Stickman Readers' Submissions April 29th, 2004

Tour De Force Round 6

Nanning and nothing

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Morning dawned bright and clear over Nanning as we prepared ourselves for the day ahead and to see if we could salvage the remnants of the previous day. It was great to know that we had actually survived our first day in Communist China and I was looking forward to what lay ahead. Miss C arrived with her interpreter and seeing that we were a bit peckish we decided to go have a bite to eat. This time we were not so lucky as far as prices were concerned as they took us to a very swanky restaurant with very upmarket prices. I politely declined food and rather nursed my beer through the small talk and getting to know you chat. Brett was doing his best to try salvage the situation and see the best points of Miss C, but the combination of her lack of English and Brett's furtive glances at her mouth made the whole attempt a non entity. As Brett said, "it's time to get out of Dodge city and do a runner". We went to Miss C's place of work in a department store and were proudly shown her work station which consisted of a rack of clothing of about 2m long. Each rack had their own sales lady, so there were probably more salespeople than customers! The store also had a staff hair and beauty salon and we met Miss C's friend who was a very funny lady and also quiet attractive. Her looks were a combination of French/Chinese, although she claimed to be full Chinese. We also met her cousin who was a student, spoke good English and was a cutie to boot. All the students we met seemed to have the same look, shortish with glasses and all seemed very serious. That evening we all went out to dinner and this time Brett and I insisted we wanted to eat local so we ended up in a food hall with numerous vendors from who to choose. We were each given a ticket and each vendor then ticked off his stand's food. When it arrived, all the food was placed in the middle of the table and one helped yourself from the various dishes. We ate everything that night, snails, pork, fish, limpets, chicken and other strange items that to this day I still don't know what they were. The food was very good and the companionship great. I had Miss student and Miss beauty salon vying for my attention and openly competing with each other. Surely I would get lucky tonight? I openly cringed when they told us we would be going to karaoke as I hate it but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the place, the service and Miss C's voice. She could hold a note perfectly. The building housed plush karaoke rooms each with their own systems for groups of 30 to a small 2 seater for intimate couples. Drinks were served promptly and large platters of fruit appeared regularly. Miss beauty salon had prevailed earlier in the evening and Miss student (who I actually wanted) had made a dignified retreat. A nice pleasant evening that ended with each group going their own way.

My visa woes continue!

For a city the size of Nanning it was strange that although there was an airport, there were no international flights and so I could not get a Viet visa there. To add to my woes I found out that the closest Vietnam consulate was in Guangzhou near Hong Kong and would entail an overnight train trip! This was our excuse to get out of Nanning but I could see that Miss C and co did not really believe our story. We had to make a decision and make one fast. I was not keen to travel so far and was convinced I could get a visa at the border at Ping. We phoned the New Zealand embassy in Hanoi (no SA embassy) and spoke to somebody (can't name the person) who said that he had heard it was possible to get a visa at the border under certain circumstances but not to rely on it. That was all the urging I needed and we decided to take the chance. No way were we going to take the bus again and this time we took the train and it was a pleasant 4 hour trip to Ping. At the station one is swamped by taxi and tuk tuk drivers and money changers. One particular rogue who had ripped us off when first entering China was there again to try his luck. One of his opposition came over and showed us a book that had written in it "Don't trust that man, he is a thief and a scoundrel!". We knew that already so we had this chap take us to the border post. Just before we went in we went over our story again to make sure we did not contradict each other. Filled in the forms again and as calmly as I could I approached the customs official. He took my passport and punched in the details and almost immediately the piece of electronic shit gave a loud beep. He paged to my visa and said "No good" and handed the passport back to me. I now feigned surprise and showed Brett my visa and said that I had asked for a multiple entry and they had given me a single entry, all the while hoping the customs guys would hear. We asked them if they could phone the Viet side and see if I could get a visa there. After much discussion amongst themselves and the superior they tried but came back and said "No good, you go to Guangzhou!". Now came the next part of our plan and I took out the money I had put in my wallet and counted it in front of them all the while talking to Brett and saying that I did not have enough to get there and back. They seemed to understand my predicament and more discussions followed while I walked sadly away for a smoke. When I came back they were still talking and Brett and I stood in front of a large air-conditioner with a Viet guy who was coughing a lot. We jumped away smartly when he told us that they thought he might have SARS. The official now came up to us and said "Ok you go!" I could have kissed him and gathered up my bag to leave. "Not you, he go" he said pointing at Brett. My hopes sank yet again and plan three now came into being. Bribery! I offered to pay $ 100 for the visa but these guys were adamant and simply said "You go to Guangzhou". End of story.

We had spent a few hours at the border and now realised that we would have to get back to Ping town quickly in order to catch the train back to Nanning. Our taxi driver told us that the train station was closed after 2pm but we did not believe him and made him take us there. He was correct and we now faced the daunting task of taking the bus again to Nanning. Another ordeal on the road but we made it and got to the train station and booked our ticket on the sleeper train to Guang the following day. We dared not go back to the original hotel, but found a cheaper and actually better hotel close to the station and spent the night there drinking and laughing over the hotel guide and their hilarious translations. A classic was "if the walls of your room are scalding hot (due to fire) sprinkle some water on them". We could just imagine ourselves sprinkling water while the hotel was burning down. Spent the following morning walking around all the while being on the lookout for Miss C and co because Brett had decided that there was no chance for things to work out. Had a meal and really enjoyed the company of the waitresses and then headed off early to the station for our long trip to Guangzhou…..

(To be continued…..)

Stickman says:

It's amazing how much hassle the wrong visa can cause. Still, you seemed to make the most of it.

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