Sunday, December 21, 2008

12.18.08: Yangshuo

Our full day in lovely Yangshuo was one of the best of the trip. We started out with a 15-or-so-mile bike ride through the countryside. Once out of town, the views of the massive, rocky karsts was uninterrupted by buildings. We rode past streams, tiny villages, rice paddies, cows, chickens, bulls, mandarin orange trees, and beautiful views on all sides.

(Along the bike route)

We stopped for lunch at a village farmhouse, where our meal was made of the freshest possible ingredients, as they were grown or raised right there. One of the dishes was a dumpling where the wrapper was like a tiny omelets, and the hens who laid those eggs were clucking around by our feet as we ate. Lunch also included a local specialty, beer fish, which was a whole fish marinated in beer, tomatoes, and onions.

We rode for another few hours after lunch. The trip became somewhat terrifying when we hit some really rocky dirt paths on our fixed gear city bikes--definitely not designed for such terrain. Among our group of 12, we had four spills resulting in small amounts of blood loss. Miraculously, I was not one of them, probably because I rode at the back of the pack at approximately .002 miles per hour.

As wiped out as I was when we rode back into town, I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to become part of that gorgeous landscape and absorb it with all of my senses--smelling the river-tinged air, hearing the cattle moo, saying hello to the women shelling peanuts roadside--rather than just viewing it from a tour bus window.

(Illuminations performers in canoes on the Yi River)

In the evening, Seth and I attended a show called something like "Illuminations" that we were a bit skeptical about because the way it had been described to us sounded very heavy on the cheese factor, enough so that the rest of our group decided to skip it. However, I read that it was created by the director of the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That epic brought a new level of artistry to the classic kung fu film, and so my interest was definitely piqued. Fortunately, our investment in curiosity paid off in spades.

The show was nothing short of spectacular. The entire cast included SIX HUNDRED performers, who sang in Mandarin, telling a famous Chinese tale pf unrequited love. The "stage" and seats were outside, and most of the performances occurred directly on the water of the Li River. The night was pitch black, concealing the mechanics of the process, and highly choreographed colored lights were used heavily, so it literally looked like these people were walking, gliding, and dancing on top of the water, and every so often, a beam would dramatically illuminate one of the karst peaks behind the set.

At one point, about 100 single-person canoes rowed out onto the water in ten straight rows, and suddenly the rowers lifted ribbons of bright red fabric out of the water and moved them up and down in succession, so it looked like waves of brilliant red were ripping through the night sky. There were several such dramatic, visual stunts, which are really hard to describe, but suffice it to say that the show was a one-of-a-kind theatrical feat and if you ever find yourself in Guanxi Province, I highly recommend it!

(Yangshuo Farmer's Market)

We spent the next day lazily wandering around Yangshuo, killing time before our final overnight train to Hong Kong. The highlight of this excursion was the football-field-sized farmer's market in the center of town that was positively bursting with colors and activity. Some sights were tough to take. For instance, they really do use every part of the pig, so individual tails and testicles were readily available. And I'll spare you the stomach-churning details, but let's just say that the whole "They eat dogs in China" thing is not just a rumor.

That being said, the farmer's market also featured stall after stall of squatting farmers with exquisitely wrinkled faces selling the most incredible produce you've ever seen: carrots the size of cucumbers, cucumbers the size of eggplants, freshly made tofu, foot-long cinnamon sticks that you couldn't fit a child's hand around, Chinese broccoli with little yellow flowers at the top, chili peppers galore and a zillion varieties of mushrooms!

We also enjoyed souvenir shopping along the touristy, bar-and-restaurant-lined West Street and in junk stalls along the Li River. All in all, our time in Yangshuo was a real pleasure and now we're off to our final destination in China!

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