A City of Fairy Tales and Goblins

Backpackers and budget travel. What matters is to breathe in a little China and this was our prerogative when we arrived. Destination: Guilin.


travel 2

With intentions to explore, we were desperately in search of the “True China.” An Italian friend told me about this city, so we dug deeper.

Whether or not Guilin is the “True China,” I still do not know. I’ve often read in books that the most pristine jewels of the Chinese past have probably been destroyed by the Cultural Revolution and the capitalist progress of new governments care not for the retrieval of such ancient relics.

But then, did they ever exist? After all, it certainly takes very little effort to believe oneself in a dream or a fairy tale.

Leaving the train station (桂林) in the direction of the central square immediately engulfed us in a picturesque, scenic landscape, where the asphalt of the city isn’t too developed and is instead replaced by a speckle of surrounding rocks.

Peaks of stone emerge from behind the buildings or offer momentary winks between houses, building up the mystery and enchantment of the place.

“Progress, my dear! This is the way things are now, you have to accept it,” I tell my sullen companion. I wonder if the people of this place only live on the profits of tourism.

After a few steps to the center, we walked along the Li River, which drew me to experience a déjà vu back to my dear, romantic Venice. Don’t get distracted; there are no narrow streets, water inlets or gondolas. Visibly, Guilin is totally different from Venice, but the sense of mystique, suspension of time and emotion are all reminiscent of my lover from the old country.

Here is one of those places where you’ll sit silently and study the magnificent landscape, all the while wondering if the people who populate this place also wake up and do the same or simply live like the rest of the world. Working, grinding, repeating.


The Camel Hill at Seven Star Park

As in any self-respecting fairy tale, we not only have poetry, but also depth to back up the symbolism.

The central streets that intersect are today designated purely for trade and tourism. Fake brands and the copies of fake brands litter the area. Here, people shop. Others crowd clothes stores, in a slightly familiar version of Bejing Road in Guangzhou. This is the right place for those who sit first class in trains and move exclusively by taxi. We leave and go further.

At the gates of Seven Star Park, we are reeling. Entrance fees are required to enter a natural area; today, we must pay to see beauty. Queues are everywhere, even the bathroom.

“Progress, my dear! This is the way things are now, you have to accept it,” I tell my sullen companion. I wonder if the people of this place only live on the profits of tourism.

Back to the streets, there’s a rebuilt open air square, the famous Wanda Plaza, and like everything here, it continues the theme of beauty. As we walk, we notice roads filled with quaint decorations: Chinese lanterns, colorful umbrellas, artistry for sale and local fast food where you can get your fill of chewy crocodile meat.

I do not know what the “True China” is, and even much less now do I know if the China that I’ve read about in books has existed, exists or will ever exist, but when I was in Guilin, I certainly felt something. Indeed, I momentarily was so carried away by the place that I began considering the idea of moving, as the local university offers Chinese courses for foreigners.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, dreamy tales are attractive because they do not last long. By now, I’m already back to my chaotic and colorful life in Dongguan. Still, my memories persist.

For anyone wishing, even a moment, to move to a place where the people of a city perhaps do something different, this is a special destination I thought only existed in fairy tales!