. Believe me, it is not cool with a breeze here! It might be okay down in the lobby, but 10 floors up in our small room it is very hot.
We went to sleep the next night only to awake sometime around 5am. Both of us were soaked in sweat. Judging by how sick and hot we felt, it must have been off for a while. Jack got on the phone again and called downstairs. They keep trying to send someone up to the room to fix it. Jack said no, just turn it on. Within minutes is was running again.
Being Stared At Constantly Is One Thing, But Touching Is Crossing The Line
We spent time just wandering the streets of Guilin. It felt nice to be in a bigger city with department type shopping stores and amenities. It was a strange place though. For such a big city we were having more people stare at us here than ever! People just couldn’t seem to take their eyes off us. They wouldn’t just take a quick look, it was a good long stare. They would crank their heads around as they walked past us. It was getting really annoying, especially when two or more people would be looking at us and pointing and talking about us. It was as if they had no realization that we were aware of what they were doing.
Then things started to turn really ugly. Two days in a row I got touched by a guy. Both times the man was about the same age, I would say in his mid fifties. I don’t know who to heck these guys think they are and what right they have to touch me. Both times they grabbed my arm. The first guy grabbed me and mumbled something. I was so shocked I didn’t have time to react. The second time the same thing happened. Jack and I were walking down the street side by side and this guy was walking past us. He reaches out and grabs my arm up by my shoulder. This time I turned around and shouted at him while I held my finger out. I yelled “DONT TOUCH ME!” It was loud enough to get quite a few other peoples attention around us.
The thing is, the guy still didn’t seem to clue in that what he did was not appropriate. He obviously didn’t speak English, so he wouldn’t have understood what I said. You would think my yelling and reaction would get the message across though. He just looked at me with a stupid grin and mumbled something in Chinese as he walked away. Thank goodness no one else has done this to me again, because the next guy is liable to get knocked out, if not by me then by Jack.
We have to just grin and bare the fact that we are and will continue to be like a freak sideshow throughout this whole country. Otherwise we will never get through the trip or enjoy it at all. So fine, stare, gawk, point at us and talk away, but touching me is where I draw the line! Jack has turned it into a game now when he catches the old perverts who like to gawk at me. He stands in front of me so they can’t see. They get really annoyed, sometimes they try and move to get a view again. Then Jack moves again to block them, it is quite funny.
The Fun At Restaurants In China Continues
Another thing that has surprised us in Guilin is the lack of food for us to eat. Of course we didn’t think being a vegetarian in China was going to be easy, but for a big city like Guilin we expected more options. It is not just vegetarian food we were seeking, we were really craving some western food. We had been eating Chinese and Asian food for over 3 months now. The Lonely Planet was of little help for us here, mind you we are finding the LP book to be of poor quality for information on many occasions on this trip. They just don’t seem to be as good as they used to. Two of three places we checked out in the LP to eat at no longer existed, and it is a new edition.
We found a place on the main tourist drag in Guilin, I think it was called the Coffee House. It claimed to serve pizza and sandwiches. We do eat fish, so we were excited to see Tuna sandwiches on the menu. We ordered them and waited in anticipation. When they showed up we were shocked. We each got only half a sandwich cut into two triangles. There was even less because for some bizarre reason everything you order in China with bread has the crusts cut off. There was a sad amount of stringy looking fries on the plate as well. The big surprise was when we opened the sandwich to take a look at it. It had a bit of lettuce, some cucumber and then a bit of creamy looking sauce with some onion bits in it.
We called the waitress over to tell her we could not see any tuna in our sandwiches and they must have forgot to put it in. She looked at it and started to point at the sauce saying it was mixed in it. Jack and I just looked at each other and smirked, okay I guess this is how they do tuna sandwiches here. I think they may have put some tuna juice in with the sauce. We could not see the smallest bit of tuna no matter how hard we tried. We were really hungry so we devoured what little there was and asked for our bill. We then set off to find dinner number two. It’s pretty bad that you have to get two meals to fill you up. The darn sandwiches were not cheap either, I think it worked out to about $6 or $7 Canadian each!
Can you take any more restaurant problems, here is one more. I ordered Pumpkin soup at a restaurant and got a corn chowder brought to the table. I questioned the waitress about it. It was not that they had given me the wrong soup, she explained they did not have any pumpkin soup. Wouldn’t you normally tell the customer this and give them other options. Then after we had been seated for 15 minutes, got drinks and placed our food order the waitress comes to our table. We are made to lift everything off the table, our cups, teapot, salt, pepper, cutlery, napkins, etc. She puts a table cloth on the table. We are completely baffled by this. Nothing was wrong with our table. No one else got a table cloth that was eating. At first we thought it was some special treatment because we were not local, but there was another couple of westerners sitting behind us that didn’t get one.
It was a big effort to find every meal here it seemed. Yangshou at a mere 300,000 was easy, they really catered to westerners there. We would find many restaurants in Guilin, but even the ones with extensive menus had meat in everything. Even a bakery is not safe here. They put meat into the buns. A lot of the baking has this stringy sawdust looking stuff stuck all over it. At first I thought it was a sweet sugar looking substance, but was quickly turned off when I found out it is shredded pork. It’s not that we try to find western style food everywhere we go. What would be the point of traveling around the world to do that? You do have to keep in mind that everything at home that is a pet is eaten here and a lot of the other food is not identifiable. It’s just not a country we are very willing to experiment with the food!
In desperation we went into KFC to have some fries. KFC is everywhere here. Even the smallest most remote place will have one. As does the rest of the places we have traveled. Small places in the middle of no where in Africa had them too. If you eat chicken you can literally survive around the world off KFC. They are like full size restaurants here. The one we went into was huge. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough, tons of kids were running around yelling, people were everywhere. Then of course the staring and gawking started, it was like a foreigner had never eaten fries before! It was the blaring music that we really couldn’t stand. We had to yell across the table to hear each other. It seems everywhere in China is noisy. They love noise here, they can’t get enough of it. What’s that saying “everything louder than everything else.”
Then we made the ultimate sacrifice. For the first time in over 10 years we dared to enter a McDonalds. Ughhhhhh, we can hardly live with ourselves. Sadly at this point we were not aware that McDonalds would become our saviour for the 3 months of traveling around China. We were starving for something other than a bowl of rice or noodles. We ordered fries and in great fear decided to try a Filet O’ Fish. It was just like I remember them years ago. A square fish stick cooked up and globbed with tartar sauce and put in a bun.
They have tiny little McDonald’s booths on the streets here. They have a limited menu, mostly drinks and ice cream.
We did manage to find some good food at a place called Rosemarys. It is in the area of the city where “Pedestrian” street is. We ate there several times. The pizza, risotto and soup were all good. The veggie pita was not, don’t try it. It was stuffed with potatoes and fried onions, it was all very greasy. This was yet another place we have been to that has a picture of Bill Clinton hanging on the wall from when he ate at the restaurant. This guy really gets around.
While walking around we came across the Sheraton Hotel. We decided to go in and check out their restaurant, surely they would have some descent food. Our meal ended up being about $50 Canadian, but it was worth every penny of it. Jack had some spinach and ricotta cheese ravioli with tomato sauce and I had a piece of baked salmon imported from Norway. My plate also had garlic mashed potatoes and a bunch of vegetables cooked to perfection. Yummmmm.
When we have mentioned that we are vegetarian to other tourists and local Chinese people who can speak English. They keep telling us that China has tons of vegetables. They say we should be able to get a huge variety of dishes cooked up for us. Where are these vegetables? We have asked for a plate of mixed fried vegetables on many occasions. Sometimes we get a great dish of food served to us, other times we have got a plate of snow peas with a few shavings of carrot thrown in for some colour. Another time we got a big plate of something that was like spinach, it had been cooked to death. This was from a menu that read fried mixed vegetables. I don’ t know how this dish could have been considered to match its description.
If we have managed to communicate that we are vegetarian and don’t eat meat we get looked at as if we have just landed from outer space. As if we didn’t have enough to get stared at, this really tops the cake. Two foreigners, one with weird brown spots all over her face and arms, red hair, big boobs, with a 6 foot 1 tall guy with a mustache and goatee, hairy arms and legs, and now we don’t eat meat. We must come from Neptune!
Take A Xanax Before You Attempt To Shop In The Grocery Store
We went into a grocery store, well what they call a grocery store here. First of all every place like this seems to have more candy than anything else in the store. There’s aisles of it. I guess nutrition is not important. There happened to be a sale happening at this particular shop. I can’t begin to describe the chaos. I have some of it on video, so ask to see it when we get home. There were two main sale items, these large containers of fish oil and fresh packages of large squid. You would think the world had come to an end. The till line ups were going to the back of the store. People were pushing and shoving in all directions. It looked like there was more than enough of this oil to supply half of China, but the people were attacking the displays like vultures. I would have loved to have taken a decibel reading of the noise level.
On top of the noise volume from the sale, in certain areas of the store there are demo stations. These are much like we have at home. You know the ones with a lady sampling products from a little table. The difference is at each station here there is no person, but a mega phone. It has a pre-recorded speech about the product that continues to screech out of it at an ear blasting volume. There was one in nearly every aisle. Unfortunately this was the only place we knew of to get a few items we wanted so we stayed through the madness. You can imagine the anxiety level by the time we finally made our way through the checkout.
No space can be left at anytime. That is if a proper line is formed. I don’t have enough writing space to start on the complete lack of how to queue in a line here. To add an update to this, we have been told it is one of the main things being taught to the public for the Olympics in Beijing. How to form a line for something! If you are standing in a line here, even if it is at the ATM machine, you can not leave the slightest bit of space between you and the person at the ATM. Someone will budge in front of you.
In China forget it, you have none. Your little personal space bubble you have been living in is gone! People will sit almost on top of you in seats. You have to learn to push and shove your way through people. No one says sorry if they bash into you. When you first arrive you find yourself standing and waiting to get through somewhere. You have to soon give up all politeness you have brought with you from home. It will get you nowhere here.
All dignity and privacy will go out the window. You will develop a great tolerance for smelly washrooms. Smells that would be at the top of your gagging list at home will be placed as acceptable on your tolerance level. Some of the weirdest signs are in the washrooms. No flushing of paper for smoothing of pipeline, was in one of our hotel room bathrooms. This toilet is for urination only, a 50 Yuan fine for other, was in a restaurant washroom. One squatter I went into had the entire stall covered in mirrors from floor to ceiling, you can bet this gives a lovely view of yourself.
I don’t know how many times I have been shocked to be in an upscale place and find that they have squatter toilets. The other thing is you must carry tissue with you at all times. If a place supplies western style toilets there is usually paper supplied, but hardly ever if it is a squat toilet.
Street Side Surgery
We have witnessed all kinds of strange things on the streets here. Apparently foot procedures on the street are quite common. Small surgeries are even performed. We witnessed this several times. Some guy sits on a small wooden stool and has the patient do the same. He has a small selection of sharp metal instruments. We saw one guy that must have been getting something like bunions cut off, his foot was pouring in blood. All this was happening right in the city on a sidewalk along a major road.
The driving is erratic here, even how the people walk is very different. All the ways in which you expect someone to respond or move are not what happens. Jack got hit by a girl on a scooter. Jack was walking along the SIDEWALK when this girl just came up and ran right into him. Her tire stopped in between Jacks legs. Luckily she wasn’t going to fast or there could have been some injuries! If you are walking people will not move out of the way, you have to move. If you keep going they will walk right into you. When the walk signal goes on for pedestrians to cross the street, the traffic keeps turning through the pedestrians. You have to try and weave your way through it to get across. At first we would just stand there in shock as it looked like people were going to get killed. Now we can weave our way across any busy street with the best of them. You have no choice, otherwise you would never get anywhere.
Quite often on a busy road you will see a couple of people that tried to cross the lanes of traffic only to get stuck. They stand in between two lanes of speeding vehicles waiting to get across. I can’t stand to look. We love watching the intersections when the traffic is waiting for the light to change. There will be a group of sometimes a hundred or more bicycles that have made their way up to the front of the cars. Then the light changes and you see the bikes and other vehicles all weaving and dodging each other through the intersection. Surprisingly they all seem to avoid hitting each other.
There are some interesting fashion styles here. I think they are eternally stuck in the 80’s. The hair do’s are crazy. The more dried out, frizzed out, fried and bleached your hair is the better. This goes for guys and girls. All the clothing has to have as much stuff stuck on it as possible. They cover everything in lace, buttons, zippers, snaps, bows, sparkles and crazy pictures. Short knicker style pants or skirts with knee high fish net stockings and high heels with a puffy laced shirt seems to be a big hit!
Then there are the welders masks that the women wear. They are a huge sun visor with a dark plastic shield. It swivels down to cover the entire face and neck area. These are worn while walking around and riding the scooters and bicycles.
We witnessed an armored car and the crew picking up money from a bank. The guys came out carrying the bags while several other men surrounded them holding pistols up in the air with both hands. This was a little disturbing to say the least!