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Monday, October 10, 2005

Yangshuo, and a complaint

Oh my bleeping bleep...I just wrote a whole heap load of stuff and then somehow deleted it on this crap keyboard and, so now I am going to have two complaints: This keyboard sucks. Also, I am getting sick and tired of seeing things in my inbox leading me to believe someone has left a comment on my blog only to find a spam message advertising some stupid company. Please leave my blog alone. Its bad enough I already had to change my email account because of you lifeless morons. [Apt description, since it's probably some automated script posting those comments. They really are annoying.--ed.]

Now, for Yangshuo, and what will no doubt be a much more abbreviated description than what I had just written.

I had heard of Yangshuo from a friend of my parents just before I left town. It was one of my favorite places, he said. We got there at night, and waking up was a truly stunning experience.

I arrived at night as well. Walking out the door of your hotel to discover that a bunch of giant penis- and cucumber-shaped karst peaks have been dropped in and around town is a bit of a shock. They are all over the surrounding countryside, and others look almost like mountains, except that perhaps they have been on Slimfast for a while and have lost a few pounds.

Yangshuo is a nice place. There is a lot to do. You can see caves and play in mud. You can float down one of the many rivers floating in a lazy way through the countryside. Or you can do what I've done the last two days and ride a bike.

The countryside is wonderful. With the karst pinnacles as a backdrop, golden and emerald green fields stretch out and shimmer in the breeze. Soothing. Waves rolling from bamboo boats, lapping at stone. Farmers just visible in the fields, hunch backed with wide round brimmed straw hats. Cows and bulls strolling in the roads, the dirt and stone strewn paths that lead from village to village. Bulls bathing in oily, fetid, mucous-thick water, water rolling off their backs.

Farmers with snakelike veins pushing out of their sticklike arms and legs. Thin men with copper, dark copper skin, all ribs and stomach muscles. Women with silver teeth, with babies on their backs, with white hair, with poles across their backs, loaded down with buckets on each end. Angelic children shouting hello, asking for money. (After being upset with this practice, I remembered the first sentence I taught myself in Chinese. Translated: "You are very beautiful. Please give me $10,000." These kids only asked for 5RMB.) Kids in classrooms with no front walls, open to the streets, and me the distraction with the camera. Old women with pale blue cataracts and drug glazed stares sitting on steps waiting.

The villages, with old houses, houses with gray brick. And other houses, too, maybe newer, with big orange bricks that make me think the guy from Fantastic Four was killed and dismembered and used in construction. Houses using wood with huge front rooms decorated with a few small wooden stools, a foot stool, a sewing machine, a TV, a poster of an angelic Mao. And dust.. Narrow dirt lanes with the eaves of the houses flying out over the path and out towards the towering pinnacle beyond. A pond and a pile of trash and flies buzzing around what must be excrement.

The towns on the main roads, the front buildings two story and tile faced. Cars and trucks fast, tractors spewing black death, bikes tinkering small silver bells. Men and women sitting in shade, sleeping on scooters or in wagons, waiting and waiting.

The vibe in these towns and villages is similar to that of the quiet fishing villages we visited in Penghu and I saw in Kinmen. A beach town vibe without the visitors, without the life. (Especially with 30 C temps, a breeze and a bright blue sky.) A lot of young children and old people, but most in between have gone on and it seems that not too far in the future it will all be gone. Except that here, there is building and roads are going in and yes, some villages will pass away, but others will find new life. The towns, the towns will stay and grow.

On my bike rides, a few scares. A bad fall after the edge of a path collapsed as I walked my bike between two fields. Only after I was lying on the ground five feet below the path, in a patch of lettuce, and after I checked to make sure my leg was not broken, did I realize the path was not wide enough for a man and his bike. Three separate meetings with dogs, escaped with nothing more serious than an elevated heartbeat. A thorn jabbed into my toe, between the toe and the nail.

But the sights make it worthwhile. It is beautiful here, with the rice and the karst and the green greeness of it all. Something is missing, though, and it is called soul. Too many people want to make money off of you, and because enough bikers go into the villages it has spread there as well. I do not begrudge people the chance to make money, and I know it is nice that these opportunities have entered their lives, but I suspect many of them have changed their ways and rely on the people coming through, many of whom do not wish to feel like they are not a visitor but a mark. In Yangshuo as well, on West Street, where it is advertised: Just put a store here! and the road is lined with bars and cafes with drink specials and Italian ice cream and pizza and burgers, and, of course, spaghetti bolognese. This place exists for the sole purpose of tourism, and while that is all fine and good, it does not do much in the way of leaving memories. In fact, I'm a bit confused with the landscape and the weather, and all the cafes and such - it is all so similar to Vang Vien in Laos [scroll to the bottom of the page for pix.--ed.], and it is only when I see that the cafes here are a bit nicer and they have live music instead of endless episodes of Friends that I remember where I'm at. [No, I'm not going to link to anything about Friends. I was annoyed with that in Wang Wien also.--ed.]

This soullessness also makes it much harder to get good portraits, as everyone wants something in return. Again, I don't begrudge them this, I just put my camera away and wait until I go into less touristed areas. But it was as I was returning to town this evening, with the light almost gone, that I passed a girl walking three cows and stopped in my tracks. I ran back to ask her to take a picture and she said yes. Beneath her wide round hat was a smooth face so unlike that of any of the farmers I had seen here. I walked with her to the field, chatting and finding out that she is not yet 17. We talked a bit more and she told me she was hoping to leave by January, because she is bored by life here. She hopes to find work in Guangdong - not yet 17 and one more small town farm girl off to the big city in China. Her story, her attitude were so unlike those of the older people I had encountered, and even of the few younger people I have talked to in town. Perhaps she will be lucky and get a job at a factory like the one I stayed at in ShunDe so long ago. Or maybe she will end up like one of the countless women I saw in Beijing, doing anything to collect plastic bottles. Let's hope for the former.

And while I am on this subject, I feel the need to address something that has been brought to my attention in regards to recent posts. I hope that I am not making it sound like Chinese women, all of them, are naive and at the mercy of western men on the prowl. This is not true. If this has come across, this is why: With the girls I have spoken to, and then with the western me I have spoken to living in China it becomes obvious that (and not unlike in Taiwan) westerners (men and women) tend to have a much different idea of what a relationship is and should be than Chinese do. Perhaps the best way to explain this is to paraphrase what a British friend said: I've come to the conclusion that you should never date a Chinese woman younger than 28. By then she is at least 25 in terms of maturity. 25 year olds are about 21 and anything younger is not better than 18. If they have not had at least one real relationship in the past, forget it. The point is perceptions and backgrounds mean a lot, especially when it comes to relationships. I had pretty much given up on dating Taiwanese girls when I was there, and it was only by my most wonderful fortune that Natalia changed my mind about that...but then again, she was raised in Argentina and so has a much different mind set then she probably would have being raised in Taiwan. The subject, then, should not be the relative naivete or lack there of in the women in China, but the mindsets of East and West, the way media and cultures and traditions influence the way we think about love and sex.

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