Sunday, January 25: After our disappointing day in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, we at least have a show to look forward to: “Charming Western Hunan.” We eat a nice dinner in the hotel, then walk next door to the theater to see an acrobatics and dance show.
I love how the walls of the theater have Chinese-style carved railings and red lanterns. As is usual in Chinese public buildings, the space is not heated, so we stay bundled up in our jackets for the show’s duration.
I’ve seen a number of Chinese shows by now, and they’re always impressive in the way they use backdrops, lighting and sound effects.
They always seem to create either a magical fairy-tale land, or a land beset by violence and war.
The show is impressive, but not as good as many I have seen. This one has several unrelated dance numbers, so it doesn’t tell a story. Toward the end, there is a lot of talking by one person about various things that I can’t understand because it’s all in Chinese. I think what she talks about is the history of Hunan province and the ethnic groups that make up the province. But who knows, really?
We leave the theater, thinking the show is over, and we find this diorama of a traditional Chinese village in the lobby.
We also find an interesting wood carving with a fierce-looking face hovering over it.
When we walk outside, we find there is an outdoor theater as well, where people are doing all kinds of daredevil performances. In one instance, a man lies down and blocks of wood are piled upon him like a pyramid; a lot of people come to stand on those blocks of wood. It looks like the poor man underneath would be crushed to death by all that weight.
One of the performances really freaks me out, so much so that I have to leave. I don’t take a picture because the light is so terrible, but now I wish I had at least tried. A huge curved sword is brought out to the stage. The sharp blade is facing up, and a man stands barefoot at one end of it. He bends over and takes a piece of string and pulls it over the sword’s edge, slicing it cleanly to show how sharp it is. Then he walks slowly down the curve of the sword barefooted and balancing on its sharp edge. I can barely watch as I can’t stop imagining him slipping and falling and getting cut in half vertically!! That is not something I want to see. I would be traumatized for life.
It’s freezing standing outside at this theater, but the Chinese are very tough characters, used to living without heat or air conditioning in most aspects of their lives. They seem willing to stand and watch for the duration. Meanwhile, as a spoiled Westerner who’s already been suffering in the cold and fog all day, I am tired of being cold. We leave early to return next door to the hotel, where we get warm and toasty in our room. We leave tomorrow for Guilin. With a day of travel ahead, all I want to do is relax.
Monday, January 26: Today, we have a flight from Zhangjiajie to Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province, from 1:10 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. When we arrive at the Changsha airport, we have to get quickly to the Changsha train station for a 4:17 p.m. train to Guilin. We’re due to arrive in Guilin by 7:47 p.m.
We make the mistake of arriving way too early to the Zhangjiajie Hehua International Airport. This is a really small airport, one of the smallest I’ve ever seen. It’s not heated and there is not a single shop open to grab a bite to eat or to get some coffee or a drink. It’s an extremely long wait for what appears to be the only flight going out of the airport for the day. Not only that but the boarding starts late, making us nervous about making our train connection in Changsha. The airline has the reassuring name of Okay Airways and it’s China’s first private sector airline. It’s a small old-fashioned propeller plane, but the flight is comfortable and without incident.
It turns out we make it to Changsha with plenty of time to get to the railway station. We take a taxi to the huge train station, where we immediately find a McDonald’s to grab a quick meal. Then we get on our train for the 3 1/2 hour train ride to Guilin. Luckily, it’s a fast train, with comfortable seats and not too frequent stops.
By the time we arrive in Guilin, it’s dark, and we find a taxi at the taxi stand to take us to our hotel, the Guilinyi Royal Palace, which is on the grounds of the Guilin Central Park, the city’s botanical garden. We get dropped at a gate outside the botanical garden, where an electric cart waits to pick up hotel guests. Here’s a view of the hotel at night.
We’re starving, so we go immediately to the restaurant, where we order a Chinese meal accompanied by beer and tea.
There is a tea room where you can stop in for a tea ceremony. It seems pretty deserted. I’m not a tea drinker, so we opt not to go in. However, we can hear this woman playing a delicate melody on a traditional instrument.
Finally, we can relax in our room. This room, like the Hotel Pullman, also has a bathtub. This of course is a rare treat in China, so I always take full advantage by taking baths in the morning and at night.
We plan to take our time leaving in the morning for Yangshuo. The forecast is for more rain and clouds, so what’s the rush? It won’t be the same as when I went in October, at which time I had warm and somewhat clear skies every day.