Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Road to Guiping & the GongDe Villa

After leaving Maya’s foster family at the Majestic, we hit the road to Guiping. It was about a 3.5 hour drive, mostly on expressway. The last hour was on a two-lane road, where we tested the efficacy of my blood pressure medication by passing busses, trucks and tractors with only inches to spare from on-coming traffic.

As we headed for the expressway, we passed through a new part of Nanning. Our guide told us it was called the Manhattan of Nanning because of all the tall buildings. It was definitely newer and more modern than other parts of the city. We also passed an immense convention center – I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so large, even in Manhattan! It was constructed because Nanning hosts the annual meeting of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – which also explained the 10 neon flags on the road into Nanning from the airport.

The expressway took us past manufacturing plants, including a number of cement plants and a plant that makes paper out of bamboo. The factories soon gave way to farm land, with some rice but more corn. Then came field after field of a spiky plant our guide said was sisal. The girls were excited to see water buffalo, who apparently get in the water not to cool off but to get covered with mud which protects them from biting flies.

We passed by Guigang, which is the next largest city to Guiping, at a distance. We could see tall buildings, so it seems a much larger city than I had thought. Apparently Guiping used to be under Guigang in terms of governance, and has not been its own city with its own city government for very long.

We would drive through acres and acres of farmland without seeing a single building, and then suddenly there would be a small gathering of homes. Our guide told us that the government assigns farmers a tract of land to farm, and then assigns them a separate tract on which to build a home. So people live in little villages, and then walk to the fields, taking their lunch since it is too far to go home for lunch (remember, everyone in China who can possibly do it goes home for lunch!). We saw quite a few single-story homes with staircases continuing through the roof. It seems that everyone expects to expand their house – oftentimes to accommodate the son’s family when he has one – so they put in a staircase with the initial construction.

The approach to Guiping was lined with farmland. As we started to see city buildings, the area seemed much poorer than anything I’ve seen in Nanning (which itself seems poorer and less developed than Xiamen). It does not seem that much economic development has trickled down to Guiping yet. The houses and shops we first saw were in considerable disrepair and were really dirty, even for China standards. Then we came closer to the city center and things started to look better. There were shops selling Western toilets (!) and air conditioners and furniture. And there was new construction as well. Still, it did not have the building vibe of Xiamen or even Nanning. But of course it is a much smaller city. Still, it seemed to me to be evidence of what I’ve heard – the divide between the haves and the have-nots is wider in China than even in America, and those in rural China are overwhelmingly the have-nots.

We drove through the city to Xishan – West Mountain – which was beautiful. The mountain was covered with lush foliage in variegated greens, and the top was shrouded in mist. We drove up the mountain because we were staying at GongDe Villa, a hotel near the top of the mountain.

The Lonely Planet Guide to Southwest China describes the hotel as “nearly posh,” and our guide told us that the Chinese president stayed there when he visited the area to inspect serious flooding in Guangxi Province. Well, I can guarantee the president didn’t stay in our room! It was pretty utilitarian, with barely functioning air conditioning. Still, the public parts of the hotel were nearly posh and quite beautiful.

The grounds were gorgeous, with wonderful flowering plants and this great statue of a mythic beast – a turtle-ish creature known as the son of the dragon.

After resting in our room for a while, we headed out for dinner and a tour of the city. When I asked our guide where we were going for dinner, he said we’d just drive around the city looking for a fancy restaurant! LOL! We ended up at the Guiping Hotel, and had quite a nice dinner. Maya was happy because we had duck.

When we drove down the mountain for dinner, we saw tons of people walking up the mountain. These were not tourists, but local people who come every day to get their exercise by climbing the mountain. Many of them were carrying empty bottles – their destination was a mineral spring at the top of the mountain. People come to fill bottles with the water because it is believed to be good for whatever ails you. Some folks were carrying multiple bottles, balanced on poles over their shoulders.

The pictures here I actually took Tuesday morning before we headed out for Zoe’s and Maya’s finding spots and the Guiping SWI (I was way too tired to do much beyond eat and sleep when we got to Guiping late Monday afternoon). We wandered around the grounds and had breakfast at the hotel. I was pretty amused at breakfast when a cup of coffee appeared at my plate. I thought the waitress brought it to me in error, and that our guide or our driver ordered coffee. Well, our guide actually ordered it for me, without consulting me. He thought ALL Westerners drank coffee! He was quite proud of himself for having secured me coffee; he had taken a group of Italian tourists to a remote part of Guangxi Province and they were horrified to discover they couldn’t get coffee and refused to eat any breakfast without coffee to drink. So he figured the only way to get me to eat breakfast was to secure coffee for me! Even for him, I couldn’t pretend to like coffee. I’ve spent 3 months in China faking my way through liking tea, but coffee is just too much for me.


mimifrancoise said...

All this sounds like a great trip. Glad you finally made it to Guiping. I remember that you tried to go both adoption times. Was it as you expected?

Beth said...

"Nearly posh" sounds pretty accurate for our Guiping hotel, too! I can't wait to hear about your time in Guiping and with the orphanage staff. We'll need to compare notes.

Amy Ling's mom