I have turned into the world’s laziest tourist. I have seriously done nothing for four days. Well, that’s not true. I’ve been hanging out at a lot of cafes with many Swedes, Slovaks, Brits, Israelis, Danes and so forth. And eating a lot of overpriced noodles and pancakes. And I bought a pair of wrap-around pants.
Also, I finally went biking yesterday. I left at 9 with two kids from my hostel and our guide, Julia. We rode through some rice patties, which was nice, and then we stopped by her house. She lives in a quite large brick house with holes in all the bricks, a dirt floor, and a massive stack of wood covering the front wall. The living room had what looked like giant oil barrels in one corner. She gave us some chestnuts and oranges, and then took us to Moon Hill (Yueling Shan in Chinese – too lazy to look up the correct spelling), which is a hill with a large arch-shaped rock formation at the top. The hole under the arch looks like a moon, hence the name. It’s insanely hot and humid here, and climbing all those stairs was a trial. Plus, this little Chinese lady ran alongside me the whole way fanning me in the hopes I’d then feel obliged to buy some of her overpriced beverages. Oh, it was annoying, but there was no possible way to dissuade her from her self-imposed task. When I first arrived in Yangshuo, I felt awful about not buying the postcards and little wooden dolls and other bits of crap that all these cute old women, totally bent double under their giant baskets, are constantly shoving at everyone. Four days later, I have no sympathy whatsoever. These women are everywhere, and they continually bother you all day long. They will come up and set their basket of junk on your dinner table:
‘No, no thank you, boo.’
‘No, shay-shay, boo.’
‘Hello postcard hello postcard hello postcard hello postcard?’
I kid you not. They’ll even smack you with the postcards. And when one finally goes away, it’s maybe two minutes before another one takes her place. What was I talking about? Ah, yes. The bike ride.
When we got down from Moon Hill, Julia tried again to take us to this mud cave that we’d passed on earlier, so we got out the map and showed her where we’d like to cycle. She was really nice about it, even though she was in jeans and long-sleeves, and riding a one-speed, and obviously not planning on biking until 3 in the afternoon, which is what we did.
We went through more rice fields, and some little villages, and for the first time in China, I was bowled over by the scenery. The rice fields spreading up to the mountains, and groves of citrus trees along the dirt roads, and the farmers trying to coax their oxen out of the little water ponds…oh, I’m sure it’s a hard life, but the backdrop is truly stunning. By about 2, though, I began to fear I’d disgrace myself by collapsing. We were biking through a moist oven, and there was no shade anywhere, and I’ve developed a really embarrassing perspiration problem. By this time, I could have filled a wading pool by wringing out my clothes, and was glad to get back to my hostel and take a cold shower. It was a full five minutes before I was drenched in sweat again.
Yangshou has been good for me, I think. I’ve learned a lot from observing other travelers. I’ve gotten much better at bargaining, for one thing. I know I have, because whereas vendors used to finish a transaction by calling me ‘beautiful, beautiful lady,’ they now swear at me behind my back. Also, I’m ever less finicky. I’ve been wearing this outfit for two days now, and I slept in it, too. It’s so awesome!
High time I moved on, though, and I’m taking a 22-hour sleeper train to Kunming tomorrow morning. I dread it. I’ve booked a bed in Kunming for two nights, but I fear I may have booked it in a disco. After Kunming, I’m going to go on to Dali. I couldn’t find any rooms available there online, but after racking my brain for a perfect solution, I’ve decided to just go and take my chances with finding a room.
So, I wrote this back in Yangshuo, but it wouldn’t publish, so now I get to add a little story: on my last night in Yangshuo, these kids from the boarding school there came around the hostel trying to scare up Westerners for this Wednesday night thing they do. They had little fliers promising free beer, and featuring little charicatures of hippies with huge backpacks. A bunch of us went over to the school, and we were distributed among several tables of giggling 17- to 18-year-old schoolkids, and chatted with them in English while they kept refilling Dixie cups of beer and complimenting our appearances. The school is a boarding school that teaches only English and computer skills. The students go from 7:00 to 9:00, but they do get three hours in the afternoon and weekends off. These kids were so cute. They were especially taken with Emil, my Danish roommate, and kept asking me if we were together (I tried to explain that we were just sharing a room, but it was lost in translation), and if he thought Chinese women were pretty and so forth. Emil is kind of shy, and quite thin and boyish-looking.
‘Bloody ‘ell,’ he had to say of all the attention. ‘Don’t get that at home, I can tell you.’
There were a couple Westerners teaching at the school – an older Kiwi and a tattooed punkish Brit, and they led us in a game of 20 questions, and then we had to take about a million pictures (everyone does peace signs here). There was a huge banner over the school: ‘Success in English…Success in Life.’ None of the students could figure out why all the Westerners loved it so much.
Hey Mary Jane, if you’re still reading this: MySpace won’t load on any of these computers, which is why I never replied to your message. I don’t think I have your actual email.