Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mengshan - Yangshuo. Confucius says: “Behind every smile there's teeth.”

As I was leaving Mengshan I saw in my bike mirror that an object was approaching me a little slower than a motorbike or a car would. I hoped, and then confirmed that it was another cyclist! He caught up to me after not too much longer and we spent the rest of the day cycling together. He was an older Chinese man from Hainan and he was cycling to Guilin. It's not often that you meet another touring cyclist who has about the same speed as you and is going in the same direction, so I was very lucky. We met another two cyclists and all shared lunch together in a town before Lipu. They insisted on paying and even ordered vegetarian food especially for me. Liu Jie also ordered me an entire long neck beer. He asked me if I wanted ice and I said no, but his english was poor and there was a misunderstanding so unfortunately I just ended up with warm beer. Liu was sweet, when we had our photo taken together he said "Touch? Touch?" asking my permission to put his arm on my shoulder for the picture. We exchanged contact details and parted ways at Yangshuo.

Liu Jie stopping for a smoke break

Cruising along in Liu Jie's slipstream

Stopping for lunch

Some more casual cyclists we met along at our lunch stop

Sharing some nourishment

Enjoying a warm beer after lunch. And don't forget you must carry toilet paper everywhere with you. 

Pedalling along after lunch with these three cyclists

The scenery was quite pretty

Riding through Lipu

It's nice to ride over flat land that looks mountainous

Yangshuo was as pretty as I envisioned it, unfortunately thousands of Chinese tourists also thought so, and the small town was overrun with tourists. I headed over to Zhouye English School to meet my next host, Audrey, a girl from Texas who'd been living in China and teaching english for the past 5 months. We shared her room provided by the school, and dined at a western restaurant because my mouth had been watering for pizza. It was refreshing to reflect on some strange Chinese customs we had both been confronted with. For example, the Chinese seem to have quite contradictory beliefs when it comes to hygiene. They will spit haphazardly on the street and from their cars and also spit out bits of gristle and bone from the meals at the dinner table, yet they were very strict on hygiene and would get crockery at restaurants that had been autoclaved and wrapped in plastic. Even so, they would then proceed to unwrap the crockery and "disinfect" it using warm tea. When I was having lunch earlier that day with the cyclists, I dropped a bit of food on the table from my chopsticks and proceeded to pick it up only to hear a "Nooooo" from the other three, and so I left it there. Apparently the table was too...dirty? to eat off, even though it too was covered in plastic. At the dinner table, Chinese people also use two sets of chopsticks, with a third chopsticks to hold up the the two sets on the table. One set is to pick up food from communal platters, and the other set is your personal set to eat off. I was surprised at the insistence of Chinese people to share food, but the fear they had of sharing germs.

Chinese people also take many risks on the road, many people drive scooters or motorbikes but very few people take safety precautions, like wearing helmets. The bus drivers are also crazy and rarely slow down around the corner. They will hong their horns and power across the roads was no regard for whoever gets in their way. The rule for China is that the biggest kid on the block makes the rules. In this case the biggest kid is the bus and the truck. The poor bicycle is the lowest on the hierarchy and is usually a symbol of poor status in society. I usually only saw poor farmers or rich touring cyclists on bikes.

I spent my time in Yangshuo doing more cycling (as if I hadn't done enough already!), and did a loop to see the kurst boulders. I also did a ride out to Shangri-La, but didn't go into any of the tourist sites because I didn't want to pay for them, and all the tourism in Yangshuo made me weary. I hated to see desperate people on the streets, begging fo you to come in and buy something from them. On my third day there I attempted to go rock climbing, I was going to meet a bunch of climbers at a place called the Climbers Inn at 10am, but I was half an hour late because I got lost and by the time I arrived they were all about to leave. I would have had to hire all my gear and there was no time, so the lady who ran the inn, said "Maybe tomorrow". Tomorrow I was going to leave town, so I left Yangshuo without embracing one of the greatest climbing hubs in all of Asia. The only climbing I got the chance to do was some bouldering at night at an indoor climbing wall in a bar. A good idea, but I doubt the establishment made much money off it. Yangshuo seemed to have quite a tight nit group of expats in it, and I got a warm feeling there, which made me contemplate even settling down there and making a base for myself.

Bike rentals were popular for Chinese tourists in Yangshuo

The scenic route around Yangshuo

Karst peak reflections in the rice fields

In Yangshuo town centre

Fields of flowers like this were popular for making flowery crowns for the masses of tourists

Bamboo rafts on the Li River

In the evenings I volunteered teaching english at Zhuoye. In exchange for two hours of speaking english at "english corner". Zhuoye would provide free accommodation and lunch and dinner. Seeing as I was already staying with Audrey, I had no need for accommodation, but was grateful for the evening meals. Zhuoye would be a fantastic place to settlel down for an old climber, essentially living for free, climbing during the days and chatting to the students at night. Perhaps one day I will return if my heart desires. My host Audrey began volunteering there through Helpx and before she knew it she had a job as a teacher and had been there for 5 months. I met another volunteer called Rodrigo there. He was from Salamanca in Spain and in fact had just finished a cycling trip of his own through China and South East Asia. He was on more of a shoestring budget than I was, and bought his bike in Thailand, where he began, for ~150 EURO. He explained that a lot of his trip was wild camping and gave me some tips on how to ask Chinese people for a place to sleep, without any chinese. All you need to do is gesutre towards your tent and mime sleeping actions. I later employed these tactis, but I'll talk about this later. During the day Rodrigo earned a few bucks at Insight Adventures leading bike trips and other activities. The fact that he promoted Yangshuo as his favourite place in Asia made me reconsider how little time I was spending there, but my heart was calling for me to move on. I spent my last night there chatting over beers with Rodrigo and a friend of his from work, Tea, who as it happens, was also a touring cyclist. He had originally planned to ride all the way from the UK to China, but Germany refused to approve his Shengen visa, so he began in Moscow and cycled and hitch hiked his way through the enormous Russia and China. 

Me with the organiser of Zhuoye English School

Tea also offered various tips, such as how useful condoms can be in the rain, for protecting electronic equipment and what not. I assured him I'd pick some up in the next town I stopped at. Tea turned out to be one of the most useful contacts I made in China, and I could always turn to hum for advice later down the track when I was unsure of how to do something. We kept in touch because, like many chinese people, he seemed quite concerned for y safety. Rodrigo, on the other hand, used a points systems to reinforce the fact that I was in a very fortunate position as a touring cyclist. I was a foreigner - 1 point, I was female - 1 point, people would therefore be more likely to approach me and to help me, either because they wanted to talk to me or because they wanted to protect me.

China day 6: Mengshan to Yangshuo
Distance: 82.40 km
Average speed: 19.0 km/hr
Max speed: 43.3 km/hr
Total ascent: 646 m
Total descent: 657 m

China day 7: Loop around Yangshuo
Distance: 41.98 km
Average speed: 13.1 km/hr
Max speed: 30.8 km/hr
Total ascent: 438 m
Total descent: 423 m

China day 8: Yangshuo to Shangri-La
Distance: 34.56 km
Average speed: 19.2 km/hr
Max speed: 38.8 km/hr
Total ascent: 227 m
Total descent: 268 m

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