Waiting for a Vietnam visa in a place like Nanning means you are ideally situated to explore the city. There’s plenty of time to kill, particularly if you opt for the two or three-day service. There is also some Chinese heritage around, even though most of it is re-modelled on the old. Not all of Nanning is a concrete jumble or a chaotic mass of construction. Money is also being channeled elsewhere.
I took a trip to the scenic Qingxiu Mountain reserve, about a 20 minute bus ride away.
First, I overheard the warden summarise the look of some distinctly groggy residents who’d got up but were victims of last night’s prey.
“I see, some of you got smashed drunk,” not that he disapproved of the having a good time antics at all. One of the wasted clearly could not take the ‘good time,’ the alcohol some Chinese had ‘forced’ down his throat in a nearby bar. If not beer, it most likely would have been baiju or moutai spirits. He came down the stairs in a daze, suffering from a throbbing hangover.
Two guys who had hurried down from Beijing, although by train, eager to escape the wind-chilled city, had run into a problem in the city’s West Railway Station. One of the guy’s bags full of clothes had been picked up by mistake at the other side of a security scan machine. It was not until he was on the train that he realised his clothes were missing. He managed to track down the stray bag and the person responsible for taking it but would not be able to retrieve it until the end of his trip putting a dampner on his quest to enjoy a beach holiday on warm Phu Quoc Island.
A trio of English girls had apparently broken up. One of them decided to leave for Yangshuo without her mates who had not got up. If she had had a bit more inspiration instead of rushing to the popular destinations, she might have held back a bit to explore one or two places that I was going to see. Other residents were in need of food to soak up the effects of the alcohol. Such are the joys of travel and the hostel life.
I could not help but wonder if being a hostel warden would not be a good idea, what with all the interesting characters turning up you would get to meet.
Having paid the 15 Yuan entrance fee, I began the tour of the ‘green lung’ with a spongy spring in my step, determined to see as much of its hidden charm as was possible, to benefit from the fresh air and to get rid of some gut worry I had been experiencing since being awake.
Lying in bed didn’t help. The scenic complex is very well-preserved, being a haven for botanists and plant-lovers alike.
Tropical plants abound; pretty white buildings with scooped roofs are dotted among gray, streaked-white rocks by the side of a lily pond, and paths and roads that converge and part at an area of lakes and pavilions built in the style of the Ming and Qing Dynasties are enhanced by clusters of bamboo and tropical trees.
I exuberantly ended up getting to the top of the orange and white Phoenix Pagoda looking down on a hexagonal forecourt and out beyond the trees to a depressingly murky world that comprises construction pits and high-rises – today’s Nanning. ‘Smoggy’ would not be an inappropriate term.
I headed for a cluster of temple buildings, prominent above the trees, named Guangyin. The usual gold-coloured knobs looked screwed onto the roofs. Beneath them, visitors clutched burning incense sticks ready to pay homage to sitting Buddhas. I decided to respect this tradition and only take photos of myself in front of a Temple of Heaven-like structure.
I backtracked, eagerly wanting to climb the Longxian Pagoda, but it wasn’t that interesting, apart from two busking performers scraping or strumming stringed instruments.
Workers were hozing, pruning the plant life; sweeping up after lazy visitors who’d discarded sunflower seed shells and food wrappers. It had been a satisfying end to the bulk of the day knowing that not all China is a cemented wasteland. Marginalised maybe, and a bit too cultivated perhaps, but at least the Chinese authorities are giving a nod to nature and preserving some of the country’s heritage in places like this.
The heavy traffic grew to a standstill when I got off the ‘white horse’ bus back on Minzu Dadao. Beforehand, it had passed a car run-in at a busy intersection. A silver car had crunched a rear corner of a red variety. Nothing could dampen my elated experience in the park as a woman got out of the silver model, presumably to negotiate a cash deal. Or was it a settlement? I wonder if she paid the lion’s share – if not all?