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The China Adventures Of Arielle Gabriel

Guangxi Province

Arielle Gabriel & Digimarc

Tourists from all over the world flock to this celebrated province as it is the homeland of the exquisite mountains for which China is reknowned.
The hills that suddenly decide to spring up at almost a right angle to their base, with no visual warning, no build-up of earth. They signal to travellers, familiar with photographs from the National Geographic,  that we are in the land of erhu sounds, and jasmine scents,  and pictures of pandas munching on bamboo stalks. 
They shout: yes, we are China, the China of ancient and present and future times, the China of exquisite landscapes, the China that is unchanging.  Yes, there is something spiritual about seeing these hills.
It's one of the more thrilling travel sights.
Since I am a Canadian whose first mountains were the equally celebrated Rocky Mountains, I'm used to mountains.  Our North American mountains give a long slow gradation of soil, topped by the final ice cap of snow, like an ice-cream sundae from another planet.
I remember early childhood defeats of attempting to see the worst of these mountains as the cross-Canada train lumbered through discreetly late at night, to stop travellers from having heart attacks as viewing the depths of the valleys.
Canadian government bureaucrats deprived us of the glorious sight of these mountains, judging the glimpse of them to be possibly dangerous to our health.
So here in China the key city of Guilin is a expensive and touristic place, with a recorded billion visitors a year.  The sights are spectacular.
I avoided Guilin, and sought out many budget accommodations for neighbouring Yang Shuo, and also for Nanning, a pleasant and under-visited city where travellers must go to await their Vietnam visas. 
The China government tours of Vietnam are recommended elsewhere, for a low-cost, they take care of everything for a short bob down into a steamier climate where Real Coffee is available!  (The French influence upon Vietnam? - this coffee is also found in Kunming.)
August 16 -  August 17 2002
This trip is so short it is almost invisible, rushing down on the train to see my former student as well the Chinese musicians of Nanning who play in the parks. 
I am saving for a computer to start my own business, money for the child I want to adopt, and the travel money home to see my family.
The nature of my teaching and tutoring  work is sometimes pleasant, sometimes not, and also I need to be around my home base seven days.  However, due to cancellations of work, I saw a brief opening in time and took it: the city is so low-cost that the train was the largest expense.
So!  Off to Nanning by train on Thursday.
I arrived at the jumbo train station in Guanzhou about 11.30 a.m . giving myself plenty of time to spare for daily train to Nanning that leaves mid-afternoon. 
The crowds seemed tired, and plainly dressed, as this city fills with job-seekers from many miles around.  With inherent Chinese stoicism, they are generally well-ordered and amiable, though this city has many crime warnings for tourists.  And the warnings thicken around the train station.
One story tells of the use of sharp knives that suddenly rip off those foolish elasticized bum belts warn around the waists of foolish travellers who want to let thieves know where all their money is.  The criminals clumsily tear the flesh of their victims as well.
I noticed helpfulness about the train statiom; I wrote the name of my intended town, Nanning, and showed it to the policeman.  He helped me by walking me to the intended aisle, though our verbal communication was nil. 
And then, the counter help called for a young alert woman who spoke commendable English.  She quickly sorted out my words, Hard Sleeper, and gave me the most desirable bed, the mid-level sleeper. 
Since I love to look at China, this choice seat is no longer my own favourite, so I now have to try for the lowest bed.  
Travel tip:
All those Chinese people who want to practise their English with you should be helped, as they will be happy to write in Chinese letters your travel directions, your favourite foods, etc.
The lower bed is not so popular with some Western travellers because lots of people may sit on this.  However, when you want to stretch and rest, all you have to do is politely ask the visitors to return to the window benches, and they will do so.
Travel Tip: 
Always always always repeat the word SLEEPER and draw a picture of a bed if you have to, crossing out a picture of a chair.   At the major and minor holidays, sometimes your booked bed will disappear after a certain city, and you will end up in a hard chair. 
This happened to me, when travelling from Hunan Province  with a wealthy Beijing business friend, also my student, and he could not even buy us hard sleepers. 
In the interests of international displomacy, the less said about staying up all night in a hard chair the better!  The trip was 95% perfect otherwise.
Well, get to the train!  Yes, the journey down was unremarkable, and I read an exciting book about the white British and European women who were held prisoners of war by the Japanese in Malayasia during World War 11.
This book gripped my attention after the daylight faded and I could not longer view the surprisingly mountainous areas just west of Guanzhou. 
The fall of Hong Kong and Singapore to the Japanese occurred around the same week in 1941 as Pearl Harbour: a fact of timing I was unaware of.
The women were terrifed as rumours drifted westwards of what the Japanese had done to white women working as nurses working in a Red Cross medical clinic in Stanley, not to mention similar atrocities to Chinese girls and women.
Strangely, the women stressed they would rather suffer actual bombing than to live month after month, year after year, not knowing what the Japanese would do to them.  The worst for women never happened, though many other acts of violence did happen.
I have not been reading for some time, so I was happy falling asleep on the train, after my dinner of iced tea, bottled water, and dried Sultana biscuits.
The train always pulls into Nanning a little too early for me, and by 6.45 a.m. I was checked into the Mayflower Hotel, very handy to the train station.
Travel tip: 
When hotels advertise 3 and 4 beds to a room, stipulate clearly you want a WOMAN ONLY room, or you may find a surprise when you return at midnight to your bedroom - ha! ha ! ha! 
If it is not a Chinese holiday time, the hotel generally will be glad for your business and put you a nice large room all by yourself or with one or two women.
I was in need of sleep after the train, and did not find it, as I was excited to be in Nanning again, looking forward to the first-class Chinese musical performers in the public parks, and to seeing my enthusiastic young students Clark Wang and Skipper Wei from a Crazy English Winter Camp a year ago.
Ambled out about 8.30,  walked down the main arcade snapping Chinesey photos as I went - the usual type of tourist photos - anything with a Chinese hat, a Chinese jacket, or a Chinese bicycle carrying a Chinese basket - and arrived at the American cafe about 9.00.
I have to say some of my students, with younger, fresher brains, than my own, notice small details sharply.  One said to me, You never eat anything at the American Cafe. 
That is because I filled up on fried vegetable dumplings with a white milky sauce before I left the hotel block. So exotic and delicious with the fried batter and the crunchy fillings. I never see these in my own city.
I had checked in, bathed,  and then one of my kids arrived as a tour guide.  They are the greatest: energetic students with a joy of life, and have a realistic hopefulness for their own country. 
Some of my former students have branched out into teaching themselves.
Though we are all teachers, we see teaching as an avenue to learn more about other people from other countries, and also as a bridge to some new small business ventures and ideas.  We want to do other things besides be teachers.
My student and I talked about the day ahead , how I would need a nap, and how I wanted to get some business cards printed, for myself and also to write a better ad for them too.
We walked to a printer, a small office open onto the side street, run by two women, and then just ambled around taking photos. 
Women wearing Chinese hats selling heated nuts still in their shells attracted me, and when I tried to take a picture, their shyness made me decline.  They let my student take over the nut stands, and he started pretending he was a nut-seller, to much amused laughter along the whole street.
Our phone calls to friends blocked, and we went down in person to the Crazy English offices where we looked at a travel book I gave to them about Oceania. 
Then my students walked me back to the hotel carrying some clothes I bought for 5 rmb apiece: a long beige cotton skirt, a pink checked shirt, a white T-shirt.
Nanning is very convenient to get around in: from the train to the hotel, from the hotel to the American Cafe and the park where the singers congregrate nightly, all is accessible. 
I amazingly was able to fall asleep, and woke up refreshed, and ready again to connect with Nanning.  I went down to the park again, and just sat learning some new songs which I did not sing at all.
My students were busy teaching not only in Nanning but also in an adjacent city.  I can come down and help them one week a month, being their English expert, which they need to qualify any projects since this is not their first language.
The weather was balmy,  in the summer, though not as hot as I expected, so close to the Vietnam border.
Travel Tip: 
The official China Government  Travel Office is recommended for trips into Vietnam of a short duration.  These all-inclusive trips are bookable from Nanning.
So I finally connected with the Chinese Opera Singer,  Candy Tian, a friend from the singing in the park, and she asked Do you want to go to a Chinese Music party?
Do I want to go to a Chinese Music Party?  Yes!
She arrived on her motorbike and told me she liked the photo I brought her, of myself in Hunan, Province.  I noticed with alarm it had received a fine white scratch, and noted I should bring her a better picture.  Still, we were really happy to meet again.
Off into the night we rode on a motorbike, and as she sang Chinese opera, she asked me to sing a new song for her, so we motorbiked along the prominent river, almost devoid of people compared with my home city, and air so fresh. 
I sang an Irish folk song, and we both reflected how original our friendship was, bound together by our love of music.
She asked me immediately about my interest in baby adoption, and I told her I had already seen a baby I liked, and yet due to the sporadic nature of short-term teaching contracts worried that I had enough money saved.
I wanted to talk a lot to her, yet I need the kids around, and I feel intuitively she likes to see me around her own world, where she is a sort of queenly presence, dignified and respected and competent. 
On the last trip to Nanning when we first met, I pointed in the China Folk Sayings Book, to If two people are destined to meet, thousands of miles will not keep them apart. 
She was touched by this, and repeated it to my students when they arrived for our collective dinner.
So we rode along into the night, the bumpy river road side by dark waters on one side, and rustic sheds and shacks on the other, backed in the distance by blocky apartment buildings.  
Bicyclists and pedestrians dodged us, and we ourselves passed through cement road pedestals designed to break speed.  I almost got my knees grazed!
The narrow streets we turned off into were picturesque, framing an area of orange and green and red neon-lights where the musical performances were taking place.  We hopped off the motorbike, and I was introduced around as a singer from Canada.
My singing was not good technically, and I knew how off the mark I was, though you could not know this from the warm reception I received.  My throat is not clear, and I have trouble with the narrowness of my vocal cords.
There were no Chinese trees around, which I missed, until I realized that people all over the city need to have these concerts, not just in the pretty downtown area.  The singing as as excellent as ever, and people who are too poor to pay are not pressured for money.  It is amazing to see this largesse.
My friend wears black most of the time, and tonight she wore a black shirt, and black patterned ankle-length skirt.   Her face is full and broad, and she is both strong and graceful. 
She has many family and community responsibilities, and is pushing me to adopt as many children as I want.
We did our singing.
I sang The Friendship Song, also know as Auld Lang Syne, and though I could hear my own errors, my spirit was not really with the song, the response was overwhelming. 
If I was really with the song, I would not hear my own errors!  I was heaped with flowers, both bouquets and wreaths, thrown around my neck. 
There were more young children, almost babies, toddling forth with flowers.  Now these Chinese are paying for these flowers, they are giving money to me, they who can ill afford it, so I do return the money to the collective group.
Other singers came to talk to me: a young girl in a tight black mini dress and long glossy hair who on looks and talent alone could go far in a a larger city, two brothers one of whom spoke English and the other who was an excellent singer, a short-haired woman singer in mauve who was present encouraging me at my first night of singing in Nanning.
I next sang our classic Red River Valley doing a duet with my friend.  This is done in both Chinese and English and is a huge hit. 
The bathroom there was interesting, in a room with a stove and wood table, a caretaker cottage, no beds there.  The hole in the ground was the latrine, and outside there were three or four large pool tables occupied by youths having fun on their week-end. 
The singers enjoyed having lots of photos taken, as entertainers they are used to this and even expected it.
We closed the night happily by going to a crowded night street full of little restaurants.  My friend ordered very hot food, just meat balls, noodles and green vegetables, her favourite palate.  And also one beer for me.
The first day alone was rushed, crowded and very happy.  As the second and last would be.
The Scond Day, Saturday;
I awake alone in a new room at the same hotel, after discovering a huge white man in my bedroom the night before. 
The room intended for three, and I intended it for three women, had one of these penny-pinching, or more truthfully, disgustingly cheap, back-packer couples, who wanted to save one or two dollars by coming into a three bed room, rather than the one or two bed room, they should have taken.
I raced down in a panic, amused by the disaster somewhat, though determined to find an alternative solution.  The rooms were so reasonable, I decided just to splurge out on privacy.
Anything, anything, I said as amiably as possible, gesturing with my hands to the height of the man, much to the amusement of the night staff. 
They were very quick at solving the problem, since I did say WOMAN ONLY ROOMS.
Well, I woke up early, and took my bag of hot baked walnuts, a delicious local snack, down to The American Cafe for morning coffee, then out and about with my young students.
We went and picked up all our business cards, met an American client of theirs who was with his Chinese fiance, and rushed about so that I could get back to the station and buy my train ticket and check out. 
We kept trying to phone The Opera Singer.
She is a popular woman, and her phone lines were constantly blocked.  Finally we connected and sadly she has family obligations that day, so I ended up taking photographs of some of the singers in the park, taking my students out for lunch - dumplings, eggplant, beer, tofu - and meeting some local police officers a little jolly from their own lunch. 
The police officers wanted to warn us about crime, and told us that they were concerned for us!!!  A foreign teacher, and her very young students, most around twenty, who also have a fresh, naive, trusting look to them, as though they had just wandered into town from their modest Chinese villages, which indeed they have!
I loved the outdoor terrace, where we lingered with the attentive police officers, and especially the old table with a hole cut in the middle, closed over with a circular piece of wood; obviously, this is where a cooking pot is placed at night. 
After lunch we walked around the back streets of Nanning, taking photos of ring toss games, book stalls, and shooting stands.
Three boys saw me off on the train, carrying a huge bag of lichee fruits, one third of the big city price, and lots of bottled water and iced tea. 
The train guards, all ladies, kindly let the students onto the platform, and though I was sad to leave Nanning, as I always am, I was glad I had taken these brief moments in time to travel to refresh personal friendships, with Chinese students and musicians I very much admire.
THE NANNING ADVENTURES: Sunday March 10 - Thursday March 21, 2002
Day One:
I arrived in Nanning by train and am impressed with the simplicity of the centre of the city, it is easy to leave the train station by foot, find cheap accomodations, and then walk to the most important city parks, the American Cafe, and two luxurious department stores.
Though this is called a poor province, this city and its inhabitants struck me as pleasant, industrious, and clean-living.  This is not one of the big four sophisticated Chinese cities, so expect old fashioned and traditional mores.
As a Canadian, my hotel registration went fairly smoothly, though another woman traveller from Great Britain had a lengthier procedure.  The cost, cleanliness, and centrality of The Mayflower Hotel were worth it.
I could choose between a room shared with another woman for only a few Canadian dollar a night: two women, three women, or four women.  The walls were a little in need of paint towards their base.  The beds themselves were spotless and full of of fluffy white down pillows and comforters, starched cotton bedsheets.
The staff, though attentive to government rules re guest registration, were basically cheerful and well-intentioned. 
They try to modernize very quickly  even in rural China as there was a 24 hour Internet cafe thoughtfully provided for a few rmb an hour, and also a restaurant which I did not have time to check out.
The washrooms were clean with ample shower space, and a girl at the end of the hall minded our keys for us as we came and went.  The room was far quieter than my lifestyle in other Asian cities: Taipei and Hong Kong.
After washing, I walked up the main road to have a coffee and meet some of my former students from Crazy English who were to be by untiring guides and helpers. 
Why do I need so much help?  Because I am adapting to The Chinese Way, that's why.  No one in China will ever accuse of being too dependent on others, because it is our penchant for solitariness that they find puzzling.
There is no use keeping secrets in China, as the emphasis on Groupness leads to a sort of immediate knowledge of what everyone is up to. 
The plus side of this is that you are always helped with your travel problems, if you can but communicate your needs and wants to the ever helpful people about you.
My students bubbled with plans to have me meet with other students, help out with a few new educational projects, and take me to whatever I wanted to see.
I wanted to see:
A famous museum with ancient relics of folk peoples.
The concerts of Chinese erhu music in the park.
We check our email at the computer room on the fifth floor of the department store, then stroll along the streets.
I remark, how different the people seem to be in different areas.  I can't put my finger on it, there is a subtle difference between the Chinese of Hunan and those here in Guangxi.
Various snapshots:
  • Men congregrate on the pavement, playing lively games of cards, animated and oblivious to the street activity around them.
  • Street artists make portraits of subjects, sitting on plastic stools, and they beckon to me - these pictures are actually excellent reproductions of reality, and the artists can make you a drawing from a photograph as well - all for a very low price. The quality of their work is higher than what I have seen in other places


  • A youth rides by on a bicycle, behind his seat a scrawny dog packed into a cage, with its back curved.
















Lamma Island * Lantau Island * Cheung Chau Island
Hong Kong * Mui Wo * Peng Chau Island
Tung Chung * Shenzhen * Nanning * Hunan Province
Bobcaygeon * Pointe Claire * Montreal
Peterborough * Lake Sturgeon * Ontario
Vancouver * Richmond * British Columbia

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