Beihai

Grace and I completely changed our plans for the trip at this point. We chose to forgo traveling through Guizhou Province, one of the least developed provinces in China, and went south to Beihai. Beihai is the second choice in China for beaches to Sanya in Hainan Province. We opted Beihai because it was much closer and more accessible. Nonetheless, it took three bus routes and a day of travel to get from Chouyang to Beihai. Along the way, we passed pretty close to the Guangzhou/Shenzhen/Hong Kong metropolis, and we saw a crate strapped to the back of a motorcycle stuffed beyond full capacity with about ten yellow dogs headed towards the city. Presumably they were for eating because there are puppy markets in the cities for pet dogs.

We intended to just sit on the beach and relax for a couple days in relative comfort, and we accomplished this goal. However, the little hassles in business transactions while we were there were more numerous than I had come to expect. When we arrived, it was already late, and we wanted to go from the bus station to a hotel near the beach. We asked a taxi driver how much it would cost for a ride, and the price was exorbitant for the distance we needed to go. We walked away, but the taxi kept following us for about 20 minutes while we tried to get directions. We finally found another taxi that would give us a ride at a reasonable price.

The taxi driver took us to a hotel that he thought would be in our price range. It was low season; nothing was happening there at all, so we had a good position to bargain. The hotel he took us to was much nicer than we expected. We got the price down to a quarter of what it was when we walked in the door, but it was still too expensive for our budget. We had to walk a long way down the beach past many nice hotels in order to find an acceptable place.

We also had some problems with restaurants. One place gave us twice as much food as we asked for and tried to charge us for it. Another place tried to charge us for tea that we didn’t ask for and is generally free everywhere. A little discussion when the bill arrived resolved these issues.

Another inconvenience that is more troubling when I look back on it involved a tricycle taxi. Grace and I were searching for a restaurant, and we couldn’t find it. We received directions back and forth in the same area, and eventually we decided to give up and get a ride from one of the bike taxis just to get us there. I asked a guy on one of the taxis if he knew the place and would take us there for two yuan, and he hurried us and said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Get on.” While we were riding, he was talking to the other bike taxis drivers about giving a ride to foreigners and laughing. The ride took about ten minutes, and when we got there, our driver told us that it would cost ten yuan. I told him I would give him two because thats what we agreed to. The driver and I bantered back and forth in decreasing value: ten…two…nine…two…eight…two… and so on all the way down until we arrived at two. The doorman at the restaurant got involved and argued in the favor of the driver. I only had a ten, so I made him swap my change at the same time.

I think this situation was the peak expression of my bitterness, contentiousness, and paranoia about being taken advantage of. The service provided was worth more than I gave him by any standard in China, but I was too blinded by my desire for price equity with the locals and to have the agreement upheld to be fair to this man. I lost perspective that I had given him a quarter. And to make him swap money at the same time, how offensive! I’m very ashamed that was unable to continue to treat people with dignity under the stresses of China.

There is a restaurant called Tommy’s in Beihai run by an Australian by the same name. The food was excellent and very reasonable for Western food; it was so good that we went twice. We got to meet the man himself and have a long conversation. He is in his sixties and married to a Chinese woman twenty or thirty years his junior who is runs the restaurant. He told us about the different work he had done in China and his farm in Australia. He talked a lot about the benefits and detriments of doing business in China. At one point he was talking about violent crime and made a funny comment about crime in the US. He said it is really safe in China especially compared to the US where everyone is carrying guns and shooting each other every time they get angry. I didn’t want to contradict him and tell him that it wasn’t exactly like he imagined it.

The city itself is very clean and attractive. It was the southernmost stop on our trip, and you could tell in the lush, green trees around town, the diversity of produce available in the markets, and the comfortable weather. There is an old town in the city that looks very Western, so it is possible that the city was once a colony. The buildings in the old town are very attractive with high windows and broad arches over the doorway. However, the Chinese were remodeling and restoring some of the buildings, and they replaced the old facades with bathroom tile and squared off the arches. I wonder who though it was an improvement.

Grace celebrated her twentieth birthday while we were in Beihai. She had always had large themed parties for her last couple of birthdays, so our festivities were significantly different than what she was accustomed to. We went to a nice Chinese bakery and picked out a cake in advance. Trying to figure out what was inside the cakes in pictures was challenging, but we eventually decided on a chocolate cake. When we got the cake, it was big and full of mousse. We enjoyed eating the whole thing ourselves over several days, but at home, we probably wouldn’t have been so excited about it. All in all, it was a good couple of days for rest and relaxation.