Enjoying Nanning: The Xiyuan Hotel
My visits to Nanning (the capital city of Guangxi Province) have been very few over the past year so this was a great treat for me to enjoy myself last weekend in this widespread metropolis for 2 days. Little Flower stayed behind with my co-teacher, Kate (Yan Chunjing), who looked after her during my visit away. That left me free to enjoy the city on my own, especially the comforts of my chosen hotel, the Xiyuan (shee-you-ehn).
I first landed in this place by accident. I needed a place in Nanning to stay for the night before leaving early morning on the plane to Nanjing. I hopped into the taxi and said, “I need a hotel. Not too expensive but nice and clean.”
The driver was a woman. She thought for a moment and then said, “The Xiyuan Hotel? Is that O.K.?”
Since I had no idea, I just said that would be fine so off we went.
I was a bit worried when, from the busy business street, she turned down this quiet, shady road lined with gorgeous trees. At the end was a gate that led into a huge grassy complex filled with trees and well-manicured lawns.
Could I afford this place? It looked like a conference center for big business, not a hotel for single tourists.
I asked my driver to wait while I checked the rates as I didn’t believe this could possibly be cheap.
The marble-floored reception room was huge, with a chandelier and coffee bar graced by a baby grand piano to the side. I almost left as soon as I walked but as I was there, I decided it was best to ask the price anyway.
I had to repeat the one-night rate twice because I couldn’t believe it.
“200 yuan ($28) a night? Really?”
Well, I certainly wasn’t going to turn that one down. When a Chinese low-budget travel hotel was about $16 (Chinese squat toilet, no towels, just bed and TV), might as well pay a bit extra and get posh surroundings.
So that’s where I ended up staying and it has now been my regular overnight every time I visit Nanning.
What’s Special about the Xiyuan Hotel
Now that I’ve stayed at this place for a number of times, I can tell you it’s a real winner.
The air-conditioning is to-die for, first of all. In sweltering 100 degrees heat outside, you want a hotel that will keep you pleasantly cool 24 hours a day.
Every room is equipped with a little balcony, which is great for fresh air. Nice big towels, complimentary toiletries, teas and hot pot are ready for use. Cable will get you local channels all over China (not overseas’, however) and there’s even a mini-fridge to keep your drinks cold. The carpet is a bit worn with stains and scuff marks but so is every such hotel in China. Nothing new.
As a conference center, the hotel has a number of meeting buildings and main halls on their wide, beautifully kept grounds area. These buildings are rather old in nature, probably dating from the “open door policy” of the 1980s, but they are kept up well. It also seems there are quite a lot of companies and organizations that enjoy meeting there. On several occasions, the place has been quite busy, although not so much that you would feel it crowded.
What’s really fascinating is a European-style domed “palace” which I’m assuming was a foreigner’s club at one time, perhaps in the 1930’s. It rests next to a large pond and in the evenings, it’s lovely to stroll along the forested walkways, listening to the frogs chirrup in the moonlight.
The building, however, is no longer in use. The large halls and high-ceilinged rooms house ground maintenance items, such as potted plants, lawn mowers and such. The rooms on the upper floors are empty with tattered curtains dangling down from the windows. Even though not in use, the edifice itself gives a special mysterious ambience to the place.
Aside from the scenery, another real winner for me is the indoor swimming pool. The 25 meter, 4-lane pool is located in a building next to the club palace and has the same sort of architecture. My guess is that this at one point was the club’s gym, which has now been gutted and refurbished with a brand new lap pool, oval floating pool and 2 whirlpools.
For 38 yuan ($6), anyone can enjoy their time swimming or lounging on the decks out of the sun’s harmful rays.
As an avid swimmer, the pool is the main selling point for me. And the fact that there are hardly any patrons at all makes it even better. I usually have the entire place to myself.
Hanging Out in Yinxing Plaza
When it comes to people watching, this hotel is the place to be.
The hotel’s grounds are located just a 2-minute’s walk from Yinxing (in-shing) Plaza and a small roadside park. The plaza is a tiled parking lot with my favorite Chinese grocery store, the Ren Ren Le (Everybody’s Happy), located underground.
Everybody’s Happy is a chain store that is all over China in the bigger cities. It’s the Chinese equivalent of Walmart, with clothing, appliances, sports equipment, toys, pet supplies, bakery and grocery items galore. It’s a huge place that has everything and anything you’d ever want. Very sanitary, clean, brightly lit, lots of sale specials and loaded with Chinese spending their money.
If you love Chinese kids, the plaza is also the best photo-op for these little darlings.
There are a number of small tents and play sets that appear in the evenings where parents can bring their kids to enjoy games, small rides and other activities. There’s the plastic bubble pool to “splash” around in, the arts’ center where you can paint plaster figurines of favorite cartoon characters, coin-operated cars and animals to ride on, several roller blading sections to enjoy (flashing-wheeled skates for rent as well), “go-fish” mini-pools and large-sized rubber building blocks to use for creative constructions.
Sometimes on a weekend evening, special groups perform to entertain the kids. When I was there this past Friday, we had one such performance take place on a make-shift stage. The adult youth leaders led us all in children’s songs, dances and games. Lots of fun for the whole family, plus it was free.
Aside from this outdoor performance, however, everything else did have a price. Activities cost anywhere from 5 yuan to 20 yuan (75 cents to $3) per hour, depending on what your kid preferred.
Of course, kids get thirsty and hungry so parents were always pulling out their wallets to pay for drinks, ice cream bars, hotdog sticks and whatever else could be had from the nearby stands.
Permanent tables and benches were always filled with those snacking away, resting after an evening of fun with the kids or shopping at the underneath Everybody’s Happy store. Sitting here, enjoying my Diet Coke, I had a full hour’s entertainment watching people come and go or listening in on others’ leisure conversations.
The Local Park
But there’s even more going on at this location.
A mini-park next to the plaza is filled with those wanting some respite from roasting apartments that have no air-conditioning. In the evenings, there are the elderly groups, gathering at different places for tai-chi (a traditional, slow-moving meditative exercise), Chinese fan and ribbon dancing, choir practice, and erhu (traditional violin) and accordion practice. There are also the middle-aged exercise buffs who form neatly organized rows to do their gentle aerobics work-outs to taped music from their boom boxes.
Others bring out their doggies to enjoy canine company time and the cool breezes of the night air. And of course there are the lazy lot who just sit around on the stone benches, chit-chatting about the day’s events and sharing stories about surprising events in their neighborhoods.
Catching the Early Birds . . . Literally
If you’d like to experience a different kind of crowd, your best bet is to hit the park in the morning.
Starting as early as 6 a.m., you can catch the early risers here also doing their exercises but the main attraction for a foreigner would have to be the men with their birds.
Chinese men love their caged birds. Just like we walk our dogs about for a bit of fresh air, the Chinese men bring out their birdies in cages to enjoy the environment of trees, sunshine and open air.
They line up their bamboo cages in rows, bring out their lawn chairs and lounge about. They chirp at their pets, gossip with one another, sleep in the shade or just people-watch. They’ll spend the entire morning doing this before heading home around noontime, returning the next morning to start up their routine again.
I’ve never seen women in China participate in this kind of outing, only the men so I’m assuming it’s a guy thing, one of those male-bonding activities that we women just don’t get — sitting in the park for hours while chirping and watching your bird flutter about in its cage.
Yup, that’s pretty much a mystery to me.
After a 3-hour bus ride back to Longzhou on Saturday, I arrived home late afternoon to a very happy Little Flower. My co-teacher, Kate, is a good babysitter but she’s definitely not Mother. (Those of you who have spoiled pets know exactly what I mean.)
It’s always nice to get away for a few days but also nice to return. And it looks like I’ll be heading over Nanning way again.
Wednesday, June 16, brings a day off in China with our Dragon Boat Festival holiday. To give students some extra travel time, our school is holding Monday and Tuesday classes on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, meaning Monday to Wednesday leaves those living nearby free to go home for a few days.
It also leaves Little Flower and me time to head off to Nanning together. Looks like Yinxing Plaza will have two interesting guests join its ranks very soon on an evening or an early morning. We can’t wait!
From Longzhou, here’s sending you Ping An (peace) and hoping your Dragon Boat Day will be just as enjoyable as ours.