25 September 2016
Greg & Penny’s Chinese Adventure 2016 – Part II
With Jessica’s 100 Day Birthday Party in the rear view mirror we had a week full of adventures to work our way through before leaving Yangshuo for a couple of days in Hong Kong. Not surprisingly, Adam made sure we were thoroughly entertained for the remainder of our visit.
The day after Jessica’s party (Monday) we borrowed a couple of the “least bad” bicycles the Outside Inn had to offer and made our way along the canal path and into Yangshuo where we were aiming to meet up with Ava’s folks. They were on their way back to Liuzhou on the afternoon bus and so we met up at Rock ‘N’ Grill in Yangshuo for lunch.
Cycling through the Yangshuo traffic was one of the more exciting aspects of our adventures. Although Pen and I were struck by how much “better” the driving was now than on our first visit in 2004, it’s still very unorthodox! While the traffic, for the most part, stays more or less on the right side of the road, it’s still somewhat disconcerting to turn right onto a road with a barrier running down the middle only to be confronted by a motor scooter heading straight toward you on the “wrong” side. There are clearly no “rules” about how traffic should interact at intersections – I guess the fundamental rule is “don’t stop” – and so we became very adept at weaving in and out of traffic coming from all directions. Fortunately, if it all looked a bit too chaotic we could always get off the bikes and walk.
After lunch with Ava’s folks we cycled back to the Outside Inn and then along a small dirt path through the rice paddies for a dip in the Yulong River. The Yulong rises not very far north of Yangshuo and passes through no conurbations and therefore is a perfectly acceptable swimming venue. Still, you wouldn’t want to drink any of it, I dare say, and even putting one’s head under the water was perhaps not to be recommended. Very refreshing in the baking and humid conditions although we did follow the instructions on the adjacent sign and did not have any fun!
On the ride back to the Outside Inn along the narrow dirt track, I managed to lose my balance and deposit myself in a muddy ditch alongside one of the rice paddies. I am delighted to say that this mishap caused much amusement to the two Chinese gentlemen who were walking along the path behind me at the time and huge hilarity amongst the young women/staff at the Inn when we arrived back. In between discrete giggles and outright guffaws, they directed me to the outside loo where I was able to hose myself down before making my way upstairs for a proper shower.
We cycled into Yangshuo to meet up with Adam, Ava and Jessica for lunch at Ganga Impression, a very, very good Indian restaurant just off West Street. After our swim in the river on Monday, I needed a proper swim suit and a spare pair of shorts. So, Adam accompanied me into a few shops and we secured some marvellous apparel – knocked down from 280 RMB and 120 RMB to 120 RMB altogether. What a bargain! (These were probably factory rejects or stock which had been discontinued and, instead of being destroyed as they should have been, sold on in the Chinese black market. Alternatively, they could simply have been moderately good counterfeits).
Tuesday evening is “Open Mic” at the Lounge and once again, there was a clamour for me to perform. Penny forbade me singing “There Stands the Glass” again so I had to come up with something “new” or at least different. Eventually, I settled on “That’s How I Got to Memphis” and “How Sweet it is to be Loved by You.” To say the applause at the conclusion of my set was underwhelming would be an exaggeration. Relief, perhaps, as I vacated the stage.
After the applause died down we cycled back to the Outside Inn along the canal path in the pitch dark, our route illuminated by two faint flashlights/torches taped to our handlebars. Unfortunately, the direction of the beam was not quite perfect and therefore the trees ahead of us were illuminated perfectly while the path and, more importantly, the edge of the canal, somewhat less so. We managed, nevertheless, to make our way home safely and we collapsed into bed.
We cycled in to town again and made our way to Demo Bar for lunch and then on to Mila’s bakery (Bite Me) for brownies. Back to the lounge that evening for Poker Night, several rounds of Texas Hold ‘em with which neither Pen nor I was familiar. Fortunately, we lost all our money relatively quickly and enjoyed watching as the stakes got higher and higher! One of the students from the language school won the first round – she took the pot which totalled about 9 GBP. They carried on playing but we boarded our trusty cycles and set off up the canal path and back to bed, this time our journey illuminated by some new and more powerful lights. Adam had secured the use of a very bright headlamp which a friend uses for caving and we had also, earlier in the day, picked up a moderately powerful torch/flashlight with holder for mounting on the handlebars of the bike. The journey home was considerably easier than previously.
Penny went to cookery class in the morning, a two minute walk from the Inn while I sat in the shade on one of the patios and relaxed – very important after such a strenuous couple of days!
We had dinner at Brew, an Italian (!) restaurant just off West Street in Yangshuo run by Andy, an Austrian friend of Adam’s. It’s clear that Andy just loves cooking and experimenting. His speciality is home-made pasta which is delicious. I had the Blue Cheese, Penny had Carbonara and Adam had tagliatelle and Pesto which tasted remarkably similar to one of my old standbys. We then cycled up the road through the traffic to Demo Bar (again) for the evening’s entertainment, the weekly pub quiz. Our team consisting of Adam, Ronald (the owner of the Outside Inn), Penny and I came a respectable second. And before you ask, there were indeed more than two teams.
Friday was, perhaps, the wackiest day so far. We hired a scooter and, with approximately 30 seconds of instruction and no insurance or helmet, off we went on an eight-hour, 120 km excursion into the countryside. We rode about ten minutes down the road to the Secret Garden hotel where we had breakfast and then off through the rice paddies and along some “roads” which were more akin to paths and which were decidedly well off the beaten track. Actually, these paths have never been “beaten” in any sense and some were little more than tracks through the rice paddies.
Eventually we arrived at a road that was paved and had a smooth ride for a time until we came to the road works. Here they were laying a concrete road on top of the less-well beaten track. They were laying one lane of concrete and the other, more or less, gravel track was handling all the traffic. In both directions. With no traffic light or signal man to control traffic. That was fine for us on scooters but less fine for the buses and motorcars that were trying to get along this “road”. At one point a car met a bus coming the opposite direction and there was clearly not enough space for the two to pass one another. So, the driver of the bus disgorged several of his passengers who then set off down the road walking to their destination while the car and bus driver engaged in a bout of Mexican stand-off. Neither was inclined to move backwards to find a spot where they might be able to pull off and allow the other to pass. In any event, by this stage there were five or six additional vehicles behind each one. We slithered by on the verge and set off – they may all still be there!
Our first destination was an ancient bridge (Dragon Bridge) which was glorious but inundated with Chinese tourists rafting along the river. We admired the view and took a photo or seven and then set off again, this time for another ancient bridge further up the river (Fuli Bridge) which Adam had never visited before. It was glorious and almost completely devoid of other tourists – only the village gentlemen playing cards under the tree.
Off we set again, this time for an ancient stone village (Shitoucheng) that has been completely deserted. The village was once a garrison town and the ancient gates and walls are mostly still intact. We wandered up a narrow footpath for about ten or fifteen minutes and there it was in front of us, visible through the prolific undergrowth. It’s clear that it was inhabited until fairly recently. The walls of the buildings were mainly still standing and one or two still had their roofs more or less intact but the rest had been overtaken and devoured by the lush vegetation. There were electrical light fittings in places so clearly the place was fairly recently lived in but at some point for some reason the whole village just decamped and moved elsewhere. Our best guess was that once the road was built to the village at the bottom of the hill, those in what became the deserted village simply got fed up having to carry everything up and down the narrow footpath and so probably built themselves new houses in the village newly accessible by road.
And on we went, this time toward some scenic viewpoints overlooking the Lijiang River, the river which runs from Guilin down to Yangshuo. To describe the scenery as “stunning” is wholly insufficient. The day, unfortunately, was very humid and therefore somewhat hazy but the views were simply astonishing. We hiked to the top of the first scenic point we came to and looked out across the whole valley (Xiang gong shan) which overlooks the Lijiang River and the town of Xingping, the view on the back of the 20 Yuan note. The Lijiang was very busy with small boats going hither and thither and the larger tourist boats plodding their way back up the river to Guilin having deposited their cargo of tourists in Yangshuo.
We were, at this point, just about as far from Yangshuo as we were to get the whole day and it was then that the heavens decided to open. Initially, it was a bit of light rain which was, in fact, somewhat welcome as it cooled things down a bit. However, the further we rode the heavier the downpour became so that eventually we were forced to seek shelter. By this stage we were absolutely soaked through but we did find a place to get out of the rain in an empty government building of some description. After about fifteen minutes the rain let off a bit so we started again. This time we made it about ten minutes further down the road until the water-melon sized rain drops made further progress impossible, the shelter this time provided by the narrow overhang of a private home (no one at home to tell us to bugger off, fortunately). Another twenty minutes to half an hour and we were off again. This time we made it a further ten minutes down the road to a small village before we were forced to stop again. A group of Chinese in a building across the road yelled to Adam inviting us to shelter with them which we did. By this time we were, in fact, very cold and shivering, absolutely drenched to the soul – as Pen said, even her bra and pants were soaked through. The villagers initially tried to persuade Adam to play cards with them but the stakes they quoted were too high for his taste. So, they ended up playing for no money. It was a good job too as one of the women playing with them was clearly a card shark/hustler and won each hand in a canter. After about three rounds the rain let up again and we were able to make the rest of the trip back down to Yangshuo.
As if that wasn’t enough fun for the day I now had to navigate the eccentricities of Yangshuo’s rush hour traffic to get back to Adam’s bar. I know we’ve written about Chinese driving in the past (drive on either side of the road, don’t stop at intersections and beep your horn constantly – not in impatience but rather to warn all the cyclists, pedestrians and other vehicles of your presence). Add to this chaos the fact that the road we drove into the town on was undergoing significant construction and, again, only one lane of traffic was possible. So, traffic was inching along the road as the cars and buses tried to pass one another. And again, there was no traffic control or signals – it was every person and vehicle for themselves. Of course, being on a scooter we were able to weave in and out of the traffic – all I could do was to follow Adam as closely as I was able and weave when he weaved and wove when he wove. I tell you, one honestly cannot make this stuff up!
Finally, we made our way back to the Outside Inn where both Penelope and I had a warm shower – remember, we were still absolutely soaked through and on the scooter the wind felt very, very cold even though the temperature was still in the high 20s centigrade (mid 80s F).
Back to the Lounge and then into town for dinner, this time in a sumptuous restaurant called Fish Food which was excellent. Ava ordered enough for a party of ten to twelve and we were absolutely stuffed as we cycled our way back up the canal path to the Outside Inn and bed.
Our brief stop-over in Hong Kong next week. In the meantime, enjoy some stunning photographs of earth from space.
Much love to you all,