To Guilin day 11

The express train
We are now doing 236 kph. In a tunnel so it could be any speed. It doesn’t feel fast. It’s rising to 244

Guangzhou sprawls with a horizon of layer upon layer of the crenellations of groups of towers. A vast scrapyard full of motorbikes. Vast waterways with container ships. The sprawling suburbs give way to the grids of fish farms divided by low green dykes. Elevated roads on stilts that stretch above the city as far as the eye sees. Concrete. Concrete that eventually gives way to the mountains north west, hence the tunnel. It’s become countryside at last. The other side of the mountains is less planned, less urban, picturesque!
Guangzhou south station was like an air terminal. 26 platforms for ultra fast trains with thousands of passengers waiting, some playing chess on the floor. Numerous departure boards, lacking in consistency and clarity. Another screaming 5 year old, wrestling with his mother in the queue at the ticket gate.

  
The train takes us over a fertile plain full of paddies and small low rise towns with people gardening. Kids play on the ruined pillars of a former road bridge on a river. As we approach he zhou the surrounding landscape becomes an awesome dusky series of majestic pointed limestone peaks, like a drawing from a fairy tale book, the pale oranges streaks of sunset fading now. Like halong bay on land.
The following hour is played out by soaring music like “there there” by radiohead and “transeurope express” by kraftwerk in my headphones, as we plunge through dark tunnels emerging onto more water and paddies and now the bright orange disc of the sun cutting shards of gold over the lakes and rivers. What an amazing rail trip.

I think I’m doing well when I get straight on the recommended bus in Guilin but panic a bit and lose my bearings, getting off too soon and have to walk 40 minutes down Zhongshan road, partially accompanied by a local who calls me his teacher. The hostel is, as the name riverside hostel would suggest, right at the rivers edge. There is a peaceful terrace that steps you out into a walkway lot by coloured lights. The city is certainly a tourist Mecca. A street market selling jade, calligraphy, paintings, lucky stones, durian. It’s quite low intensity and very different from Guangzhou. 

Advertisements

Guangzhou day 10

Sunday morning liu rong Buddhist temple.
Chinese toddlers are quite rowdy and sometimes badly behaved. There’s always one screaming somewhere, in a temple, on a subway, in a restaurant. Mothers are not very soothing, fathers look mildly indifferent. They play with scissors in shops, and crawl along the parapet to the lake. Parents exasperation is the closest there is to prevention or chastising. Bottles of baby milk are favoured. Push chairs aren’t common, with babies often carried lolloping, over a parental shoulder or dangling sleeping out of their arms. 
In general kids seem to be cute-sy and it’s definitely a distinct identity that they have. They wear cartoon character- like clothes, run around shouting and are needy of their parents. British kids from an early age are styled like young adults with groomed hair, piercings and sexualised clothing.

  

As I make these observations my mood softens. Maybe it’s the herbal infusion in the temple garden, the wafting recording of a chant, the refreshing breeze and the rustling trees, or the general civilised calm of visitors incense burning, bowing and wandering from hall to hall.

It seems to be ritual day. Flocks at the temple and church. I don’t know about the mosque, but I passed it anyway. Burning of whole sacks of fake money in braziers. Behind a double barred gate young children are marching and drumming and enacting a flag raising ceremony.

Outside McDonald’s are queues of blind buskers. An old lady has emaciated kittens on sale outside the metro in a cage and shoes away from my camera. Anxious people sit in front of an illuminated board with people’s lottery numbers. At the counter of a shop a shopkeeper holds her 8 year struggling daughter firm as she attempts to cut her fringe. I our corner cookies lie in their carts, seemingly given up on being hired. One even has a little girl and wife with him. Feels like visitors day at the prison. The wizened little men with their buckets and trowels and tools of their manual trade sit impassive on the kerbs.