Today’s tour was for the East Course, which had two UNESCO World Heritage sites on its list (Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, and Manjang Cave; Jeju women divers were also recently put into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List), which I would safely assume were the main reasons the only seats available on the bus were at the back. I had already checked out from the guesthouse before I left.
My birthday breakfast was the leftover soy fried chicken from last night. Getting older at my current state in life just feels better in a different place, or I could put it this way: this escape from reality just feels apt. The unfamiliar sensations one gets with travelling just trigger different stimuli.
There were birthday travel plans already for Nanjing, when an officemate mentioned that she’d be heading out to Jeju Island in South Korea for a weekend. You know that eye-frown you make when you wouldn’t think that was a real swell idea to go for? I had that, until she told me her budget, and the following facts: plane fare was relatively cheap coming from Shanghai, and a Philippine passport wouldn’t need a visa stamp to visit the island. Then that eye-frown quickly went bug-eyed, and the sense of a good opportunity welled up in my brain. This annual December undertaking of mine won’t be done back home or in China anymore, and the only thing I know about the specific area was fed to me by a movie, which I happen to really like.
I found myself sleeping well at a bottom of a double deck bed at the hostel staff’s room in Yangshuo. We hurried the accommodations the day before, so we had to settle for that. I was now with Raymond, Ariel, a young Chinese couple, and another enthusiastic lady companion who appeared to spearhead the trip. Forgive me for not being so keen to remember names, and if that shaves a good load of my genuine gratefulness towards our little tour group, so be it.
The day started with a Li River tour cruise, where I didn’t get what I wished for: a front row seat on the raft I was in. I got to be with a group from the Guilin hostel where I knew no one, and half way down, the lady tour guide asked me to move rafts, not knowing the reason why I had to, but there wasn’t really any real interest to know. On that other raft I was still occupying a second row seat, but I was beside the tour guide, so yeah, I now had an advantage over the others, though an unexpected one. I asked how the cruise would be during the winter time (only few tourists take it), and she pointed at what the locals would refer to as horse’s heads on the mountain faces. I can’t decide if she was pretty. I’ll settle for amiable.
Without referencing to the plane ticket, my email inbox, and a calendar, I would just say the decision to take a solo trip to Guilin went through because an officemate helped me book my flight online the night before my trip. I remember finding myself in an airline office just a few hours before that, retreating after finding out the rates were double than what I found on their website. I was just glad I was at the Pudong airport for domestic trips late Thursday afternoon, having left work early, though I wished I could’ve taken the train instead. See, I like trains. I went to Beijing, and I went to Xian on trains. The crammed, stressful haste of flying just couldn’t compare to the serenity of a train ride.
It was past midnight on a Friday when I was greeted at the hostel. My skin was feeling Guilin’s humidity, a sharp contrast from Shanghai’s current spring chill. I told the front-desk staff I wanted to be on the tour for the rice terraces the day after. I wasn’t sleepy at all. The excite, the minor thrill of this sudden decision for this short work vacation hasn’t sunk in completely yet.
Woke up next to an empty bed on a twin-bed room the day after. Blame in on Filipino paranoia, a slightly skewed sense of security and trust, that I find it hard to locate myself in a hostel dormitory with strangers; also, there’s being single, and not possessing the current luxury of like-minded friends. The room looked the same as it was shown online: rustic, with cute hand-drawn art. The toilet didn’t seem to stop filling its tank.