Monday morning i made coffee and cooked myself a proper breakfast. I was up early but dawdled a bit because holiday, damnit. I started to regret that laziness on the subway when i realized i'd only make it to the station about 40 minutes before my scheduled departure.
The problem with traveling on Chinese railways as a foreigner is that you cannot just scan your ID and pick up the ticket - you must go to the counter to show your passport. And the lines at the ticket counter are always at least half an hour long. After you get the ticket, you still need to go through the standard passport/ID check and airport-style security to get into the departure hall. So, even if you booked your ticket on the internet, you need to arrive at least an hour in advance.
I didn't have an hour. After a couple of expats took pity on me and let me in front of them on the (very short) line for tickets on the new Hong Kong to Guangzhou line, i apologized profusely to the guy for being in the wrong line, got my tickets anyway and sprinted through security and to my platform.
I missed the train. By about 2 minutes. It was still in the station, but they close the platforms 5 minutes before departure time. It means the trains run like clockwork. It also means if you are a tiny bit late, the frustration is increased, as you watch other passengers at the bottom of the escalator sucking on their last smokes before jumping aboard.
Well, such is life. What surprised me was when i went to the change ticket line (back through security and another 30 minute wait), they nodded like this happens all the time and switched my ticket to a later train, no charge. I don't know if i got the foreigner special, but i guess if they overbook trains here like planes, this is all factored in.
Leaving the Pearl River Delta feels like popping out of Mega City One. Although the PRD has the odd mountain and rural vista, the skyscrapers and factories are always just there on the horizon.
At some point, though, it all gives way to acres of small-holds. Still very little is mechanized in Chinese agriculture. Harvest season is over, but there was still the occasional guy in a straw hat pottering about. You don't see much from the bullet train, just glimpses between the many tunnels.
Sometimes you see something really great.
I arrived in Nanning around sunset. They're a big enough city to have a subway, so i went through the familiar buy a token, security check, jam into a car ritual that will soon be my Shenzhen routine. After booking into my hotel i headed across the river to a nearby night market.
I was very hungry by this point, and was hoping to find some kind of Guangxi specialities, or at least a guy who could make me a properly spicy 凉面, something they struggle with in Shenzhen Luohu district. Unfortunately, although the night market was as fun as any other, the food was similar to every other too. Tentacles on sticks. Bugs in chili. Snail type things. Oysters. Stinky tofu. Bubble tea. Hotdogs. Fried chicken. Donuts. The lighting was nice, so i took a rare photo with people in it to capture the mood.
Eventually i found a guy serving something that i've both never tried before and also wanted to eat. He called it 茶, which means tea, but it looked more like soup. Into the soup was tossed a bunch of cereal like puffed rice and barley and crispy beans. It was bland, but very comforting. I picked up some soft spicy tofu afterwards then continued on into the city.
It turns out Nanning has a river running through it, and the city is developing it as a leisure space. On the south side there is a big park, but i didn't make it over there because i had more fun just walking along the north bank watching the light shows and listening to the music.
They were playing a weird mix of country and adult contemporary and 80s pop that would make no sense overseas, but in China it fits. There weren't many people about, being Monday, but there were a lot of 烧烤 (BBQ) and 大排档 (outdoor eating spots) open and blasting tunes or showing soccer on TV. I ducked into an empty one and ordered a beer, chattering now and then with the 老板 who was skewering stuff to grill later on.
After the break i decided to jump on a share bike and zoom around the city a bit. I set up some bars as checkpoints, but they turned out to be those late night karaoke spots where you need to buy six packs and go with friends, so i cycled back to the hotel and collapsed into a bed far bigger and more comfortable than my one at home.