CHINA: Funny Pointy Hills Revisited
Oct 10, 2004
David Rich 900 Words
CHINA: F u n n y P o i n t y H i l l s R e v i s i t e d
Everything you've heard about China is wrong starting with the best place to see its most famous scenery, the funny pointy hills soaring a thousand feet over misty waterways. This paradise actually exists where fishermen float on five bamboo poles lashed to impersonate a raft, spearing fish through cone-shaped nets, red lanterns reflecting off perfectly still waters. The waterways, rafts, conical nets and red lanterns are magical, but contrary to what you've heard, this spectacle isn't best sampled from Guilin, a sprawling city of too many people, but from Yangshou, sixty kilometers south.
Yangshou is a compact village with a mile-long foreigner's street that Chinese tourists flock from thousands of miles around to see. You can practically translate their excited patter, "Hey, look at the foreigners with the big noses and funny eyes sitting around those weird outdoor cafés sipping lattes and eating pizzas." Chinese cameras snap like a busload of Japanese tourists, taking pictures of me, and the others who've swarmed to the fabled scenery of the funny pointy hills.
Everyone appreciates the dozens of sidewalk restaurants with thirty-page menus in English, far more extensive than any menu in the States or Europe, but with the same homesick cuisine; French, Mexican, Thai, Italian, and more, complemented by every kind of coffee, liqueur, and dessert, cheap like all of China outside Beijing and Shanghai. I never spent more than four bucks for a multi-course, scrumptious dinner, except at La Votre, the big French restaurant run by two brothers from Paris; it costs five bucks and up for three courses at the French joint.
Here's why you want to skip Guilin and go directly to Yangshou. The famous Li River boat trips cost sixty dollars from Guilin. From near Yangshou through the best part of the river it's a measly ten dollars including the hour-long bus to get there from Yangshou to Xingping (Sheng-ping). However, skip this trip because in the last three years its deteriorated to an ungodly early morning free-for-all of little boats churning up the dawn-dim waters to destroy any possibility of either a decent photo or interesting view of the scenery featured on the 20 Yuan note (about $2.50), notwithstanding its salacious illegitimacy. The local Xingping tour boat collects you at an out-of-the-way place that the cops, controlled by the big money tours out of Guilin, obviously don't know about to shut down. Actually, the cops are probably getting paid off twice.
Instead take the tour directly down the Li River out of Yangshou for a peaceful experience and reflections of funny pointy hills to practically die for. The boat captain will let you take a turn at the wheel while Chinese tourists immortalize your western face, begging to pose with you at the wheel. You'll have to tear yourself away in order to take your own incredible shots of vertical hills with cute little Chinese girls in the foreground.
Then sign up for a leisurely float down the Hulong River on one of the famous rafts of five bundled bamboos, surfing over meter high waterfalls to splash into tranquil waters for a languid drift downstream under a colorful umbrella, so peaceful and quiet a dragonfly fell asleep on my knee. Occasionally boat merchants hawked cheap Chinese beer, outrageously oversized fruit and souvenirs to delight the folks back home while locals on the shore pursued games of mahjongg cards.
Definitely opt for a bike ride around the countryside, mountain bikes on hire for $1.25 a day. You'll see wonderful sights, perfectly photogenic reflections of funny pointy hills, gorgeous rivers, the famous Moon Hill, butterfly caves and caves for boating or baths of mud. Little old ladies will hastily throw on native costumes to extort money for pictures of you precariously perched on a water buffalo and there you should definitely screech to a halt. After all, how often in this lifetime will you have the opportunity to be immortalized aboard a water buffalo? I did it, wading through a cloud of flies to mount a nasty smelling beast, squashing a squadron of ghastly black creatures as I belatedly reversed an over-mount, just like in the movies, swinging back onto the beast's grungy back after almost completely catapulting over the other side. A Chinese tourist kindly snapped my picture.
I stayed in Yangshou, reluctant to contemplate a design for my disappearance, stomaching another evening at Minnie Mao's, my favorite sidewalk café, slamming down spicy black skillet chicken and peanut stir fry for $2.25, ignoring stares from the battalions of Chinese tourists while offering my best profile. After all they'd paid the big bucks, or Yuan, to see classy foreigners such as myself at leisure in Yangshou.
To delay a permanent departure I booked a daytrip north to the cascading rice paddies of Longsheng, jousting with colorfully costumed locals who tried to sell me embroidered knickknacks while I snapped shots of their grotesquely punctured earlobes, shades of the 21st Century body piercing they'd invented a millennia ago. But I was drawn back like a magnet to the funny pointy hills, every evening climbing the closest hills to catch the colorfully misty sunsets above Yangshou, knowing full well I'd have to return once again, sometime soon, to China's most famous scenery.