Don't you find it frustrating when you overhear a couple of the tube/bus/train talking and you just know that they are talking about you or the passengers around you ? Of course they are talking in Outer mongolian or some other obscure language, so there is no chance of anyone understanding. Well, for the first time in my life, I've been able to do this without the risk of a soul understanding me. Everyone speaks Mandarin here. Once you're out of town, virtually no one speaks english. Which is just as well. While in Yangshou, Guanxi Province, I have taken to criticizing the chaps plying Bamboo rafts on the Li River to their face. With a smile of course.
Karst Landscape with Bamboo Rafter on the Li River
Sarah and I decided to go for a hike along the Li River and we found the route finding a little sketchy in places. A lot of the time, you'll end up walking along the walls of the rice paddies. Eventually you happen to pass a pier where the path stops. When you ask for directions from a bamboo rafter, who just so happened to be milling around, he'll tell you the only way is by Raft. Really, there is no other way. Of course that'll be 50 RNB (£5) in his pocket but you'll have got there by the only way, never mind that the path continues, by some obscure route, I would hazard a guess that it was all designed that way. After the second time this happened, I concluded that they were all a bunch of unscrupulous guys in a driven pursuit to get your money. No way in hell were any of them going to help a couple of hikers get to their destination. Third time round, I told the guy what I thought. To his face, and then walked off. He thought I wanted a bamboo raft.
Thankfully 'the locals' reputation was saved, as once we were out and off the beaten tracks on our bikes, the Guangxi locals are great, helpful people, as was the lady who helped us find Dragons bridge from the work of fiction map we were trying to follow.
Yangshou is set in the middle of towering Karst peaks, making this a spectacular location. When we arrived, as the brown, turbid waters in the picture above demonstrate, we arrived to an area suffering from spectacular floods. The river Li was in serious flood, but apparently, unlike last year, we did not need a boat to get our breakfast in Yangshou.Thankfully the floods have subsided and we are able to get on with being traveling tourists in the area.
With so much Karst, Yangshou is also cave country. Limestone towers everywhere. Being a caver, I had to do a tour of the main sights. So there was 'Silver Cave'. A phantasmagorical coloured light show with thousands of Chinese Tourists bussed in from all over to examine the hundreds of formations, each having a unique name. They even piped in music at different location my favourite was the sound of crickets and birds when a stalagmite grouping named 'forest park'. Several passages of the cave bore neon advert placards for other attractions in the local area and I was particularly amazed to get a corn flavoured ice-cream at the end of the cave, from the ice-cream and drinks stall. And then lady tried to sell me some postcards.
Sweet-corn ice cream at the end of Silver Cave
Then there was 'Water cave'. This is your real 'cave experience' type of showcave. Boat into the cave (artificial lake mind you), and then go and play in the hot springs and mud bath. That is the mud bath made by building a concrete pool and wheelbarrowing in the mud from other parts of the cave, all to allow Chinese women to scream with fright _or_ glee when the wallow in the mud and get their photo taken. There is a photo studio, next to the mud baths allowing you to get everything on the spot, even though your current about 30 minutes into the cave. Despite this I was quite impressed with this classic river cave, it would have made a nice caving trip without the glitz of a 'cave experience'.
Finally we passed on Butterfly springs. This is a showcave with manufacturered formations, to look random objects such as butterflies and even romeo & Juliet. How easily fooled can people be ?
The rock climbing in Yangshou is also world class and attracts its resident climbers from all over the world. I spent a couple of days up on the walls, trying my luck. I can report that its pretty hard when you're drenched in the heat and 80% humidity.
On my final morning I decided to go an climb a peak surrounding Yangshou, which is great way to see the wonderful landscape, with Karst spires towering up all over the place. I picked my peak and after asking was told that the path led up the hill behind the local market. Great I thought, I get to poke around the local market as well. So off i went through the local market and was surprised by a 'beer fish' hitting my leg with a giant leap to escape its bucket. Then I came across a dog being roasted. With a blowtorch. With his fellow pack members, in cages, watching on. In silence.
I was taken back. A little disturbed. Seeing such an intelligent creature, 'mans best friend', being slaughtered and then roasted on the floor of a market, just didn't seem right. I left, climbed my mountain and vowed to learn the Mandarin Characters for Dog (狗肉), in an effort to avoid inadvertently eating the wrong thing. You never can tell in China, when you cant speak or read Mandarin. It was a very nice view from the top.
I was impressed with Yangshou and this part of China. Having just sat on the train for the past 10 hours and have seen nothing but limestone, there must be a huge potential for Caves and Caving in China, beyond what has been explored and discovered so far. No wonder this place has been designated a world heritage site due to the vast swaths of limestone. Having moved on from Yangshou, we just arrived in Dali, Yunnan Province and I was wondering if we will really enjoy our visit after seeing the following greeting:
Final note: After many weeks, I've just finished reading 'Freedom at Midnight' a history of India's Independence from the British, which I recommend. I came across a quote in closing pages:
'She [India], almost alone of the scores of nations who broke colonial rule, is a free society, respectful of the rights and dignities of its inhabitants, whose citizens have the right to dissent, to protest, to express themselves freely and openly in a free press, to select their government in free, honest elections. She has resisted temptations to follow her neighbor, buying progress by reducing millions to regimented robots, or the more numerous examples of cheapjack military dictatorships with carefully coached crowds of cheering citizens and their equally carefully concealed torture chambers.'
Apart from beautifully summing up the great success of Indian Democracy, it really brought home a observation about Chinese society to me, ‘buying progress by reducing millions to regimented robots’. It resonated with me that in China, people are organised to play their roles in society, not being able to really question why, at least in public. Of course there is the ability to dream and aspire especially when it comes to work. But freedom also comes with the ability to question and say no. I won't comment more here other than to say, I hope that time provides change.