From my previous post, I wait an hour and make my way to a taxi, try and explain where I want to go (no one understands written English either) and finally convey I want to go to a hotel. I get to one around 6am, the room looks nice, RMB200 (£16) a night seems okay so I go to pay for a couple of nights, they want RMB500 deposit, I laugh and wonder why they need so much compared to any other hotel, I don't even have that on me so leave on a search at this ungodly hour for a cheaper hotel. I find one ten minutes later, RMB90 (£7) a night, RMB130 deposit, plus, it's called the Sanadu Hotel. Fantastic. For the price it's more than acceptable, a proper toilet rather than a squat, a double bed, TV, wardrobe, and it's central to most places around here.
After finding another hotel nearby with a map of Nanning and English-speaking staff, they pointed out where I currently was, where the train station is and where I needed to go to get my Vietnamese visa. This proved invaluable, all I had to do was point at the map to where the Investment Plaza was, and I was whisked to the Vietnamese embassy for around £1. After filling out the short application form and getting someone to take a photo of me for it, I paid the not-so-cheap RMB380 (£30) for the privilege of visiting Vietnam for 30 days, now I have to wait until Monday until it's ready for me, if I wanted it the same day it would have cost RMB200 more, but I'm in no rush. On Tuesday I'll be heading to the border and making my way to Hanoi for a while, then onto the coast – from there I'm thinking of going through Laos then eventually to Thailand.
Friday night, I wander around the city to get a feel for the area – I get that familiar feeling once again, it's just like the rest of China! Dozens upon dozens of identical stalls selling cigarettes, drinks, ice-cream and chewing gum, the same amount of small restaurants with indecipherable lettering on all of the walls and menus, the same amount of stores selling mobile phones and accessories. Mobile phones are a huge part in China's reconstruction as a capitalist country, many people own them, many more have yet to succumb to technology, whether it's because they don't see the need or understand them, or that they simply can't afford one. This became startlingly evident as the evening progressed.
I found a large restaurant, with one of the best ideas yet: two huge walls with pictures of every dish they do. Fantastic! I went a little crazy and pointed at things with one hand and counting the numbers of each on the other, using the thumbs up when I presumed they had my order right, and sat down at a small table to wait for the tea to arrive. Usually it's green tea, but in every restaurant I've visited, they'll serve up hot tea at no extra charge – they can, however, charge for other things such as tissues that look to be of no charge, but really, you needn't worry, they only add around 10 pence to the bill because of them. Some places also have a service charge (10%), but it depends on the restaurant. It's best just to expect it rather than be surprised when it doesn't quite seem to add up. Soon after ordering, a young waitress came up to my table and started speaking some more than adequate and most definitely more than appreciated English to me. She confirmed what I wanted and we talked for a while about what she was studying and how grateful I was that she helped out with the order. My meal came and was more than I could handle – I packed away most of it and got the bill. RMB22 (£1.80) for two large dishes and all the tea I could stuff down my throat. The young waitress came over to wish me well, and having not enquired before, I asked her how much she earns per hour. First she says RMB18 (£1.40 or so), but corrects herself and says she gets RMB18 for her whole shift of nine hours. So for a 19 year old University student working in a restaurant in China, RMB2 (12 pence) an hour is what you an expect. Unsure if it was offensive in the slightest but wanting to show my thanks for helping, I dig out a RMB20 note and hand it to her. A few minutes later and I still can't get her to take it, insisting she did as it's such a small amount of money for me that it doesn't matter at all. Instead, I make the promise that I'll come back tomorrow, simply so I have someone English to speak to.
I return the next day after a long day of doing nothing, and her friend is also working, we all make plans to go out the next day (Sunday). This works well for all of us, I eagerly want to visit the zoo, but have no clue as to how to get there, they can't afford to go there (it's RMB30 per person, £2.50) and I would appreciate the company and a couple of friendly tour-guides if nothing else. Waking up, it's 28 degrees outside and we set off around 11am, but not before checking into a new hotel (the Hanting Express, RMB119/£9.50 per night, brand new hotel, free internet, TV, clean room, more than I could have asked for). We first take the bus (RMB1.2/10p) to their University, it takes about thirty minutes and we walk around the whole complex. It's a huge mixture of new and slightly older buildings, as well as a small forest an a few parks throughout it all. It's very impressive to walk around, I didn't expect something so well formed, especially when their rent is RMB1000 (£85) for a whole year. The food is also dirt cheap, RMB3 (25p) per meal, I gobble the Guangxi province noodles and soup down, being my first meal of the day and all. After a long walk around, we head back to the main street to catch a bus to the zoo, a ten minute ride down the road. Two thirds of the way there we stop at another of the scheduled stops, and five guys burst onto it and drag two other guys off of the bus, pinning them to the ground. This is Chinese for 'We're cops, these are pick-pockets, everyone on the bus check your pockets to make sure you're not missing anything'. My pockets still contained everything I expected and we soon made our way onwards. The two girls, Wu Dan Hua and Lu Yong Ming, are extremely grateful for me paying for their £2 zoo entry, as they have never been to one because of the price. It has all the usual animals, lots of monkeys, a dolphin show, and one I couldn't stomach for long, the bear show. This involved dressing them up in skirts, making them dance, walk tight-ropes, but worst of all putting boxing gloves on their paws and making them fight each other. Not once did they walk on all fours, all the time they were stood as humans – I couldn't feel anything but sympathy for them. The rest of the zoo was more appealing, and was enjoyable to walk around, but there must have been hundreds of monkeys there – just as well I'm a monkey fan! We then took another (cheap) taxi to one of the big parks in Nanning, paid RMB2 (15p) to get in and soaked up the sun for the most part. Near the end of it all was a small amusement park of sorts, including a tall metal ferris wheel, only when nearing the top was I regretting getting into something so flimsy, thinking of how futile holding the sides would be in something made purely of heavy metal if it were to fall. Obviously, I lived to tell the tale and was glad to get out of it – the pictures I got were impressive though. Going to the University, the zoo and the park is more than a day's strength, so happily I retired for the day, until tomorrow of course.