certain that I had been on a train but this was clearly a room. Then I
remembered the train had been yesterday. And the day before. I had
caught it at about seven on Thursday night and got off it at about
eleven on Friday Night. The journey had been uncomfortable. Overnight
I had been in a top bunk with virtually no clearance and absolutely no
chance of either sitting up or turning over. They day had been spent
alternating between pacing the carriage – I had no seat – reading a
book I'd bought in Xi-An and listening to music. It had passed slowly.
Then I had been picked up by a pre-arranged taxi and an hour and a
half later had checked into my room at Meicheng English School in
Yangshou. The room had been cold. The heating had been off for some
time and the wooden floors and full wall window had leached all the
heat around. Putting the heating on had made little difference and
even in my dreams I had been freezing.
I showered – more to warm me than to clean me – and went out for a
first walk around Yangshuo.
It's been said, and with some truth, that Yangshuo isn't really China
at all. Instead it's a kind of airlock between the real China and the
rest of the world. It's full of tourist shops and western restaurants
and most people there speak at least a little English. Many of them
I spent the whole day just refamiliarising myself with the layout of
the town. Breakfast was bacon and eggs. Lunch was a ham and cheese
sandwich. Dinner was a burger and fries followed by a couple of beers.
I was sticking to my diet with ease. On the whole though it was a day
of doing nothing and when I went early to my bed it was good to find
that the heating had done its job and the room was pleasantly warm.
Tomorrow John was arriving and although I expected that for his first
day he would be too jet-lagged to do much it was the beginning of the
main part of the holiday.
The main problem, I realised, as I waited for him at the bus stop next
morning, was that although I knew what time his flight was due in at
Guilin, I had no idea if it would be on time and no idea how long it
would take him to make his way from there to here.
In the event he was later than I expected and I had time to go eat
some breakfast before he turned up. We walked down to the hotel he'd
booked for his first night and when he'd checked in and freshened up
went back for his first look at West Street.
West Street is the main tourist part of Yangshuo. It's a narrow
pedestrian-only street several hundred metres long. It's lined with
shops selling souvenirs of all varieties. Necklaces nestle side by
side statues. T-shirts hang above lucky cats with their waving arms.
Carvings, paintings, postcards, jewellery, Chinese Chess sets,
miniature Mah-jong sets with tiles too small to ever handle.
Interspersed among them are cafes and restaurants and bars. Side
alleys run off the main street, dodging over bridges that span the
narrow water channels, lined with more restaurants and bars.
At the far end, by the river, there is a market where larger items can
be found – fans five feet across, carpets, statues of stone and wood,
stone xylophones (though perhaps that should be lithophones).
It's busy and colourful though why the salesmen seemed to think I
would be interested in buying silk dresses remains a mystery.
We wandered relatively aimlessly – me because I knew the area well
enough already and John because the lack of sleep on the flight and
the jet-lag were taking their toll.
There were two weeks ahead to get a more detailed view of the town.