We are on a hard bed to Guiyang in Guizhou province. Three narrow beds stacked on top of each other, facing three more. It is a public carriage and they are public sleeping quarters. No door, no privacy. Men sit at small tables eating two minute noodles and smoking quietly. The train rattles along, 24 hours to Guiyang. Crumbling cityscapes turn into new construction sites; lonely apartment blocks are replaced by old houses on stilts in rivers which become paddy fields overlooked by green misty mountains; all on the trail to Guiyang.
We are in Guiyang and the pale colourless sky fades to grey at the horizon, as if it has lost its colour in the wash, giving the city a drab feeling, not eased by the dirty buildings and busy streets. We are downtown among fruit stalls and filthy alleys. We see the homeless and the beggars. The city feels tired. People struggle among the crowds grimacing, fighting a strong rip. Our ‘ni haos’ surprise people.
“You’re going to hate Guizhou,” our hostel owner, Mal, says.
He is curt; straight to the point. His body reflects his personality; lean, angular; no room for fat. He relaxes when we have paid our money. It is his birthday but he doesn’t celebrate birthdays. He hands his cake out ‘to get rid of it’.
There are limited options for international travellers who want to book accommodation in Guiyang. Guizhou province is one of the poorest provinces in China and only emerged from the protective policies of the central Chinese government in 1986 when foreigners were finally permitted to visit. Mal tells us that, in an attempt to present a better image for the area, provincial laws prevent budget hotels from accepting international travellers. Judging by the state of our hostel maybe the bureaucrats were right.
We decide to leave Guiyang the next day, as early as possible. We will aim for the Anshun area in search of the Batik textile designs of the Buyi Minority.