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Yangshuo: Grateful for Rain

Posted by on June 16, 2012

Yes, that’s right. I was grateful for the “bad” weather during my time there. Crazy, huh? Well, normally I’d wish for blue skies just like the next fella, but something about this place made the rain feel appropriate. In fact, sunny weather would’ve been a bit lacking.

Day two ends my three-part series about this memorable weekend getaway I had in China.

I awoke my second morning in Yangshuo and realized it was colder–and wetter–than the day before. But I brought my raincoat for a reason and wasn’t discouraged I had to use it. Yangshuo is all about its outdoors, and if nature brings rain, then so be it.

So I geared up and hopped out of bed–(Well, actually, I climbed down off my bunk. I stayed in a hostel and shared the room with a couple Norwegian gals, a French woman, and a Chinese dude.) Hostels are interesting.

I got outside and it greeted me with this:

A good day for a bike ride?

Yeah, I rented a bike because I wanted to cover more ground. So I squinted my eyes and peddled through the precipitation on some generic, old school bike. I glided by businesses opening and pedestrians with umbrellas. It was just a drizzle, but it was still a drizzle. And with my hood wrapped over the back and sides of my head, it was all I could do to be cautious in the reliable chaos of Chinese traffic.

I was on a main street heading out of town, but wanted to explore more of the city. So I veered off the beaten path and biked along the old, gray roads of Yangshuo. It felt similar to the old areas of Zhuhai, except the vibe on these old streets was, I don’t know, more historic or classic or earthy or something: stone bridges, old bicycles ridden by folks wearing plain clothing. It felt like I was in a film scene of a period piece; the vibe was something new and authentic.

I found a hill which I could climb. Eager for the view, I carefully made my way up these steps:

No hand rails here; just keep your weight directly above your feet.

At the top was a small area where one could take in the view. And this wasn’t a concrete platform with handrails; just a semi-level dirt floor. Everything in Yangshuo–particularly this morning–seemed so wonderfully natural. Even the man-made steps felt like the hill created them.

Certainly, Mother Nature created these odd and striking mini-mountains:

Yangshuo from above.

Dramatic landscapes can provide an incredible calm, I realized. Like gaping into the Grand Canyon, they’re a shock to the senses, a reality telling us, “See? This is how small you are. Stop taking yourself so darn seriously. Calm down.”

This view was teamed with a light breeze and quiet, similar to that feeling you get from a slow walk in the woods or a mellow cruise along the lake at sundown, not a ripple on the water; moment by rich moment. But it was more than just the emotional sensation. The rain added to the affect with a physical accompaniment. It was cleansing and clarifying.

I stood and let my guard down and the sobering affect of the drizzle played its part. I don’t mean to get all touchy-feely with you all, but it was powerful. I actually had some negative feelings come up, apparently needing this window to pass through. Then like a loon’s call on that calm lake, I heard music below somewhere in the thicket of Yangshuo. It resembled a marching band and it sounded like it was coming straight off the record player, some crackles in there for affect on this “period piece”. Somehow it made for an appropriate soundtrack.

I got down after a 20 minutes or so and began to bike once more. This time out of town.

I soon was reminded that, like snow, rain isn’t as pretty in the city. Away from town, the drizzle was nourishing and energizing. (Maybe this is why I used to love playing in the rain as a child so much.) I came across other travelers. This gang was certainly enjoying themselves:

As I look closer, I think he’s giving the peace signal.

This next group from Europe was determined not to let a little rain spoil a family vacation. And they didn’t care how they looked doing it:

I think they got it a few sizes too big.

‘But dad, I can’t see anything!’


At a scenic stop further down the road, a lady called out from across the street. She had a bouquet and wanted to prove her sales skills:

I couldn’t resist an honest smile.

And they say good things come in twos, right?

I think they were just after my money.

Turns out, there’s a tradition of wearing a crown of flowers around one’s head here. How hippie. How beautifully appropriate, too. Whereas so much of China celebrates the man-made (Hong Kong skyline, the Great Wall, Macau Casinos), and so many Chinese have ingrained a littering habit, it was awesome to revel in a place so different.

These ladies lived out their post-golden years peddling these flowers. Kinda cute; a bit saddening; a little touching. I bought some postcards (and a flower crown) from them and kept going. I had a river to reach.

The bike trail ran alongside the Yudong River. I got to a landing where boats where being launched:

No noisy engines like I experienced the day before. Drivers navigated by pushing long poles against the river bottom.

Later on down the river, I stood on its bank. This experience contrasted the agitation of 24 hours previous. I watched these flat, bamboo rafts glide by with passengers on board. It was graceful. It was also dreamy. Mist hovered above the water as the drizzle tapped hypnotically against my coat. I looked down and could see fish below the bank. And of course, let’s not forget the anchor of this picture: the signature hilltop terrain in the background. Such a sight!

One last stop on this ride provided my favorite shot of the landscape:

It looks like earth shed from the mountaintops and collected below. And now the collected areas resemble the land being curling back toward you.

I don’t know how these giants were created. (Seriously, is there a geologist in the house?)

Yangshuo’s drastic terrain is a catalyst for a lot of feelings. This day was about letting the natural power of this environment saturate and transfuse my spirit.

The next day Jordan, Carla, and I headed back to Zhuhai. Batteries charged.

Here’s to rejuvenation the old fashioned way–with nature.



And on this Saturday morning, June 16th, as I put the finishing touches on this article, I look out my window and what do I see?–gray skies and drizzle. If you’re in the countryside reading this, you’re the envy of me. Rain in a city is just wet. Rain in the country is awakening.


One Response to Yangshuo: Grateful for Rain

  1. michael

    Brandon, you mention Tai Chi mimics fighting moves. Can I blow your mind. I studied Yang style with Ron Jorgenson, who studied with master William CC Chen, who studied with Chen Man Ching who studied with Yang Chen Fu. Separate from that, I studied Shamonic drumming with Michael Harner. Michael Harner made a comment during a weekend event, rather matter-of-factly, “…tai chi is the dance of the power animals…” Keep in mind Shamonic practices often result in an association with a power animal (maybe woo-woo stuff). Anyway, that really caused me to pause and still does, 20 years later. Back to Tai Chi, Ron shared the names of some of the postures while we learned, “…the crane spreads its wings…”, etc.

    Best Regards,