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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day Trip to Yulin

Before departing Nanning (China) for our day trip to Yulin, we partook of the large breakfast buffet in the luxurious Mingyuan Xindu Hotel which was included in the room rate.  We were disappointed to find that it was geared to Chinese tastes. 

But not to a humble Chinese palate.  The spread of upscale morning food was alien to us.  Having enjoyed the street dumplings and other simple breakfast fare in Beijing and Hanoi, we picked through the selections looking for something familiar.  As an enthusiastic fan of Chinese cuisine, I am pained to report that the native food we did try was not good. 

The kids chose from the limited selection of Western breakfast items.  I tasted some, too; it was all bland, as usual.  Western food doesn't usually make the translation to Asia.  (Chinese folks dining in so-called Chinese restaurants in America probably feel much the same about their food.)  Luckily, our children often consume bland food with gusto, and soon they were sated.

Leaving Nanning, the capital of Guanxi Province (China), at 8:30 AM proved to be difficult.  We found ourselves crawling at walking speed in thick rush hour traffic as bad as any place on earth.  A half hour later we finally put the CBD behind us and began to see the suburbs.  

Not like American suburbs, of course.  In China residential goes vertical and very dense.  We observed endless high-rise apartment developments stretching to the horizon.  And when we reached the horizon, a sea of tall construction cranes were busy putting up even more cookie-cutter residential buildings just like the ones we'd passed.  We did not see any low-rise or mid-rise residential, let alone any developments looking like the single family home one commonly sees in U.S. city suburbs.

Our destination: Yulin, where our daughter was born, with a hired van, driver, and translator.  We wanted our daughter to see her hometown.  It was a three hour freeway drive east of Nanning, and not a bit more pleasant than a similar trek over our own soul-less Interstate highways.  We made one rest stop at a gas station, and I was surprised to find the attached modern convenience store stocked only Chinese beverages.  Not a Coca-Cola in sight.

Knowing that car ownership in China is far from universal even among the growing Middle Class, I asked our translator if urban transit was available for workers living in all those high-rise apartments so far out from downtown Nanning.  She explained that very little Commuter Rail service existed because that depended upon using pre-existing rail corridors, but that Nanning was embarking upon a subway system instead.  Meantime, rubber tires in the way of bicycles, motorbikes, buses, and automobiles transport people where they need to go around Nanning; hence the horrible congestion, which she said was 24/7. 

The snarled traffic leaving Nanning delayed our arrival in Yulin until noon.  After a preliminary bit of sight-seeing, our driver and guide suggested we stop for a fancy lunch at a famous Yulin restaurant that specializes in serving food that Mao Zedong enjoyed.  We thought that a splendid idea.  Here's a photo of me in the restaurant lobby with a bust of Great Leader:

It was said that the only thing more dangerous than standing in the target zone of a Red Chinese nuclear missile was to stand between Chairman Mao and the diner table.  He liked his victuals, and it showed.

I wish I could tell you that we liked his favorite dishes with the zeal he apparently did, but we did enjoy the experience, at least.  We were seated in a private room with a large round table on which was placed an electrically-powered glass lazy Susan.  Soon the chefs were piling steaming pots of this and that onto the slowly circulating device, bringing each to within easy reach of our chopsticks.  I tried every one.  A few were delicious, some boring, and several were insipid. 

My hands-down favorite was a fatty pork, leading me to muse that the good Chairman would have been right at home at an Eastern North Carolina pig-picking.  That is, if he could have looked beyond the fact of gnawing pork with a Running Dog Lackey of the Capitalist Death Machine, as he used to call us Americans.

We washed all that food down with a famous local beverage, corn juice, which tasted exactly like liquid corn-on-the-cob.  Luckily beer was available to in turn wash down the gagging flavor of the corn juice.

The walls of the private room were festooned with large photos of Mao in the glory days of the 1950s when China still enjoyed a warm relationship with the Soviet Union.  I especially enjoyed the photo showing him with Stalin and Krushchev, circa 1950.  Here it is:

Once again I pondered the sweet irony of today's China, full of the kind of Capitalist Roaders that Mao despised and tried hard to snuff out, e.g., the restaurateur of this fine establishment who brilliantly seized upon the idea of capitalizing on Mao's fame to bring in customers.  No one has yet been able to kill Chinese ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit, thank goodness. 

After lunch we tooled around downtown Yulin vainly in search of the quaint small town it used to be.  Now reputed to be over two million in population, it was just a slightly smaller version of Nanning.  We didn't enjoy witnessing the results of rapid urbanization, with all manifestation of modernity in building design, all utterly lacking in charm or in synchronicity.  Nothing seemed to fit; it looked as if it had all just been thrown upo as fast as possible, the frenetic pace still evident all over the city.

Still, the residents seemed happy, and we could still buy raw sugar cane from a vendor on a rickety bicycle on the street, an anachronism from simpler times.  We left to return to Nanning happy that we'd exposed our daughter to her hometown, but sad that Yulin was turning into just another Chinese mega-city.


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