Step into your local Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree and you will find many imported “goods” from China. In fact, I can almost guarantee that you have at least several items around you at this very moment with a label that says “Made in China.” And how is that? I mean, yeah, we all know the quick answer: Cheap labor and business outsourcing, right? But have you ever stopped to think that maybe there is a little more to this? We’ve all seen what a well oiled (pardon the pun) machine a family owned Chinese take-out place is…and usually they do some brisk (and delicious) business!
Well, having been in China a few days, we’ve started to wonder how there can be so much blatant branding, advertising, and so many status symbols in a country that is supposed to be Communist! Doesn’t that basically mean it isn’t Communism anymore, except in theory? Walking down the street, we’ve been met with a constant barrage of advertisements for products, services, foods, etc. Mostly domestic brands, but frequently foreign brands like Polo, VW, KFC, Coke, Pepsi, Louie Vuitton, Shiseido, Hermes, and so on. And people frequently consume these things. Of course, there is that small problem of not making enough money to own some of the luxury items, but never fear… people here have even recognized this “market,” and there is a large counterfeit goods presence to meet the needs of those who want luxury but can’t (or don’t want to) pay for such things. Sure, there are knock-offs everywhere…but yesterday Mike and I went to the top of a mountain outside of Guilin (Yaoshan Park), and while we were shocked to see we were only accompanied by a small handful of tourists, we were absolutely not shocked to see knock-off “Le Sport Sacs” and “Louie Vuitton” purses at the summit. Who goes there and decides, “You know, I could really use a designer knock-off bag at this very sweaty moment!”
Another surprising thing is that in China, they have found ways to monetize nature. Thats right, nature. Elephant trunk hill, the unofficial symbol of Guilin, is an enormous stone formation in the middle of the city running parallel to a major busy street, and yet, you can’t see it unless you pay an inflated admission fee, because they have planted non-native species of trees to keep people from “freeloading the view.” Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t want to pay for that inflated ticket. So, up the road there is an unofficial pier where you can catch a bamboo raft ride into the park for half the price of admission—since they don’t check for tickets after the gate anyways. Another example is Reed Flute Cave; Over priced admission, but this time they force you to get a guide–who carries with them a special chip in their hand that will turn on the lights at each section–otherwise you are left to admire the cave in complete darkness. Then, while you are in the cave, there are “must see” areas to visit with the best cave formations—but you have to pay for a special admission, which is already on top of the inflated ticket price! That’s China.
O.K., so scamming tourists out of a few bucks isn’t that unusual, but what is unusual is the lack of accountability for production of goods. We met a medical student from Europe doing an exchange internship at a hospital in China who was telling us some of the issues with products and how there isn’t any visible accountability. For example, contaminated contact lens solutions that have led to multiple cases of retinitis and even blindness. I won’t say more, but, do a quick google search about lead in toothpaste or eyeshadows, and you’ll see what I mean. Maybe being in denial about the Capitalism has allowed things to be so unregulated–I don’t know. I’m just trying to make sense of what I am seeing. It’s more than a little surprising to see all this in a “communist” country.
So on to a lighter subject. We started yesterday off at Reed Flute Cave. We took the bus for 1 CNY ($0.16) each, and it dropped us off right in front of the cave! Totally beats renting a taxi for the day for like 500 CNY($83, OUCH!). The caves were pretty amazing, but what we liked was how each formation was named after what it resembled. They had names like “Waterfall from a high gorge” or “Bumper harvest of vegetables and melons,” but my favorite one was “View of a Mountain Town from afar” which was reminiscent of the Karst formations found above the ground. Apparently, the same geological forces that have formed the amazing mountains above ground are responsible for the very unique cave formations underground.
After leaving Reed Flute Cave, we made our way across town to Yaoshan Park. At first, we were only interested in the toboggan ride down the mountain. Since we spent a while at the cave, we got to Yaoshan almost at the time that they stopped selling admission tickets. We decided to get a cable car ride up (which is VERY unusual for us), but it proved to be a good choice. This gave us time to enjoy the beautiful views around the mountain and take some fun pictures and video. We ran around at the top of the mountain to the different viewing platforms and we decided that this was one of the most amazing views we had seen from the top of a mountain. As shops started closing up, we decided to head on back to the cable car and make our way down. Since we got a toboggan ride ticket, we got off at the halfway point and transferred over into the chute and had a great time riding down. Here’s a video we shot at Yaoshan Park:
Here’s a few more pics from yesterday:
Oh yeah, and dinner. So far, food we’ve found in China has been pretty different from stuff we get in the US. Today we went to a nice little sit down restaurant, and ordered a plate to share, a small side, and a dessert. The chicken was pretty similar to the “Cashew Chicken” you get at any takee-outee place, but spicy and with peanuts instead of cashews. The side dish was like big pan fried dumpling—except with WAY more onions than you could imagine. The toffee bananas were better than any chinese take-out dessert I’ve ever had. Crispy candied toffee glaze on tempura over ripe bananas. Mike and I both agreed they would be a big hit if they were ever put on a chinese restaurant menu in the U.S. Just look at them, they’re mouthwatering. =)
As for today, we caught a late morning flight to Beijing. The airport in Guilin is small and very easy to navigate. The staff there, even the security staff, are very friendly. I would even describe them as “civilized” (which can’t be said for everyone, for sure).