Friday, April 22, 2011

Guizhou Pt. 1

I knew very little about Guizhou before my friend Richard suggested that we visit it this trip. It's one of the poorest provinces in China, west of Guanxi and east of Yunnan, with a high percentage of "national minorities" (the officially favored term) — Miao and Dong in particular. We had also heard that it is spectacularly beautiful and rarely visited by tourists. Good enough reason to check it out.

You'd think it would be easy to catch a train from Guilin to the capital, Guiyang, but not so much. Apparently a new high-speed rail line is in the works, but for now, flying was the easiest option. We arrived in the evening at your basic (decent) Chinese airport, most notable for its extremely orderly taxi line.

From the cab window, Guiyang looks like any other second or third tier Chinese provincial city: lots of strange gray and tan high-rises with fogged mirror glass, shorter, white-tile fronted buildings with blackened grout, apartment blocks with sagging, rusting balconies. And, even in one of China's poorest provinces, a luxury mall advertising Gucci, with promises of Armani to come.

I made reservations at a hotel through a China travel site that I frequently use. There weren't a lot of recommends for Guiyang, but 4 stars at the price of around $30 seemed pretty good.

Of course, there are catches to everything. In this case, the cab driver brought us to the address, which looked like another slightly seedy mall/high-rise from the outside. The sign for the hotel was posted in big plastic letters across the front of the building about five floors up. But there was no obvious entrance. We stumbled around with our excess of luggage, going downstairs to a greasy-smelling food-court, then upstairs on an escalator to the third floor, which at first looked promising but turned out to be a cinema multiplex.

Luckily the locals are very friendly. I'll be saying this a lot over the next few posts: the people in Guizhou are about the friendliest, most helpful people you'd ever want to meet. I hate making those kinds of generalizations, which by and large I think are pretty meaningless, but that's sure how it seemed.

One of said helpful folks pointed us in the right direction and walked us halfway around the corner to be sure we found the entrance. It was about the least likely looking hotel entrance you can imagine, especially for a "four star" hotel (someone was being awfully generous with that star rating).

For example, when we walked around the corner, this building below was what was on our left:

Then, to our right, the actual entrance, with the red lanterns:

The oddest part was, you walk into a lobby that's for the entire building and which has no direct connection to any hotel at all. Then into a narrow narrow vestibule that looks like it should be in the basement of some fairly sleazy, well, I'm not sure what. Faded, cigarette-burned and warped linoleum, torn plastic ads on the three elevators there. And of the three elevators, only one of them went to the hotel, which started on the 25th floor, which instead of being the 25th floor, was labeled "G" (for a Japanese hotel group).

Once you reach "G," which takes forever, with only one elevator that goes up there, you are greeted by an actual hotel-type lobby which really is pretty cute. And then you have to get in another elevator to go up to the next four floors, which make up the hotel.

After all this, we needed a drink, STAT. Thankfully there is a bar in the building. But first you have to ride the G elevator down to the first floor (yes, only one elevator goes to the first floor), get off, and ride a different elevator up to the fifth floor, where the bar is.

The first thing I did was memorize the fire escape stairs. Because you would not want to be waiting for that elevator in case of an emergency.

As for the bar, it was small, smoke-filled and featured fish tanks.

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