Before I start here, I want to mention again about the terrible flooding that happened in Yangshuo before we arrived, which obviously doesn’t fit with my light hearted title. Floods occur every year in this area, however they are usually very minor, just ankle deep which the buildings and businesses are set up to deal with. Before we arrived there was a major flood that meant a lot of the livelihoods of the locals were damaged.
When we arrived the power was still out in some places, and most of locals had all of their belongings out in the street drying in the sun. There was also a lot of rubbish lying out and damage to the pavements. I felt terrible for the locals, but they all seemed to be picking themselves up and helping each other out. I realise that this is repeating myself but I couldn’t write about my time in this place without bringing it up again, however having had a very positive time in Yangshuo I didn’t want it to be the focus of the blog.
We had a choice of several optional activities in Yangshuo and while the majority of our group (including my husband) opted to have a cooking class I decided I would rather have a relaxing afternoon learning Tai Chi and Calligraphy, as anyone who knows me, knows that I find cooking very stressful. My husband has offered to do a guest blog about the cooking class, so I hope you look forward to that.
We met the teacher at the entrance to the park for our tai chi lesson. Tai chi is often practiced in local parks as, our teacher explained, it draws energy from nature (air, trees, water and earth). We found out that he had been teaching tai chi and calligraphy in Yangshuo for eight years and had been a master in tai chi for thirty.
We learnt the ten basic moves of his style of tai chi, and how some of the moves related to yin and the others to yang. We also learned that tai chi is in practice a martial art and how each of the moves could be used in self defence. I found the whole thing incredibly relaxing, it was nice to really slow things down for a while.
Our teacher then demonstrated how the ten moves we had learnt were used in the next stage of development of tai chi, when there are twenty one moves. Apparently this progression can continue until you have over two hundred moves, but only masters learn that many. Many Chinese practice tai chi, but most stick to either the ten basic moves or the twenty one we saw demonstrated.
After finishing our tai chi we headed to our teacher’s studio to learn Chinese calligraphy. I found this slightly less relaxing as I am quite a perfectionist and couldn’t get most of the characters quite right. We learned how to hold the brush correctly and how to form each stroke for the characters. We were shown the characters for one to ten, which start off easy and become progressively more difficult. Followed by the character for, person, which progressed to big by adding a line, and on to sky, tree and so on.
Finally we were shown how to write our names in Chinese, which was a bit of a surprise for me as I have a pretty simple name in english, but it has pretty complex Chinese characters. Apparently my name in Chinese means peace, which goes well for my theme in Yangshuo.
The next day we headed out on a cycle. We were given the choice of mountain bikes or road bikes, both of which had advantages that wouldn’t be immediately obvious from the names, the mountain bikes had gears while the road bikes had much comfier saddles. I went with a mountain bike as I decided I would rather have gears. Unfortunately I didn’t realise the state of the bike, basically the entire peddle unit was wobbling so it wasn’t sitting in gear properly. My husband graciously swapped with me after a while and his bike was much better.
Due to the flooding we unfortunately could not do part of the normal route, but we had a wonderful cycle, taking in the countryside and the karst, it was absolutely beautiful.
We also got to stop a few times for photos, mostly by the river and in doing so you couldn’t help but see the juxtaposition of nature, on one side so beautiful and on the other so destructive.
We stopped for lunch at a local home and the food was, as always in China, incredible. We were all very glad of the break and the food even though it was still 11am, it was a very hot and humid day so the cycling really took it out of you.
We took a much less scenic route on the way back, which was fine, except it was on the main roads. This is where my pinch of stress started to come in as we had had a relaxing and tranquil ride so far. I am a nervous cycler on the roads at the best of times, even at home. In China it was at a whole different level, the traffic was crazy! People were undertaking and overtaking on all sides, nobody was indicating and people would pull off without seeming to look or indicate. There were several times when I was passing a vehicle (once a bus) and it started pulling away as I was going past. Unfortunately it all got too much for me and I started to have a panic attack. I was close to getting off the bike and walking several times, but I didn’t know where I was going and the only one behind me was my husband so we would have gotten lost. I managed to hold it together until we reached the bike rental place at which point I just burst into tears in front of everyone, which was very embarrassing but part of the experience so I thought I should include it.
After our cycle, we had the option to go for a massage and I decided I really needed one. I opted for a relaxation massage, which to me still felt a bit like a deep tissue one, but oh well. It was a nice relaxing way to end my time in Yangshuo.