Guilin (桂林): Day 2

by kangcuzzi

Tall, moss-kissed mountains idle in the haze as the river caresses the raft. All around, you hear the aquatic symphony of waves, the echoes of the wild, the beautiful silence of trees…

…such goes the pretentious introduction I created on our infernally interminable bus ride from Guilin to Yangshuo and back. In true tourist style, my family decided to hop on the bandwagon of kitsch and take part in the ‘cruise’ (note the apostrophes) across the famous Li River towards Yangshuo. With my passable Chinese, we were able to hitch a ride with the Chinese tourists for a relatively low 180 RMB per person. For a twelve hour trip spanning what seemed to be every profitable landmark in the region, the price was a steal.

At 8AM this morning, we were all in my parents’ room when there was a knock on the door.

Who was it?

None other than the lady who sold us the tickets the day before, all packed for a day filled with more tourist hunting. She had come to remind us about our trip. I repeat: she had come all the way to our room to remind us to leave it.

Okay, so I understand tourism is a big deal here, but this? Seemed just a little too extreme.

Anyhow, soon we found ourselves on the bus, heading to the pier. But wait! Of course we have to check out some random tourist trap museum! Duh! So we got off and filed inside this ‘museum’ (note apostrophes), which seemed… pretty normal. If ‘pretty normal’ can be used to describe a museum where everything – even the huge metal-enforced war boat replica – is on sale. The only thing that wasn’t on sale? Some statue in a glass enclosure… stuffed with cash. (Damn it, and it was the only thing I wanted!)

We got out of that tourist trap relatively unscathed, and soon arrived at the pier. Ah, this was more like it. There was a line of private boats lined up for us, all waiting to jet off into the famed karst mountain heaven that lay ahead…

…or that’s what I thought it would be. However much I tried to appreciate the inexplicable and wonderful phenomenon that is nature, I simply couldn’t get over how grossly commercialized everything was. Even the mountains seemed a little worn down from all the photographs. Whatever aesthetic there existed was hampered by the disgusting neon orange of the life jackets and green-yellow stripes of the boats. Oh, and of course, the tourists. I swear there were more of them than all the karst mountains combined.

As soon as we got off the rafts, the guide soon ushered us into a larger boat. So this is where our cruise would begin! And we depart… to the obnoxious karaoke-style commentary provided by the guide himself (who, by the way, looked too much like a village crime ringleader for his own good).

Wow! More karst mountains! People taking not one, not two, but a good five hundred pictures of – wait for it – the same thing! Our good friend Mr. Ringleader (very loudly) scolded everyone for taking too many shots and not observing the scenery closely enough. To quote his inspirational, heart wrenching speech: please, everyone, admire the view! When your friends ask you about Guilin and you realize all your photos suck, what will you do? (The profundity made me tear up.)

Wait! What is this sorcery! I swear I’ve seen this one before! Are some mountains identical? Wait… why are we turning back?  And there you have it, folks. Our ‘cruise’ was over. The aquatic one, that is. The one on land was very much still in order. Deflated, we trooped back into the bus and began the second leg of our ridiculous bus ‘cruise’ to Yangshuo…

…only to stop yet again, because there was another commission to collect! That’s right, we just had to go into some tourist trap cave and re-observe the absolute trashing of nature. But it’s okay, right? I mean, stalactites and stalagmites love it when you shine garish neon lights on them and name them names like ‘Pig Drunk’! Besides, the best ambience comes from women screeching into microphones for no understandable reason! Oh, and, of course, who could forget the stuff on sale? I mean, it’s blasphemous to walk into a cave and not expect to be sold snake wine / plastic glow-in-the-dark toys / bacon-shaped glassware… right?

I am happy to say that we, yet again, walked out of this tourist trap unscathed. We were truly doing a good job. Case in point: we completely ignored the ladies dressed up in faux ethnic minority costumes even when they insisted the photos were ‘free’. How disciplined are we?

However much I’d like to continue ranting on about all the banes of commercialization, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate some of the lighter things that happened on our road trip. For one thing, I fell in love with a roadside drink made of green beans and sold in plastic cups (trust me, it wasn’t as gross as it sounds). For another, I was inspired by men who came up with the ingenious idea of taking every picture with their shirt lifted, half-covering their bellies. Oh, and I made a promise to myself to never again subject myself to the world of tourist traps. Yes, it was a learning experience.

But hey, to be honest, Guilin is not so bad. I mean, obviously it sucks to feel like such a conspicuous tourist all the time (and a Korean one at that), but I’m sure it’s possible to actively avoid being sucked into the wrong crowd. Besides, I haven’t been on a whole family trip in two years, so I appreciate this time more as time spent with my family than time spent exploring a new land. As long as you’re with people you enjoy talking to and being with (and, of course, laughing at), any bad experience can be made good. For tomorrow, we’ve decided to have a lazy day and wander around the neighborhood. Let’s just hope tomorrow’s update is significantly less sarcastic. 😉

A tourist version of Kickstarter perhaps?