Thursday, March 6, 2008

Open Wide!

I will never ever complain about going to the dentist. There are about thirty things wrong with this picture. I'll point out the two most obvious things:

1. I took this from the street. Ten feet from the chair.
2. There is a propane tank in the front left of "the office."

Feel free to point out some other things.

Very Special Friend Discount

There is an old saying: "Guilin has the most beautiful scenery in China, but Yangsuo's is the unmatched in Guilin." Yeah, I know that doesn't really make sense and it's probably because I stole it from Yunzen Lieu's online book report (he also spelled the English translation wrong--it should be Yangshou. If I was his teacher I'd fail him). Lieu went on to say, "Last year, In my Li River cruise trip from Guilin to Yangshuo, Gorgeous Karst peaks give me surprises at each bend of the limpid river under the blue sky,and then I came to Yangshuo city that is a great place for hikes and cycling excursions, I took a close-up exploration to the country villages, One thing surprised me on the bamboo raft trip along Yulonghe River. We didn't expect the scenery to be such a paradise."

Unfortunately my book report is somewhat different than Lieu's. I came to Guilin because my roommate Erica told me that it was her favorite place in China when she came here a decade ago. Erica is half Chinese so I should have only half listened to her. In theory Guilin is probably one of the prettiest places in the world. The limestone formations jut out of the landscape at every turn. Boom, there's a giant mountain. Boom, there's another. They were everywhere with no rhyme or reason--kind of like pimples on a teenager. In every picture online and in books the city is blanketed with blue skies and clouds seemingly kissing the mountain tops. However, those pictures were all probably taken before the industrial boom hit the region. Now, much like other places in China, pollution dominates the scenery.

But I didn't have my biggest problem with the landscape. Without a doubt, my biggest issue was with the people. The city thrives on tourism and with that comes thousands of people trying to make a buck on you any way possible. It seems that there isn't one honest person in the whole town. Well, there was one honest person. Some very sweet lady came up to me and said, "You are very beautiful. I give you sex for free." Besides her though I felt like I needed to keep my hand on my wallet at all times. The best example I could give of this is my encounter with a local named Kevin. Kevin, who appeared to be about forty, approached me on the street:

Kevin: Hi, how are you?

Ben: Good thanks.

Kevin: Where you from?

Ben: USA.

Kevin: Oh, USA! I studied in Seattle. Very rainy. Saw space needle.

Ben: Cool.

I then walked with Kevin all the way back to my hostel waiting for some kind of scam. None came.

Kevin: Oh, you stay at the hostel?

Ben: Yeah.

Kevin: I own this supermarket. (the market was right next door). You want to come in for tea?

Ben: Sure. (Thinking: I like tea and aren't you supposed to have tea in China?)

Over tea Kevin explained to me that he's a drawing teacher at the University. His wife runs the supermarket and he collects good teas. He showed me his collection which he was very proud of. He explained the different types of teas and then casually threw in:

Kevin: This one costs 65 Yuan but I'll give it to you for 50 Yuan because you are my very special friend.

I thought that was very nice of the Kevmeister. I mean we just became friends but he was ready to give me the family and friend discount. I thought to myself, this is a nice guy and I'm going to stay at a friend's house in Shanghai so I'll buy some tea. Kevin was excited and got out a tea canister. It was quite large. And well, tea can be quite expensive. I told him to give me the junior size and he said that was fine. He filled me up, weighted it and asked for his 150 Yuan or roughly $21. I paid the man and enjoyed some more tea. After he took me over to his professor's gallery to see some of his work. Again I was offered the special rate, "This is a 300% discount from what we charge the Sheraton." Shit, the Sheraton has a Kevin original? I guess I need a Kevin original too!

Okay, I didn't really buy art. I said I was on a budget and took off. Later in the night I walked by the market and Kevin called me in, "Want more tea?" I went in and drank with him for about an hour and a half ready to be scammed in a new way. At this point I was really just doing it for the blog. It's a write-off (Bob, seriously can I write off this whole trip if someone pays to advertise on my blog?). Well, low and behold Kevin didn't charge me a thing and said it was his pleasure to serve me. He then asked me to come meet him the next night to play billiards. I was game until I met some other travelers in my hostel who bragged about, "Meeting a friendly local who is a drawing teacher at the University and hooked us up with really great tea." I showed them my picture of Kevin and they said it wasn't their local connection. Apparently everyone in the neighborhood had the same story. Long story short, the next night I skipped hanging out with Kev-o. I saw him from around the corner waiting in front of his store but I thought I'd play it safe and go around the long way to my hostel. I had read an article about drinking with locals and how they had a scam to party with you and then you get stuck with a huge bill at the bar. Perhaps this was Kevin's plan. The thing is, and this is what makes me sad, perhaps Kevin was an honest guy and everyone else around was dishonest. It just made me question everyone's motives and that's not what I should be doing while traveling.

I've heard that there are a 1001 scams in Vietnam so I'm slightly concerned. However, I think this is a good lesson for me going forward.

Anyway, as far as the rest of Guilin. I took a river cruise to Yangshuo. It's the one thing you have to do when in Guilin. Well, that is what the tour boats say. The cruise was fine. There was lots of pretty scenery but it got old after an hour...and there were three more hours left after that. I met some cool people on the trip and got to see another city which is always a positive. I also started practicing more with my camera. I took this awesome photo of a guy riding his bike. By the end of my trip I'm going to be Ansel Freaking Adams.

By the way, can someone do some research for me: Could a Chinese citizen really study abroad about twenty years ago in the states? I know it's really hard for them to get a Visa to come to the USA and would think it would have been really hard back in the know with Springsteen and all.