Despite all I’d read about exploding mega-cities and hyper-speed industrialization, I somehow expected China’s rate of cultural evolution to be slow. But badges of Western consumerism—good hair, tight denim, SUVs, “it” bags—far outnumbered the Mao-jacketed peasants of my naive imagination. Beijing and Kunming went from isolation to haute chic in a couple of decades (which, let’s face it, is twice as far as my hometown has come in half the time).
Guizhou was different. Life here felt outside of time—alternately pre-modern, 90’s suburban, and post-apocalyptic depending on where you were standing.
Kirk objected to calling Guiyang “China’s Grim City.” The place had its charms (extreme cheapness being one), but you couldn’t deny the dingy haze and sewer-dipped pungency of the place.
The pollution was palpable, visible here down a long avenue.
Our first day we took a cab to a historic village 25 miles outside Guiyang. We entered the town through a back gate.
A high wall encircles the village, demarcating the tourist tchotchke zone.
Friendly dog running free.
Chickens in baskets.
On the main drag, the tourist amusements included archery. Once the goofy Westerners stepped up, a crowd gathered.
These two were alright.
But this guy couldn’t miss.
Kirk sprang for an order of pigs feet, an abundant local delicassy. Austin and I abstained.
One of several half-completed bridges hovering over the route back to Guiyang.
I saw sidewalk pep rallies like this outside several restaurants and salons. They culminate in a team shout.
Hot pot, a Southern Chinese specialty, is the oiliest meal I hope I ever eat.
Tofu and mushrooms about to be drowned in spicy oil.
How fresh was the fish? We witnessed its final breaths as it lay disemboweled at our table.
After hot pot, we found the small nightlife district. We were a popular attraction at this bar, playing Liar’s Dice while patrons bought us beer.
Liar’s Dice is a drinking game, which I’m more than fine with. But when the bar owner (with Kirk) sat down and began to dominate the game, we’d soon had our fill.
No matter where you are on earth, there’s really only one thing to do at a certain point in the evening.
I’d been in China long enough to start to hate Chinese pop music, but that was before I heard Austin’s soulful interpretations.
It’s a good thing we had a private KTV room, I think.
“Well you came and you gave without taking
but I sent you away, oh Mandy
well you kissed me and stopped me from shaking
I need you today, oh Mandy”
This dilapidated café had a decent cup of coffee by Guizhou standards.
But after hot pot, liar’s dice and karaoke, no amount of coffee could erase the hurt.
Looks how I felt.
Street egg rolls (not as tasty as they appear).
Street dentistry along the riverfront in downtown Guiyang.
I can’t turn up my nose at this because I haven’t received even this level of dental care in years. Nearby, a woman was undergoing a scarier medical procedure. She had metal cups suctioned onto her legs that clearly caused her to bleed. A crowd of observers registered our shocked reactions and laughed at us.
Standing on floating logs, a traditional artform.
You can burn these offerings for dead relatives. Notice the miniature suit of clothes and miniature furnished room.
Wandering in a back alley full of mahjong matches, we found a crowd around an illegal gambling card game, with lots of money stacking up. True to form, I was oblivious to any danger as I snapped this photo. I had to be told we weren’t really welcome here.
Old timers with kites and the Guiyang skyline.
Goodbye, Grim City.