I realize that other blogs about living abroad are awash in travel tips, which my small personal site is sadly lacking, so here is my hack hint (SEO optimization amirite) : become good friends with a local before you go, so she can show you everything and help you avoid tourist disasters. (The sweet, just-as-naive-as-me crew of UK lads from my induction group who also were in Guilin at the same time but who I didn’t connect with until the last night may or may not have been scammed on a bus ride to Yangshuo, but escaped unscathed and unjaded.)
Lynn, a native Guiliner -who is one of the closest friends I’ve made in China- was a rock star. She arranged our tickets and rides for the sightseeing, she haggled for better deals, she convinced taxi drivers to take all five of us for rides. (My favorite taxi driver was this extremely-happy-for-a-taxi-driver lady who was dressed to the nines in a dress, (probably fake) Louboutins, and purse and who thought nothing of driving halfway on the curb.) The longer bus rides, between Guilin and Yangshuo, were a trip. The first ride to Yangshuo was a fancier coach type bus, with air conditioning and playing Fast and Furious 7 -or as it translates in Chinese, Speed and Passion- dubbed in Chinese. (Jason Statham in Chinese was a particular delight.)The bus didn’t have enough ticketed passengers, so the bus driver made frequent stops to pick up random passengers along the way. This is where I met my friend the old lady who shoved me. The bus ride back to Guilin from Yangshuo was a more rickety deal, only 25 kuai as arranged by Lynn, in an older vehicle which made a stop what felt like every five minutes. No Speed and Passion 7 in this bus, but they did play lots of Chinese pop music with the lyrics showing on the screen a la KTV/karaoke. I tried to get Lynn to KTV with me, but she said the lyrics were too insipid, and I can’t read the characters. What I enjoyed about the bus rides was getting to see more of rural China than I have so far. There were older buildings, dusty roads with water pumps, chickens, and always, always, those mountains.
Lynn knows the right place for everything, like the idyllic open air tea shop right on the river. (When I liked the Guilin mangosteen tea, her mom got us all 2 huge boxes of the tea to take home.) She took us to special Guilin breakfast: oil tea, (a ginger broth that you add puffed rice, peanuts, salt, and herbs to, like a savory cereal) water chestnut cake, and my favorite, fried garlic taro rice cake. She took us to the tiny hole in the wall places for Guilin specialties: rice noodles with crispy fried pork cheek for 4 kuai (very good, also why doesn’t my keyboard have the kuai symbol) and the stand for sticky rice balls (also prime).
Apparently, the beer fish that they market as famous to Guilin/Yangshuo is not actually popular, and the grilled fish we eat on nights out in Shenzhen is better. And Yangshuo is so touristy that the Western food is actually preferable to the Chinese food, so we just ate schnitzel at a German place.
Since the rest of my group returned to Shenzhen a day earlier than I, Lynn spent the rest of the time taking me around on her scooter. The e-bike/scooter/moped/whatever you call it game in China is on point. In China, getting a license, owning a car, and driving a car is a huge pain in the ass, but getting around on a scooter is easy, quick, and FUN. Lynn doesn’t have a license, she’s taking lessons but says she nearly gave her teacher a heart attack. No license (or helmet) needed for scooters, though. Speed limits are suggestions, and rules of the road are quaint relics of the past. On the back of Lynn’s bike, we zoomed across lanes, against traffic, at all speeds, you name it. Speed and passion, indeed. Just don’t tell my dad. (Sadly, foreigners in Shenzhen aren’t allowed to own scooters.)
We went to more hole in the wall places for local dessert -sweet cold fruit in juice- and local street food, ma la tang, or spicy soup with seaweed, tofu, and pigskin. I spent most of the time pretending I was Chinese, but Lynn kept blowing my cover by speaking to me in English, and I kept blowing my own cover by speaking either English or Chinese. (The popcorn guy we bought popcorn from did think that Lynn was American and I was Chinese, which goes to show how confusing our dynamic was to the casual observer.) Before Lynn had to go home, we caught a movie (in Chinese, I think she specifically picked it for me because it had English subtitles and Speed and Passion 8 was at a too late showing) I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, using the subtitles to test my Chinese skills. (I still have a long way to go.) Finally, Lynn’s parents wanted her home, (she’s been temporarily staying at home in Guilin for a bit but plans to return to Shenzhen) but she still made sure I was safely deposited with my other friends, the UK lads, before she took off.
I missed Lynn when she motored off not just because we were now straight up tourists wandering aimlessly without local guidance, but because I had really enjoyed reconnecting with her this weekend. She left work about a month ago, and I had missed giggling with her at our desks. There are cultural differences to be sure, she thinks tampons are horrific, and she understands sarcasm in theory but not necessarily in practice, but we learn from each other. It may sound cheesy, but it’s so cool to be able to be close friends with someone who was born a million miles from me.
There isn’t really a point to this post, just that I had a good time in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and some good friends made it more beautiful.
Other firsts: first night in a hostel, first time playing (and winning!) Chinese cards, first time dropping underwear into said hostel’s toilet and giving them up for dead.