|Greg Saylor. (Photo/chinadaily.com.cn)|
Apart from the major Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, etc. there is one place in China that I never stopped hearing about, Guilin, and as an extension, Yangshuo. I was told of the beauty of the Lijiang River and the breathtaking mountains that make you think you have arrived on some alien planet. I was told of the world class rock climbing and the people who go there from all over the world just to get the chance to climb. I was told of so many amazing things, but my experience in Yangshuo was one that no one could have prepared me for.
A friend and me, both students at Wuhan University, set off during the Spring Festival holiday to make our way to Guilin in the most Chinese way possible, on the slow train. Travelling, especially by train, near to the Spring Festival holiday is enough to get its own story, but to make a long story short, lots of people, and then a few extra people to top it all off. After successfully arriving in Guilin I was certain that I had some kind of super power, it was my first time traveling during the Spring Festival and I didn't loose anything or anyone along the way! In Guilin we did all the regular things: saw the twin pagodas, walked through the interestingly lit reed flute cave, and visited the elephant nose mountain (angrily watching all the people who didn't buy tickets ride bamboo rafts to get into the park). Now that my camera was full of photos it was time to ride a boat down the Lijiang River to Yangshuo and see all the beautiful mountains along the way. We being poor college students of course decided to take the “Chinese tourist” boat to save a little money, besides the toilet that didn't work and the included “lunch” that maybe was the reason the toilet was clogged, the experience was great, different boats, same mountains.
Now we find ourselves in Yangshuo, the famed city full of foreigners and bars and coffee shops, all of that being true by the way. After making a quick run down the main street and buying an incredibly large ice cream (mostly for taking photos) and some posters of Chairman Mao my friends and I decided we wanted to get out of the city and see Moon Hill, and what better way than by bicycle. We hit the road and before long saw ourselves on the side of the highway looking straight at Moon Hill, a stunning sight even from the road. While discussing whether to buy tickets and get up close we remembered we were cheap students and decided to skip buying a ticket and hiking to Moon Hill and go for a different experience, go and see a part of Yangshuo not many people get to see. It was decided; we were taking the longer road back and stopping at some small villages along the way. As we are pedaling down the highway on our way toward some small villages I was thinking to myself, “no foreigners? – check! no Chinese tourists? – check! Chickens? – check!” now I knew we were in the right place.
Along the road there were many sights to behold: more mountains, factories, small towns, farms, and much more; there was no lack of reasons to stop and snap a few pictures. We decide to take a small side road away from the "main" road and go dive right into a small village and see what we can find. Its late afternoon and we are a little worried about how to get back so we stop a few people along the road to check and make sure this side road will eventually connect us back to the main road. As we are stopped pondering our situation on the side of the road a woman walks by carrying a small child, trying to be a nice foreigner I say Ni Hao to her, as I am sure everyone reading this knows it means Hello, but she returned quite a puzzled look. Was she shocked by seeing a group of foreigners in this remote place? Could she not believe that a foreigner would be able to speak such good Chinese? (That is me shamelessly complementing my own Chinese skill level) Could she not understand Mandarin Chinese because she was an older woman who seemed to be a member of one of China's many minorities? I don't think I will ever know that answer to those questions. Equipped with the newly acquired knowledge that this road will in fact eventually get us back, we press on down the road toward the experience that was really the reason why I decided to write this story in the first place.