For being Communists, they sure are good Capitalists.

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!”

Knock-off handbags on the summit

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.

Reed Flute Cave

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.

Reed Flute CaveSo 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:


Reed Flute Cave

Sun & Moon Pagoda

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).

Basically a pretty straightforward transit day. Our flight was on time, and we were able to maintain our record of no checked bags on this trip (even though they were supposed to have a 5 kg carry on limit on this flight). It turns out that the locals will set up impromptu gambling and cards in the airport terminal even if they aren’t stuck there for four hours living off of free airline rations. Every other row of seats in the waiting area in Guilin had loud groups huddled around playing cards of all sorts. 
We made it to our hotel, but decided that we needed an upgrade if we were going to be happy in Beijing, especially since today is our wedding anniversary. A few phone calls later, and we went to get a cab to our new lodgings. It was actually quite difficult to get a taxi to take us anywhere, since many were full and those that weren’t wouldn’t bother stopping for us lowly westerners. Finally, a nice lady taxi driver stopped and took us to our new hotel.
The place is luxurious, and absolutely makes the China experience better. We got a suite on the executive floor at the Grand Mercure, walking distance to Tiananmen Square. After Beijing, we go to North Korea, where we may experience power outages and things like that.  So, it’ll be good to live it up for a little while. We have a nice relaxed pace for Beijing during the next week, but then there’ll be no updates while we’re in North Korea. 

11 thoughts on “For being Communists, they sure are good Capitalists.

  1. Favorite two quotes from the video:

    1) You pay to BREATH here. (lol, I wanted to be there at that moment so badly just to say “nah, but seriously)

    2) There will probably be a cheesy soundtrack to that too (referring to the toboggan ride down) haha

  2. So beautiful!! One of my favs so far. I can’t imagine how gorgeous that view is in person.

    Those alpine slides are super fun (there’s one like 20 min outside of Boulder) – and I agree, the best way to get down a mountain.

  3. “Nah but seriously” has definitely been added to the lexicon (thanks Steven) ha ha . And kudos to you for adding a HD youtube video and posting it on facebook considering both youtube and facebook are banned in China.

    Those pictures are incredible and that slide looks super fun!

  4. The ride down looked like soo much fun! But dang mike dont your feet hurt? everytime i notice your feet your wearing sandals! i never see marthita wearing sandals. And who doesnt like a good knockoff bag? although im sure after 20 minutes of using the knockoff’s the bags tear and break apart lol. looks like u guys are having fun! like the video! too bad there arent more videos or everywhere you guys had been.

  5. Mike do you remember one of those slides Georgia took all of too when we were kids? It was such a long time ago that I can’t remember where exactly the place was, obviously not too far from Athens. Do you happen to remember the placed? Ofcourse the one you guys went on looks alot higher up!

  6. Happy Anniversary!! How many years now? Did you and Maritha ride the toboggan together or did you have separate ones??? I would have never touched the brake!

    1. Thanks Christine, it makes nine years married, eleven years together…. We had separate toboggans, and I wouldn’t have touched the brake either except we had a Chinese staff guy leading us that was “controlling” the descent =(

  7. Oh man, that Toboggan ride looked like it would be more fun than anything ever. It’s no “Space Mountain”, but it’s still a mountain =) Almost feel bad for those people going down the mountain in the cable car. I wonder what they were thinking when they saw you with your camera out lol

    Think about it, why not buy cheap knock-off purses at the top of the mountain, Did they sell bottled water up there? If so, where else would you put those bottled waters on your way down?

    I think you may be on to something, sir! I think if chinese take out restaurants actually served “authentic” chinese deserts, they would increase sales by a good margin. Think about it, no more needing to ride to Publix for ice cream or pie when it can be delivered along with your food!

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