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					TRAVEL                   Exiting XanaduJOn the Road to Daxu




       EXITING
                                                                                           That Other World J
                                                                                           Eight years of age, sitting with his mother in a Chinese         waters of a very special part of China.
                                                                   Travelogue and photos   restaurant in Washington D.C., the boy could not take his        The world has changed a lot since as a daydreaming boy I
                                                                   by Lowell Bennett       eyes off that enormous mural on the wall. There were             ate a ridiculous Americanized version of Chinese food and
                                                                                           crystalline blue serpentine rivers, vast green plains,           lost my thoughts within the fanciful hues and textures of




                                XANADU
                                                                                           impossibly-shaped trees, clear azure skies, a settled mist       that mural.
                                                                                           and, scattered to the horizon, those supernatural                Sadly (but not irreversibly), the skies above Guangxi Zhuang
                                                                                           mountains.                                                       Autonomous Region are now not always so blue. And the
                                                                                           According to that mural, somewhere there was a fantastic         plains, mountains and rivers around Guilin and Yangshuo
                                                                                           fairytale kingdom of strange and incredible natural beauty.      are now plentiful with the more recently introduced exotica

                                 On the Road to Daxu
                                     J                                                     And, as he sat there surrounded by the man-made
                                                                                           hardness of a North American city, the boy longed to enter
                                                                                           that pristine scene, set foot upon that land, and explore that
                                                                                                                                                            of plastic bags, aluminum cans and food-stained
                                                                                                                                                            polystyrene containers.
                                                                                                                                                            But, for now, the mountains are still green and the water is
                                                              First of a Two-Part Report   wondrous world.                                                  still clear. The towns and their still motherly countryside
                                                                                           Though he did not know it then, on that wall was interpreted     remain full of provincial charm, kindness and natural beauty.
                                                                                           the supremely graceful landscape and the clean sustaining        And there is still time.




At work on the Yulong River.                                                                                                                                                                      FEBRUARY 2006        39
TRAVEL         Exiting XanaduJOn the Road to Daxu



                                                                                 T
                                                                                             he blood-infused liquor was bright     of things and pleasantJvery clean, and very
                                                                                             crimson; sort of festive in appear-    well appointed. And they throw in wireless
                                                                                             ance. But it was the other bever-      Internet access.
                                                                                             age that really had me concerned.           In fact, the entire area surrounding the
                                                                                 Held in that cup was a clear solution seem-        pedestrian-only West Street, the main drag,
                                                                                 ingly there to disinfect the fleshy tumor-like     seems to be wired and wireless. If the cafe at
                                                                                 object settled at the bottom. I was at a loss,     which you are grabbing a morning coffee
                                                                                 but I would soon learn exactly what service        does not provide a LAN line, chances are you
                                                                                 that organ delivered to its past clientJa five-    can mooch wireless service from the place
                                                                                 foot long viper just recently demised by           next door. And it’s fastJapproaching the
                                                                                 decapitation, reluctantly offering up his life     speed of my service in the US and (unfor-
                                                                                 for our varied consumption.                        tunately) faster than my DSL line in Beijing.
                                                                                       Reading the above introduction to what
                                                                                 was for the writer a somewhat unexpected           Communication
                                                                                 culinary prelude, one could be forgiven for        and Cuisine
                                                                                 presuming that I am recalling some open-fire            At this small networked oasis in the
                                                                                 village scenarioJperhaps a back-to-the-ba-         countryside of China, sitting at a table upon
                                                                                 sics bizarre booze fest with pauses to sav-        which sat my laptop and a coffee, a meal or
                                                                                 agely feast on a few just-snatched backwoods       a cocktail, that ease of Internet access would
                                                                                 varmints. But we were a reasonably civil,          allow me to keep up with business, message
                                                                                 somewhat educated group. And we sat in a           around the world, download stateside news
                                                                                 chic private banquet room in a dazzling clean      programs and upload digital photos to my
                                                                                 and trendy dinner house in yet another one         US-hosted websiteJa few times literally min-
                                                                                 of those Chinese cities that manages to both       utes after I snagged the images.
                                                                                 boom and be beautiful.                                  On that first morning in town, rising far
                                                                                       That snake-based dining came days into       earlier than I would have preferred, I trudged
                                                                                 an otherwise not so adventurous southerly          down to the riverfront a couple of blocks
                                                                                 expedition. First, I would drop into a wired       away. Dutifully, I shot a few photos of the
                                                                                 little town that is situated at the crux of two    misty muted landscape. Then I went in search
                                                                                 rivers and surrounded by those most Chinese        of strong coffee.
                                                                                 of mountains. Then, a few days later, I would           Surprisingly, I found a café open at that
                                                                                 seemingly step through a time portalJinto          early hour. While unslinging my gear I or-
                                                                                 an ancient riverside village that was once the     dered a blue mountain brew from the smil-
                                                                                 home of wealthy merchants. And is no more.         ing waitress, then looked for a good spot to
                                                                                                                                    set my tripod. That turned out to be a few
                                                                                 A Yank in Yang Town                                feet away, low on the ancient stones of the
                                                                                      The typical recommended tourist itiner-       nearly deserted early-morning West Street.
                                                                                 ary calls for heading to downtown Guilin           Resituating a few times to get that mountain
                                                                                 from that city’s airport. Then, after a day or     peak in the background, I shot a few, then
                                                                                 two among bright lights and busy boulevards,       returned the four or five steps to my now-
                                                                                 down to Yangshuo via a one-hour bus ride.          served (and good) coffee.
                                                                                 In my case, I reversed that plan and executed           The sidewalk seating proved ideal, al-
                                                                                 a not so leisurely agenda: A 04:30 rise from       lowing me to cleanly commandeer the wire-
                                                                                 bed in Beijing, a 45-minute cab ride, a 2.5-       less signal from the still-closed bar across the
                                                                                 hour delay getting off the ground, a 3-hour        narrow street. I popped the camera’s flash
                                                                                 flight and a 1.25-hour trip by car direct to       card into my laptop, uploaded the images and
                                                                                 Yangshuo. But I made it with plenty of day-        10 minutes later a sister in the US was on
                                                                                 light remaining to browse the town’s pedes-        my website. Just after her sun slipped below
                                                                                 trian-friendly streets.                            the Gulf of Mexico off Florida, she was look-
                                                                                      Yangshuo is known as a place of ease          ing at large images of new daylight flowing
                                                                                 for westerners. Most of the merchants speak        around the humpbacked mountains, across
                                                                                 some English or are fluent, and the menus          the flowing waters and down the ancient
                                                                                 are likewise. The first hotel at which I stayed,   stone streets of southern China.
                                                                                 the Magnolia, is one of several smaller bou-            As for the many cafes on and around
                                                                                 tique-style establishments in town. Cleanly        Yangshuo’s West Street, within a couple of
                                                                                 melding continental modern with traditional        blocks, visitors can sample the typically spicy
                                                                                 Chinese design elements, all wrapped around        local chow, or walk a few steps to dine on
                                                                                 an open-space atrium, the place is at the heart
                                                    Dusk falls on West Street.


40   CHINA PICTORIAL                                                                                                                                   FEBRUARY 2006             41
TRAVEL                   Exiting XanaduJOn the Road to Daxu
                                                                                                      lostJbefore confessing that actually I blew             But just another couple of kilometers               For a while all went well.                          stay inconspicuous, I settled onto a bench,
                                                                                                      by the required right turn coming back into        down the trail, for some inhabitants all was             After a few kilometers on the paved road,           indulged in a beer, lit a small cigar and watch-
                                                                                                      town.                                              not scenic and tranquil.                            I successfully found the off-road trail. About           ed the world go by. A few residents passed
                                                                                                           The next day I went in search of a good-           I arrived at the gate of an ancient-look-      10 kilometers later I had passed through                 with their oxen on a leash.
                                                                                                      sized rentable motorcycle, but instead ended       ing village seemingly propped up by the             many forested villages, by several mountains                  I pulled the digital camera from my back-
                                                                                                      up with a junior-sized bright yellow electric      mountain it hugged. Bowing slightly each            and around some scenic riverfront turns. The             pack, but did not stand and begin gawking
                                                                                                      scooter. Being a 200-pound man of more than        time I tossed out another ni hao (hello), I paid    slumbering trailside dogs I rudely disturbed             around the street. I stayed seated, kept the
                                                                                                      six feet in height, I presumed I looked pretty     my respects to the villagers and their oxen         were too lethargic to attack and I only had to           camera low on the bench, and swiveled up
                                                                                                      ridiculous on the thing. This theory was re-       as they filed through the gate, the latter resi-    outrun a couple of enthusiastic little girls.            the LCD viewfinder. A few people dropped
                                                                                                      inforced, somewhat, when a couple hours            dents heading out to graze and water on the              Then I got pretty lost.                             by to say (of course) “hello,” and the grand-
                                                                                                      later I barged up a dirt trail and into a bam-     surrounding fields. After they passed I walk-            Three hours of steady riding had passed.            mother who ran the store could not seem to
                                                                                                      boo raft checkpoint along the Yalong River.        ed into the tiny stone community.                   I had transited maybe 15 villages, responded             stop laughing. But, overall, I managed to
                                                                                                      I bumped the little scooter onto the scene to           Halfway in, the silence obliterated with       to about a hundred “hellos,” as called out by            subtly sink in and get a few decent photos.
                                                                                                      the laughter of at least one pointing Chinese      a horrible non-human shrieking. Inside a            impoverished but smiling residents, and I was                 Then, after recording those semi-intrusive
                                                                                                      gentleman in a business suit.                      darkened hut just ahead, I presumed pigs            saddle soreJvery saddle sore. I was out of               observations, as I neared the last swallow of
                                                                                                           “Yeah, pretty small, isn’t it,” I agreed.     were having a portion of their anatomy re-          water, the tourist map on hand was not cut-              my beer, I cast a grim stare at my rented moun-
                                                                                                      Then I throttled the little thing, ripped across   moved or were being slaughtered in total. As        ting it, and I was looking for a route back to           tain bike. And I said to myself, “How the hell
                                                                                                      the foot bridge and up into the trailsJwhile       I neared, just outside the hut of horrors, I took   a paved road. I instinctively took a fork in             can I catch a cab out of here?”
The clear waters of the Yulong River.                                                                 the laugher and his business-suit-clad asso-       note of two adult hogs dozing in their pen,         the trail, and that turned out to be a right turn.
                                                                                                      ciates boarded their assigned bamboo boat          oblivious to the hideous howls of their broth-      I hit pavement about 20 minutes later and 30                                (Next issue: Guilin, Daxu,
                                                                                                      for a nice float on the placid river.              ers.                                                minutes after that, heading in the general di-                               and the drinkable snake.)
     cuisines ranging from American and Ital-       sliced transparently thin and dabbed with              It was not far from there that I found                                                            rection of Yangshuo, I came across a road-
ian to French and, yes, Mexican. All that I         those particularly wonderful organic condi-       some of the most remarkable scenery at the         The Beleaguered Bike                                side metropolis.
tried was good; the places were clean, the          ments.                                            upper reaches of the Yalong. The water was             The next day I rented a higher-grade                 I spotted an ice box, wheeled over to that
staffs friendly, and the food fresh and well-                                                         clear, the trees were full green and the sur-      mountain bike from Yangshuo-based Bike              dusty little establishment and created some-
present-ed.                                         Tracking the Trails                               rounding mountains, of course, were impres-        Asia and headed out through the mountains           thing of a stir in the neighborhood. Trying to
     Yangshuo is supposedly known for some-              While it’s relaxing just to lounge around    sive. And it was silent.                           south of town.
thing called “beer fish.” Sounds like a dish        the narrow stone boulevards of Yangshuo
dreamed up by a Brit expat who maybe hit            (and many do), the countryside is there, drag-
town in the 80’s. But I am sure I’m wrong           ging you away from food, beverage, enter-
and I’m sure the dish is great. I did not try it.   tainment and laptop.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Subtle Suggestions
     However, following up on an earlier                 The first morning I did what many do;                                                                                                                                                                                                 oJ
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             I n Y a n g s h u oJ
email contact, the proprietors of the Morn-         hired a guide for mountain biking. But those
ing Sun Hotel invited me to dinner and plate        peaks that are at all scalable are the domain                                                                                                                                                                           From experience I can recommend
after plate of fresh raw fish sliced razor thin     of rock climbers and none would accommo-                                                                                                                                                                            two hotels. The Magnolia, an upscale
were delivered to the table for hot pot cook-       date a cyclist. Otherwise, surprisingly, most                                                                                                                                                                       boutique-style establishment with
ing. Fondue style, in the seasoned boiling          of the trails around the countryside are pri-                                                                                                                                                                       pleasant and good-sized rooms set out
water, bite-by-bite the fish is dunked and          marily flat and can be easily managed by the                                                                                                                                                                        around a sunny atrium, with added
done in about 20 seconds. Add to the cooked         leisure-level cyclist.                                                                                                                                                                                              bonus of wireless Internet access for
slices the native fresh peppers, garlic, cilan-          My bilingual guide, “Daphne,” was a                                                                                                                                                                            packers of laptops. Also the Morning
tro, oils and soy mixtureJoutstanding. I have       young and fit localJand married, so I left her                                                                                                                                                                      Sun, perhaps slightly less expensive
enjoyed several hot pot-style dishes in Bei-        in the dust. After explaining that I was out                                                                                                                                                                        than the Magnolia and very nice. The
jing, but none were based on fresh clean fish       for a little exercise and she need not try to
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        managers and staff of both hotels are
                                                    maintain my paceJthat I would wait at forks
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        friendly, attentive, helpful, and
                                                    in the trailJI took off. For about four hours,
                                                    those trails led us through villages, across                                                                                                                                                                        equipped with English skills ranging
                                                    terraced rice paddies, over rivers and, of                                                                                                                                                                          from fair to excellent.
                                                    course, between those graceful bosom-like                                                                                                                                                                               Bikes are available for rent all over
                                                    hills.                                                                                                                                                                                                              town. A better grade of bike, drawn
                                                         My racing around, however, later back-                                                                                                                                                                         from a fleet of pretty well-tuned Spe-
                                                    fired when I reentered town ahead of Daphne                                                                                                                                                                         cialized Hardrocks, can be had at
                                                    and managed to get lost. About 15 minutes                                                                                                                                                                           Yangshuo-based Bike Asia, an outfit
                                                    of aimless peddling around town finally                                                                                                                                                                             that does tours all over China.
                                                    brought me back to the hotel. That was when                                                                                                                                                                             If you need a guide for a leisurely
                                                    my mobile rang. The guide was circuiting the                                                                                                                                                                        ride, drop by the Magnolia Hotel and
                                                    streets attempting to locate me. I noncha-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        ask to be put in touch with Daphne.
                                                    lantly explained that I was at the hotel. A few
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        For more challenging spins, see Jamie
                                                    minutes later Daphne arrived and I was able
                                                                                                                                                                                                             New visitors stroll the ancient stones of West Street.     at Bike Asia.
                                                    to declare to the hotel staff that my guide got
42    CHINA PICTORIAL                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    FEBRUARY 2006             43

				
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