Found in Translation
Yangshuo Travel Blog› entry 94 of 115 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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).
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.