YANGSHUO

It should take one hour by bus from Guilin to Yangshuo, but my journey takes more than two.

»After a week spent travelling by bus I have realized that the bus system, unlike trains, leaves a lot to be desired. Some drivers drive like crazy, others go exceedingly slow, using the clutch in descents and going at walking pace in ascents, giving me the impression that they are given incentives on fuel savings (or worse). But there's more. For instance, I start my journey from the bus station with a regular ticket. Most of the people, though, get on along the way, pay less and are not given any ticket. Often they get on a mere 200 metres after the bus station. In a similar fashion, they get off 200 metres before the bus gets to destination. Therefore, they travel the entire journey but they pay less and without a ticket. No need to specify who pockets that money.

Sometimes, in order to pick up as many "unofficial" passengers as possible, the bus goes very very slow. They do not care that the people who (like me) paid the full ticket would have the right to get to destination in time. The delay due to this practise can easily amount to one hour - that's why my travel from Guilin to Yangshuo took so long. I tried and claimed my rights, to no avail. In other cases they load more passengers than the available seats, for the same reason: the more the "illegal" passengers, the more the money pocketed by drivers and conductors. Chinese passengers ought to complain (after all, it's their interest that their money goes to the bus company, which can use it to improve the system). Since they don't, there is no hope that things can change. But wait: who can they complain with? No political opposition and no free press. An interesting puzzle.

As soon as I get off the bus a guy approaches me and offers to transport me to his hotel. I am reluctant, but on the other hand I have no idea where we are, it's dark and, after all, a help could be...helpful. Unfortunately, this is the start of all sorts of troubles due to this dishonest and false person, whom I'll manage to get rid of only by going to the Police. A bad story which shouldn't let me forget all the other times when, here in China, I have been greeted and I felt welcome. Yangshuo, unfortunately, is a very touristic place and there are people who take advantage of tourists.

Yangshuo, by itself, is nothing special: everything revolves around Xi Jie (Western Street)

which in the evening turns into a tourist's heaven: restaurants, shops, bars which play the discos, and so on until late at night. In the evening at a restaurant I meet an English teacher from Florida and a US Navy veteran from Boston. The veteran tells me that he was in Italy from 1951 to 1954, so we speak about the terrible situation of Italy at that time, jolted by the war and not yet graced by the economic boom of the late fifties and early sixties.
The teacher knows European history very well; we speak about the 2nd world war - I speak about my travel to Russia which made me understand that the war for Russia was much harder than for us in Western Europe and he says: 'Sure, they defeated the Nazis, not us Americans or the English'; a deserved acknowledgement, in my opinion, yet unusual for an American - for most of the Western "information" (Hollywood, to begin with) this is not the case.
They also speak about the blooming 'business' of teaching English in China: there is a lot of request, it is even common for non-native English speakers to teach here; even I could do it, they say - in exchange for Chinese lessons. Not a bad idea, I mumble, weren't it for the fact that by the time my potential pupils learn English I will have barely learnt how to order a coffee in Chinese .
An extremely interesting, warm and relaxed conversation.

Yangshuo surroundings are gorgeous: rice fields in the foreground and karst peaks in the background are their landmark:

Why not renting a bicycle and go and discover this landscape on my own? I do so, indeed:

Part of the way skirts the Yulong river with a landscape nearly as beautiful as the one along the Li River:

Along the way I visit the "Assembled Dragons Cave". Yes, you guessed right, dragons once again . And not one dragon this time, but a combined set of dragons . The caves are common in karst landscapes: the same erosion which creates peaks also creates caves. The Cave can be visited partly on foot and partly by boat, and it is amazing:

The colourful neon lights make the caves eye-catching and suitable for pictures, but unfortunately this hides their real aspect - an undue concession to special effects, in my opinion. Sometimes it is possible to figure out their true aspect by taking a picture with the flash at full power:

The landscape seen from the cave is also beautiful:

The next stage is the breathtaking Moon Hill:

from whose top you can enjoy a wonderful view over the surrounding peaks, despite the haze:

Speaking again about Yangshuo, here more than anywhere else you can see the amazing selling skills of the Chinese. I need a pair of jogging shoes, since my ones are breaking down. As soon as I enter a shop, 3 shop-assistants surround me. Once they know my shoes size, I am even embarassed to glance at any pair of shoes on display, because then one of the shop-girls immediately runs and takes the right size for that model. And every time I glance at another pair the scene recurs. Eventually I buy my pair of shoes and leave, impressed by the great care of the personnel and at the same time struck by an attitude towards the customer which we would consider "obsequious".

I also need to have my hair cut: I have been in China for a while and my hair are long. Now that I am again in the warm plains of the South, I really feel the need for a pruning. In the shop a woman seats me, then a young, around 20, appears. As soon as I utter the "sh" of "short" he has already started to crop my hair very short. After 8 minutes I am finished, ready to pay. I say to him "You are very fast", and he rejoices. I'd like to add "Maybe too fast", but I refrain. I have to admit, though, that the cut was well-done.

Retail dealers here always try to sell you something, even if you do not need it. They greet you with their "Helllloooooooo", and from then on you have no escape. The most incredible example happened to me several times at train stations: in the waiting room it's common to see a guy going around and selling newspapers. Those newspapers are obviously in Chinese, but the guy offers them to me for sale. I smile, showing that I do not understand the language. Nonetheless, the guy continues with the offer. Maybe he would like to say "Hey, isn't it time to learn this damned Chinese language?".

When these retail dealers see a foreigner, they immediately foresee the chance of extra-money. So, even if they may know only 4 words of English, they try to somehow set up a conversation. But their limited knowledge of the English language can become handy when any of them is particularly annoying: you devise a complex sentence such as 'Sorry, I've just realized that I am late to catch my night train' and, while they stop and try to understand, you take the chance to go away. It is rude, I know, but it is just a survival technique.

Since my return home is approaching, it would also be the right time to think about souvenirs. Not an easy thing to do here, though, because most of the things on sale are not authentic. For example, one of the glories of China is jade. Real jade is very expensive, you read in the travel guides, but stalls and stands sell 'jade' Buddhas for the equivalent of few euros. You tell them: "It's not real jade, is it?" and they answer "Yes it is"; and smile.