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Yangshuo: Earth’s Teeth

Posted by on June 9, 2012

Breaking News: My fund-raising campaign on the website, Kickstarter, was successful! With the money raised this week, I’m (much) better able to create and distribute my book project about my year in China. :) Take a look at the video about it here: video and write-up. And I look forward to getting this exciting book out for all you to enjoy. I’m also planning a tour in a few cities, such as Fargo, Duluth, and the Twin Cities to share my stories, answer questions, and show off the new eBook technology I’m using. Hope to see you out!

Now let’s get back to China.

Last week, we left off with us arriving at Yangshuo after sunset. It was a long ride up, but a wonderful journey. This week we start off from my first morning there…

I awoke early and walked to the bus station. Along pedestrian-only West Street, stores were closed, but restaurants were open for breakfast. The air was crisp and cool on this 50 degree morning in Yangshuo. Cloudy, but not wet, it had the look and feel of China: not a paradise, but a place of history and genuineness (even in this touristy location). I got my first glimpses of the terrain that was blocked from my view the previous black, night. Walls of rock towered behind the buildings, adding an enclosed feel to the town.

Here’s a video of that morning:

Approaching the bus station, I anticipated the beauty of these monoliths in the countryside. I got on a full bus shuttling north to the popular drop-off along the Li River.

Once there, we divided into groups to hitch a ride on a motorbike taxi down to the river’s edge, my starting point for the day’s journey:

I had just two full days to take in the surreal scenery of Yangshuo. I spent each along (or on) one of its two main rivers. (The Yudong being the other.) My plan today was to ride a boat 14 km north on the Li and then go by foot the remaining 10 to the next town. Along this stretch is displayed some of the best scenery Yangshuo has to offer. And it started with a bang.

I walked down to the landing to see this:

There's the shot I was waiting for.

You see, this exact view has teased me since my arrival to China. I’d seen it a hundred times on the back of every 20 Yuan bill:

A picture is worth about $3.50.

And many Chinese were eager to stand in front of this view with bill in hand. Check that off the ‘ole bucket list, I suppose.

Now it was time to get intimate with this scenery. And it’s time for us to go for a ride on the river. These buggers were my transport:

All aboard!

Off we trolled and one thing that I cannot say (to my initial surprise) was that the ride was peaceful. The boat engine rattled a loud percussion as we trolled along edge, and when out in the open, screamed a whiny roar “WAAAAAAAAA!” along with a whole herd of tourists making the same journey. It was cold, sometimes wet, and usually bumpy. I learned an interesting truth about the scenery at Yangshuo: such a backdrop has the ability bring out and magnify a variety of feelings. On this ride, I felt power and abrasion.

Steep rock faces

A violent meeting with the sky.

Earth's Teeth

And here’s a bit of footage:

It wasn’t too long, and we stopped. The intensity of the ride was an experience, but I was ready to settle into a hiking groove. Peddlers offered me trinkets. A cup of tea felt right. Abrasiveness evaporated and the richness of a Guangxi river trek replaced it. Behind the peddlers was a plain of sand and pebbles drifting gradually down into the Li. I looked down:

calming stones

Stones like this are offered in some therapist’s offices. Patients are welcome to handle them for a soothing motion. How these relaxing rocks are carpeted below these unsettling hilltops is a geologic wonder and an irony to behold.

And to add to the variety, a taste of the majestic was out in this pasture:

Fit right in.

Then the hike began, moving to the beat of Li River life. And now, more than natural beauty, an exposure to the ways of locals along the fertile banks was offered. They lived a pace you’d expect:

An older lady on the bottom corner, gardening the old-fashioned way.

Later, I moseyed over to an older gent who tended his bull. He seemed happy to have me come by and got a chuckle out of his bull’s shrug and huff in response to my attempt to pet it:

From earthly contrasts to human ones, the mellow that is emanated from these folks is a novel experience for most westerners. But compared to the noisy, horn-honking ways of urban China, it’s a true 180. It’s so easy to lose track of the joy of being when stacked with the concerns of kids, debt, etc. I don’t have to tell you this, I know. But I do have to say that the stress created due to these everyday concerns is really evident here. Because clear is the peace hidden beneath.

Back to nature, each corner turned on my river’s edge walk offered a potential postcard shot:

Something about the river parting these peaks! Depicted is the age-old battle of rock vs. water, the static vs. the flowing.

I reached the end of the trek and was treated to one last view:

The fog covering the far mountain was a foreshadow of the following day.

The backgrounds of Yangshuo impressed me in how they bring out an array of emotions. You feel the dramatic, the intimidation, the awe, the calm, and the coziness of those who live amongst these natural skyscrapers. But if the first day was about breadth of emotions, then day 2 was about depth. Stay tuned for it next week.

And I hope you were able to experience some feelings of your own while reading. It’s a lesson in how our natural surroundings can speak to us and enhance our lives.

have an awesome week,


2 Responses to Yangshuo: Earth’s Teeth

  1. Tim Barton

    You really brought back some memories. 25 years ago my wife and I toured China, many cities, rivers and what would pass as an American’s description of rural China. Judging by your descriptions and pictures it does not look like much has changed.

    • Brandon Ferdig

      The rural areas are probably similar, Tim. “Old China” still holds on. But the cities are much different.