March 15th, 2006

Yangshuo: Crouching Bill Hidden Burton

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

I first visited Yangshuo in 1996 with my brother on the recommendation of the Lonely Planet guidebook. “A quaint fishing village that remains virtually untouched and authentic” or something to that effect. Which it was save for the few shops selling crafts and a couple restaurants that realized they could make an easy buck on the desperate backpackers coming though by offering a “American steak and eggs breakfast.”

Then Bill Clinton came. Who told Bill to come to Yangshuo I don’t know. Why he came? BillWho knows, probably for the steak and eggs breakfast. But sure enough, like mice like rice, where America goes, America follows. We woke up to a KFC being built next to us on the not-so-quaint-anymore street. This KFC was not there the night before, but this will be true a lot of things in Yangshuo. There is even a fee to visit a small village outside of the town because that’s where Bill went. These people used to make pennies a day fishing the way they did for hundreds of years, and then Bill Clinton came to town. Now, they charge admission to their town. Cripes.

Most of the small if too gaudy places in town still fit in though. It is the Chinese New Orleans. There are crowds of people packing the streets on weekends. Mostly Chinese with quite a few foreigners sprinkled about. Bars open their doors, tables are set up on the cobbled street and musicians play in every other doorway. Street food, cheap alcohol and a very generous bar time make it the sleepy little town that never quite sleeps.

It took us over a week to realize there was a massive song and dance extravaganza that was performed each night just across the river. Seeing this the night before we left made me realize why they have a KFC and wonder when the airport is being built. This Spectacular-Spectacular included the following: Water buffallos, hundreds of torch carrying local fisherman’s boats, thousands of yards of red fabric, floating bamboo forests, lit up mountains (smallish, rounded mountains actually but come on!) and even light up people (don’t ask how, but seriously, it was like Tron). And the whole thing was directed by none other than Ang Lee. No kung fu, no superheroes and no gay cowboys just a very well done performance that although hard to believe, integrated itself very well into the rural countryside of China.

On a related note, we believe we saw Tim Burton wisked away by some vans while we walked one day. Unlikely, but then again so was the whole Ang Lee thing. Be on the watch for the next Burton film: Jonny Depp is a quirky but sexy cormorant fisherman who teaches his fishing birds to seduce the local ruler’s daughter. Possibly claymation.

Best part of the whole deal is that everything is still priced to sell. Accommodation and food could be managed for five dollars daily. Ten and you could live like a corrupt communist dictator.

I will post some pictures of Yangshuo in the future. Meanwhile we ride the sleeper bus to Hong Kong where I will suffer the equation: Average Chinese height + desire to fit as many beds on a bus as possible = beds way to small for Nat to lay in for 14 hours.

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