The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Spring Festivus for the Rest of Us, Part III

Guilin (of strange jutting hill/mountain-type formations and Li River fame) greeted us with what could only be described as truly crappy weather. It was overcast, if not raining, the entire time we spent there. That's not to say that its beauty was lost to us, however. It's most definitely a unique-looking city, though the actual city part is without question the least interesting aspect. Among the cool things we did (somewhat limited by the discouraging and chilly weather) were to climb Solitary Beauty Peak for a great 360-degree view of the city, and a visit to the Reed Flute Cave, which boasts cheesy and yet strangely enrapturing colored lights illuminating the amazing stalactites and stalagmites (if I spelled those words right I rule). It contains a vast open space, not unlike some sort of subterranean ballroom, which we learned was used to hide people during the "War Against Japanese Agression" (before it was disco-lit, of course). On our walk through the cave, we had to laugh a little, as there were names for some of the more unique formations, and I suspect that there may have been something lost (or added) in the English translation...though I doubt I could have come up with a better name for the "Centipede Frightened by Reflection in Magic Mirror."

If you visit Guilin, you'll find that basically every source of information (aka tourist trap) will tell you that if you do not take a Li River cruise, you might as well have not visited at all. Not to be considered inadequate tourists, Emma and I complied, though we didn't spring for the cruise with the English-speaking guide (it was quite a bit pricier). As a result, we found ourselves sequestered to a table in the corner of the boat's cabin with the only other foreigners on board: a Swiss couple, a man from Dubai, and his Chinese assistant. Seeing as the weather was not entirely inviting for the whole photographing of scenery thing, we attempted to make conversation with the Swiss couple, though we were periodically interrupted by the man from Dubai, who was of a certain age (no spring chicken) and incapable of talking about anything other than himself, his company/money, his children, and the fact that he "only eat fish" [dusting off of hands].

Several rather uncomfortable hours later, we arrived in Yangshuo, the rumored backpacker's paradise, and aside from the crappy weather, it was exactly that. The scenery, from what we could see, that is, was spectacular, unlike anything else I've ever seen. We stayed at a hostel at the center of "Foreigner's Street," as it's known to the locals. Never before in our Chinese experience had we been confronted with such a concentration of Western-friendly establishments: nearly every sign in English, and many boasting an offering of cappuccino, banana pancakes, burgers, pizza, and other such rarities. Needless to say, we gorged ourselves on a wide selection of our favorite Western foods, most of them surprisingly well done, and at very palatable (pun intended) prices.

Word on the street is that the thing to do in Yangshuo (other than experience the Li River: check) is to rent bikes and pedal through the picturesque countryside. The unspoken word on the street, of course, is to then go back to the aforementioned Western establishments and get schloshed. Well, we did neither, as it turns out. It's hard to be motivated to haul ass around China's landscape when it's cold and drizzly outside and there's delicious coffee and a used bookstore inside. Plus the shopping to be had in Yangshuo for souvenirs and local handicrafts was not to beat by any other of our destinations. Both Emma and I spent a couple more jiao than we'd intended. Other than that, I was amazed to find how content I was with the idea of just sitting in one of the town's many coffee shops and passing the time by people-watching and reading - there's a certain vibe about it that I haven't encountered anywhere else in China. The pace of life is slower; people seem happy, laid-back, interested, and interesting.

I would certainly go back in a heartbeat, if for nothing else than to see Yangshuo by sunlight, so you can imagine our reluctance to leave. The Lonely Planet guidebook says that it's a place where you can easily end up spending more time than you'd planned, and I can see why. Nonetheless, our next destination was the beach, so we didn't spend too very much time sulking.


Post a Comment

<< Home