Tag Archives: yangshuo

Yangshuo to Yichang

Today was an exhausting day of travel.

We left Yangshuo on the 23rd on a bumpy, loud bus to the train station. Every twenty meters or so the driver mashed the brakes, and the horn screeched about every eight seconds. Chinese pop music poured through the cabin speakers, accompanied by videos of dancing and singing on a TV screen. We arrived to find a fairly comfy waiting room, which was soon offset by a cramped train car for 18 hours.

We arrived in Yichang on the 24th, where we waited for several hours to take another bus to board the boat. In Yichang, we stopped at a modern supermarket and I was suspicious it was an activity recommended by the Gov’t to display “the best” of China. After 18 hours on a train, it is easy to become suspicious of nearly anything. I took a walk around the surrounding area and saw older, more “traditional” shops, crumbling sidewalks, etc. I saw fisherman casting nets into the Yangtze and coming up empty. A Chinese man approached me and asked where I was from, and told me he was an engineer at a nearby factory.

Yichang Restaurant

Yichang Restaurant

We had a fancy dinner in a local restaurant. Our guides placed us in a private room, with a lazy Susan and fleet of waitresses. “It is very loud out there,” they said, referring to the main dining area. “There are many Chinese people.” Although the room was nice, I told the guide, “But we like Chinese people, that’s why we came to China.”

We boarded the “M.S. FORTUNE” (seriously) on the evening of the 24th, dirty and exhausted.

Hot Air Balloon

This morning I rode a hot air balloon in Yangshuo. My alarm didn’t wake me and I was worried they would leave me, but luckily the driver came late. My shoe fell off as I climbed into the basket. We were in the sky by 6 a.m. I think, and the sun was just peaking up. A nice couple from Amsterdam was in too, but they were speaking Dutch and the whole thing was so beautiful that I didn’t have anything to say anyway. The flame was almost burning my head the whole time and seemed too close. We were up to 900 meters at one point, I think, the balloon-man navigated with a little Garmin GPS. He was communicating with someone on the radio, saying I don’t know what. After rising very high, we were brought down low above the river. The town seemed larger from the air then on the street. We landed in a different farm, and all the villagers came out to watch us land, some standing on the roof, and all rushed up at the end.

**Update** – Today, Oct. 14, I read a report that a hot air balloon in Yangshuo crashed, killing five tourists. It’s kind of frightening to think I was just doing the same thing a few weeks ago. I hope the Chinese discover the cause of the crash and determine to suspend flights until safety is a certainty for passengers.

Bikes, Rice, and Light

Today started with a bike ride, leaving from Yangshuo and into the countryside. We garnered bikes on Diecui Rd., gave them a 30 meter test ride, and prepared to go. A fellow traveler asked the bike guide, “Who has right of way? The bikes? Pedestrians, cars?” A moment elapsed and “Miguel,” the bike guide, looked confused. It seemed that right of way was a topic of discussion never before raised in Yangshuo, China. “Yes, we are riding bikes,” was the thesis of Miguel’s answer.

The countryside was filled with rice paddies, deep green grass and wet earth, a hot blue sky, and limestone karsts rising hundreds of meters into the sky, their forms resembling a forest of thick trees. As we made our way down a dirt and stone path, we paused while our guide told how a bucket of one kilo of rice was worth five yuan, and it harvests twice a year. The poverty was difficult to imagine amidst the sublime landscape. Farmers were walking around between their stone dwellings as we rode by, or riding bikes past us with the familiarity of someone who had never been anywhere else in their life.

 

We stopped at “Moon Hill,” a formation famous in this part of China and known for hosting Jimmy Carter at some point in time. Afterwards a hearty lunch was prepared in the home of a friend of “Miguel,” and we ate in tiny chairs around a small table, a little TV yapping off to our side, and a picture of a hoary man, the host’s grandfather, on the wall looking at the visitors.

In the evening I had a chance to attend the local “light show.” Somewhere within the karst landscape of Yangshuo, near an old temple, was an outdoor amphitheater which appeared to seat half a thousand people, or more. The view before it was of karsts, and a tranquil body of water. As evening fell, the karsts were illuminated in purple, yellow, and white, and in darkness the show began. Hundreds of performers in ornate costume danced, acted, and sang. While I couldn’t possibly understand it all, I had the feeling the story was of peasants working, men and women being separated by hardship, marriage, and finally, people wearing lightbulb suits. I was reminded of the Olympic opening ceremony, at a 1/100th scale.

 

I’ve tried to pick up bits of knowledge about China, this massive place, as told by the Chinese people, as much as possible while visiting. Whether these bits are fantastic or factual, I don’t have a preference. A few days ago, while waiting for a train, our guide shared the following Chinese mythology with me:

The story of the Ox and the Rat.
They were going to see the “God of Heaven.” The Ox is hard working and the Rat is very clever. The Rat walks very slow because it has small legs, so it asked the Ox if he could have a ride on his back. He said they could chat and it would be less boring, so the Ox said that would be OK. So they walked to heaven and when they were about to arrive, the Rat jumped off and got there first. This is how the clever Rat was the first to get to Heaven.

Yangshuo & The Li River

The bus ride into Yangshuo was the first taste of Chinese traffic chaos that I would get, and definitely not the last. From the beginning the bus driver’s companion was trying to herd passengers in from the train station simply by leaning out of the doorway and screaming “Yangshuo! Yangshuo!” Unlike bus terminals I’ve traveled through in America, where departures are scheduled and routes are predetermined, this passage seemed to be spontaneous, as if the driver had just found a bus parked on his farm in the morning, thanks to Buddha, and decided to immediately put it to work by showing up at the train station and shouting “Yangshuo!” out the window until enough passengers climbed aboard to pay for the gas. The sales pitch didn’t stop after leaving the train station, and as we made our way out of the city the bus pulled up alongside what seemed to be regular municipal bus stops, where people were waiting patiently for their regular transportation. “Yangshuo!” the operator shouted, convincing several people who must have lost faith in the arrival of whatever bus they were previously waiting for to hop on board.

Arriving at the bus station in Yangshuo was the first experience that felt really Chinese, and where I felt really different. All the drivers of parked busses were standing around, and upon sight of four Westerners anxiously cried out the names of wherever they were going, hoping to take us there. People approached trying to help carry our bags, people stopped and stared. There was some kind of order in how the whole site was operated, I’m sure, it just wasn’t clear to anyone who hadn’t been standing there for fifty years. We dragged our luggage out of the parking lot and onto the main drag of Yangshuo, Diecui Rd., past shops, banks, alongside pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, autos, all sharing the road in disharmony.

We arrived at Lisa’s Mountain Lodge on Furong Lu, where our rooms weren’t ready but English breakfast was available. Walking into the café we passed the bar, upon which sat giant jars filled with strange things, including a gigantic snake. I paused for a moment and considered ordering it for breakfast, but eventually settled for a potato omelet and orange juice, or “Chinese Crepes” as the menu described them. My food arrived last, and only after I started to wonder out loud if it would ever come. I suspect the waitress was waiting for me to mention again what I ordered, so that she wouldn’t have to bring me snake. The breakfast was like a holy supper after fasting on the overnight train.

We had a few minutes to clean up before setting out on the kayaking trip. A small van arrived as our transportation, and we gathered in and drove out of the town toward the Li River. Upon arrival we were asked to pay the modest fee, and then the river men tossed some filthy orange life jackets in our direction. I neglected to put on sunscreen, and received a sunburn souvenir I would carry for several upcoming weeks. The river itself was tranquil and at some points clean and gurgling. When I didn’t paddle it was silent, totally. But some portions were populated by gassy bubbles on the surface and what looked like floating clumps of excrement. I imagine the villagers have no sewage system and rely on the river. Plastic bottles floated at points perhaps to mark shallow water. Women were at the banks washing their laundry, men on rafts fishing under umbrellas, and what appeared to be oxen were quartered under shady trees by rope.

Halfway through our journey, we took a rest. We stopped at a restaurant perched on the riverbank, which was basically a straw roof over a wooden floor, with two or three tables in between. We were given some peanuts, but while sitting, and without saying anything out loud, we decided that we didn’t want to eat there. Maybe because some of us hadn’t exchanged our Macau dollars for Yuan Remimbi yet, or possibly because there were chickens running around outside and I got the impression whatever we ordered was going to be killed and cooked right in front of us.

After peanuts, we walked up the bank to have a look at the local village. The buildings had shops selling bare essentials, and there was a peanut oil factory, and people sitting in bare concrete dusty rooms, open to the street, where only bicycles had room to pass. But they had television sets. It reminded me of the ancient ruins in Rome but inhabited with candy-sellers and TV watchers.

A bus brought us back to Yangshuo and we passed more antique development along the way, and a bit of new modern construction. Yangshuo itself seems modern compared to the village, but still remains a small city. The bus rides have been riotous so far, getting cut off by bicycles and pedestrians, listening to the steady output of an air horn.