Found in Translation

Yangshuo Travel Blog

 › entry 94 of 115 › view all entries
The Yulong River, shot from the Dragon Bridge, to which I cycled one day.

Beautiful is a word that is tossed around too easily in travelling circles, in the same way that the sobriquet of “genius” is applied to far too many musicians. Every time I talk to fellow tourists, the places they have been are: "Just beautiful! You'll love it." Often, when I get to these places with expectations greater than Dickens's Pip, I end up a little deflated, thinking that it's rather more: “quite nice, if you like that sort of thing.”

However, despite the hackneyed overuse of the word, beautiful stands as the most fitting description of the limestone karst scenery surrounding Yangshuo. Rounded humps of rock rise in their hundreds in the country around the town, some towering against the horizon, others squatting low, more evenly weathered, summits plateauing accordingly.

Me, with my head cocked slightly to one side like a dog for some unknown reason, on Moon Hill.
Trees and assorted greenery have taken root, patchworking the pale rock sides wherever they aren't too sheer to support it. Oh yes: it's beautiful, and in my humble opinion, far superior to Vietnam's much-vaunted Ha Long Bay. Any. Day. You. Like.

The beauty is what I try to focus on, as I'm struggling a bit in Yangshou, not really getting on too well with this part of the journey; waiting for my desire to know this country to kick in properly. I enjoyed the frenetic sight-seeing of Hong Kong and now I feel a little becalmed, haven't really met anyone to hang around with here and adjusted to the slower pace yet.

In the late evening, the scenery is blanked out by night and cloud. I prowl the prettified evening streets, neon heavy and shrill with the unintelligible chattering of Chinese tourists, looking for somewhere to eat alone.

Bamboo rafts on the Li river.
I'm not in the mood for fannying around so I head for a street that has a fair sprinkling of restaurants with English speaking staff standing out front soliciting business. 

I choose one, am warmly welcomed, order some noodles and chat a bit with the waitress who speaks excellent English - she's doing a tourism degree. Then I retrieve a book from my daypack and settle down to read. I'm interrupted after a minute though as the waitress has returned.

“Excuse me but these people,” she indicates three middle-aged Chinese sitting at a table just outside the restaurant, “want you to join them at their table.”

I'm a little flustered at the unexpected invitation but decide to take them up on it; why not? Thoughts of past scam attempts sneak into my head, but I decide it would be churlish not to take up the offer.

A hot air balloon drifts over the Yulong River. And some sodding power lines are in the way - why god why? This could have been a wonderful shot...

“Ok - that would be great, but I hope they realise that I don't speak any Chinese.” Turns out they don't speak any English either, so we're even. But, once I've taken a seat with them, we discover a language in common after all - beer. The buck-toothed guy sitting next to me, obviously well oiled himself, fills my glass, downs his own and then decrees that I should follow his example. I'm hesitant at first but get into it and pretty soon we're having a bit of a competition amidst plenty of laughter and the odd attempt at conversation translated by the waitress.

The couple sitting opposite me are highly amused by my tentative attempts to eat the snails that occupy one of the many communal dishes arranged on the table. I've never eaten snails before and prising them from their shells with a wooden cocktail stick is trickier than it seems.

West Street by night - packed with Chinese tourists. Whilst I was taking this photo a pimp was offering me "Beautiful lady for special massage." Just for a change.
The waitress warns me too late to eat only half of the snail; turns out that the other half is kind of acid tasting, like licking a battery. I hope to sweet baby Jesus that it isn't snail crap, but I bet it is: this little faux pas sees sides splitting around the table and amongst the waitresses as well.

The beer is free-flowing and, as they pile my plate high with shrimp, snails and vegetables, I learn that they are from Shenzen, the area I skimmed through after leaving Hong Kong. Somehow, they get the mistaken idea I am returning to their home town, the male half of the couple is a cop and writes me his telephone number down in case I need any help there.

Meanwhile Ol' Bucktooth has rushed off to take part in an impromptu mid-street game of shuttlecock thingo keepy uppy (same as hacky sack but with a feathered spring device - it's popular in many Asian countries).

The nice couple who bought my meal and booze. Mr Policeman looks as though he's just licked a battery.
Before downing plenty of the local beer I'm betting our friend had precisely zero talent at this pastime, post booze consumption his air shot capers see him swiftly sliding into minus aptitude points. 

When they are ready to leave my protestations about paying my part of the bill are waved aside. The couple pay for all of the beer and the food, including the noodles and beer I had originally ordered. The waitress informs me that this is quite usual amongst Chinese people. I shake hands with each of my new friends warmly, repeating: “Xiexie” or “Thank you” many times over and then am left to finish as much of the remaining food as I can handle.

I walk away smiling and feeling a whole lot better about things. Before I arrived China seemed daunting, both because of its size and a notion I'd picked up from some travellers that the Chinese could be standoffish and difficult. However, the more people I meet here, the more I find the locals to be warm, open and generous.

Of course this isn't the whole story and the population are as diverse as the vast geography of their country but, after tonight, maybe I can start to believe a little more in the kindness of strangers.

Saladin79 says:
Sorry Bernard - I wasn't being very clear - just sarcastic as usual. In my entry about Hong Kong airport I did stereotype the French by talking about baguettes, garlic and the Eiffel Tower... ;-) Cheers for your comments!
Posted on: Nov 23, 2008
bernard69 says:
Hi Dave,as I was very interested in yr upcoming pictures of Li river(I did there a little trip in 2006)and as I eat sometimes snails,I signed snaileater, but be sure that I had never thought that you had stereotype somebody:)))))))))))))))))))))))
Posted on: Nov 23, 2008
Saladin79 says:
Bill - that's a pretty exact figure - have you been conducting research by any chance?

Bernard - As you can tell by my HK airport entry, I would never stereotype anybody... especially not the French - ahem!
Posted on: Nov 23, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
The Yulong River, shot from the Dr…
The Yulong River, shot from the D…
Me, with my head cocked slightly t…
Me, with my head cocked slightly …
Bamboo rafts on the Li river.
Bamboo rafts on the Li river.
A hot air balloon drifts over the …
A hot air balloon drifts over the…
West Street by night - packed with…
West Street by night - packed wit…
The nice couple who bought my meal…
The nice couple who bought my mea…
photo by: sylviandavid