Friday, June 5: When I was on a tour of the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an, I met a fun-loving Finnish lady named Mari, who lives and works in Beihai, a city in the south of Guangxi (the tang dynasty music & dance show in xi’an). When we were in Xi’an, I mentioned to her that I live in Nanning, and she said, “You have to come to Beihai!” She offered to send her driver (yes, she has a full-time driver provided to her by her company!) to Nanning, about 206 km and a 3-hour drive, to pick me up and take me to Beihai. I thought that sounded wonderful and was enthusiastically waiting for this to be arranged!
Soon after my classes end at noon on this June Friday, I go to the main gate of the university to meet Mari’s driver. It is pouring rain, and I’m standing in the chaotic intersection with an umbrella and my suitcase, searching for a black sedan with a certain license plate number. There are scores of black sedans, and I’m having trouble finding the one I need. Meanwhile, I’m getting drenched, in spite of my umbrella. I have the driver’s mobile number, but he doesn’t speak English. What to do?
Luckily, I finally hear from him by text message; he has translated his Chinese into English in two texts: First, “I am at the gate of the city is convenient hotel.” I know there is a hotel around the corner from the main gate, so I walk to that hotel, but I see no sign of him. Then, “I in the school parking lot.” I write back, “Oh no! I have no idea where that is. I’m at the main gate.” There are no parking lots that I know of around the main gate. I wonder if by chance he’s gone to one of the other gates. I keep walking around, looking carefully at every black sedan that goes past for the correct license number. Finally, I see him coming out of the university gate and I flag him down. He kindly hops out, puts my bag in the trunk and we’re on our way.
There isn’t any conversation because we can’t speak the same language, so I promptly fall asleep until he wakes me for a bathroom stop along the way. When we arrive at Mari’s house, it’s about 5:00. Mari is at work and won’t get home until after 6:00, so she texts me with code to her front door and I let myself in. I relax and enjoy the views of Beibu Gulf from her balcony window.
The name Beihai means “north of the sea” in Chinese, signifying the city’s status as a seaport on the north shore of the Gulf of Tonkin. It is historically important as a port of international trade for Guangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan. The city has about 1.4 million inhabitants. Beihai has a monsoon-influenced humid subtropical climate with very humid conditions year-round (Wikitravel: Beihai).
It is quite humid this evening as I stand on Mari’s balcony looking over the busy Gulf with its fleets of ships and fishing boats.
Looking to the right, I see an abandoned dock. Mari later tells me there are plans to turn this dock into a restaurant, but nothing has been done so far.
Mari works at Stora Enso, a leading provider of renewable solutions in packaging, biomaterials, wood and paper on global markets. She’s a supply chain manager for the manufacture of container board paper, used in certain kinds of milk cartons. Apparently Beihai has eucalyptus trees that are harvested for this.
Mari’s apartment is gorgeous and she has a lot of company perks. I think I’d have enjoyed my time in China a lot more if I’d had a beautiful apartment with a view of the sea, a driver, and a great salary!
Looking to the left and inland, I can see the city’s high-rises along the shore of Beibu Gulf.
There are even a group of swimmers off the beach below Mari’s condo; it’s actually so warm and humid, I’m tempted to go down and join them!
Mari returns home from work and we have a chat about her plans for tonight and tomorrow. She told me before I came that she had to go to Shanghai for work on Saturday night, but I was welcome to stay in her apartment. She tells me now that her driver will take me to the harbor on Sunday morning, where I can take the ferry to Weizhou Island. He’ll pick me up upon my return and drive me back to Nanning. It’s so kind of her to have arranged all of this, especially considering that she won’t even be here the whole time!
After enjoying a glass of wine at Mari’s apartment, her driver takes us to the Beihai Old Street. The street is famous for its old colonial buildings, which have the faded patina of old Portuguese cities.
After the 1876 Sino-British Treaty of Yantai, eight Western nations (the UK, US, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Italy, Portugal, and Belgium) set up consulates, hospitals, churches, schools, and maritime customs. Today, 15 of these colonial buildings remain in Beihai, forming the center of the Old Street (Wikitravel: Beihai).
We walk down the street and I’m surprised to see what looks like a Chinese version of an old Portuguese town.
There are a number of life-size bronze sculptures on the street, depicting the history of Old Beihai.
I’m surprised to see a church on the Old Street, Beihai Christ Church. This is the first and only church I’ve seen in China.
The street is quite lively, with food vendors, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. The area is now known for its busy nightlife.
In the sculpture below, the figures are playing Chinese chess and one of the spectators is holding an unfurled hand fan.
We stop at one vendor and have a snack of some clams.
After we walk down the street a bit more, Mari takes me to a wonderful and atmospheric Thai restaurant, where we enjoy a fabulous meal and a lot of laughs.
After dinner, we walk back down the Old Street, passing several other characters along the way.
Mari’s driver is waiting to take us back to her apartment, where I sink into the comfortable guest room bed and dream of the sea. 🙂