Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Great Travel Experiences: Doing Nothing in Yangshou

So, I have a job offer in China, not just in China though but in my favourite area of China. It seems that now might be an appropriate time to mention the joys of doing nothing.

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We had been on the road for a long time when we reached Yangshou. Days of tedious driving interspersed with unremarkable stopovers had left us a little tired and dispirited.

We reached Yangshou at four thirty and checked in at the hotel. I had been intending to take just one night and then seek cheaper accommodation but two things changed my mind. The first was the weight of my rucksack. As we were changing trucks in a couple of days everything needed to be in it and I could barely lift it. The thought of carrying it around while I searched for a new hotel was horrible. The second was the ‘dorm’. I had thought that for dormitory rooms the price of forty yuan was a little high and so it would have been. However the "dormitory" turned out not to be exactly what I was expecting. Instead I found myself in a Spartan but adequate, large, high-ceilinged room, approximately a cube with a twenty foot side. with its own shower and toilet and, moreover, the sole occupant of it. In fact, as a little exploration verified,I was the sole occupant of the whole building. It was great.
Next morning I rose early and took my breakfast in one of the cafes. A quick count gave the impression that if I stayed a month I could eat three meals a day without twice visiting the same establishment. Yangshou, was as I said, a backpacker town, one of those places that seems to have no existence independent of the travellers on its streets. It’s a small place with two main streets joined by a series of parallel alleys and the buildings are a fifty-fifty mix of tourist shops and bars. They all have either jokey names - Minnie Mao’s, The No-Name Cafe or mock classical ones - The Golden Lotus, The Shining Mountain. One famous one was the Mei You Cafe - Mei You is a phrase you hear a lot in China - it means ‘we don’t have it’. You could buy T-shirts with the slogan ‘Hold the Mei-You’ , a pun that must surely have been incomprehensible to the people selling them.
The stalls, except for a few at the far end of the main street sold statues and paintings, T-shirts and carvings, lanterns and jewellery and of course CDs. Every fifth one seemed to be selling the now familiar stock of pirated CDs.
Those few shops at the far end were more interesting though. They were the Chinese equivalent of junk shops. They sold everything - old coins, broken toys, ‘antique’ jewellery, clocks, Chairman Mao watches, ivory carvings, old books, statues of everything under the sun. Whatever you wanted was probably in there somewhere. Finding it though... that could be another matter.
The restaurants and cafes all spilled out onto the street and everyone would stop to chat with no effort to persuade you to buy or to come in. It was superbly relaxed and friendly. I walked around for a couple of hour, stopping now and then for a lemonade - the day was very hot - and a chat. Most people had limited English but what they lacked in vocabulary they made up for in enthusiasm.  
On the whole it was one of those wonderful, relaxing but essentially event-less days. The more I saw of the place the more I liked it.
The following morning was pretty much a retread, substitute different bars, restaurants and company but otherwise similar. The afternoon was different though.  I had decided to join a group taking a boat trip along the river. It’s a remarkable place, every bit as lovely as I remembered it. With the sun high in the sky the water is calm enough to be a mirror reflecting back the slightly wavering images of the conical mountains that rise from the plain like giant molehills. Here and there, there were groups of children playing in the water and the sometimes a long low boat with a fisherman. We sailed downstream, watching the birds wheeling overhead and the water buffalo cooling off in the shallows. When the sun started dip towards the mountain tops we turned around and sailed back, the new light changing the appearance of everything, filling the sky with flaming hues. I sat at the front of the boat doing nothing but just watching it all. I could have spent hours more there.
It was clear that any day spent in Yangshou was likely to be uneventful and relaxing  and so it proved once again on our last day there. It was nevertheless an enjoyable one. Yesterday I had bought a Tang Dynasty T-shirt (so much I had grown to like the band) and it proved a nice conversation piece with the locals.  First, as I sat finishing off my second cup of coffee after breakfast in yet another of the restaurants the very bored looking waitress remarked
            “Ah, Tang Zhou - famous Chinese Rock band !”
A pleasant if inconsequential fifteen minutes of chat about western rock music ensued until the arrival of some customers ended the conversation by dragging her back to work.
Later, in similar circumstances as I was having a beer after my chilli dog and chips lunch at the 7th Heaven Cafe another local girl approached, drawn by the T-shirt and introduced herself as Angela. We sat talking for well over an hour. Angela - that’s her English name of course, she had a real Chinese one as well - was visiting friends. She was from  Zhaoqing in the Guangdong Province. It’s supposed to be a nice place in itself but she said she preferred Yangshou. She was on holiday but her friends were at work. She was at a loose end and wanted to practice her English. She was also perfectly charming. Our chat was wide ranging if shallow covering the topics of English and Chinese language difficulties, my impressions of China, her desire to travel and the difficulties that presents. We also covered BSE and CJD (which had actually made the Chinese news broadcasts !), British, Chinese and European agriculture and the House of Frasier (she worked for one of their suppliers) .
Scarcely had that encounter ended than I wandered into another bar (just for a lemonade this time) and found myself in another long conversation with the waitress and then again as I ate my evening meal at eight O’clock and again shortly afterwards as I became involved in a conversation with an English woman and a large effusive Israeli in a T-shirt almost as loud as his stentorian voice.
When I finally went off to the hotel at about eleven thirty I reflected that it had been an excellent day and an excellent stay in Yangshou. Today had been the most sustained conversation I had had for months with anyone outside the group. Tomorrow though we would be leaving and heading for the South Coast ready for Hong Kong and the end of this leg. A few days of essentially doing nothing had been a very pleasant interlude.

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And that's the area where the school that I have been offered work at is located. Until I went over my notes from the period to write this entry, I had forgotten how much I like it. 

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