Travelogues .............................................................................................................................

From Shanghai to Guilin
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Editor: King Kaisy from UK     Edited Date:2005-11-22 14:15:55   Visitors:4243   
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  So I arrive in Shanghai, and I'm still a little colded out, and missing the dear old bint. And Shanghai doesnae have much to offer, I tell ya. It's just a big, BIG city. And when I say big, I mean realy big. Canary Wharf? This place has at LEAST 50 buildings taller than that. It is huge. And really impressive. And did I say it was big?

  I arrive at the hotel (there are no hostels in this BIG city), and am impressed. Okay, I'm spending more on accommodation here than I have done anywhere else, but it's still the cheapest place in town, and isn't that dear, weighing in at Y55 (less than seven clean, crisp, American dollars). The hotel itself is interesting as well. Charlie Chaplin stayed here, Einstein stayed here, they all stayed here (okay, so I don't know any others who stayed here). Dorms on the lower level containing an interesting mix of backpackers (of all nationalities, Japanese, Korean, Eurofolk, etc.) and people on the search for work in Shanghai, together with an upper level for posher people. Which all makes for an interesting hotel bar situation.

  The first two people I meet are in my dorm. One is an American, over 40 years old, and exactly what every traveller fears becoming, in that he's basically spent the last 25 years of his life on the road (20 of which he'd spent on and off in Taiwan, interestingly (or not, as the case may be)), 9 months working, and 2 months enjoyuing the 'ladies' around the beaches of Thailand. And it all showed in his leathery skin and balding pate. He was looking for work in Shanghai, to little avail (which shows that no matter where you come from, and the language and social barriers between countries, you can still spot a slaphead when he walks into your office). The other guy was a German in his early 30s who'd basically come to Shanghai to fulfil his dream of becoming a star in martial arts movies (he is a Wushu expert, this being the supposedly cooler version of Shaolin kungfu). And after meeting these two geezers, I'm a little worried as to the calibre of people I might be meeting in this HUGE city.

  So I hit Shanghai for the day, doing a massive stroll around the city, checking out the main stretches, and realising that it's true what people say about the place: It's a big city. And is not so friendly, by the fairly high Chinese standards. And it's massive. That night I go for a beer in the hotel bar. And this is when Shanghai starts to get interesting.

  The German guy has an agent who gets him bits of film work (this is fairly common in Shanghai and Hong Kong, apparently). And he has a job the next day for which his agent needs 4 people over 40. But she's getting desperate, and agrees to basically any foreigner willing to do the job. So I get asked to do the job for 50 squids. And obviously, I agree. I also meet another of my roommates, who's also German (he turns out to be a quite high-up german customs officer with some mammothly interesting stories) and who does his best to have exactly the same mannerisms as the great behind-the-front-wheel man himself.

  So the next day, the old American, the two Germans and myself head down to the train station early in the morning to meet the agent and the fourth guy, who is a right character (they all congregate around Shanghai, it seems). This guy looks totally Western, and claims to be German, but speaks not a word of any language I've ever come across. He only speaks minimal Mandarin as well, his main language being Shanghainese. He's about 50, dressed in a shabby suit, and has really queer features including a massive, crooked nose, and a jutted-out-style chin. In a nutshell, he's no oil painting. But he's big on the cameo circuit, as he's always available, and looks foreign. Actually, it turns out everyone thinks he IS foreign, and that he really IS German. He puts up this massive facade, and every now and then you'll be saying something in English to someone, and he'll repeat it, laughing out loud with a WAQWAQWAQWAQWAQ kind of a laugh, pretending he understands. Absolute genius.

  Anyway, we take a 3 hour train ride to this city, where someone picks us up in a van, and drives us to the film place, which turns out to be this film city outside town, and where they've built a reproduction of the Forbidden City in Beijing and another copy of some of the more famous streets in Shanghai. It's all pretty impressive, and shows they've got some big budget for the show, which itself turns out to be a 28-part TV series to be shown on national tv in the autumn (which means that, I don't know, at least 50/100/150 or something ridiculous MILLION which be watching my sexy ass on screen). We walk in to this building, and see the set, and peep into the director's room. The director is exactly how I would've imagined him if someone had said "How would you imagine a Hong Kong director to look on set?". He's sitting in a lounge chair, surrounded by people, wearing a North Face jacket with a nice rug over his legs (it's cold), watching a tv screen showing the set, with a benny hat on his hat, a loudspeaker (what're those things called which you can shout things out to people), and a big fat cigar in his mouth. Legendary image.

  And then we go and get changed. The plot we're involved relates to this incident where a foreign missionary has been killed by the local beggars, and our scene is a meeting of a French military leader (Behindthefrontwheel who, note, is German), an American ambassador (Shanghaiman who, note, is Chinese), and the British ambassador (leathery American who, note, is a yank). Me and Wushuman are the French military leader's lefthand men, who just stand behind him with a glass of the old vin rouge looking hard. The costumes are brilliant. Proper 1800's colonial garb.

  We come downstairs and Shanghaiman's off on one. He's basically pretending to rehearse his lines in English, and he's getting very fiery, looking very mean, and basically talking a complete load of rubbish. But it's amazing. He's convinced, I'm sure, that he can speak English. He's repeating the same nonsense over and over, and even mimes to the guy who's line it is after him that he should start speaking when he hears him say "ren-BOO", whatever that means (but that word he said exactly when he should have, the old genius). Meanwhile, I'm crying laughing at this weirdo.

  Filming takes about a half hour, and it's all Hong Kong style i.e. film cameras on tracks which revolve around the set filming everything as it moves. Everything goes well, apart from Shanghaiman taking at least 10 shots to do his thing, as he gets too into it and goes on and on, and the director's shaking his head and looking well-angry.

  We get asked to stay overnight and do some more, until I have the genius realisation that maybe they won't pay us any more. So when I ask for more money, we get told that we'll be taking the next train back. No conning this wise Arab, I tell ya. And so that was my bit in the movies. No doubt I won't attempt to pull anyone with any ridiculous "Hey there, baby, did you know I was in the movies?" lines, but still, a quality experience.

  The next day I take another jaunt around this ridiculously gigantic city, and finally get in touch with the two guys (Matt and Dave) who have hired out the presidential suite at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. And hired it they have. After meeting yet even more morons at the hotel I'm staying at and starting drinking with them, I arrange to meet Matt and Dave at the club everyone's headed to, called Pegasus, the night being Demolition Night (advertised as the last night of the club, so therefore everyone can break anything they want on the night, which sounds interesting). We head down to the club (after some seriously inane conversations with the morons at my hotel), and the club's cool enough, technotechnotechno, with lots of good looking people. New Year goes off, and it feels kinda strange, celebrating with pretty much a random bunch of strangers and a couple of guys I'd met only a few times before. Kinda hollow, like it wasnae really New Year. But still pretty good (although absolutely no demolition WHATsoever happened). And then most of the morons decide they don't like it and head off somewhere else (actually most had got lost in taxis on the way down thankfully), and we move on to the hotel. Maaaaaaan, this place was lush. You walk in the room and there's a lounge with a massive tv and stereo, comfy sofas arranged around a table with a selection of the day's foreign papers from around the world, a BAR, a huge bedroom with the biggest bed I've ever seen to the left, with a bathroom containing a shower and a separate whirlpool-jacuzzi-style tub, and another double room off to the right. Grand, as the Irish would say. And we get bollocksed. One of the morons had come up trumps and has bought along an eighth of the old laavlyjubbly he'd scored off a Chinese guy ("CD, DVD, shoes, hashish"), and the 8 of us got nicely plastered. In style. At the presidential suite. In Shanghai. Life's tough, innit?

  Not much happened in Shanghai after that, although I still had to hang about for some days to pick up my passport and visa extension. Had another day at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where I saw my first English movie since leaving Blighty. Chicken Run. Nuff said. Then watched back to back Premiership matches, ordered room service, and had a couple of rums. Quality skills. But I still couldn't shake the cold, and after another day rambling around Shanghai, I still had 3 days left til I could pick up my passport, so I thought I'd head off somewhere more interesting (and smaller) for the weekend.

  So with my cold at its peak, and a serious wind blowing in the Shanghai air, I figured I'd go this supposedly beautiful, magical island 12 hours by boat from Shangers. So I rock down to the ferry terminal, and (God I'm a genius), all boats are off for the day due to the serious wind blowing in the Shanghai air. So I go to the train station, and on the way decide on one of two destinations: Nanjing (where the Japanese Rape of Nanking happened, and which has a mountain on the side of the city with a wealth of historical sites (okay, so that was a Lonely Planet phrase)) or Hangzhou (which has a lake). And Nanjing it was.

  Nanjing's another small city of only 5-6 million people, but it is actually fairly chilled. Lots of foreign students and English language university students, giving it a slightly more cosmopolitan feel for a Chinese city (i.e. it has some trees). All I really do in Nanjing is walk around the mountain. It's not the most beautiful mountain by Chinese standards, but it's a quality day. Some really nice solitary walks, some laaaaavly lakes, beautiful tomb complexes, all topped off with a quality sunset. Shweet like chocolate. And then I headed back to Shangers.

  The night I got back was amusing. I met this German guy with more of an English accent than any I've heard walking the streets of Laaaaandan, and who spoke fluent Chinese and was doing research for a year in Shanghai. We went out for a superb meal down the market, where I got chatted up by the waitress who evidently wanted me to provide her with a ticket out of the BIG city, and then hit the hotel bar again, where this time the clientele was much more agreeable. I can't seem to get away from the movies, cos there were 4 guys from the filmset of the latest Michael Winterbottom film, and they bought us a few beers. And although I'd just missed them recruiting extras for their movie, Wushuman offered me a 3-day job, 150 squids, boat ride there and back, but I thought "Look, oh mighty one, you've done your bit for the tv-viewing masses. It's cold. And you've finally shaken your cold. Let's hit the warmer, more tropical climes of southern China..." And so the next day I went and picked up my visa, booked a ticket to Guilin for that night (where Matt the American from the hotel was hanging abaaaat), went around town and bought some wicked Adidas troosers for less than four squids and a few CDs from some dodgy geezer down t'market ("CD, DVD, watch, shoes, sex VCD") (although one Cafe Del Mar CD turned out to be classical music and the Rawkus Records compilation that I couldnae BELIEVE I'd found (complete with the ole "Aaaaa, bad man, where 'ave ya bin? Face get fat, ya mus be eatin. Laaang time since di rude away-aknin. Eeee! Spit again!") and which had a hole burned into the side of it), tripped out on some more Chinese tea, and then took the train, planning on smacking the heat of Guilin like a beeyatch!

KARST IT WAS COLD

  The train ride was interesting to say the least. There's two businessmen (one very proper-looking, the other fat) and a young guy of 25 in my 6-bed section of the train carriage. Everyone seems a little untalkative, so I read a while until the obligatory lights-go-off-at-ten happens at 10:30. I'm on the middle layer, so's Chinese25guy, and the two businessmen are on the bottom layer bunks. One hour into the train ride, and I wake up to the weirdest sound I've ever heard in bed (cue the sexual comments). Fatman downstairs is snoring, but I swear this is no normal snore. He makes no sound, then about once every 30 seconds, he make this sound like he's in pain continuously for about 10 seconds while stroking his head with his paw. Then he snorts a few times. All very loudly. And this happens for two hours, until Chinese25guy goes ballistic, shouting "This is crazy!" After a few more "This is ridiculous!" outbursts, we go and find bunks elsewhere. Then we realise that the train has stopped. And that it's been stopped for a while. We look out the window, and there's snow out there. Everywhere. And in fact there was snow all the way down to Guilin. And fatman (who later turned out to be a nice guy) made hog sounds and pawed himself looking like he was having the most painful sleeping experience almost the whole journey of 30 hours. But after reading 4 newspapers and half of Love in the Time of Cholera, and watching proper-looking businessman guzzle a small bottle of some local firewater spirit, and after taking a step towards fulfilling my mission of instructing everyone in the world of joy and cerebral activity by teaching Chinese25guy, another Chinese guy, and a Chinese girl how to play bridge (all done in my Chinese, I might add), I stepped off the train last night in Guilin, the place where everyone had been telling me was the hot area of China where I could skip in parks wearing a t-shirt and shorts, picking flowers like a pansy, and found a thick layer of snow. And by the time I got to the hotel my best bit was like a needle. But, not to detract from this place. It is sublime. And I had today what was possibly the best day since leaving Blighty. Nothing to report really. Just amazing little village (i.e. a city of 1 million), set amongst karst scenery, which is essentially hills and peaks which have taken on weird formations due to erosion from the sea, and which you can climb and get amazing views of the city and its surroundings. And seriously friendly people again. I was escorted all over by people wanting to talk to me. At one point, sitting atop a peak and attempting to draw, a gaggle of 20-25 Chinese university girls stopped and chatted and giggled profusely and invited me to lunch with them. And I played some table tennis with a load of other students near another peak. And I saw some stunning lakes in the centre. And even though it was a tad chilly, the sun shone all day. All extremely laaaaaaaavly. And exactly the tonic after Shanghai's ridiculous mammothness (I did mention it was big, didn't I?).

  So tomorrow I go for more walks, then head down to similar scenery 60km south of here to meet up with Matt, go for some more lovely jaunts, rent some bikes, eat some banana pancakes and some good Chinese grub, and chill it like a homey. Wish me luck!

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