On the third day in Yangshuo we hit the bikes again, cruising through random villages and farming areas. Lots of stuff growing out here... rice, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, taro root, sesame seeds, chili peppers, mint, mandarin oranges, pomelo, bamboo (for food and construction), tea, eggplant, and more. Gops brought along and lit of a string of 1000 firecrackers in a pleasant little valley and immediately afterward caught a flat and had his handlebars come loose... how's that for karma? Fortunately, there was a small village less than a kilometer away and in this area it's all too easy to find someone to repair a flat as bikes are the number one mode of transportation.
We walked the last kilometer into the village and had some lunch along the river while we waited for the tire to be fixed. It almost seemed to planned, as if the flat tire was a conspiracy. In fact, after the fireworks, we ran into some gal on a bike who started riding alongside us and talking to Marcel, then GOPS had his flat, then this gal ends up being the owner of the place we ended up having lunch. Coincidence? Don't ask Marcel... cause he's not talking. Once we sat down for lunch she tried hard to convince us to try the snake... an expensive delicacy in the area, but much cheaper here than in Yangshuo where it could easily run you $30 US. Whatever we ordered they'd come back with, "Pork & Snake?", "No", "Beef & Snake?", "No", etc. Finally we managed to settle on duck, bamboo and beers... no snake. Pictured here is the duck... before, during and after lunch preparation. There's no such thing as fast food in this neck of the woods, you order it, they kill it, and serve it whole. BTW, the duck was excellent!!
By this time in the trip Cody was getting progressively sick (by the last day of the trip he could hardly talk) and Marcel was trying to convince him to get an oil rub. He insisted it would make him feel a lot better. They don't take a lot of medicine out here, mainly using herbal or other natural remedies. He was so insistent that he finally grabbed a bowl and some oil out of the kitchen and just started giving Cody one himself, to Cody's chagrin. The marks from an oil rub last several days, by the way. Cody had some great tread marks leftover... and I don't think he felt that much better as a result.
We also dropped in on the local school while we were here too. Didn't look like there was much going on except for a few kids hanging out by the entrance... like this little gal. We biked around a little bit more after that and then headed back into town to play pool for a couple hours before dinner..
Earlier I had asked Lin Juan to pick out a good local place for us to eat that night... something spicy... someplace outside of the tourist area. First thing she asked is if I liked dog... eh, no thanks, not now, not ever. Apparently my request got back to the hotel manager, Frances, who offered to make some dishes for us that were local in her home province... Sichuan. While I suspect this had something to do with keeping our money at the Morning Sun, I have to admit it was the best and spiciest meal we had on the trip and it was only around $20 for the three of us, including beers.
After dinner GOPS and Cody went Cormorant fishing (a night activity). Cormorant fishing is a traditional occupation in these parts where the Cormorant dives underwater, catches the fish, and brings it back up to the fisherman/trainer. Before the Cormorant dives the fisherman ties a string around its neck so that it can't swallow the fish (probably not something you'd get away with in the U.S.). While this used to be a widespread practice, it's a dieing one now. The main thing keeping these guys in business these days is tourism... giving demonstrations, letting folks take pictures with the birds, etc. I decided not to go and caught up on some writing instead, but there are some pictures from their fishing trip in the gallery.
By the last day in Yangshuo we were tired, bodies wracked with various aches, and congested (Cody was speaking in whispers). It was our intention to just hang loose, drink and play pool... but Marcel had other plans. Don't get me wrong, Marcel is an awesome guide. If I went back, I'd hire him again without question. In fact, as I alluded to in the Ping Yao journal, Marcel went way beyond the call of duty for reasons that fall outside the scope of this account. I told him as much on our last night and hit him up with a sizable 'tip' because I thought he had more than earned it. However, with regard to today's trip, we suffered from that often unreconcileable cultural difference where Westerners always want to know what the 'bottom line' is and Chinese prefer to focus on the path taken to get there. So... the next step on the path is usually all the information you'll receive unless you're painfully direct.
Before that adventure though, I woke up at my usual early hour to do my thing (coffee & email) before Gops and Cody woke up. After a bit of that I ran into Lin Juan ("LJ") in the lobby. When we first made it to the Morning Sun, I thought LJ was the manager... she just seemed like she was running the show. Turned out she was just one of the staff, a 20 year old girl who didn't finish high school, but instead took a year of "English College", and quickly moved to full-time employment. She no longer attends classes, but whenever she has free time, you'll catch her studying from an English textbook. English skills are often a key requirement for Chinese women to find reasonable employment. LJ's oral english is very good and she is as smart as they come. Up to the time I left Yangshuo, she'd never been outside the area but had given Morning Sun notice that she was quitting in ten days. She had no other job lined up but big plans to go... somewhere else. Note that with most of these types of jobs, in rural areas, there is no 9-5 and then going home. Most of the gals that work at the Morning Sun, also live at the Morning Sun. They wake up, they're at work. In LJ's case, and I don't want to give an exact number, she made less than $100 U.S. a month. She had mentioned that she needed to come up with an English resume and cover letter, so I helped her with that as I've done for a couple of Chinese friends. Despite the odds, I have a lot of confidence that she'll do well.
On this morning, she was stuck with babysitting Frances's little girl for a couple of hours, and planned to take her to Yangshuo Park... a mixed bag for LJ as she's part of a rapidly growing segment of Chinese women who have no interest in getting married, having kids, and thereby being tied down with the traditional role of a woman in China... but it was a break from the hotel. She asked if I wanted to come along, so I did. The Yangshuo park was the usual scene for a Chinese park, people playing cards or mahjong, sword dancing, tai chi, calisthenics and what have you. There were also little amusement park rides for kids which is where we spent most of our time, watching Frances's kid bounce around from ride to ride.
A couple of interesting things came up in our conversation that I would note. First off, when LJ was in the school it was mandatory for all students to run two laps around the park and climb Xilang hill every morning... imagine doing that in our schools... so much for that whole overweight thing. :p Also, each summer (when it's around 100 degrees and 80% humidity), all students had to take part in day long mandatory "military training" where they ran laps around the park and rode bikes to the nearby village of Xingping and back.
Once back to the Hotel, I found Marcel, Gops and Cody ready to go. After vigorous questioning, it seemed that Marcel was guaranteeing us a fairly pain free bus ride out to a place called the 'stone village' where they didn't use mortar. We thought we had him pinned down... quite the opposite. There was a quick trip to a village.... then a jarring 30 minute trip up a rock path on a three-wheeled motorcycle with passenger cart installed (we were caked with sweat and dust just from this part of the trip)... another village.... then an hour hike up a steep hill... then another hike around some villages... then a hike almost all the way back down to the first village (the cart broke down on the other side). This would have been fine if we were prepared but, based on our morning Q&A, Cody and Gops were both wearing long pants and Cody was wearing a long sleeve rugby shirt. Once enroute we kept asking 'how much farther', and Marcel would just keep saying 'almost there'. Haha... laughs on us... but it was still worthwhile.
The village at the top was hidden between a couple of small mountains. It once served as a training and hiding place for the army in the early 1900's. There were four passes in & out of the area, each guarded by a stone gate. Back in the day, going through these heavily guarded gates was the only way in or out of the valley. It felt like something out of LOTR. Currently there was some kind of road in, although it was definitely not something I'd want to travel daily.
At the top, we stopped for some refreshment. Some locals hooked us up with fresh Pomelo. After one of them played a little joke on Gops, we found that they were bewing their own rice wine up here (see the old sprite bottle on the ground) which is pretty much pure alcohol (like everclear) flavored with mint, pomelo or whatever else they had on hand. Even though it was for their own use, Gops decided to bargain for some of their stash to use later that night. It tasted pretty good and we were really getting tired of Chinese beer.
As I mentioned, our transportation went bust on the way down, so we hoofed it most of the way back to the bus stop and then made it back to Yangshuo around 3PM. Just in time to start drinking the shine and playing some pool.
Our final activity in Yangshuo was to show up at an 'English Corner'. In many of the major cities through China, you can find one or more of these every week, where dozens of folks will get together on a regular basis to stand around and talk English with whatever native speakers they can find (teachers, exchange students, and whatever tourists get dragged in). I'd been to one of these in Kunming before. In this case, one of Yangshuo's local English colleges was sponsoring it and since Yangshuo was not all that big of a city and probably didn't have any exchange students, they worked extra hard at recruiting tourists... by offering free beer. Worked for us. So we all went, were surrounded by students and allowed ourselves to be pelted with questions for an hour.
The next morning, we were off early for the airport and then back to Beijing to stay for one more night before heading back home... and I'll end it there.