The Migrants of China (February 2017)

I left Shanghai to fly to Guilin, where I’d meet Marion, a student studying abroad in Shanghai whom I’d met in Osaka. Coincidentally, she had not been in Shanghai at the same time I had, but we got along well in Osaka and arranged to meet there. Guilin is a smaller city, with a population of only 5 million. In many ways, it’s a tourist city, with a lot of sights to see before reaching Yangshuo, a town an hour away famous for its scenic mountains. We would meet Piotr and Artem, a Polish and Russian traveler in Guilin. They got along well, but sometimes Artem would say things like “Poland was saved by Russia in world war 2, they should be thankful”.

Yangshuo was absolutely gorgeous, much prettier than Ha Long Bay, a similar sight, I thought.

After Yangshuo we took a passenger train up to Zhangjiajie. The high-speed rail was around $30 while the passenger was around $6, but as poor backpackers, we decided to take the passenger rail.

It was an interesting experience; the only people that were not taking high-speed rail were migrant workers, farmers, and the like. They had never seen white people. When we entered, there were blank stares at my friends, as if they were celebrities. In Guilin, an African-American woman told me how on the train there, she was fervently asked questions through a Baidu translation app. I was able to speak to the migrant workers across from us and I found the experience fascinating. One of them, as his friends joked, had poor Mandarin (Mandarin is taught across the country in the education system, but many unskilled laborers have little command of the language over their local dialect). They asked me about America, what the income was like, if I preferred white girls or Chinese, and many other questions. They asked Marion if she would ever marry a Chinese man, to which she quickly said no, but even if he was rich they asked? She still said no. (She later told me about how a French guy had told her in China he was able to get with other French women far more attractive than him because of the supply and demand: Many French men pursued Chinese women, and as a result there were far more French women. She didn’t like this imbalance. I told her she could always pursue Chinese men and even this out)

The migrant workers asked me if I’d ever seen Chinese TV, to which I said not really, but I had seen clips from a show called “If You are the One”, a Chinese dating show. They told me they enjoyed the show, but sometimes felt the contestants were wrong. One example that they brought up was a man who had started a restaurant and had a good income, but was immediately rejected by many of the suitees when this was revealed to be his profession. To them, it was wrong to prefer a man for the status of labor as long as the income was enough.

(If You Are the One is also famous for the controversial “I would rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle” quote)

Zhangjiajie was the most beautiful place I’d been. I try to emphasize its beauty by saying it’s where Avatar was filmed, but in truth there was no filming done there; Avatar’s scenery was only inspired by it. I remember taking the half-hour cable car ride up the first mountain. Tall, skinny karsts, topped with snow, appeared from the clouds as we ascended.

Finally, we parted ways. I took a high-speed rail from Changsha to Shenzhen to meet Ren Jie.

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