We arrived in Sanjiang two days ago, reaching our first prefecture-level city, with all its grocery and heated-hotel-room luxuries, since beginning the trip. But there was one ol’ reliable that failed us: ATMs. We needed cash from our foreign account, and not only did this capital of a sizeable chunk of Guangxi surprisingly lack all the usual big banks (Bank of China, ICBC, and China Construction Bank), but also its local branch of China Agricultural Bank, with all its prominently displayed Visa and Mastercard network symbols, was in fact capable of accessing neither. So much for a heated hotel room; without some cash, we’d be lucky to find a good overpass to sleep under (although the one pictured on the right would certainly do in a pinch!).
So we did what everyone in this country must do when big things fall through: fall back on whatever guanxi they’ve got. Fortunately for us, we have friends in high places. And those high places (okay, their apartments) are in cities with ATMs, the kind where you can quickly deposit some cash on somebody else’s account. So, a phone call to Beijing, a short wait, and presto! A no-interest loan on my Chinese bank card. Thanks to these great friends, and their Confucian obligation to help us, we were saved.
Now, about this place: Sanjiang (“Three Rivers”) sits along several (three, actually) navigable waterways near the intersection of Guangxi, Hunan, and Guizhou provinces. But its location is still not very favorable for development, as these provinces’ primary economic corridors lie elsewhere. There is a rail line, but the station is surprisingly one of the smallest I’ve seen in China–the kind where the waiting room is outside, and people exit the station by walking across the tracks. But new high-rise apartments are going up all over the place, ready to receive ever more newly-urbanized residents from the surrounding farms and mountain villages of the Dong and Yao minorities. It is one of those thousands of low-tier Chinese cities that we foreigners love to hate: characterless, soul-sucking, ugly; the occasional Dong-inspired decorative motifs almost insultingly tacky. But after just a week of staying in some of those villages out there, we understand and are grateful for the material progress those ugly housing blocks represent.
Here are some pictures from the way in: