Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This is China, right?

On our last night in Guangzhou we took one of the river cruises on the Pearl River (3rd longest river in China we're told). All we can say is woooooow! We are struggling to come up with a comparison in the states to equate to this experience. I guess it would be akin to Las Vegas meets New Orleans, New York City, and San Francisco all mashed into a single location. It was almost 2 hours which gave us quite a bit of time to chat with our guide Thomas. It was a live history lesson for the girls as he shared how much things have changed in the last 20 years. He shared with them about his participation in the university student movement in 1989 which resulted in the standoff in Tieneman square. His account was fascinating to say the least. He shared how his first job was assigned to him, but that has now changed and everyone finds their own job now. He also shared how they could not move at will from one city to another which has also changed along with the citizens ability to criticize and question policy, to some degree. On the surface it's very difficult to notice the differences between modern day China and other western, democratic cultures. There are enough hints though it's not quite the same. It was an amazing boat ride for the scenery and living history lesson from Thomas.

Getting to the boat was an adventure in and of itself, much like all things China. We walked from the hotel to where we thought we could take one of the many river boat tours. As a guide, Thomas typically never has to pay for the activities he takes families to. Upon questioning the tickets, he was told he had to pay. This kicked off an aggressive negotiation and dialogue that was quite amusing for us to watch. We couldn't understand a word but it was obvious Thomas was not at all pleased with the two women that were badgering him incessantly. He finally told me we could just go by ourselves because he wasn't going to pay, to which I said no because we wanted him to spend the evening with us. He told us there was another place further down we could probably go so we said fine, and handed their tickets back to them. That initiated a whole different level of cat calling and squawks from the two ticket ladies as we strolled away. Within a minute we heard another women running up behind us speaking very animated and very fast.

This women looked more "official" with a clip board in her hand and some type of badge sash draped around her. She lit into a very quick dialogue with Thomas and kept pointing in varying directions, obviously providing additional information we needed to be aware of. Thomas finally turned to us and said, "she says to come with her, there is another boat they have down river that he can go on with us for no charge". Turns out the boat we were inquiring about wasn't a tour boat but one of the transportation boats. Hmm, even in Chinese, Thomas and the ticket ladies were not understanding each other apparently. So we headed across the street which lead to the "official" looking lady and one of the previous ticket taker women engaging in another animated banter, several radio and cell phone calls to who knows where. All of a sudden a mini-van pulls up to the curb and the two ladies motion towards it. The sliding door flings open and a women and child are ushered out along with a mango plant being removed. Hmm, did we just toss out a mother, child, and their plant so we can take a river cruise? They really wanted our $49 badly. Have to give them an A for effort. Who says there is no capitalism inChina?

Upon piling into the van and being whisked away, radios calling somewhere on the river obviously, I looked at Melissa and said, it's our own Amazing Race Asia! Your task is to convince a tour boat guide to let you take a tour in another location by absconding a mini-van, displacing a family with plants, and getting to the dock by the designated 7:30 p.m. deadline. If you fail to meet your deadline, you will be subjected to a dunking in the river and made to eat un-identified mystery meat balls (Fisher loves these at breakfast, yuck!) After about 10 minutes careening through traffic in a personal van, we pulled to the curb and were told, go, go, go! We whisked through a gate, ran down the sidewalk onto a dock, promptly onto a river boat with 3 decks, which pulled away immediately upon our stepping onto the deck. Whew, we made it, no dunking in the murky Pearl River! The rest of the night was a relaxing and amazing tour around a city sky line nearly indescribable in it's uniqueness.

We're off to Hong Kong in about 3 hours, will be home tomorrow evening!!!

Check the web album for pics of the river cruise.


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