Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Arriving Nanning After A Six Year Absence

Coming up from the south (from Hanoi, Vietnam) by train to Nanning, Guangxi Province, China in the early morning hours was a feast for the eyes.  Southern Guangxi's undulating hills and verdant fields make for some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.  I stood for a long time in the corridor of my sleeper watching out the window.

Since my family was still sleeping, I made my way to the diner alone.  I was disappointed to find the curtains drawn and the car unheated.  The conductor, sitting at one of the tables doing his paperwork, allowed me to open many of the curtains.  I was amused to observe him chain-smoking directly under a sign that said in several languages, "NO SMOKING!"

I settled in at a table midway down the dining car so as to have the best view out of both sides (and to avoid the cloud of blue smoke the conductor was enveloped in).  The gorgeous countryside flashed by; I noted lots of people working hard in the many banana and sugarcane fields.

A waiter soon came to my table to take my order, but he did not offer a menu.  At first I thought it was because he saw I was a Westerner and assumed I could not read Chinese (right on both counts).  But it became apparent that he offered no menu because he had no menu.  Though he spoke no English, he managed to get across that there was only one food item available: hot noodles.  I ordered the noodles, along with a steaming hot pot of strong green tea.

I had low expectations that the simple noodle soup would be anything more than nourishing.  In China you just never know when you order noodles.  Sometimes they are quite tasty, and other times just boring.  But they are always, at least, good for you.  When I tucked into the huge bowl my waiter placed before me, however, I was delighted to find that the railroad's noodles were extraordinarily good.  Some of the best I have ever had in China, in fact.

So yummy were the noodles that I finished the bowl in no time and rushed back to our sleeper to wake up my family.  Soon they joined me in the diner to enjoy the scenery and food, too.

We arrived on time in Nanning at 10:15 AM. Chinese trains consistently impressed us with their service standards and schedule-keeping. This was not a sleek new high speed train, just a conventional, everyday passenger train, like thousands that ply China. They generally all run on time, and they are clean, safe, and friendly.

Seeing Nanning for the first time in six years was a shock. When my wife and son were last there in 2004 to adopt our daughter, the city's relatively calm, reasonably fluid traffic was a welcome relief from the hectic, congested, polluted, and nerve-wracking stress of getting around Beijing. No more. In just a few years Nanning had evolved into just another snarled and frenetic mega-city in China.

According to the official Chinese 2010 census, Nanning's total population was 6,622,600, of which half were urban residents. It certainly looked and felt much more densely crowded than in 2004.

We had to hire two taxis to transport our family of five plus luggage to the fancy Mingyuan Xindu Hotel near the CBD in Nanning. We had not stayed there before, and we were delighted to find it very luxurious, hospitable, and centrally located for seeing the city. Our rooms were just RMB560 per night ($85) and included a huge breakfast buffet with both Western and Chinese items. It was an excellent value, and we highly recommend the Mingyuan Xindu.

We were all amused by the manifold and magnificent Christmas decorations everywhere in the hotel public spaces. This wasn't the first time that we marveled at the Chinese affinity for observing Christmas in a big way. They seemed to have adopted celebration of the birth of Christ as warmly as if Jesus had been Buddha's brother. Though this was a few days past Christmas, the seasonal decor was in full swing!

The professional displays of Christmas scream "Capitalism!" and "Consumerism!" and "Free Market Economy!" I pondered the irony of present-day rampant capitalism in China contrasted with the giant billboard we passed on the way to the hotel with the smiling visages of the great communist leaders of modern China.

Are they clapping in celebration of modern China's prosperity? What, I wondered, would Mao Zedong think of China if he was alive today?

More to come in future posts of our experience in and around Nanning, and then a fabulous stay in magical Guilin.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved your post and photos ... and am awaiting your onward narrative on Guilin. I did outbound customs in Nanning 3 years ago on my way to Saigon but am hoping to train from Hanoi to Nanning and continue on to Guilin in the not too distant future. Did you continue by train, bus or air? Awaiting your future posts :-)! Best, Sandy

3/20/2012 2:27 PM  

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