People to People Technical Communications Professional Delegation to China—Day 9

Our wake-up call was at 6:30 this morning, and our bags had to be outside the door by 7:00. I got mine out at 7:10, and then went down to breakfast where I joined Nadine and Richard, and Paula joined us a few minutes later.

While I was getting some fruit, this man next to me missed putting the top of a water container back on securely, and it fell crashing to the floor taking a coffee cup with it. It made an absolute racket, and the whole place looked over. Glad it wasn’t me.

We left the hotel at a little after 8:15, and I had these fleeting thoughts fleeing Guilin:

  • This city was so beautiful. If I were to ever come back to China, I’d probably spend a week here.
  • Tan, our local guide, told us that she’s had seven bicycles stolen, so she’s stopped buying them.
  • She also told us, though, it was on Sunday when we arrived, that they paint the building fronts every two years, to “keep up appearances,” so they look good on the outside even if they’re run down on the inside. “It’s such a shame. We could use that money on so many other things.”

  • Tan told us several stories during our time here in Guilin, and she told her last two on this bus ride to the airport.
    1. After talking a little bit about Mao, and how he is viewed very differently by different people in China—that the older generation tends to revere him and the younger people, not so much. Well, it was her mother’s life dream to see Chairman Mao (at rest in his mausoleum in Tienanmen Square), and when she retired she (along with Tan’s dad) took her first train trip, from the south of China and rode 42 hours, standing up, to Beijing to see him. And then, 42 hours back, starting off standing, but eventually getting a seat after some people got off at one of the stops along the way. Tan had told them to stop in Guilin to visit her on the way back, which they did.

      Her mother had seven bags of souvenirs that she brought back from Beijing. She wanted to get something for everything in their family, which is large. When her parents were getting on the train to leave, Tan was handing the bags through the train window to them to get them all on. And somewhere during that trip, it was so crowded on the train, that her mother got a few cracked ribs from the pushing and shoving. When she got home, she said, “I don’t ever want to travel again. I’ve seen Chairman Mao.”

    2. She told us about the first time she saw a westerner. “I was in grade school, and our teacher told us that a westerner was coming to our class, and that he wanted us to show him how smart we all were when he arrived. So, we studied and studied for weeks and weeks, and when the day finally came, I remember thinking when I first saw him, ‘His hair is a different color. He’s so tall. And his nose is so big.’ 

      When the westerner asked them the question, “What were the four greatest inventions of ancient China?” I was fortunate enough to be called on, and I was so proud to give the right answer. Later on, we found out that the man was a ‘fake’ westerner. He was a very tall friend of the teacher, whom the teacher had asked to put on a wig and a big fake nose and come to class.”

      We all laughed, and then of course, wanted to know the answer to the question: gunpowder, the compass, paper, and printing. 

  • We passed a man riding one of those tricycles hauling live chickens, in cages, as his payload.
  • All along this trip there have been “love” stories told in context of the history of China, and I’m always struck how they’re all always about straight people—or animals. Tan told this drawn out story about two panda bears that were mates, but the male died, and so they had an elaborate search for a new male to be brought to Guilin. When they finally found one, it was such a big deal, that people from Guilin met him at the airport, and they had a big celebration of his arrival. They put him in with the female, and after a few weeks, they were getting along so poorly, fighting even, that they had to build the male a separate room. I’m thinking that male panda is gay as hell. It is possible you know; there is homosexuality in the animal kingdom. This doesn’t seem to even occur as a possibility to any of the straight people.
  • Several of the stories disengaged me right at the beginning—the emperor’s daughter was looking for a husband… Were any of them ever possibly looking for a wife? Bitter. Party of one? Your table is ready.
  • I’m not saying it was humid in my room, but this morning my postcards were all in an arc on the desk.
  • I think I said this in an earlier entry, but pedestrians absolutely do not have the right-of-way in China. It was true in Beijing, and it’s certainly true here. It’s incredibly precarious trying to cross any street.

Our bags for this flight were taken care of from our hotel door all the way to Shanghai. That is, we didn’t have to collect them at the airport. Shawn had the porters take them directly to the airline check-in, where they did a group check-in for us.

While we waited for all of that to happen, and for our boarding passes to be delivered to us, I took some pictures in the Guilin airport. We all had a good chuckle about all of the things you had to be in order to take one of these seats:

Your choice of Chinese bathroom or Western bathroom in this airport:


I didn’t take a picture of the sign that said, “Civilized Airport,” which I’m quite sure was supposed to be “Civilian Airport,” but I did get this one reminding you to save your baggage for the personal columns:

I got my first aisle seat of the trip so far. Paula was going to be in the middle seat next to me, but when we got to our row, some switching had taken place, and I took my aisle seat next to James and Kathleen. Paula took the middle seat on the other side of the aisle.

The two hour or so flight to Shanghai on China Southern was uneventful. We had a quick meal, Chinese food, and I read a little and then nodded a little. I’m reading the book Katherine gave me right before I left. It’s called “Lost in Planet China,” and it’s by the same author who wrote “The Sex Life of Cannibals,” by J. Maarten Troost.

I’m glad I waited to start reading this book a little ways into my trip, instead of at the very beginning. I laughed out loud several times, including while reading these two relevant passages:

And so, as I arrived at the airport to begin the long flight to Beijing, I practiced the few phrases of Mandarin I had memorized. Yes, the Chinese language, every variant of it, would be unfathomable to me, but that didn’t mean I had to arrive completely unprepared. “Qingwen. Wo buhui dun zhege cesuo. Youmeiyou biede cesuo keyi yong?”

“What does that mean, Daddy?” asked my four-year-old son, Lukas.

“It’s Chinese for Excuse me. I am not proficient at squatting. Is there another toilet option?”

And this one:

It was after crossing a street that I came to my second observation about life in Beijing: Do not play chicken with Chinese drivers. Even if they see you, they will not slow down. Even if the pedestrian light is green, they will not slow down. So do not play chicken with Chinese drivers. Or you will die.

A moment later, I made my third observation about life in Beijing: Do not play chicken with Chinese cyclists. See observation 2. Same applies. You will die.

So, so true in our experience, too!

When we arrived in Shanghai, we met our local guide, whose name was Yao Qian, “but you can call me Annie,” she said.

The ride from the airport to Le Royal Meridien in downtown Shanghai immediately confirmed Shanghai as the financial powerhouse of China. The roadways looked like L.A. and the high rises like NYC.

On the ride, Annie introduced us to Shanghai, intimating over and over that it is the most Westernized city in China, and the Chinese people here like that about it. It’s all about the excitement, the Western stores, and the financial and technology markets here.

We talked a little bit again about the “one child per family” rule here, and how if the first child is a girl, after four years you can try again, for a boy. If the second one is a girl, that’s it. She then pointed out that Chinese families actually can have more children, they just have to pay what amounts to a “fine” to have them. In Shanghai, you have to pay 58,000 Yuan (about $9350.00) per parent. In Beijing, it’s double that 116,000 Yuan, or almost $20,000, again per parent!

I asked if there was an issue with abortion here. “No, there isn’t. It’s legal. And since China is not religious, it’s not really an issue.”

Annie pointed out that an issue they do deal with is that some people who can afford to have more children (because they can afford to pay the fine) don’t want them, and some people who do want more can’t afford to have them.

Our outrageously opulent hotel rooms were definitely “Western” style. Here’s some shots of mine:

We had a couple of hours to unpack and freshen up before meeting the bus for our evening out. I got some help in the lobby with directions on how to get to a gay bar named Eddy’s that my friend Adam from Atlanta told me he went to while he was here.

It was kind of funny, as the same thing happened here when I asked where a gay bar might be. Obviously the way to do that with the “underground” gay life here is to invoke a lifeline and “phone a friend.”

When I showed the lady concierge the name of the restaurant, she shook her head to indicate she didn’t recognize it.
“It’s a gay bar,” I said.
Her face lit up, and she said, “Let me call my friend.”

She phoned Leo, who also worked in the hotel and ended up coming down to help me. He was Filipino, is gay, lives here, and has a partner here. He was very, very nice, and wrote the address down, and then the concierge translated it into Chinese so I could just hand it to the cab driver.

Leo told me it would be about 20 yuan for a taxi there, which is cheap, and that a lot of people stop there after work on their way home, so between 6:00 and 8:00 would even be a good time to go during the week. I asked him if people there would speak English, and he said yes, and that the owner and his partner actually lived in NYC for a time.

Most people agreed that tonight’s dinner was our favorite so far. Yes, it was Chinese food again, but again, being that Shanghai is so westernized, several of the dishes were like those you might find in a good Chinese restaurant in the U.S.

The most interesting thing about this restaurant was that it sold the most incredible embroidery tapestries, which were hung on the walls of the entire first floor, where that’s all there was, as well as on the second floor on the walls all around the restaurant.

Expensive. We’re talking Madonna-can-afford-them expensive. I think the lowest one I saw was $980. A majority were between $12,000 and $25,000—yes dollars, not yuan. Here are few of them:

The last thing on the agenda of our long day was attending, “ERA: Intersection of Time,” a most incredible Chinese acrobat show.

It started off with this guy setting down a large cylinder, on top of which he places a flat board and stepped onto it, rolling back and forth and balancing. Then he added what looked like four cans, one in each corner, and then another flat board, which he stepped up on, and a third layer and a fourth layer.

As if that wasn’t precarious enough, he then balanced on one foot and putting the other one in the air, put a bowl in the crook of his foot. Then he kicked the bowl up in the air and caught it on his head—no hands of course. Then he took two bowls and did the same thing, as they began to stack on his head. Then three more bowls, then four more bowls, then a teacup, which landed in the top bowl, and finally he flicked a teaspoon up in the tea cup. Just amazing.

A bunch of kids, they’re all young Chinese kids, except their “mentor,” and one of the finest Chinese acrobats around, jumped through a bunch of hoops, first stacked on top of each other, and then facing each other from four directions, and then rotating. They did various other acts with two people jumping onto one end of a see-saw type thing, flipping the person standing on the other end up on to shoulders and a chair being held high up into the air.

The mentor guy did an act with this quite large vase that he tossed in the air and caught in various ways—with his arms, legs, the back of his neck, and eventually his head. He spun it around on his head, turned at a 45° angle, and moved his head to switch it to the opposite angle, and that sort of thing. Then he took one perhaps twice that size and did the same kind of things. Quite amazing.

There was this huge contraption in the air that looked a little like a ferris wheel, and the gymnasts climbed in it and on it, and did crazy things while it rotated high into the air.

The final act, which was the most amazing as you would expect, involved driving motor scooters into this hollow sphere. First one went in it, and drove all around it first horizontally, then vertically, and then in ovals in various directions. Then a second scooter got in there, and then a third, and a fourth and a fifth. It was absolutely mesmerizing and incredible that they did what they did without crashing into each other.

After that three more went in, and this thing wasn’t that big, that’s what was so incredible about it. The last three weren’t in there very long, though, and they mostly stayed around the bottom third of it, while the other five went wild above them.

I remember sitting there at one point, totally engrossed, and thinking, “I am in freaking Shanghai, China, watching this incredible entertainment.”

2 thoughts on “People to People Technical Communications Professional Delegation to China—Day 9”

  1. I loved this write up. It brought back such wonderful memories! Yes, I’d go back to Guilin, too. It was so beautiful!

    And yes, you want to cross streets in China with a huge pedestrian crowd, or “You will die.” ?

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