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(Arriving in Yangshuo from Guilin)
…after an hour on this bus, during which I was constantly swapping my attention between my friend Bear and this eye-goggingly weird karst landscape, we arrived at Yangshuo, and we met up with this mate of hers, who was getting us mega cheap hotel rates. They got together, and they pelted out a conversation as if they hadn’t seen each other in decades, while I stood there wearing an expression that, I guess, looked like a blend of confusion, gratitude, excitement, relief, and how-the-hell-did-I-end-up-here. I only knew one thing about this chick we met up with, other than she could speak no English – she could talk. And talk. And talk. And talk. And when it seemed that her omnipresent smile should have split her face in two, and the frightening amount of syllables that spewed forth from her mouth should have rendered her tongue numb, she just kept on smiling and talking, talking and smiling…how she biologically managed this is still beyond me.
But, at that point, I was immersed taking in this new environment. There’s no subtle way of putting it…Yangshuo is beautiful, amazing, stunning…as soon as you get there, it’s a bustling little country town, conspicuously presentation-conscious, but, most significantly, it has karst mountains literally surrounding it. Everywhere you look, it’s like a Chinese version of an outback country town in Oz, which is beautiful in itself, but, also, it’s surrounded by these massive, majestic behemoths of tree-covered rock, which totally dominate the look of the whole place…I ended up just wandering in nothing short of a daze, all the time thinking, now this is the China that I came to China to see.
Fundamental things about Yangshuo – it’s only a handful of streets, it’s tidy, it’s chock full of market stalls whose owners yell out “hello T-shirt” at you (or whatever they’re selling), it’s absolutely stuffed with foreigners this time of year, and it’s full of backpacker-oriented hostels and pubs.
Another primary characteristic is that the locals zero in on you all the time to sell you stuff, usually postcards/books, trinkety stuff, or services such as bike hire or boat trips. Well, this sheila rocked up to us and asked us if we wanted a forty-minute trip up the river on a bamboo boat with a little chug-chug engine. She told us a price and I said no way (this place is a haggler’s wet dream), but, just as I’d said that, I spotted the magnetically alluring river behind her – after I saw that, she could have asked for my left leg at that point and probably gotten it…so me and Bear spontaneously said yep, followed her, and jumped on her little two-person aquatic chug-chug’o’mobile. This was not to be the only time we’d be on a boat on this river, but, as an introduction to Yangshuo, this trip did nicely…very nicely.
This boat was simply a rack of bamboo sticks tied together, two seats plonked on one end of ‘em, an umbrella above said seats, and a motor on the back. Once we left the bank…what can I say. The alien karst hills, the lush green island, the nearly clear water, the breeze flapping my hair around, the occasional spray of water hitting me, the relatively clean air, the other bamboo boats all around us, all full of odd-looking people, local and foreign…just magic. Again, this wasn’t to be the only, or best, time on a boat here, but what a mesmerising introduction to Yangshuo it was…and, over the next week, the place just kept upping itself.
After reluctantly getting off the boat, we found ourselves in a restaurant that looked directly over the river (the Li River (li jiang – 漓江))…beautiful, brilliant, bewildering, and other such adjectives that start with b.
After chowing, we went and checked out the nightlife/night markets. And man, this time of year – the tourist season – the place is bustling. Tons of foreigners. I hadn’t seen that many foreigners in one place since I left Melbourne. Every shop has a table full of its wares out on the street, which gives the place a wonderfully distinctive look. You start getting tired of the word “hello”, though, as they yell it at you left right and centre.
Before coming down to this part of southern China, I’d heard that there was a bar somewhere here that had Coopers red…and yes, I found it…there was my prize, a mere two bottles of the stuff…to everyone else, they were just two innocuous bottles, but to me, they were like stumbling on the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail and Bigfoot simultaneously. Apparently, it didn’t sell well in these parts, and thus I held, in my hand, the second-last bottle of it in all of Yangshuo (shortly after, I held the very last bottle of it in all of Yangshuo).