I decided to get the most out of Guangzhou today, which meant shopping. Since everything is made here, everything is really cheap. I bought a 2GB “Sandisk” micro SD card for the Blackberry, so I could use it for music storage. This way the Blackberry can be my MP3 player and I don’t have to carry another device around. The Blackberry is actually an excellent MP3 player. It sounds better than my Creative one, although the Creative is now about 3 years old, which is like 100 in human years. I put “Sandisk” in quotes because clearly this is not a real Sandisk card. The packaging looks authentic, and the card works, but the adapter that it comes with for connecting to a regular SD card reader is totally fake. Actually, when you plug it into a card slot, it makes the card reader stop working. Oh well. This is Guangzhou, land of getting away with whatever you can. Besides, the card cost half as much as it would in Canada.

Afterwards, I went to the place I told you about yesterday, with the endless orange halls filled with clothing stores. People working in those stores seemed exhausted. About half of the stores were staffed by sleeping clerks. I can understand that. It’s an energy-sucking environment. I found a few sweaters and shirts that I wouldn’t be able to buy back at home, at least not for reasonable prices. I’ve seen similar stuff in trendy clothing stores for around $80, but I got them for about $15 each. I can see why thousands of import/exporters flock here for the Canton Fair to stock up on this stuff for resale in their home countries.

I didn’t want to carry this stuff around with me for the next two weeks, but I had a plan. I had brought a bag of some of my warmer clothes, like my jacket and long-sleeved shirt. I won’t be needing them for the rest of the trip. I’m moving further south, and Guangzhou is already too hot for these things. It’s going to get sweltering hot from this point on. After I finished shopping, I took my stuff to the post office, where I managed to convey the idea that I wanted to send these things to Canada. The Chinese Post office is pretty efficient. A guy took my stuff, weighed it, boxed it, taped it, then plastic strapped it, just to be sure. I paid about a dollar for that service, including his processing of my waybill. Via a series of hand gestures, he directed me and my box to a cashier, whom I paid $20. The process was pretty quick and painless. With any luck, my box will meet me in Canada in a few weeks.

That being done, I headed back to David’s to get my suitcase, which felt lighter without the warm clothes in it, even though it was only a jacket and corduroy shirt.

Time was ticking away, so I quickly threw everything together and headed out the door again for the train station. Rush hour is a bitch in the subway with a suitcase and camera bag. I ran over a number of feet and tripped up more than one commuter. No one seemed to mind too much, and I only received the briefest of dirty looks. Rudeness is fairly normal here in China, so I guess being run over by a foreigner’s suitcase isn’t the worst thing that’s happened to most people here.

I made it to the train station on time for my 7:50pm sleeper train to Guilin. My roommates this time are going all the way to Guilin, and no one is leaving in the middle of the night, so I won’t have the place to myself. Oh well. They’re pretty inconspicuous. As soon as the train left the station, the fell asleep, so I’m practically alone anyway.

The Next Day…

I arrived in Guilin in the morning. I had arranged a hostel an hour away in Yangshuo, so I got on a minibus headed for that little backpacker’s haven. I got to my hostel in about an hour. My room is tiny, but comfortable and clean enough. With the exception of the people chasing you constantly to sign you up for tours, hostels, and motorbike rides, Yangshuo is a beautiful place. It’s surrounded by the same kind of karst mountain terrain that made Guilin famous. These tall, skinny mountains are really picturesque.

I rented a bike in the afternoon for 10 yuan ($1.35). Armed with a very poor and not-to-scale tourist map, my intent was to ride up one side of the Yulong River, and riding down the other side. It’s about a six-hour trip. I named my bike Crappletrap Rattletastic. It looked ok, but it was squeaky, uncooperative, and generally ornery. It refused to change gears when I asked it to, but would suddenly change gears on its own when I was in the middle of trying to ride up a hill. A couple of times, my bum knee almost gave up on me because of these drastic changes in torque.

Riding up and down the river on Crappletrap Rattletastic was a challenging experience. The map showed a smooth dotted line connecting various places. In reality, you had to ride through a maze of paths that led through rice paddies and other fields. I got lost many times. It was very scenic and beautiful though. The fields of rice were turning yellow, almost ready to harvest. The Yulong river itself moved slowly, providing a perfect mirror for the countryside. Eventually I got to the Dragon Bridge, which is sort of a symbolic end for the bike trip. Most people turn around at this point and head back, which is what I did. The only problem is that I’d found the Dragon Bridge almost entirely by chance. I was riding in what I hoped to be the right direction, through increasingly decrepit villages, until I hit a major road. I followed the road until I was able to identify it on my tourist map, then backtracked to the Dragon Bridge. I had no idea how to get back. I started heading down paths a few times, but they kept leading away from the river, which was my only guide back to Yangshuo. It was starting to get dark too, and I didn’t want to get caught on these paths with no light. Eventually I decided to take a bamboo raft ride down the river to a more accessible bike trail.

The bamboo raft ride was my best decision of the day. I talked the guy down from 100 yuan to 80 yuan, and he refused to go any lower. By the end of the raft ride, I understood why. It was about an hour of constant punting down the river, and we had to run a couple of small waterfall-type dams designed to send water into the irrigation systems of the villages. I’m sure it’s pretty good money for him, but it was also a good deal for me not to have to deal with finding my way back.

The bamboo raft dropped me off near the bike path, so I was able to find my way back to Yangshuo. The last half-hour of my ride was pretty hairy. The sun had gone down completely, so I was riding the trails in the dark. As I got closer to town, the path was paved. But, motorcycles and cars coming towards me seemed to have their highbeams on, so I was always blinded when cars went by. I made it back safely, but there were some definite close calls there.

I was starving for dinner. I went next door to a little café, that happened to be owned by a Canadian from Ottawa. We sat and chatted for an hour or so about living and doing business in China.

Now I’m ready for bed. I don’t have a big plan for tomorrow in Yangshuo. Maybe I’ll just relax and enjoy the day.

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