The best-selling tourist item here

The best-selling tourist item here in Guilin is a T-shirt that says, in English and Chinese, “I Survived SARS 2003.” It’s funny, but it’s also telling. Everyone, especially those whose destinies are linked to tourism, is feeling battered by SARS. It’s got the country in a death-grip.

Even though I am far from SARS-ravaged Beijing, the disease continues to cast a pall over my vacation. Tourist sites are closed, flights are cancelled and everyone’s depressed. My hotel in Guilin somehow got it into its head that since SARS doesn’t like the heat, it would be a wise move to turn the hotel into a sauna. They have stopped the air conditioning and, despite complaints from a few very vociferous customers, turned the entire hotel into a hothouse. This is a huge hotel, and there are at most 20 customers. My hotel last week in Xi’An is a veritable fortress, and my guess is there were 8 to 12 people. You really have to see this to believe it. The staff just stand(s?) around as though everything is normal, the huge buffet laid out each night with no one to eat any of the food. How long can this go on?

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