Sunday, January 20, 2008


We spent our winter holiday in Yangshuo, southern China, with the Rothman-Shaperos, who were brave enough to visit us from Toronto. We spent a week in Yangshuo which is famous (everywhere in China is famous for something) for its karst mountain peaks, beautiful countryside, and meandering rivers. It was really beautiful, but not as warm as we’d hoped, and perennially overcast. However, overcast does not necessarily mean polluted, so it was still a breath of fresh air compared to Xi’an.

Yoni had last been to Yangshuo about 20 years ago, and was a bit apprehensive at what he would discover. Things have changed so much in China during the past two decades and he had wonderful, picturesque memories of Yangshuo. Well, he said it was still beautiful, just more crowded, commercialized and built up. The views were spectacular from everywhere you looked.

I was a little overwhelmed by what a backpacker haven it was – felt like being in Thailand or Katmandu in the early 90s. Even had the same hippie/backpacker clothes. Actually, I LOVED the clothes there . . should have shopped more. It took me awhile to get my head around the fact that we were actually still in China, it had somehow morphed into 2008, and we had these 5 kids traveling with us. Was a bit of a time warp. How did time ever fly by so quickly?

We flew into Guilin and decided to take a boat to Yangshuo. The river was very low so boats couldn’t make the entire journey, and we were told that we would be taking a van, then a boat, then a taxi – about a three hour journey for a set price. We could have taken a 90 minute car ride to Yangshuo, but chose the more scenic route. Shortly after pulling away from the dock in our dinky little boat our captain slipped and fell overboard – not an auspicious beginning. There's a picture of us before we left dock with the woman who helped organize the boat. Once we realized he was OK, it was hard to control the laughter. Y helped pull him and his wet cellphone up onto the boat and he went home and was replaced by a second captain. The new captain managed to stay dry.

After the boat trip we were placed on a glorified golf cart for a VERY bumpy ride through the picturesque village of Xing Ping, and then got onto a public bus to Yangshuo. Everyone wanted to take a little more money than we agreed upon at the outset, and this tended to be the tone of Yangshuo. But I suppose that’s to be expected in a place where the local economy is fuelled by tourism. We tried not to let it get to us, and in the end it really didn’t.

Most of the tourist life was centred around a few streets – too many choices of restaurants and they all seemed to have the same menu. A little Western food (usually pizza and spaghetti) and a little Chinese food. The result was that they generally didn’t make either food particularly well. But we didn’t go there for the food. I suppose if we more adventurous, or didn’t have the kids with us, or had a little more time, or all of the above, we might have seen the “real” Yangshuo outside of this tourist destination. But, seeing as we’ve been living in the “real Xi’an” for the past 4 months, ,we were quite happy to feel like tourists.

Our favourite hangout was the Karst café. This was popular with the local rock climbers, and had good enough food and an open fire pit in the middle of the restaurant stocked with chunks of raw coal in case you were cold. When you were bored waiting for your food you could play with the fire – a favourite male pastime, but let’s not get sexist. Noam burned the sole of his shoe one day when trying to stay warm. Not particularly safe to have an open, unvented, fire inside a restaurant, I know, but this was Yangshuo – everything was kind of hippie, laid back, relaxed. Anyway, upstairs they had a nice TV and a bunch of videos and we enjoyed hanging out there and also had a great day rock climbing with the guides from the café - see the picture of my two boys; one's going up and one's coming down.

We did many different things there – biking through the countryside (picture of Yoni, Gary, Kobi and Noam), climbing some mountains (picture of Yoni and Tal), boating down the Li River (there's a picture of Gil alone on the boat with our captain . . who managed to stay on board for the whole trip), visiting a HUGE stalagmite/stalagtite cave (unfortunately, I missed that adventure as I was at cooking school), rock climbing, and seeing a very awesome sound and light show on the Li river directed by Zhang Yi Mo himself. He’s the director of many Chinese films including, “Raise the Red Lantern,” “To Live,” “5 Girls and a Rope” to name a few. Linda (that's the other Linda) and I enjoyed a half-day of Chinese cooking school (there's a picture of that too) and Yoni and Gary had a mountain biking adventure (not on the same day, obviously) as we all tried to balance the needs of the various kids and the wants of the various adults.

As we were on the boat trips the drivers would inevitably point out to us the various sites – most “famous” mountains seemed to be famous because they looked like something. A mountain that looked like cat ears, or a lion, or the ubiquitous dragon. One mountain supposedly looked like it had 9 horses carved into the side. I counted 3, and that was only using a very active imagination. But regardless, it was spectacular. Some of the caves closer to Guilin were famous as the Chinese hid there during World War II, or as it is known locally, “The War Against Japan.”

We saw a mix of old and new: cormorant fishing whereby the fisherman tie a string around the bird’s throat and then the bird catches fish that it can’t swallow and passes them on to the fisherman (see picture, and there's also a picture of Tal and Zev holding a couple of captive cormorants on one of our day trips - many opportunities to take some of these "posed" pictures as long as you pay the locals a little cash). On the more modern side, there were fishermen (on the same primitive bamboo rafts that the cormorant fishers used) using electric current to electrocute the fish.

Have also included some pictures of village life on the Li River; there's a man squatting by some meat he's preparing - to sell, I think, and a person carrying their load up from the river.

Also included a picture of the whole gang on the last day of our trip. And a good time was had by all. Unfortunately I haven't yet figured out how to put all these pictures in order, but I'm hoping you'll be able to piece everything together. That will be my next blogging lesson. Until then, farewell, adieu, shalom, au revoir, and zai jian.