Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Of Trees and Troglodytes

The Li River experience, sadly, had to come to an end. Luckily, it came to end in Yang Shuo, described by the Lonely Planet (my bible, though often out of date in China) as "a backpacker's paradise." Sure enough, as I trammed my way around the town I passed many a bar, coffee shop, sky-diving service, 'spider climbing' outposts, and a whole lotta English. The availability of English might have struck the loudest and oddest chord, as nearby GuiLin, a much larger city, didn't have so much. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons adventurous Occidentals label Yang Shuo a 'paradise.'

But i had no time for these things, as my full day tour quickly whisked me onward to the late afternoon's activities. Four were promised, and I didn't need to translate the guide's spiel to understand one would incorporate another whole-sale outlet, conveniently included into the package for my shopping disgust and my guide's commissionable delight.

1. The Requisite Temple
OK. By this point in my China time, any old temple was just going to be any old temple to me. The trip to this holy spot outside Yang Shuo's populated area provided more entertainment and wonder then then temple itself. The scenery included more of those karst uprisings, but instead of river in between, people and farmland. Sure, we passed over one (dis)tributary that came complemented with a small docking of river-folk, but for the most part water had been supplanted with crop.

Oh? The temple itself? Well, I didn't take any pictures and spent most of the time just keeping out of the way of the masses. I didnt even bother to try to remember the name of the shrine. If you want an in-depth review of a more positive temple experience, search other spots along this blog. I promise more than enough.

2. The Big Banyan Tree
Across the street from El Templo Aburrido sits THE BIGGEST BANYAN TREE I HAVE EVER IMAGINED!!! Sure, I don't spend much time imagining anything hornicultural, and yeah, maybe I didn't even know exactly what a banyan tree was before seeing this barky brain, but that's not the point. If you want to become a banyan buff, check out this site for some more detailed info from one who knows more than I:

Walking through a brief line of trees likely established to keep freeloaders out than benefit nature in any sense I followed the path through a large field of wild flowers till this cerebellumesque growth rose up in front of me. It might be difficult to discern from the picture, but the circumference of the big banyan might have been over 30 yards, and someone told me the total area underneath the branches totalled more than a couple hectares. Simply put: this baby was massive and deserved the name "Big Banyan." I know none bigger.

Aside the shade of the banyan ripples a small lagoon with a few sampans drifting around. Not a big deal after navigating Hong Kong's harbors, but I did find a kindred spirit. Perched within one of the small boats sat a hunched old man with a simple squirt gun of the pull to suck full/push to shoot variety. He kept his gun pretty active, hitting as many women in the backs of their heads as possible, snickering to himself the entire time. I, too, snickered to myself. This was far better than that temple.

3. The Neolithic Village
This might have been the dumbest thing I saw in China. Getting off the bus my two dogged ears picked up some odd sounds echoing from out between the karst, but I paid them no heed. We were supposedly going to inspect an archaeological dig, one giving evidence towards some of the earliest signs of human culture. Stone-age tools and weapons were promised. Anthropological data would be in both Chinese and English. My inner Indiana smiled.

The entranceway led to large bamboo huts with a path marked around their edges. The walls held posters and beneath glass cases displayed artifacts. This went on for maybe two huts. Cool enough, though nothing terribly exciting. Then we reached the "Cave of Time..."


"Be careful from here on, because now we are going to walk through this cave and travel back in time to the days of the earliest man in Yang Shuo," so sayeth the guide, unconvincingly.

Great. We walked down the steps to enter "The Cave of Time" and I half expected a Sleestack attack until I realized Sid & Marty Krofft would never allow for such shoddy effects. Emerging on the other side the guide explained to us the rules of the locals, to be followed if we wished to keep our lives:
- Dont look them in the eyes, and dont touch them
- If they say "ungababunga," its a sign of friendship, and you should say "ungababunga" back or dishonor them
- If you hear a "tunkatunka" cry, bop your fist against your chest then throw it in the air shouting "dugdug." Someone is testing to see if you are an armed enemy or not.
- If they rub their fingers together, they are asking for a sacrifice to their gods. Cash will do.

From this point on I didn't know how to react. Part of me wanted to crack up and laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. These "tribals" were wearing cheap bikinis and loinclothes made out of leopard and zebra print polyester and many had bones stuck anywhere they found room. Faces were painted (and we all required a smudge across the cheek to enter the village) and spears chucked. Numerous men tried to get the jump on us by hiding in trees.

But part of me almost lost temper. Again, I'm white with blue eyes and stand about 5'10. In southern China, I stand out rather easily. This grabbed the attention of too many villagers. Countless poked and prodded me, let it be swirling my hair, grasping my arms, or getting up close to my face, that I swore the next primate that so much as touched me would face the wrath of my boomstick. At one point they invited me to blow on their horn, which they said no one could do without proper practice. I didn't want to do it, but I was forced, and thanks to many years in elementary band where I played a plethora of horns, I got a good blow going. So much that a half dozen tribesmen dropped to their knees and began rubbing their fingers for a sacrifice. Finally was a song and dance deal that I avoided by making a sprint for the bathroom (behavior i perfected while at day camp many years ago) successfully avoiding a major money trap. These might not seem like great annoyances when blogged, but as it was constant and invasive and I was alone, it was a test.

I can't begin to sufficiently express my annoyance at this site. I don't even want to think about it any longer.

4. Mandatory Shopping Outlet
On the way back to GuiLin we stopped at a crystal emporium. Nothing to note. Seen it before, hoped I wouldn't see it again.


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