The DiDi was early, but we were all ready to go. The hour+ long drive from Yangshuo to Guilin went quickly, with people to talk with.
In Guilin, I found that the train station itself didn’t have much in the way of food, so I wandered around nearby. Extremely slippery rice noodles at one place, seafood wontons at another, and a bag full of mystery goodies from a bakery for the train ride (savory or sweet? Roll the dice!)
My train was right on time, and actually departed 1 minute early. It was pretty full, and the family across the aisle from me had a little girl who spent the whole trip with eyes glued to a phone or (later) an iPad. No headphones, so I could hear that one of the cartoons she was watching was in English with Chinese subtitles.
A tour group that was on the same train car provided lunch for their people: they dragged 2 giant cardboard boxes along the aisle floor and handed out to-go meals from KFC. Apparently the meal kit included a plastic glove and I watched a guy with double jointed fingers struggle to put the glove on, with his thumb in the pinky hole and pinky in the thumb hole.
When I got to Changsha, it was pretty easy to transfer to the subway line and navigate to my hotel (with the help of Apple maps). I’m glad I arrived during the day, as the sign for my hotel was just a tiny printed one mounted on the side of a building. In a door, up a small and creaky elevator to the 4th floor and – yes! A lobby (and/or living room – lots of kids toys there). The lady didn’t speak a word of English but she looked up my reservation and I handed her my passport and paid for the room. She gave me a key card and I walked up another 3-4 flights of stairs to my room. Not bad for $20!
There was already a room key in the card slot to enable power, but the lights wouldn’t work. So, back down the stairs, I pointed at a light fixture in the lobby and shook my head (while saying something I assumed she didn’t understand). She came up to the room and showed me the card slot and she flipped on the light switches. Yes, I nodded, but…pointed at the lights…they’re not actually on (there was a lot of light from the windows so I don’t blame her for not noticing – I just wanted to make sure I had it sorted out before dark). Hmm. Thinking. Then she gestured for my room key and put it in the slot and on came the lights. Apparently yesterday’s key didn’t work? Okay!
Later, when I came back in for the night, I was trying to figure out which options on the Chinese language remote would activate the heat (and not the air conditioning!) so I went downstairs again. This time I made a “brr” arm rubbing motion, and she came up with an extra comforter AND then helped me get the heat working (helpful for drying laundry overnight!). Anyway, sometimes sign language works pretty well.
Other times, the language barrier has been trickier. It doesn’t help that the interface for whatever translation app most folks here use is different from google translate. They think they have to press and hold the microphone button while speaking into my phone, when in fact by doing so, they’ve stopped it from listening (because I’d put it in conversation mode, already).
After I had wandered around Changsha for awhile, and had navigated back to my neighborhood, I spotted a foot massage place. No English menu, but pointing at feet, and pulling up my calculator app (as it turns out, this has been the best shorthand for “how much?” since it’s common for them to punch in a price into a calculator). They gestured for me to have a seat, then they brought over a bucket of water as usual, to soak my feet in. Then they have me turn around to sit on the ottoman while the guy gives me a neck/shoulder massage. Pretty normal so far. Then some high pressure fingers pushing into my scalp. Then they have me cross my arms and they put their knees in my back and pulled me backwards to crack my back a few times. Okay! Eventually they had me turn around and sit back in the chair, and the foot massage began. Now, when I first went in there, I was the only customer, but since then the place has filled up. A guy at the far end who fell asleep and was snoring in his chair. A girl next to me with the tiniest dog, wearing some silly outfit (the dog, not the girl). But none of them appear to speak any English. At all. The guy massaging my feet is carrying on quite the conversation with everyone else in the shop. Clearly he loves to talk. This does not come in handy when he needs to ask me a question. Instead of a short/simple phrase to have our phones translate, he goes on for many sentences. While pressing the microphone button (see previous comment). And nothing the phones are actually translating makes any sort of sense to me. Given the context, I’d think he’d be asking about pressure, or whether I wanted oil or lotion, or things like that. Then, before I know what’s happening, there’s a wooden cup and a lighter and the cup is suctioned to my foot. And then a second one. I’ve heard of cupping before, but had never experienced it. It was kind of painful. No idea if it was effective or not. He left the cups on my left foot for many minutes, and on the right foot for much less time. I can’t say that I noticed a difference between them, the next day.
Finally he gets his translation app to say: cupping 20yuan, scraping 20yuan. I answered back something to the effect of “no thank you. Just standard foot massage” (which I’d been told was 50yuan, at the beginning). Okay.
I’m not sure if foot cupping was normally included and the extra charge would be for other areas, but everyone else in there also had their feet cupped. And one girl had it on her legs, too.
The vibe of the place was pretty great – I’m sure some of the conversation and laughter was about me or perhaps even at my expense, but not all. And even without understanding a word, I felt like I got a little glimpse into this community. In any case, the experience was way more interesting than the vegetable dumplings I subsequently had for dinner.