Friday, March 10, 2006

Day 4: CHANGSHA to GUILIN

After Wuhan, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and even Beijing, Changsha seemed somehow like a fairly organized city. Aparently lots of mainland celebs call it home; there's also a ubiquity of faux-three-star hotels with massage parlors and saunas and we ended up staying in one in a split building. I forget what our half was called, but the other half was the Butterfly, also the name of my old Taichung standard.

I hit a gentrified tea house for a piece of thick chocolate toast and milk tea for breakfast, and on the way out, I ended up discussing Changsha's foreigner population with the counter girl.

"Lots of foreigners in Changsha come here, there were 15 yesterday," she said.

I said that was a lot, and then after the pregnant pause, she continued: "And the police come around here a lot too, because of the foreigners."

"Uh, why's that?"

"To check up on them, of course. That's their job."

"So it's surveillance?"

She didn't understand what I mean, though I'm sure I pronounced the word correctly - jianshi - but I'm also used to saying things correctly and not being understood from time to time, so I let it drop. And got the fuck out of there.

...somehow the train tickets to Guilin failed to materialize. MaD was asking venue owners to set up transport, and some, like this dickwad, were too pretty to bother. So we ended up hiring a mini-bus, which was just as well. Most of the five hours to Guilin there was a highway. It was only the last 100km or so that was like a government highway in 1960s West Virginia, i.e. gravel on either side and mud not far beyond that. The weather was turning cloudy, then rainy.

Our first stop was at a truck stop full of monsterous Russian rigs with excessive payloads. The road situation was shortly to become a mud-and-rust version of the film Brazil, where the vehicles were either megaton rigs or mini-cars not even the size of a truck wheel, only Brazil didn't quite capture the impenetrable smog and ubiquitous muck of Guangxi....But we're not there yet.

I got out when we stopped to stretch my legs and snap a few pictures of the wheeled leviathans, when somebody started getting out of a car that was slowing down as it drove buy. A soldier in fatigues got out, ran up to me, pulled some binoculars (with cool-ass red Chinese star on them) and put them up to my face.

"Look, they're very good."

Scanning the other side of the highway through the fog, I answered, "Yeah, they are."

"OK! 200 Yuan."

"What? No, I'm not going to buy this."

"Um, OK. 150."

"Look, this is military equipment. You can't sell this."

"We need gas. OK, 100."

"Sorry. I don't have any money, and I don't want any binoculars."

Then I walked back to the car laughing. By the time I got there, the army guys had beat me there and were trying to pawn of the binocs on the Swedes. I asked another of the soldiers why they were selling army equipment.

"Our officer told us to do it."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"And he gets a cut."

"Yeah."

I'd read about this kind of thing in Harper's. In February, I think, their readings included an interview with a PLA colonel or general talking about how the government had essentially set them free to become a commercial enterprise and make cash any way they could, with predictably bizarre results. Aparently, it's all true.

As we got back into the van and were driving off, sans binoculars, Jonas mentioned, "Yeah, they said they had night vision too. I think he said something about being able to see in the dark."

Damn. Shoulda bought em.

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