Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Friday, November 4, 2011

11/4/11: 4-day trip to Guangxi Province

We awoke to a fabulous blue-sky morning, and had breakfast out on the 6th Deck Garden Lounge, our last chance to say goodbye to the predominantly Filipino dining room crew who were going home for four months after eight months at sea. Many of them have small children at home, a testament to both how much they like working with the Semester at Sea program, and how dedicated they are to their work. They are incredible, and I’d guess that both Perry and Darwin probably knew the names of 75% of the 600 passengers on board. ISE’s service provider, V-Ships, staffs the entire ship even though the MV Explorer is actually owned by the program, purchased back in 2004. Most crew work 8 months on, 4 months off, and work a rotating 4-hours on, 4-hours off shift, though officers work every other 4 months. Dozens and dozens of crew remain below the 2nd deck (the lowest publicly-accessible floor) for the entire voyage, and we only rarely might catch a glimpse of them catching some R&R while in port, or during muster (lifeboat) drills.  

Heidi and the boys went off for a tour of Hong Kong by the parents of our neighbor, Rebecca Chau. When Rebecca heard we were going to Hong Kong, she put them in touch so that we could see the city from someone who lives there (since I couldn’t participate, you’ll have to check Heidi’s blog for details). I packed for the 1300 departure, which wasn’t as simple as it sounds due to the amount of camera gear I wanted to bring, especially given the ‘one carry-on’ limitation for the flight to Guilin. The Hong Kong airport was impressive, as were the airline services and rather new planes, a refreshing change from the struggling US airline industry. My row-mates were Hannah, a student from Montana whose goal it is to drive every kind of motorized vehicle there is, and Kevin, a really nice kid from South Carolina, and a schoolmate of Tate’s “dance instructor”, Chelsea.

Guilin Airport

After our flight to Guangxi Province in southwestern China, we arrived to a drizzly Guilin and had a late dinner. My roommate for the trip, geology professor Alan Goldin (an avid cyclist from Missouri who rides 15k miles a year) and I ran out for a walk around the Guilin Night Markets, after finding an ATM right around the corner. We rounded another corner and came upon a closed street with tents lining both sides, people everywhere. Although I hadn’t pegged Alan for a ‘shopper’, within the first 25 meters or so he had successfully bartered with 3 different vendors, and I got my first direct experience with just how inexpensive locally-made items are here in China. And I do mean inexpensive; Alan’s first purchase was a handmade fabric shoulder-style bag for 10 yuan. That’s about $1.60.

Not sure what some of that stuff is...

We continued through the market, where people were eating and shopping, with much of the foodstuffs laid out on counters along the walkway. As in many of the countries we’d visited, every 5 meters or so were items that I cannot even fathom the source of, including one of apparent mammalian origin, a ‘terminal’ organ of which might have once been featured as an appetizer on that awful show from years ago, ‘Fear Factor’. All I can say is: Yuck, with a capital “Y”.

Pour hot water on this little guy, and he shot it out the front.

The beautiful limestone street, curb and sidewalk.

After walking around for awhile it occurred to me that the road surface, sidewalks, and even curbs were all made out of limestone, polished in many places. As Alan continued back to the hotel, I walked and wondered how this beautiful town in this once poverty-stricken country could possibly have the resources to line every street and sidewalk with cut stone.

Our hotel was located adjacent to Rong Hu, a park with a smallish lake, interconnected to the moats that meander through the town. I walked to the west end, and was surprised to find a lock, elevating small tourist boats approximately 5 meters to the level of the lake and canal system. The trees were lit with colorful lights everywhere, though I realized it might be time to turn in when the lights went out at about 11:30pm. I walked back to the hotel, and I noticed an older man walking with a young girl, perhaps 12 to 14 years old, and—assuming he was her father—wondered if it was normal for kids in China to be out so late. Stopping to take another image of a lakeside sitting area, I became aware that she had walked up behind me, and was sitting, alone, on the benches a few meters from me. As I turned to leave, I tried to peripherally glance around to see where the older man had gone, but saw no sign of him. Being acutely aware of the fact that I was a foreigner in a land where I didn’t really know how things worked, I walked down the now-darkened lane along the lake, puzzled by the 90-second experience. As I neared the end of the lane, an electric scooter whizzed silently by, the man on the front, the girl riding on the back; they turned a corner and disappeared.
Weird. But, I had to acknowledge the possibility that I was indeed the weird one, the foreigner walking around a city alone at nearly midnight, not really knowing what to expect, nor able to understand what I was seeing.

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