When floating down the river Li in the Guangxi region, the last thing one expects is a group of men on bamboo rafts to edge towards you. In an almost attacking formation these local men donning triangular linen-hats line the riverbanks, wait for a liner full of Europeans to flog their wares. Yet these attackers are harmless, smiling at the crowds in search of a few Yuan for their produce. Beaming up at the passengers, they can only but charm them, Spanish and Germans like. Months of practice must be put in to enable these men to hook their rafts onto the mini-liner, without compromising their stock as well as their safety at times.
The shape of Li
One of the most iconic areas of China, the river Li is a world of its own. Hundreds of tourist liners jet through the narrow passageways beneath the mountainous limestone-crags dispersed along the route. Locals opt for low-level bamboo constructions – mini-scooters of the water as they almost effortlessly form a line of movement towards their destination – whether it may be a wooden hut hidden beneath the hillside caves or in the local villages spread out along the river. I can’t help but pretend to be a professional photographer, snapping various angles to create shapes out of the rocks – exercising the power of mental creativity.
Hong Kong haven
Yangshuo is much like an Oasis town. Not quite a Las Vegas in Death Valley, but a haven of Westernised consumer shops run by the Hong Kongese and hostels for eager backpackers to rest their heads before tackling some limestone rock faces. And no, it’s not raining, it’s so hot in China that people use umbrellas to keep them in the shade. This one Westerner is doing the opposite – walking in a white vest with no defences against the suns cursing rays.
After a lengthy boat trip and tour of the local area we had a more candid chat with our guide about life in China today. I should not have been surprised that young people (like most places in the world) like to party at the weekend, play basketball (and a bit of soccer) but they don’t have compulsory military service. Something which I only recently found out today, which may be contested but it seems China has the oldest age at which couples can get married. Men have to wait until they are 22 years old before tying the knot, while women have to have reached the age of 20 before marriage. Next there is the issue of the One Child Policy. Minority groups enjoy exceptions to the rule because they can have more than one child, but our guide told us many Chinese people go to Hong Kong to give birth so that their children can have more freedoms not granted for their area. As in any country there are cultural problems, but as far as I have seen in Guilin, they are at least well hidden. The children are polite and respectful of adults – a group came and watched us eat and chat – fascinated by our Western ways, but asked to do so.