A weekend in Yangshuo, Guangxi
20.10.2011 - 23.10.2011 30 °C
After a 3 weeks of intensely practising sports events, school had a 3 day sports meeting (Thursday - Saturday). At these events, each class competes against each other throughout the day, while each class has their own class tent outside on the field. It reminds me of a sort of relay for life event, like back home in Hudson. The funny thing is, instead of having organised sports throughout the year, as they would in the west, what they do here is do this intensive period of a certain subject, like sports, and once its completed, they move onto the next field for the entire school to focus on, such as science and preparing for a science day in 3 weeks, and sports are once again forgotten about until their PE exams come around.
Anyways, as Roger and I have both witnessed the festivities of sports day before, we took this class-free opportunity to see some more of China. From Guangzhou, we took a 7 hour bus ride to Yangshuo, Guangxi province. The bus ride was actually fine, apart from the horrific food stop. Both our outwards and return journey, we pulled off at this village where they had a little glass cabin on wheels and different Chinese dishes to choose from. Once everyone grabs their plate from the *delicious* looking food (that's sarcastic, by the way), they go find a seat in a wooden covered shelter full of plastic chairs and tables, and months of spitten out chickens toe nails and bones all over the floor. On our outwards journey I made the mistake of joining in on the tables, but even with trying to block the sound of the 'slurrrrrrrrrrp' 'burrrrrrrrp' and throat hacking from all around me, I could not actually block the images of the man sitting next to me effortless piling in a load of unknown meats into his mouth- moments later having have the contents spit out onto the floor. When I say spit, I don't mean turn their head, cover their mouth, and as politely as possible discharge the remains in their mouth. Instead, they simply lower their bottom lip and let the contents spill out onto the table and floor below, while the next mouthful is waiting closeby on the chopsticks. It's a scene they does not do my gag reflexes any good. Needless to say, I went to the opposite side of the bus on our return journey so as not to feel sick for the rest of the journey.
By the way- I won't even start to describe the bathrooms at this stop.
Anyways, so we arrived in the beautiful Yangshuo, which is famous for its magnificent limestone karsts along the Li River. Its the scenery that you see in paintings all over the world; the idealised China that you imagine before you come (well, it would be without the mass-chinese tourists). We stayed in the hostel that Roger stayed in during the summer when he travelled with Nadine. It was 1.5 miles out of the centre of Yangshuo in a little village with a really peaceful atmosphere (and great margaritas), run by a Dutch guy, called Trippers Carpe Diem. Both days, we rented bikes from our hostel and cycled around the area.
Our first day, we cycled 14 KM (return) to Moon Hill, which is named for the wide, semicircular hole through the hill. It's 800 Chinese steps to the top. I say Chinese steps because in western countries, they generally would zig zag up the side of a mountain- but here, they go straight up. Its a really good workout for your leg muscles! As always, I'm amazed at how many elderly Chinese people over take me en route. The view at the top is really worthwhile, and in a lot of ways reminds me of Ninh Binh, Vietnam.
The second day we did a 24 KM bike ride up to Yulong Bridge, along a small river, where I got my first sunburn since being in China. For the first 3km, it was packed full of Chinese tourists in big crowds following the leader holding a red triangular flag for them to follow. But once we passed the first bridge, where they all stopped, we hardly saw any other tourists. We left the comfort of the cemented road, and followed a very bumpy road through small villages and rice paddies, alongside the limestone karsts, all the way to Yulong Bridge. The plan was to get a bamboo raft back from Yulong Bridge with our bikes, but, because its aimed really at tourists, and especially foreign tourists, the cost was huge. I don't think it really would be if you came from abroad, but it is when you live here and you know how much is reasonable. So after our bargaining skills failed miserably with the boats, we watched a cormorant fisherman on the river on a bamboo raft with his cormorants. It was really nice to see before the boats arrived from the river and it became a chinese tourist haven.
I have heard that the Chinese government pays these cormorant fishermen to continue using the cormorants to fish, despite the fisherman having access to much more convenient and efficient ways of fishing. Its their effort to keep the chinese culture 'show' happening. I don't doubt that this fisherman was being paid to 'show' because of his miraculous timing- starting just before the heap loads of bamboo rafts arrived, and stopping after the 10 minute show to take a nap in time for the next tour group. Nonetheless, it was cool to see.
I was really pleased that we didn't take the raft back because the journey back from Yulong bridge, along the west side of the river, was really picturesque and peaceful (and a much flatter bike ride!). Although, there was the odd occasion when a group of 30-40 Chinese tourists had parked their bamboo rafts to walk through the rice paddies with their music speakers blasting chinese music, on the bike trail. In typical chinese fashion they don't budge when you need to get by - a few people almost got hit. But once we past them, it was once again peaceful.
When we stopped on a bridge to admire the scenery, a group was just passing under the bridge. Normally its a long bamboo raft with two wooden chairs and an umbrella to shield from the sun and the man stands up at the back with his pole. To get under this bridge they have to take down the umbrella. From 500 yards away we heard this screaching- and both wondered what it was. We stuck around to find that one of the chinese passengers on a raft was 'singing' her heart out, at the tops of her lungs. Obviously, someone forgot to bring their music speakers and needed to improv (instead of enjoying the peacefulness of nature- which doesn't seem to exist). When the driver approached the bridge, instead of taking the umbrella off, he simply lowered it down completely covering this woman and her partner sat next to her, with only her feet sticking out. This didn't deter her from her singing- she kept going!!!! The last we saw (or heard of her) she was another 200 meters down the river- still screeching away.
After a lovely ride, we returned to town and enjoyed our last evening of western food and english-speaking company. For us, it was a really nice western retreat before heading back to our little village. I bought a t-shirt that says in chinese on the front 'Foreigner is coming' and on the back 'Foreigner is going' so I can wear it next time I go into town... I can't wait!!! I'm sure it'll actually cause MORE starring issues and an audience, but I'm adding a little humour into it.
Zai Jian everyone