Tuesday, May 6, 2003

China Unmasked 6: Breakin' the Law

Hello My Friends!

I am back here in the bubble that is the Clifford Estates in Panyu and I am fine.

The last week... the shortened May holiday... I've been with Mary Kay in Yangshuo, just south of Guilin and the place that is always painted by artists. I can certainly see why.

There are a few rivers which intersect and cross through fields of mostly rice. Surrounding them are mountains that don't stick together so much in a range but seem to pop out of the ground individually like fingers reaching towards the sky. I named one, "Kristian flips off the Chinese government".

The 'Mountain Retreat' where we were staying was absolutely fantastic. Tucked away from the tourist area of Yangshou, we could sit out in front of the building alongside the river and watch the bamboo rafts float by. Most excellent.

So, we arrived Tuesday night and spent Wednesday hiking around the area then running into town for some shopping and food. Rumor had it that the town would soon be closed. Hmmm... I sense a trend.

The next day we took a bus to the town of Fuli (said 3 times like Fubu... and which we decided stood for 'for us lucky individuals') which was having a market. Lots of chickens in baskets, piles of medicinal twigs and berries and plastic shoes. Mary Kay bought a basket used for catching fish which made everyone think she was crazy. Could have also been the matching hat she bought.

Friday morning, we had made arrangements with a guide named George to go kayaking on the Lijiang river. He recommended we meet at 8:00 before people from the government were around. We thought he was kidding.

We take a bus into Fuli (okay once was nice but...) and go sit in someone's shop while he goes running by with the kayaks. He whistles to us and then tells us to put on the life vests as quickly as possible and paddle to the middle of the river... the government is here but temporarily distracted. Ah! Once we were on our way, it was great. There was hardly any traffic on the river (being that it was illegal to be there) and we half paddled and half floated for about 3 hours. It rained on us near the end of the trip but it was a warm rain. The worst part about it was that it made the streets of Puyi (our destination) quite muddy and since I was wearing flip flops, I flicked so much mud on the back of my legs it was nasty. I don't think it was good Calistoga type mud.

Feeling victorious, we take a bus, then cab back to the Mt. Retreat. At the turnoff, there are police in face masks and they prevent us from making the turn. It seems that all tourists are being kicked out of their hotels (after they've donated their money to the failing airline industry by flying into town...oh in Guilin, they look at you with some crazy camera to try and measure you body temperature I guess to see if you have a fever). We are not allowed to go and collect our things, we are told that someone from the hotel will pack them up and drive them out to us. Muddy. At the side of the road. With nowhere else to go. We begin minor flipping out. We try to convince one cop to escort us in, watch us pack, then escort us out. No go.

While we wait at the side of the road and try to stay calm and consider our options, two of the staff come down on the backs of motorcycles and the owner comes riding down on his bike. He is an American guy who has been in China for the last 8 or 10 years. This is very good. He talks to each cop. Government regulations, what can you do... they will lose face if they let us in. He explains, he will lose face if his guests can't come back, plus we haven't paid. Fine. We can go in, but must be out by 3:00. It is almost 2.

As we walk back with him, he explains that we will think of something else. Maybe we can stay in the villages with the staff from the retreat. Maybe we can start leaving when they arrive and then arrive when they leave. Also, he mentions, there are about 40 striking farmers at the retreat because they built a watershed on what the farmer's claim in their land. The gov't told the retreat to pay 5000 yuan (about $600) which they did but the farmers aren't satisfied.

We get back, there are yelling farmers everywhere, health people inside negotiating whether or not we have to leave. While we are taking showers, half packing just in case and talking to the other guests, the farmers go up to the watershed and start to throw tiles off the roof and take it apart and a man comes in wearing a lab coat, mask and surgical hat with full on Ghostbusters gear to spray the retreat. The farmers leave, the Ghostbuster leaves and we are allowed to stay... however, we can not leave the area because we are supposed to be gone and once outside, will not be able to come back in.

The next few days we go hiking up a mountain but miss the correct path and when it starts raining must turn around again so we don't slip slide to our doom. We meet a German couple living in Beijing and decide to go hiking with them on Monday.

On that 4 hour hike, we cross a bridge and realize that if we continue up this road we will run into a police blockade which is no good since we shouldn't even be in here and technically are breakin' the law, breakin' the law (duh da). We turn back and there are now people at the bridge who weren't there before. They don't know that we are going back to were we came from, they think we are entering for the first time.

A man in a yellow shirt starts yelling hello, waving that we can't go across and standing in front of us to block us. We say out loud (mighty convinient to be able to make your plans out loud) pretend like you don't understand and keep walking. He follows us for a bit and since we are not sure who he is or who he may call... we get off the main road and walk back through the rice fields, jumping over streams and going on a path up and over another mountain. Lordy.

The night before we leave, we find out our flight has been cancelled. We reschedule to a 3:00 flight with the airline, which we find out when we arrive at the airport, does not exist. The only flight to Guangzhou that day has left and Mary Kay needed to be back at school this morning.

We consider our options (train 13 hours arrives next morning, bus 9 hours arrives next morning, flight to Hong Kong arrives that night but no more ferry service to Guangzhou). In the end, we pay $200 US for a taxi to drive us from Gulin to Guangzhou (kind of like SF to LA). We will be refunded our flight money so it will only be $25 more each and certainly cheaper than a night in Hong Kong.

And here we are. Back at the Clifford Estates for a few days of laying low. So, I'm off to buy some food and do some laundry.

Sorry to have been out of touch for so long but it's hard to email when you're runnin' from the man.


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