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Monday, Day 1

FOUR AM came much too soon for my tastes after the long hours of teacher the day before, but our flight to Nanning was fairly early in the day, so we had to complete final preparations and get ourselves to the airport. Unfortunately, the apartment wasn’t as clean as I would have liked, but it seems like our apartment is never as clean as I want when we leave for trips. But there was no time to do more; China’s New Year “Golden Week” was upon us.

Holiday shoppers fill the aisles while emptying the shelves.

Our destination was Nanning, near the Chinese-Vietnamese boarder. There we’d spend a week with an aunt and uncle. I didn’t really know much about Nanning but figured it couldn’t be too bad, and besides, I should get out and see more of China while I’m here.  Nanning has a population of about 6.5 million and the nickname of “Green City” due to dense tropical foliage everywhere.

Our flight was a little over an hour but we still got free food from the airline. That was nice. We fed Katherine when we got to the Nanning airport, then took the shuttle bus to the city center. We met up with one of Susan’s friends who has a baby about Katherine’s age and then started walking to a hotpot restaurant. It was really interesting to see Nanning as it seemed really busy. People where everywhere walking, hawking their wares (and porn) and playing chess. Almost immediately a beggar detected the foreigner walking down the street and came flying after me. Beggars bug me since they expend an inordinate amount of time and effort on me when there are probably equally rich Chinese people walking down the street. Oh well.

Susan and her friend.

We stuffed ourselves in the hotpot place then  headed to. . . . WALMART! Yep, there are at least two locations in Nanning where one can peruse the aisles and shelves of this global giant. To be honest, the Walmart in Nanning isn’t that different than the Park N Shop and Jusco megastores.  The low price smiley face is nowhere to be found, and the uniforms are different. The biggest difference between a US and this Chinese Walmart though is the number of people inside. In the USA, stores are pretty empty, even at Christmas time.  In China, any ParkNShop type store on any day is more crowded than a US Walmart, and during peak hours, it is probably worse than a Walmart on any given day of the Christmas rush. But nothing compares to the shock of shopping in a Chinese “megastore” during the New Year rush.  Allow me to quote myself from an email I sent some 3 years ago, errors and all. I think I had been in China for about 2 or 3 days at this point.

“Anyway, I also wanted tea. So I had to find a mega store that sold groceries. Finally, I found a “Trust Mart.” It was the craziest shopping I’ve ever done. I get in there and I have to find the escalators down to the next floor. Each floor is so big, you can’t really see much past maybe half way across the floor. Add that to the fact that there are shelves and support pillars and you have no idea there are groceries on your floor.  But eventually I found the groceries. It was like being in an ant colonly. People are moving around and they have shopping carts and baskets. Somehow you make your way around. Every so often though, you get stuck in a traffic jam some area or another and just stand there until you start moving again. 

 

I wanted a box of tea but I didn’t know the word. I thought I’d call Susan to ask the word for “tea” and “check out counter” since I seemed to need that word too. But my phone was out of minutes. I was on my own. Finally I blundered into a huge pile of gift boxes of tea but with a pot and cups. I went up to a clerk (there are clerks everywhere) and said  “Hello” and then pointed at the tea box. It took a while to get the message across, but  they were able to show me the tea. Then I just had to figure out how to get out of this hive. There was a mass movement of people in one direction so I joined the crowd and we pushed our way through the store and some how ended up at the check out counters. There must have been dozens of cashiers. And hundreds and hundreds of people waiting the check out.

 

There are no baggers here. Instead, they just throw all your stuff back into your cart and you wheel out a bit and then you come to a bagging station where U-bag. The cashier’s hands moved in a blur but since people had so much stuff (people were probably shopping for the New Year) it took a while. I think it took me over an hour to get a box of tea. I have to admit, I’ll probably go back the US in a year and wonder why the stores are so empty.”

Indeed, I noted the general emptiness of US Walmarts ever since.

Back to the more recent past. . .

Left: Vendors and chess players pass the time in their own ways. Right: The Chinese Walmart allows customers to test out mops before they buy them.

After our shopping trip we said goodbye to Susan’s friend and then went to the train station to meet up with Susan’s parents and our hosts, Uncle Buick and family. We piled into his car (can anyone guess the make?) and taxis and then headed to his apartment which is a little bit outside the city.  Uncle Buick is pretty much loaded. In addition to his very nice car, his apartment is huge with two big bathrooms, huge fridge, and a TV that is definitely up there with some of the larger ones outside of an IMAX[1] theatre.

The in-laws were horrified to see Katherine crawling on the floor.

A bit after arriving, we headed out again to a restaurant. Nothing too special, and my memory has been clouded by a truly memorable restaurant that came later in the trip, so I can’t say much. And that’s all folks.

In-laws buy some sugar cane on the way back from the restaurant.

 


[1] However, the largest privately owned TV that I have ever seen is located in my brother’s apartment.

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