I’ve never seen a place quite as picturesque as Guilin before in my life.
I don’t say things like that often, because, let’s face it, those ugly deciduous forests that I pass while going into a new city are pretty much the same whether you are in Shanghai, New York City, or Moscow.
Guilin, on the other hand, is one of a kind – or many of a kind because its mountains are displayed on the 20RMB bill – but it’s a part of China that is much more in tune with being quintessentially Chinese. Its abundance of lush dark-green mountains evokes old Chinese poetry. It’s a town where the dirt roads are barely paved and if you listen closely, you can drown out the city and immerse yourself in the sounds of the Li River and the birds living someone among the countless hills.
And it’s only about a three-hour flight from Shanghai, although my trip to get there was, as always, a bit painful. Until last weekend, it had been a while since I’ve had to run to catch a plane. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve outright sprinted in order to catch a Metro-North train (with a success rate of about 75% and a 25% chance of spending an hour twiddling my thumbs in Union Station instead), but this was among the first times I barely made ‘Last Call’ of a flight (would it have left without us?). This was of course, due to my own stupidity and failing to check that the ticket gate matched the actual gate of the flight, as well as the legacy of the underpaid architect who designed Pudong Airport with the longest runways I’ve ever seen (although I’ve heard Shenzhen is worse).
Getting outside of Shanghai is always an eye-opening experience. My legs always feel stronger from using the squat toilets. I get a huge kick out of the excited squeals of girls who’ve never seen a foreigner and who ask to take photos with us. There is not a taco in sight. Our trip to Guilin involved the following:
- One of the most terrifying plane rides I’ve been on in years, as we performed roller coaster dive after roller coaster dive.
- A visit to the neon-lit Golden Water Cave where the ‘sort of cold water’ was actually freezing and D and I reluctantly submerged ourselves in the ‘healing mud’ and then took equally freezing showers to get the mud off of ourselves.
- A DMZ-themed North Korean bar, where we took shots of North Korean Liquor (they were out of beer because of the DPRK travel embargo)
- Accidentally stumbling unto an illusion house, which can only be described as total Chinese kitsch.
- Taking the most kitschy photos we could in said illusion house.
- A lesson in Chinese cooking, about which I’ll write its own entry.
- Biking 5.6km from our hotel into the city center, surrounded by the mountains.
- Biking back to our hotel in almost pitch-black darkness, without a single light post on the rural road.
- Meeting Winnie, who I’m pretty sure was the head of a Singaporean cult.
- Puddles of vegetable oil that slicked the plates of every restaurant we went to.
- And of course, the rapid onset of food poisoning.
The problem with romantic getaways in China, is that at some point during the trip, one or both of you will get food poisoning, likely not at the same time. This weekend, we reached that threshold. Living in Shanghai, the real question of whether a relationship can survive is not nonsense like moving in together or meeting the parents. The real mark of finding that connection with someone is whether the two of you can openly talk about what (digestively) ails you. On weekend trips, those things become unavoidable.
Questionable trips to the toilet aside, traveling with D was wonderful. It’s fascinating to travel with someone who shares the same sense of adventure, who’s not afraid of getting lost when I inevitably lead us down the wrong direction at least three times (but hey, there are only four cardinal directions, right?); who is incredibly friendly to strangers, but also not afraid to photobomb high schoolers with selfie-sticks; who’ll indulge my whims about mud baths and hill climbs, and most importantly, who won’t be afraid to get McDonalds when the overwhelming beauty of Yangshuo gives in to its salty, vomit-inducing food.