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Yangshuo or Bust

Posted by on June 2, 2012

Hello Readers! This is the last time you’ll have the pleasure to hear (or that I’ll get to bug you) about my fund-raising drive for my book and eBook based on the articles on this blog. The book will be a rich and insightful look at my year in China and the eBook will offer video embedded in it as well! I’m approaching the 2/3 mark of my $1,500 goal with one week to go. Please consider putting me over the top. If you do, there are rewards–like a copy of the book: ) So consider it a pre-order. Click here to give and to see a cool video about my project. (Lastly, if you’d rather not give online, contact me and we can work something else out.) 

Now let’s go to Yangshuo!

Tell me, what do you think of when you see/hear the word “China”? Do you picture The Great Wall? Perhaps you see a horizon of drab apartment high-rises? Some folks imagine vast terraces of rice patties edged into rolling hillsides. And others may be familiar with the dramatic, jagged terrain in areas of the south.

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!

In the spring, I spent a four-day weekend in the city, Yangshuo. It’s in northern Guangxi Province, adjacent westward to my province, Guangdong. Here’s a map for ya:

I know. Kinda tough to see, but Zhuhai is nestled in just to the left of Hong Kong right there on the coast. And Guilin, on the upper left is close to our destination, Yangshuo.


That distance represents an eight hour car ride, yet look at how little we moved in the grand scale of China:

You can see Hong Kong way down south there. We went from the middle of the pink province to the edge of the adjacent orange one. Yep, China's big.

And yeah, maps are cool, but the sites on the ground are what we’re here for:

Me on a river in Yangshuo.

Actually, this is just a teaser shot for what you’ll see later. But don’t be dismayed. There’s some cool stuff we saw on the way up, and that’s what this post is all about. We’ll be spending the next couple weeks trekking up and exploring this dramatic region in China. Here we go.

I’ve wanted to see Yangshuo since arriving to China. It’s one of those places you see pictures of and think, “that’s Earth?” It has a surreal, mysterious feel to it. And indeed, its features resonate with a variety of emotional notes, all coming together for a complete and lovely chord. And all this only a day’s drive away.

I went with my friends, Jordan and Carla:

At our lodging in Yangshuo. Jordan was a fellow teacher from Oregon and Carla, actually from Shanghai, ran a factory in Zhuhai.

Going by car, I was almost as excited for the ride itself as I was to see the destination. I love road trips! There’d be much to take in. Other villages, rural areas, new landscapes. Oh, and this guy:

Smile, you're on areavoices!

Yeah, I was getting camera-happy, but since most of my stay in China has been in Zhuhai, even just entering a different city has enough novelty and freshness to remind me, “oh, ya, I’m in China”:

A new city to lay eyes on.

And suddenly, sticking out everywhere are the unmistakeable reminders: like all the motorbike travel–and in particular, this happy family:

Gosh, I hope that's a watermelon or something.

Here’s some un-fancy footage of us driving into a town:

On the other side of this small city, we focus on the natural. The occasional hill turned into consistent ups and downs. The gradual lands of Guangdong Province were evolving into the geological drama of Guangxi:

Things were starting to get a little rocky.

And with the mountains, comes mountain villages and people, Chinese style:

Actually, to be more precise, I should say Guangxi-style. Because many of the people here aren’t your typical Chinese. They belong to an ethnic group called the Zhuang who live life their way:

'My way or the highway.'

We stopped the car, and I followed these beasts back to a pond behind some houses. The Zhuang ladies thought it was nice to have a new herder:

With robes and staffs, they were kinda biblical.

But I had a heck of a time feeding them (the buffalo, I mean):

I was surprised he refused. I remember feeding an apple to a horse once.

This roadside village represents one of many “Old China/New China” contrasts.

Carla, my Chinese friend in the picture above, told me when we first met that I haven’t seen “real China”, or at least that there are “two Chinas” to discover. In the city, I see the modern version. But there’s another China that hasn’t incorporated current technology into their ways of life. Our drive up to Yangshuo provided this view.

And the contrasts were clear. On a new road in the middle of this town, traffic cruises 45 mph by/around people living life at 10 mph. Something’s gotta give, right? But here, it’s the pavement and vehicles that stick out in a backdrop of livestock, small farms, and people with handmade clothes.

This kind of interaction continues in countless forms as modernization reaches into more isolated areas of China. And more than about adapting to new technologies, it’s about a consolidation of cultures. “One China” is a common slogan, but this China has 56 ethnic minorities.

These populations are dwarfed by the Han majority, though, but China seems to walk an effective line, putting an over-arching rule over these people while giving them freedom to do what they want inside the “One China” bubble. As they blend, one hopes that these “two Chinas” means the benefits of each predominate.

After this stop it began to darken and after two missed turns, a construction detour, and slow windy roads, we arrived. An 8-hr drive became a 10-hour one. Ugh. But actually, it was kind of nice not seeing much around us in the dark. It made the scenery the next day all the more surprising.

Next week you’ll see the wonders of Yangshuo.

have an awesome start to your June,


p.s. If so moved, here’s another reminder about my book project. Donate or just help me spread the word! Don’t worry; this’ll be the last time I ask as the drive ends in one week.

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