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.