Located in the southeast of China, Guilin is well known as an area of magnificent limestone formations. These mountains, along with the river Li which flows through them, and the city itself, is a very popular destination for people from China. Many foreign tourists, predominantly from Europe, also travel here. The big tourist season tends to be in the fall, when the weather is nicer. That is the time, I am told, that some Americans travel here.
Guilin itself is a fairly large city. If I remember correctly, about four million people live in the city proper, and another eight million live in the surrounding area. But don't hold me to it. I usually get these facts pretty screwed up. The city is predominantly known for its limestone mountains and the river Li, which weaves its way through the various parts of town. The tourists, however, mainly come here for the river cruise.
Fortunately, the "shit hole" hotel they put me in was about a ten minute walk from the Sheraton, where I was able to finally get "pseudo American" food. Regular Chinese food is a little bit different from the Hong Kong originated style of Chinese food that we get in the US. Hong Kong Chinese food is lighter, more delicate and flavorful than what you typically see in the rest of China. For some reason, many of the dishes served on the mainland have a layer of oil or grease in the "sauce" of that dish, that layers and fills up the bottom of the plate. The food itself tends to be covered with this layer of cooking oil and sauce. No doubt, many of the calories from the meal come from this layer of oil and heavy sauce that covers the dish. The Chinese don't hesitate to dip the food into this, eating the oil along with the vegetables and sparse occasional meat. Their relative lack of protein in their diets no doubt contributes to there relatively smaller muscle mass. Since the amount of exercise the average Chinese gets, whether it be in the city or the rural areas, tends to be far more than the average American, I can only attribute the regular diet (and genetics), to the less muscular Chinese. But this "grease", as I call it, must contribute lots of calories, as god knows the rice and the vegetables surely don't. To the Chinese, the "grease" is nutrition; to me, it is gastronomic hell.
After a while of eating this food, your gut starts to rebel. So, upon seeing the Sheraton, I decided to stop the "Chinese adventure", and get "real" food. The two days in Guilin were an absolute life saver to my stomach. The overwhelming heat, was another story.
Guilin is your typical Chinese medium sized city, with relatively clean streets, and much road (and bridge) construction going on. And as usual, heavy machinery for construction is rarely seen. The destruction of buildings, in preparation for new ones, tends to be done by hand. After removal of doors and windows, possibly for another use, workers use sledge hammers to break apart the brick and poured concrete and rebar construction. You really don't find steel used, other than rebar, for major construction. The majority of their larger buildings used poured concrete pillars. I did happen to see the occasional concrete pump, but instead of the usual American style cement truck, cement is either mixed by hand with shovels on the job site (small to medium jobs) or mixed on site (larger jobs). What these people can do by hand is just absolutely incredible.
What's even more incredible is the lack of safety or warning equipment around job sites. Ditches in the street or in the sidewalk are not protected, lit, or signed. It is not uncommon to find all sorts of debris and holes in the sidewalks and streets, with a total disregard for having any sort of warning or safety device. One would assume that the attitude here is not, "Sorry you fell into the hole, we should have put better warnings up", but, "You fell into the hole and broke your leg, why did you put your foot in it?" What appears to be an absolute disregard for liability runs rampant here. Whether that is due to the idea that you probably can't sue the government, or, you can't find an attorney who would want to sue the government, or (hopefully), they killed all of their attorneys, one gets the idea that the responsibility for one's well being while in public places resides with the individual. It's pretty hard to blame someone else, like the government, when its "your fault".
The river that runs through Guilin brings forth swimmers, from the earliest parts of the morning, to the latest times at night, for about two months every year: July and August. The rainy season just ended (May and June into July), so the water is "just the right height" to swim. And it's relatively clear also. During the rainy season, silt from upstream is carried down through the river, to cause all sorts of problems down south. The river tends to clear during the summer, get too low in the fall, and far too cold in the winter. Snow here is rare, with Guilin getting maybe one inch at at time, if it snows at all. Temperatures get damn cold in the winter. In the summer, it is not uncommon for the temperatures here, and throughout a good deal of central China also, to reach 34 to 38 degrees Centigrade. The central government in all parts of China takes responsibility for reporting the daily temperature. And, quite interesting, it is illegal for the Chinese to work when the temperature reaches 40 degrees Centigrade or above. When it hit 40, everybody gets the day off. From what I've been told, temperatures have hit in the low 40's, the the Central government reports the daily temperature at 39. Twice, in the last two decades or so, the temperature "hit" 40 and above, giving people a day off in that area (Zengzhou).
Night time brings out all the people, as it tends to do in every other area that I've been. The Chinese seem to be a very social people; whether that's because it is part of their nature, or, because there is nothing else to do, I'm not sure. They play the usual "throw the ring over the...." games here, but with a different twist occasionally. I've seen them use these rubber basins, which the player has to fling upside down, to try to get the basin to land over the object of his desire. Rubber basins bounce everywhere, and nobody seems to win. But its fun to watch the havoc the bouncing basins cause as they roll without regard for pedestrian, bicycle, or vehicle.
Dragging out the old television and propping it up on a table, for fifty to a hundred people to see, is also common. Karaoke is king here. And the undoubted king of karaoke in my mind, was the guy the other day, who, in front of well over seventy onlookers, in a drunken state almost to the point of passing out, laid down on the floor with his head almost under the television, and with bloodshot eyes, read the Chinese characters from upside down, singing to his hearts content, without apparently missing a one. The crowd was in awe. The fact that the crowd was in awe had me in awe. And to note, a group of Chinese were dancing in the dark, on the sidewalk, to this man's singing, all doing some sort of line dance, with one hand swaying this way and that, and the other holding a fan, which they used to fan their perspiring faces. I was seriously tempted to take a flash picture of the karaoke king, but thoughts of many, many pissed off people, as I caused him to miss a character or two, entered my head, and I decided that the karaoke king was just not going to have the opportunity to be honored here on the web site.
Oh, and I forgot to mention. There are many massage parlors throughout the city, even in the hotels. The Chinese like their massages. I didn't bother.....
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