十月份的美德 | october, 2008
(this is such a long overdue post — sorry! i’ve started and added to it numerous times now and am glad to finally have finished it … almost one year later. it’s actually interesting to see all these different feelings/memories interwoven from only a month after the trip to nearly a year later. and that is one of the things i love most about travel — you can read about all these places in storybooks and see them through nikon d-90 images, but it is the lasting memories and imprints they leave on the soul that endures in a way that no image or passage can truly ever capture. after all, we each explore with our own unique set of lenses, shaped by our experiences, personality, and lessons)
karst mountains. peaceful waters. rice fields. sleepy backpacker town.
these are nine words that come to mind when describing yangshuo — the third (fourth? i don’t really count guilin as a stop though) leg of my two week+ trip.
i actually never really planned to go to yangshuo. in fact, i had never heard of the place until a couple months before my china trip, where i had originially, in true overly-ambitious style, planned to go to huangshan, guilin, yunnan, tibet, and beijing in three weeks. by train.
after realizing that i couldn’t even get into tibet without a chinese tour designated specifically for foreigners, decided to save tibet for another time (which i really am looking forward to sometime soon — planning on going overland from yunnan and shangri-la). after convincing my relatives that i would take all measures to not be kidnapped, i decided on teaching english for a week at a school in yangshuo — zhuoyue.
johnson, who runs the school, is great and such a happy individual. an engineer by training and a traveler by spirit (sound familiar anyone?) he had decided to start a school in the sleepy backpacker town of yangshuo. walking along xi jie (west street), i felt like i had been transported out of china into a small, european city (although i’ve never been to europe), with climbers from all over the world, backpackers, and cafes lining the street serving hearty western breakfasts, and the aroma of coffee swirling in the air. it was only the random shops that were scattered around with their “没有钱” and other chinese saying t-shirts that hinted at the chinese-ness of the place.
zhuoyue was one of several english schools in the area — funny how they would all cluster around this small town just 10 hours by bus away from one of the manufacturing capitals of the world — shenzhen. situated at the mouth of lijiang, i can see why anyone would trade the smog and factory stacks of shenzhen for the tranquility of the river waters here for a few months.
as with many other places in china, the students were curious to hear about my experiences as a chinese-american — someone who looked just like them yet who seemed to grow up and live in a place that seemed worlds apart. they said they felt an instant connection to me, because while i looked chinese and yet spoke english like any other american, the way i said things made it easier for them to understand. many were originally from guangzhou, but some came from as far as inner mongolia and harbin — china’s northwest region. many had worked in the factories and procurement companies that dotted shenzhen’s skyline, and had come to yangshuo in hopes of improving their english — a ticket to a better career.
the youngest student was a young boy that was no more than 10 years old. a bubbly, outgoing kid, his dad would bring him to zhuoyue every day after school so that he could practice english and interact with travelers who brought stories from beyond china’s borders. i guess no matter where you are in the world, the language of parenthood is one and the same as parents all strive for what is best for their kids. the dad himself was a shy middle-aged man who spoke some english but mainly sat back watching his son make “knock knock” jokes with all these laowai from canada, france, spain, etc.
the first day i was there, i met with yanny and yan — my two roommates for the night. they were from hong kong and had just finished their third (?) year of music school. we went on to ping an the next day and me up with ting — the coolest hong kong-born new zealander i’ve met who had been traveling through nepal, india and china up to that point — where we spent the day bamboo rafting down the same li jiang that i had just come down on a river cruise. how different it is to sit on a bamboo raft inches above the water versus the huge boats that plowed through! highly recommended for anyone who has the chance to pay a visit to yangshuo. we ended up docking half way up the river and hiked back through rice paddies and trails that hugged acres upon acres of farmland (and also had chickens that flew. seriously. for anyone that knows me i’m not too fond of chickens). along the way, we met an old man who actually didn’t speak any mandarin at well with a wheelbarrow filled with pommelos. we bought one from him and ended up enjoying one the juiciest, freshest pommelos i’ve ever had. by the time dusk rolled around, we found ourselves without a raft and we called “lao yang” — our rafter who had taken us there. rafting back through the moonlit and foggy skies was a surreal experience as mountains that had only hours ago been illuminated in sunlight turned into misty objects dancing in the fog. no motor sounds humming softly in the background, it was just us and the mountains. i’ve found that there are moments when you’re traveling when you feel as if you’re one with the trees, the water, and the air that you just want to capture in a bottle and carry with you — that was one of those moments.
the next day yanny and yan left from hong kong, and i went bike riding with sunny — one of the students at zhuoyue. she was so nice and took me to moon hill and yulong he again even though i’m sure she had been there so many times already. we went and had this small river fish whose name i don’t remember anymore (which is why i should really stop writing posts about events/trips a year after the fact) that was indigenous to the area. she worked at a semiconductor company before this and together with her husband, was looking to build a better life. a softspoken woman with a “sunny” personality, i loved her honesty, her sincerity, and her general cheerfulness. i think i ended the day by watching american pie with manny, one of the teachers at the school from the phillipines — ahaha only in china.
the following day, jackie — another one of the students — took some other travelers and i to his “secret fishing spot.” only that day it was raining and there were no fish. it was still a fun bike ride out into the farmlands and we were cooked traditional 农家菜 by a local family. i still remember how the farmer held out the duck that would become a soup to me and told me to see if it was okay and fat enough — i quickly said yes as there was no way i was going to hold a flapping duck by its neck 😛 if you ever get a chance, i would definitely recommend going to a local farm and having them cook a meal for you — it seems like the “new” thing to do in china but much much more than that, it does give you a glimpse into another dimension of china that isn’t always in headlines and a people’s way of living.
as the sun set yet again, we decided to peddle back with a flashlight between the six/seven of us. oh chinese adventures … along the way there were houses with lights though so that definitely helped.
towards the end of my stay in yangshuo, the biggest dilemma i faced was whether or not to stay in yangshuo longer or go to beijing. seeing as how it was raining steadily and the fact that i really wanted to see some friends and the post-olympic beijing, i decided to make the 26 hour train ride to the nation’s capital — where my china journey had really begun three years earlier.
what yangshuo left with me though was its uniquely pictureseque setting (there is a part of lijiang that is featured on the back of the 20 yuan bill), the random collection of people i met along the way from curious university students on holiday, young adults looking to the next stage in life through learning english, to native villagers trying to adjust to the changes that the winds of modernization brought. i still keep in touch with some of the people i met along the way there, and that always reminds me that life is about chance, fate and 缘分.