Sunday, 25 May 2008

Chairman Mao Salutes Wal-Mart

In the middle of the city of Guiyang, the capital of Guizou Provence, there is a large public square cunningly concealing a vast subterranean Wal-Mart. Overlooking the square is an equally vast statue of Chairman Mao, with his arm extended to a salute. At first both these potent symbols of Communism and Capitalism seem at odds with one another but the China we have experienced is really a complement (or head on collision, perhaps) of the two. The good, the bad and the ugly all wrapped up together. Our trip to the Huangushou waterfalls from Guiyang was all these things and more.

The falls are a 2 and a half hour bus drive from Guiyang. There was torrential rain for the duration of the trip and therefore nothing to see. On arrival we found ourselves in a glorified tourist car park with a ticket building, next to an isolated hotel and in the middle of nowhere. The admission prices were astronomical. It was going to cost us over 17 pounds each to buy a ticket and get a bus to see the falls. Understandably, we were not amused. Kathy suggested climbing the hill facing us. 'Nah,' I grumped. I suggested hiring the pedal boats on the lake in front of the hotel. 'Pah!' Kathy mumped. So we both mumped and grumped together in search of a 3rd option - to find the falls for ourselves. We could see great clouds of spray in the distance and combining compass skills, standard grade maths and boredom with the other options, figured it wasn't too far. Ignoring the legions of taxi drivers offering their services, we started our quest. Guizou is one of China's poorest regions and it was clear that little if nothing of that massive chunk of money from the ticket office was being pumped into the local community. In fact, there seemed to be an Official Tourist conspiracy to prevent the locals from gaining anything from the natural spectacle that situated itself on their doorstep. The road was thick with tourist officials with little badges and stern looks. As we got nearer to the spray the officials were more numerous as the poverty in the place seem to become more apparent. We were now so close we could hear the roar of the falls and feel the spray on our foreheads. An opportunity for a peak presented itself and we pulled ourselves up the wall and caught a glimpse of the falls in their full glory. In all our excitement, it was a while before we realised that the bottom of half of the wall was completely smeared with dog poo. Eurgh. It was also the only part of wall thereafter that wasn't at least 3m high and crowned in broken glass. As we followed the road round, officials blocked the routes to the driveways of houses on the hill above the road- which would have facilitated a very pleasurable look of the falls for free and 'sans le poo.' One restaurant seemed to have a balcony at the back with a prime view of the falls. Sure enough, at the back of the restaurant was a mighty fine view of the falls, again in all their glory. We bought some lunch, congratulated ourselves on having 'beat the MAN', joked about how close we had come to climbing a stump of a hill or pedaling ourselves demented going round and round a tiny lake, and left to find the bus back to Guiyang. Mission accomplished. Tourism in China in never very easy and is certainly never cheap.

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