Our new home here in China, the southwestern city of Nanning, and capital of the Guangxi Autonomous Region, gets a bad rap in the Lonely Planet Guide. More specifically,
“Nanning is a hard city to really love. It’s got disturbing urban sprawl, no major sites, and even worse, doesn’t inspire the kind of enthusiasm among locals that sometimes wins over visitors…” (p. 641).
Ouch! The guide does go onto mention that the locals are actually quite friendly, and it’s a great place to sort your visa to Vietnam, but that’s about it. As for us, we’re happy to be hosting our first visitors this weekend, and a bit more enamored with the city than the folks at Lonely Planet. Here are some of the features we’ve learned to love:
- The Green City: This is Nanning’s nickname, and despite the urban sprawl that Chinese cities are known for, tropical Nanning’s major highways are lined with palm trees and lush vegetation. We live on the main artery through town (Minzu Dadao), and at either end are bodies of water. At one, the expansive Nanhu Lake with its equally expansive and impressive park along the lake, and on the other, the Yong River, with its river boats and quaint stretches of farm land along the banks that resemble what I picture as Vietnam (I’ll tell you when I get there at the end of the month).
- We’ve been to the Botanical Garden mentioned in the Lonely Planet, way outside the city and not worth the jacked up price (65 yuan a head!), although we did see some impressive butterflies and spiders. There’s also Qingxiu Shan Scenic Area, but I think time is best spent in Nanning walking along the rivers and parks that surround the bodies of water and taking in what really keeps this city’s air clean and makes it beautiful- the greenery, or as the locals say, lv hua (绿化).
- Food, of course! Although the food in Nanning is know for being pretty qingdan (清淡), or bland, we love to eat and lunch on both the local staple, guilin mifen, and some of the out-of-province food, like the big plate of chicken at our local hui minority restaurant. Yes, Nanning is known for dog delicacies, but we haven’t felt compelled to try them! We’ve also got a great dimsum place as Nanning is full of Cantonese-speaking peoples, and one of our personal local food favorites is Chinese fried corn (or literally “drunken ghost corn,” 酒鬼玉米).
- The people: Nanning people are warm and friendly, even if their Mandarin is notoriously hard to understand. There’s good reason for that given that many of them are Zhuang, Baihua, or Pinghua speakers, but what they lack in clarity (to my ear anyway), they make up for in charm. It’s a common site in China to see grandfathers cradling babies, older women line dancing in the square with uncanny synchronism, and Nanning is no exception to these.
- The southern way of life here is relaxed- people take 1-2 hour naps in the hot afternoon wherever they are, right on the street, or in front of the pork they are selling at the market. People chat on street corners, laugh, show up late, and genuinely enjoy life. Because many people have migrated to the city from the rural Guangxi countryside, they are new to traffic, elevators, and modern conveniences. They are humble people who work hard, and are kind to those they meet.
I hope our friends will not find Nanning so hard to love when they come. We certainly haven’t found it so. What do you think?