Sunday, March 1, 2009

Riding in style

So this past week I spent 3 days in Guilin and Yangshuo, which was exciting, but equally exciting was how Gloria and I got there. While Jodee took a short 2-hour flight there, Gloria and I thugged it out on the 13-hour overnight train from Shenzen. We didn't have tickets and were late leaving class Mon afternoon, so we ended up having to run across the border, through the station, down the ticket line (we cut, like try Chinese natives - although unlike them we politely asked permission), and across the platform until finally one of the stewardesses took pity on us (at this point we were sweating and crazy-eyed) and sold us tickets literally as the train was leaving the station.

We had a soft sleeper (best class) there for about $60US and a hard sleeper back for about $35US. The soft sleeper has 4 to a room (although we were lucky enough to be alone), a locking door and a western toilet. The hard sleeper has SIX to a room (the top bunks are like submarine beds, no sitting up), no door (which means the cigarette smoke from the hallway comes wafting in) and a "Chinese toilet," which is code for gross gaping hole.

Otherwise, both classes are relatively similar. We got thick comforters and comfortable pillows and clean sheets both ways. They even have outlets in the rooms.

The food was remarkably good for train food. We got salty scrambled eggs and pork with green chili peppers and rice. They even sold ramen bowls that you could fill from the hot water taps in each car.

The train ride wasn't the end of it, though - I became a true backpacker extraordinaire this trip because I stayed in hostels BOTH nights. And actually, it wasn't as traumatic of an experience as I thought it would be.

In Guilin we stayed at Guilin Backstreet Hostel which was very centrally located near the night market and the pagodas in the lake. It looked dirty because the whole place is so poorly lit, but I didn't see anything all night and I definitely looked. Of course we had to shower over our toilet, but that seems to be the norm in Chinese hostels.

In Yanghuo we stayed at the Yangshuo Culture House which was INCREDIBLE. The place is so spotless that I managed to almost forget that our bathroom was a HOLE. The guy who runs it, Wei, does a bunch of other things - teaches Mandarin, caligraphy, tai chi - and offers 3 meals a day for free if you are around. We were only around for one dinner and breakfast, but it was incredible. There were about 12 of us at dinner and they must have brought out 20 dishes: sweet and sour fried chicken, eggplant and beef, chicken with peanuts, Chinese mushrooms, regular mushrooms, these dumplings with fried tofu instead of dumpling skin (my fave of the evening), snap peas with chicken, string beans with pork, etc. Finally we had to ask when they were going to stop bringing out food and they said: "When you stop eating." Seriously amazing.

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