Catching buses in China is much less painful than catching trains. You walk into the bus station, show your passport, hand over some cash, get a ticket. In this case i was shooting for the 12:30 bus, but i arrived at 11:55 and got a ticket on the 12:00 instead. I put my baggage through the scanner and jumped on the greyhound and that was that.
The other great thing about catching the bus is no tunnels. You can sightsee all the way.
But, since it was raining, i finished up my first LJ travelogue instead.
Coming into Nanning felt like coming home. I jumped on a share bike and lazily cruised down to the center of the city. It's the kind of shallow incline you wouldn't notice on foot, but just enough to make you sweat cycling up and glide cycling down.
I checked in, took my shoes off, posted another LJ entry and then laced back up again for a walk. I headed to the south bank to see where all the music was coming from.
Turns out someone in the Nanning parks office is into psychedelic projections, because against the bridges and along the embankment were the kinds of displays i haven't seen anywhere since going to outdoor raves/hippie parties in the 90s. The music was blasting out of hidden speakers and echoed all up and down the river. It was Chinese folk songs this time.
Nanning is clearly at an earlier stage of development than Shenzhen - and for the better. All along the river you could walk right down to the water without being blocked by any fences or called back by overzealous security guards. People were fishing and chilling and canoodling on the rocks. An entrance to the riverwalk had been bricked off for some unknown reason, so people just clambered over the railing a bit further up, risking a very high fall. Speaking of railings, on the bridges they only go waist-high so walking across you can lean on the edge and look clear at the skyline with the wind in your hair.
I fear all of this will change in the coming years. First will come the no fishing signs and suicide barriers. Then will come the persnickety patrols. Finally all the street vendors and other "low end population" will be ejected from their homes near the water. The city will end up safer and cleaner, but it will lose something too.
I crossed the river a few bends down and headed under the bridge in search of a share bike. Instead i found a late night 烧烤 (BBQ) joint just getting started, so i sat down and ordered a couple of beers. They didn't have anything specifically Guangxi, so i ordered some usual faves like tofu skin, eggplant and greens.
I should describe the eggplant you get at 烧烤 joints. They split an eggplant down the middle and then grill or roast it till it's soft. Then they pile on a thick layer of minced garlic and grill it some more. It comes to the table looking like a bit like a fish - blackened skin down, garlic-encrusted flesh up. You just go in with chopsticks and tear off strings one at a time. If they cooked it right, the consistency is almost like melted cheese. It's delicious. And, because Guangxi, they also added a bunch of fresh chilis, which was awesome.
After pigging out under the bridge, i continued up to the roadside joint i had visited on Monday and had another beer while listening to Chinese pop music and watching some guys play dice games. I finished up with a loop through the night market, where i picked up a serve of toffee-dipped sweet potato and half a pound of fresh guava and pineapple tossed in chili. I headed back to the hotel to enjoy my haul.
Saturday i lazed in bed till the last possible moment. At noon I headed into the western-style shopping street i had found the Tuesday before, and tried a local coffee shop. I hadn't noticed before, but there were like a billion fucking bubble tea places around there. That part of Nanning is definitely the most Taiwan-looking place i have seen anywhere outside of Taiwan.
After coffee and a sweet bun, i took a share bike to a big patch of green i saw on my map called 五象岭森林公园 - Five Elephant Ridge Forest Park. I like elephants, and i like ridges, and i like the number 5, so i thought it would be cool.
On the way i stopped into a bustling hole in the wall where they were making the local speciality 老友面 - old friends noodle. Unfortunately in all the time i was in Nanning i couldn't find anywhere that would make a vege version of this, and here was no exception. I don't mind to eat a little meat if it's a special occasion, but i just didn't feel in the mood that morning, so i asked if they could make me a vege dish instead. The 老板 was happy to oblige, so i sat on a plastic stool and had some tea and talked to the kids while i waited for my fried noodle.
The ride out to the mountain was longer than i expected. The weather was overcast and cool, and i followed the riverside road, wondering if just over the levee was another waterfront path for joggers and fishermen. Something to find out next time.
I jumped off my Mobike right at the invisible border of the official usage area - after getting hit by a fine twice i'm getting more savvy about checking before i cycle out to distant locations - and then continued on foot. I had to ask a few people, but eventually i found an entrance to the park.
It was a great urban park. Just like the river, it wasn't over-developed. No trash cans. No signs. No stairs. Just some dirt paths looping through the forest and up into the hills. There was even a little pond in the middle that wasn't fenced off either.
Up the top i found something that looked a bit like a fire watch tower. It might have been a weather station. I spied a forester tinkering with his trike so went over to ask for directions. He pointed me back the way i came, but i told him i wanted to have a bit more fun than that. After some pressing, he said turning left up ahead would take me on a long route and leave me stuck on the wrong side of the city, but going right would be okay.
That path led me down the back side of the hill and into a polluted creek that i suspect might have been the thing the park worker was reluctant to point me toward. But fluorescent-colored water and piles of trash aside, it was still a lovely spot. They'll clean it up sooner or later.
Each side of the valley had graves hidden amongst the trees, which i guess is the feng shui way to bury your ancestors. Although, you know, even though there is Tomb-Sweeping Day here, i don't think i've ever seen a swept tomb on my walks. I wonder if their descendants are still in the region, or even still alive?
Anywho, it was a great little 2 hour hike. What made it even better is when i popped back into civilization, i looked up a public transport solution to the train station, waited 5 minutes, then hopped on a bus for 2 kuai that took me right there. This is also my experience of public transport in Shenzhen - walk off in any direction you please, and when you get tired guaranteed within 10 minutes you will find a bus that takes you exactly where you want to end up.
Dudes. Nanning is now officially my favorite Chinese city. It didn't have all the great street food of Guiyang, but i also didn't have to walk up 6 flights of stairs to get to my hotel room either. It's in the Goldilocks zone of gentrification/urban development. Since it's "only" 4-5 hours away, i could make it a weekend holiday destination that'd be a cheaper trip than my other favorite city in the region (Kaohsiung).
You see, that's the thing. This little journey has reminded me of a few things.
Number one, my apartment has a tiny bed, no broadband and a bathroom where i cannot stretch my arms without hitting a wall. From time to time it's nice to sprawl in a giant bed, get online without tethering and have a shower without leaving the toilet seat soaked for the rest of the day.
Number two, traveling with a day pack is fucking awesome. I didn't take my intercontinental pack on this trip, i just took a schoolbag with my Kindle, tablet, water bottle, flip-flops, toiletries, underwear and shirts. No spare shoes, no spare pants, no spare sweater. Every time i left my hotel, i took everything with me. I could jump on a share bike and just go. A day spent hiking with all my stuff didn't mean collapsing in a heap at the end. It felt so free.
Number three, i can fucking speak Chinese now. I thought i could a year ago, but i couldn't. This time traveling i could not only make myself vaguely understood, i could have simple conversations and solve problems without resorting to a translation app or frustrating everyone around me. It makes life so much more enjoyable.
Number four, having a local bank card means having access to mobile payments. At home i prefer to pay cash because i know exactly how much things are going to cost in advance and i can easily break large bills at the grocery store anyway. On the road, being able to flash your QR code while your wallet is safely tucked away in your pack is a revelation.
Number five, even though high speed rail requires more planning than i like, it also puts several decent-sized cities within striking range for a weekend trip. Notably, cities where even if i order the exact same dish as i would in Shenzhen, the locals actually put chili on it. As my taxi driver said when i arrived back here "yeah, us Cantonese, we are scared of spicy".
Perhaps i should go on trips more often.
Then again, my taxi driver also said "i'd never go back to my 老家". His 老家 (old home) was some small town in Guangdong. "Shenzhen is my home now. It's much more convenient, they have everything here." Well, he wasn't lying.
The most notable "everything" they have here is work. Tomorrow it's time for chores. Thursday is back to reality.