Nanning is the capital of Guangxi and it has several million people living there, but it's still not quite developed in the way tier one cities are. What that means is coffee is hard to find. I settled for Starbucks in the middle of a western-style shopping street. While i tended to my addiction, i watched a mom pop her kid in a mecha and let him drive around the mall "shooting" people. It was pretty amusing watching this kid completely fail at driving with two joysticks. I think a few people were annoyed that he almost ran them over, but most folks thought it was hilarious. At one point he got it so stuck that mom had to jump on the front and navigate it back out in the open space, like she was teaching a giant robot how to dance.
Kids entertainment aside, these sorts of places don't usually have good or cheap food, so i shouldered my pack and took a trusty share bike on the 10km uphill push to the bus station.
Biking in Nanning makes you feel boss as hell. It's actually not a cycling city at all - it's a moped city. Every road has at least one full lane dedicated to mopeds, and sometimes they take over two or more. Unlike in Taiwan, almost every moped is electric. That means no sound, no stink. When the light goes green and the whole pack takes off, forcing cars to pull over or fall back, you feel like a member of a badass silent biker gang.
It's funny. Although Shenzhen has a lot of bikes and mopeds and unicycles and self-balancing whatever-the-fucks, we're always stuck on the sidewalks and in greenways - the roads proper are still owned by buses and cars. They're mostly quiet and electric, sure, but it was definitely refreshing to be in a city where bikes are number one.
I picked up a ticket at the bus station and then sat there, crestfallen, because i had already gone through security and there was nowhere to get decent food in the departure hall. I ended up getting a sweet bun and then shuffled onto the greyhound heading south.
Rural Guangxi is nice. I guess everyone knows the mountain end of Guangxi - up north where they have the steep karst mountains, rice terraces, all those classic South China vistas... but in the south it's just rolling hills of eucalyptus (?) occasionally punctuated by a small-hold with a rice paddy and a cabbage patch.
Something i have probably mentioned before is that i am not a big fan of trees and mountains. I like the countryside, but there's a certain type of countryside that i find really oppressive. That is, very thick forest and very tall mountains. They block out the sun, trigger my anxiety and make me feel like there is an axe murderer hiding in every shadow. Yosemite? Yeah, fuck Yosemite. Fuck the mountains around Sichuan province too. I know, i know, they're pretty. There are awesome waterfalls. People come from all over the world to be humbled by the vistas. I'm glad i've seen them too, i guess? But i find it uncomfortable. I much prefer the desert, the plains, dunes and badlands and lonely peaks you can climb and see for miles.
So the hills in southern Guangxi were more to my taste. The undergrowth is not too dense. The trees are tall and slim and only have a little foliage. There's a little bamboo, not much. At ground level is scrub and prairie grass. There were so few people around that you could likely get lost in the hills and hollers quicksmart, but the empty space, the red earth and dusty evergreens gave it pleasant, welcoming feeling.
Well, right up until the rain.
At some point we dropped down into a more populated area, nearer to the coast and with more farms and villages. The sunny skies had turned gray, and drizzle appeared on the windows. The view outside got more colorful: purple rhododendron, red bottle bush, pink apple (?) blossom, yellow and red and salmon wildflowers curling around the roadside powerlines and fence posts.
The colors should have made me happy, but knowing my seaside holiday was going to be damp kinda bummed me out.
We pulled into a Beihai bus station about 10km from my hotel just as the skies really opened up. There is no subway in Beihai. The buses run with spectacular irregularity. I know it's a "small" town of only around a million people, but i have gotten used to Chinese public transport infrastructure shitting all over the rest of the world. Well, friends, Beihai felt like i was stuck somewhere in smalltown USA. Public transport is trash, taxis are virtually non-existent, and the ride touts wanted me to hop on the back of their gas-powered motorcycles. Yeah, Beihai is loud and stinky. The roads are wide. The buildings are a hundred miles away from each other. And the only way to get there is to burn fossil fuels like nobody's business. It actually made me physically ill.
And then, like the holy fucking grail, i spotted a single share bike. It wasn't a Mobike or ofo (the two big names in tier one cities), but i was able to use Alipay to unlock it. Zoom zoom zoom. I pedaled away from the touts, trying to take comfort in my eco-friendly superiority complex.
But, yeah, really i just got fucking wet.
It took me ages to find the hotel. The address on Booking.com was completely wrong. The address when i looked it up in another (local) app was also fairly unhelpful. I checked in, sad and bedraggled, dropped my bag and then went to search for food.
Because, you see, at this point night had fallen and i had only eaten a sticky bun all day.
I found a 重庆小面 place and chowed down gratefully on that spicy noodle. They even tossed in a tea egg for free, which normally i'd be like eh, no vegan no likey, but i was starving. And tea eggs taste pretty good in a spicy soup.
A bit further along i found a 老街 aka old street. Chinese old streets are a lot like European old towns - full of shambling tourists and stores selling overpriced tat. Unlike European old towns, most Chinese old streets are not old at all. Everything is brand new, but it's designed to look old. I actually don't mind that kind of whimsical architecture, but every now and then it's nice to see a real old street, and lordy - the Beihai old street delivered.
Of course, it's still full of stores selling useless shit. Mostly 越南特产 - Vietnamese specialities. Because, i guess, in the past Beihai took in a lot of ethnic Chinese Vietnamese refugees. In Nanning, the lingua franca is Mandarin - perhaps because they're at a meeting point of Zhuang, south-west Han, Cantonese Han and a smattering of other minorities. But people in Beihai speak a weird Cantonese/Vietnamese pidgin. It sounds like a North American chinatown.
Anyway, between all the Vietnamese trinkets and grilled seafood, i found a pub. There was no one there because it was Tuesday night and raining. Beihai is a domestic holiday destination and December is off-season. I didn't care, i wanted beer.
I sucked down a few and chatted a bit to the (Chinese) bar tender. Later on the owner showed up, which i suspect was deliberately arranged to give me someone to talk to. He was a Dutch retiree.
Normally i try to be a little more vague about the people i meet to protect their privacy, but in a town this small it's not really worth being coy. If you go, i guarantee you will find exactly the same pub i did and meet exactly the same guy.
We chatted a bit... and although he was a superficially friendly publican, it didn't surprise me when he started talking about how Europe has been overrun by Moroccans and Turks and Pakistanis and it's not safe for nice European women to walk around on their own any more.
I am so fucking tired of hearing racist tirades from European expats in China. They are literally the exact people i was trying to get away from after Brexit in the first place. I really don't understand how you can be an immigrant and be so anti-immigrant. Even more bizarre is when i specifically explain why i think Brexit was awful, and why i hate the growing nationalism in Europe, these guys think i am agreeing with them! Because in their minds it's not the white supremacists who are the oppressors, it's the swarms of brown people forcing their sharia law down the throats of innocent, open-minded Europeans.
I mean, i can't even.
Another person popped in a bit later on, an Austrian entrepreneur from Beijing who was looking at Beihai to open another branch of his school, but i was really done by this point. I biked home and went to sleep cold, wet and pissed off at the town.
Wednesday morning the weather had cleared a little bit, so i decided to take a ferry to Weizhou Island. It had been another slow morning where i detoured to Starbucks for a coffee and then hunted around for some breakfast that didn't suck. I grabbed a mushroom vege bao, then started biking toward the port. On the side of the road there was a lady selling roast sweet potato, so i grabbed one of those too and nibbled away at each red light.
By the time i got to the port my mood had improved considerably. I booked a ticket and then went a bit further down the road to the Roman ruins.
See, something about China, as well as building Chinese old towns, they also love to build Roman old towns and Greek old towns and fairytale castles. If you like Vegas, the themed neighborhoods of China will definitely delight you. But Beihai has accidentally taken it to the next level with a huge, unfinished Roman bath house right on the water front. Its run-down parking lot is ringed by overgrown statues and columns. It's amazing. It's like it went so far in the direction of fake that it came back around to authentic again.
After exploring the ruins, i paddled in the sea, took some photos of the fishing junks, then sat down under an umbrella and drank out of a coconut. Yes, finally, i was on holiday again.