Yangshuo is not the type of place that grows on you. With two people who don't drink beer at any price (and it is cheaper than tea or water here) we are finding the time a bit heavy on our hands some days, but we are trying to chill out on the balcony and appreciate the inactivity and continuity for a change.
We spent two lovely days out on rented mountain bikes in the countryside around Yangshuo, which is spectacularly lovely especially in the sunshine and unusually high temperatures we've been having. It is easy enough to find your way around with a local map, and even if you get lost you soon find a familiar landmark again.
The local people seem to be used to Westerners who have read Lonely Planet out with the cameras and the bikes trying to find abit of genuine China behind the movie set that is West Street.Water stalls are propped up at every dirt track corner and the prices are not exorbitant. I have been tempted on a number of occasions now to buy one of those pointy woven hats people use when working in the fields but that, I suppose, would be the ultimate in kitsch.
Orlando took the opportunity to have a Chinese lesson yesterday which he really enjoyed, and has made him even more confident. The test will come, I know, once we have left this enclave and can't rely on English menus for everything.
Meanwhile I decided to have a couple of calligraphy classes, and spent a really enjoyable few hours sitting like a schoolgirl at a table in Lisa's cafe being taught gently but firmly by Li Shao Ren, a retired gentleman with a greying buzz-cut and a winning smile who taught locally for 32 years. He has little English but enough to correct my faltering hand: "Strong good. No strong, no good. This (pointing to a feeble attempt at a "han" or "la" stroke) NO good. Again!".
I sat with my tongue sticking out, concentrating on copying my characters onto the squared tracing paper with some sort of confidence. People stood looking over my shoulder at my faltering strokes and laughed with the teacher (in good humour I think) at my enthusiasm and complete lack of ability. I felt as hopeless and as hopeful as a three-year-old.
It is amazing how your mind clears of everything but the paper and the ink and the brush and your posture and trying to get some sort of character into your brushstrokes. I did succeed a number of times in doing something half-decent, and was rewarded with a huge grin, a thumbs-up, a little "correct" mark and an enthusiastic "VERY GOOD!" from Li Shao Ren. So there is hope for me yet!
I also took the opportunity to get some acupuncture for my backwhich was preceded by a strong back massage (I had the bruises from that for two days). Not sure if it did any good but it was worth a try. I went back today for a reflexology session as there is nothing so good as somebody massaging your feet for an hour. I sat first with my trouser bottoms rolled up on a tiny chair with my feet in a big bamboo bucket half-full of warm water in which some herbs had been mixed (or, as we like to call it here, TEA). No matter what one is doing, one always feels slightly ridiculous inr olled-up trousers. It was a lovely hour spent being pummelled and my feet look great although nobody will ever know with these boots on.
Tomorrow we are off to the mountains again, to stay in a farmer's house and see some wonderful rice terraces. This is the last weekof our stay in China, so we will be squeezing every last drop from the time left before we depart for Aus in a week.