Wednesday, November 5, 2008

...except Yangshuo is better.

There are buses to take people back to Guilin after departing the boats, but we decide to stay for a full day and hire a taxi for the trip back.

Once established in our hotel in Yangshuo, we book tickets and a driver to take us to the impressive Liu Sanjie Water show. It runs nightly during the high season. Set to the music from the movie of the same name (which in turn was based on an old Chinese story), it features a cast of 500 wearing traditional Zhuang, Miao and Yao dress with fantastic displays of colors and lighting effects.

There are two shows nightly and we just miss out on the early show (capacity 2500) for the medium priced tickets. So we arrive at the amphitheater, get our tickets and proceed to the one of two gates and line up with hundreds of others, waiting for the early show to finish.

Let me explain about how Chinese act in public. If you are a foreign guest to an important Chinese person or agency, you are treated with the utmost courtesy and respect. Nothing is ever done to cause embarrassment to you even though in ignorance, you are guilty of some social fax paus. Nothing is done in a hurry and patience is the rule. In public, however, it’s every man or woman for themselves. You can be pushed, poked, stepped on, or jostled. Don’t ever expect anyone to wait patiently behind you waiting their turn to be next at a bathroom stall for instance. If you blink twice, the person behind you will slip in front of you. And don’t expect a vocal expression of your dismay or disapproval to have the slightest effect. There is no such thing as social guilt on their part. It’s the Chinese way. They drive the same way. Just keep your elbows out and our eyes open. Another place to hold your position is getting off a plane.

So, as we stand in line, people move to the side around us so that the crowd forms a funnel shape to the entrance. And when the gate open, with people on both sides, and front and back, your only option is to move forward just like everyone else. I have the advantage of being big and I am not weak, so protecting Judith as best I can, it’s “game on”. My biggest accomplishment at the gate entrance was to deftly move my hips sideways to slip pass a beefy Chinese man, like a linebacker blitzing the quarterback or a fullback scoring at the goal line with a tremendous second effort.

Here’s the thing. The show didn’t start for another 30 minutes and we had reserved seats. We would have been better off sitting down outside the gate and have a drink. Then, after the crowd pushed inside, we could have just strolled in. But I have never shied away from contact sports and at my age, experiencing a testosterone surge felt good. I kinda enjoyed it.

Liu Sanjie is a story that originates from the Zhuang minority people. The Zhuang are the largest minority group in China. The story is about a legend of a woman called Liu Sanjie, which means "third sister". The legend tells the tale of Liu Sanjie who had a beautiful voice at very early age. Her voice was so beautiful it even could raise the dead. It became such a famous story that in 1960 a movie was released. The story in the movie as in the legend and the movie is about a local gangster: The gangster falls in love with Liu Sanjie and wished to make her his concubine. The boyfriend and his friends in the village free her and the couple escapes turning themselves in a pair of larks. Here is what we see before the show opens.
The director of the show is the same person that directed the Beijing Olympics. This is one of the opening scenes.
I found this YouTube video. It is rather long but it is also spectacular.

Surprisingly the crowd filed out in a humane fashion.

The main street in Yangshuo is called appropriately West Street. Shops and restaurants here cater to the Western tourists. It was nice to enjoy a pizza although the Chinese, being unfamiliar with bread, will serve it to you with the crust slightly doughy. And good luck trying to get across the idea of “crispy”. The same with bacon.

The next morning I woke before the sun arrived, so when it appeared, I grabbed my camera. The river is in the foreground.
The options open for us to spend the day were, bicycling, caving, or rafting. We chose the short rafting trip option. We chose well. Geri, who accompanied us here, chose the bicycle ride and she enjoyed it also. We previously visited a huge cave near Kunming and we believed nothing could top it around Yangshuo.

Guilin is described as the most beautiful in china, except Yangshuo is better. Yangshuo has a population about 300,000, making up of different ethnic groups such as Han, Zhuang, Yao, Hui, and Miao. The weather in Yangshuo is subtropical, with sufficient rainfall, sunlight, and heat around the whole year. On average each year the temperature is 19 centigrade, the amount of sunlight is 1,465 hours, the rainfall is 1,640mm. There are about 300 days per year without frost. In general, the weather is neither too hot in summer nor too cold in winter. Yangshuo has a long history of 1400 years in which the people there have created their own culture.

The raft trip down the Yulong River, tributary of the Li River, was idyllic and the scenery gorgeous with some exceptions.
Beautiful karst formations were all around us.
Karst terrain is characterized by limestone peaks rising sharply at odd angles, looking like canine teeth rising from a green plain. Karst topography is characterized by many caverns and sinkholes that form by the dissolution of limestone or other carbonate rocks. Rain mixes with the calcium carbonate in the limestone to form a weak carbolic acid which causes most of the erosion. There are many other karst formations in the world, but those in China are unique. Here are the reasons. First, you need hard, compact carbonate rock. In Guilin/Yangshuo, it's Devonian limestone. Secondly, you need strong uplift, in this case provided by the collision of India with Asia to form the Himalayas. Third, you need a Monsoon climate of high moisture during the warmest season. Finally, the area must not have been scoured by glaciers, which this region wasn't.

The exceptions to the pleasure during the trip were as follows:

1. Our boatman’s pole wasn’t long enough so he relied on the very slow current to carry us down stream much of the time.
2. The boatman tried to stop at the various vendors along the way to buy souvenirs or food or photos. We kept saying “NO”.
3. They sell are water pumps which to use to suck up river water, that was used to spray your friends as they pass along side. There were some monster water fights between rafts at times, accompanied by a lot of whooping and yelling. The young people were having fun which was nice to see, but then again, it’s not an idyllic journey. I hate to mention this because it does sound a little curmudgeony.
4. There were 4 small dams along the way which required debarkation, lifting the raft out of the water, pushing along the dam until the front is pointed down and the rear is up. Then you re-embark and you are pushed forward at an angle that is like getting off a camel when the camel drops his front legs to his knees. Actually, it is fun, but you are not guaranteed you will stay dry and your footwear and pants are at risk.

So at one of these dams I put my $280 Nikon Coolpix camera into my belt case to keep it safe. But in the process of helping the boatman push the raft across the dam, the camera gets pushed out of its case and falls on the dam. But I didn’t realize it until about 70 yards downstream when I reach for it to take a photo. As we start back upstream with the boatman poling like crazy, a young woman gestures from another raft that the camera is back at the dam. When we get there, instead of being given the camera by the woman that picked it up, where upon I express my gratitude, I find I must buy the camera back, starting at 200 Yuan ($28) and the bargaining starts. Finally, I pull out a 100 Yuan bill which seems that it will satisfy. But then the boatman has to act as the middle man by passing the 100 Yuan to him, then he receives the camera.
Needless to say, I was greatly relieved, not only to get my camera back, but also the photos contained within. (I would have paid more if I had to, but at least I have developed a bit of bargaining skills). At first I was angry about all this, but it was another instance of dealing with a different culture.

So here is what I recovered.

This is what it looks like sliding down the dam.
We meet our driver who takes us around to take more pictures. This is Moon Mountain.
We hire a driver to take us back to Guilin. In itself, another interesting journey.


GETkristiLOVE said...

The show reminds me of the spectacular Olympics show in Beijing. The Chinese sure know how to put on a show.

Great you got your camera back - it was worth the 100 Yuan just to tell the story.

So when are you going to take me to China with you?!

dguzman said...

And me too?

I envy your ability to travel around and mix in among such different cultures. I think I'd be afraid of the food, the crowds, etc. I guess it's all in being experienced, huh?

That Moon Mountain is beautiful!