Golden week. Never did I think that two little words could bring such a vast amount of joy to me yet, six weeks into my China teaching adventure, joy is exactly what was brought. Teaching in the public-school system has many benefits. Though having ample time off was an important consideration for me before coming to China, it was not the most prominent draw the public-school system held. The primary reason I chose to teach in a public-school, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this reason, was the holidays.
Golden week is celebrated around the 1st October every year and celebrates the foundation of The Peoples Republic of China. Weekends are rearranged to give seven consecutive days off. A week off after only six weeks of work felt incredibly indulgent but was very well-received. Shenzhen is a great city with a youthful energy and relentless forward momentum. I love it here. It can, however, be difficult to switch off. I felt as though I’d not stopped since arrival, way back on the 23rd August. Time outside of the city seemed like the best way to decompress, and one place, in particular, had peaked my interest: Guilin.
Guilin is a 3rd tier city which lies to the north of Shenzhen, in neighbouring Guangxi province. It’s super easy to get to – you can get the high-speed train from Shenzhen west station, right into the centre. The journey only takes 3 hours too. Alternatively, at least it would have done, had not all the train tickets for every single service been completely sold out. Golden week transport options are limited if you don’t plan far enough in advance. Luckily, cheap flights were available from Hong Kong International Airport. A short hop across the border, leaving mainland China to fly back into mainland China, and an hour on a plane later I arrived.
What precisely about Guilin made it stand out to me? It is the landscape and the resultant hiking opportunities. The whole area nestled amongst so many towering limestone karsts used to be underwater, before the Indian subcontinent crashed into Asia, forcing the seabed up, and leaving the uniquely mountainous landscape behind.
A shuttle bus runs from the airport to close to the centre of town. The bus stopped at Aviation hotel – roughly 3km from Ease hostel. The sun was starting to set, and the evening air was crisp. I wanted to stretch my legs after the flight, so a walk along the river seemed like the best way to get where I was going. The pace of life in Guilin is slower than Shenzhen. Groups of older men sat on the river bank, laughing whilst playing mah-jong, sipping on LiQuan (excellent local beer, very easy to drink).
My hunger finally got the better of me so, after checking into the hostel and cleaning up, I headed out to feed. Ease hostel is close to Guilin city centre, as well as some scenic spots like Rong Lake and the moon and sun pagodas. Guilin becomes an entirely different city at night. Walking around the lake in the dark, bathed in the soft uplighting of the surrounding trees. I was spoiled with all the photo opportunities. The night was utterly still, so the surface of the lake was mirror smooth. Crystal clear reflections of oh so many different lights lay scattered around the shore. A single boat lay illuminated with pride of place in the very centre of the lake. Children ran freely, their laughter echoing into the night, mixing with the sounds of traditional Chinese music. Everyone was enjoying the beginning of their Golden week as much as I was!
The pedestrianised area with the most street food options was a short walk from the lake. Every taste was catered for; every cuisine was available. With a plethora of dinner options, the create-your-own noodle soup was my choice. I drew some incredulous stares from the locals with the number of options I chose, but this is nothing new. The same thing happened at home. I REALLY like to eat. After stuffed full of noodles, dessert took the form of an Oreo-matcha tea – though mid-autumn was approaching I couldn’t sink to the level of pumpkin spice latte. Zero interest.
In a soft haze of gustatory satisfaction, I pondered the fact that even though I was only an hour from Shenzhen, Guilin felt an absolute world away. I knew it was going to be an enjoyable holiday.
Thanks, Golden Week.