cure for a New Year hangover

… in the center of Yangshuo walking street – shot from each direction…

So the New Year’s party is over, or is it?  I had less than a week left before I had to return to work and I couldn’t think of a better place to relax than in Yangshuo: its sleepy streets, cool “vibe,” wonderful restaurants and boutique shopping stores and of course its beautiful mountain and river views.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the New Years celebrations would continue throughout the week and many Chinese and western tourists were still making their holidays, in fact, the town was quite crowded.  But despite all of the people, everyone was in a post party mood seemingly relaxed and indifferent to the ide of going back to work the next week.  Decorations abounded with red lanterns, red envelopes and freshly planted flowers all in the theme of the “Year of the Tiger.”

Holiday shopping – every girls dream, ya?  We did do some shopping and enjoyed some good coffee, a long lunch, chatting with other Chinese tourists.  In the photo below, Anya selects some new hand-carved wooden earrings from a shop that specializes in custom-made orders.

I did see many different kinds of tourist souvenirs but you really know that you’re in China when you see Mao tattooed to (pretty much) everything.  Yes, I dd see plenty of Che Guevara t-shirts here, but in China, Mao is king.

Chairman Mao is still considered a great leader despite the facts that have emerged in the last decade showing him to be the greatest mass murderer of all time – even exceeding Hitler’s crimes by tens of millions.  In a few years time during the great famine (just before the cultural revolution), the latest figures put the death toll at 50 million.  What was most tragic about this famine that it was entirely man-made; there was plenty of food for all the people but due to communist inefficiency, kowtowing to Beijing, bad central planning, and arrogance on the part of Mao’s government made this tragic holocaust possible.  In recent surveys, every province that was affected experienced widespread cannibalism including the practice of exchanging children so that one family could eat without having to eat their own child.

While strolling around Yangshuo’s walking district, we came upon a painter who had no hands.  The man painted nature scenes on paper and on folding fans using only his mouth to hold the brush.  His paintings were quite good and an elaborately painted fan ran between $8 to $15.  He was doing a brisk business selling his fans and drew a large crowd of spectators who admired his work and perseverance.  The few hours that we saw him painting, he never moved from his bike or changed positions nor did he take a break of any kind.  I think of the average 12-year-old American kid who can’t sit still for 5 minutes and think what a difference in generation and culture.

We meandered down to the Li River and there I saw, for the first time, one of the famous bird fishermen.  These men use black water birds to fish for them.  A metal band is placed around the birds neck preventing it from swallowing a whole fish.  Instead, the bird returns the fish to the fisherman who then gives the bird a smaller more manageable piece of fish meat that the bird can swallow.  Certainly the bird is doing all the work for the least amount of benefit but it certainly is an ingenious adaptation of nature to suit man’s purpose.

As we walked along the river bank following the bird fisherman, we came to the boat dock where the tourist boats docked and the tourists flooded into Yangshuo.  There was a tunnel leading from the walking district shopping area to the dock and as we passed under it I could see, written on the inside of the tunnel wall, the high water markers for each of the floods that had ravaged the city.  It looked like the highest floods were in 1908 and 1954 with lesser floods in 2008 and some other years (written in Chinese).  I looked through the tunnel and tried to imagine the water as high as the blue canopy on the left and imagined that the width of the river must have been a 1/2 kilometer wide to be so high.

Down on the dock some fishermen had turned to posing with their birds (for a fee) with the tourists.  This area seemed to be a focal point for photos and tourists embarking and re-boarding the tourist ferries all stopped to take photos at the gate and tunnel leading to the shopping areas.  The area provided a very nice view both up and down the Li River.

Throughout this visit to China for the Lunar New Year, the Olympics have been on every day.  I have to say that I enjoyed watching the Olympics on Chinese TV much more than on American television – even though I don’t speak Chinese and didn’t understand any of the dialogue!  On American TV, maybe 1/3rd of the coverage is the actual sports events, the other 2/3rds is background interviews, “special reports,” and a lot of narrators sitting around talking to themselves.  In China, it’s about 90% coverage of the ACTUAL GAMES!  Not only did they cover the games, they covered all of them.  Good luck seeing the “less popular” games in America, but in China, they showed everything.  It was nice to watch the games without so much commercialism.

After a long day of sightseeing it was nice to enjoy some international competition.  We watched as Ohno tried for another gold medal and this trip to China will always remind me of the Olympics and vice versa.  It has been a splendid break and I’d recommend that anyone who has a chance to come to China and experience the Lunar New Year for themselves.


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