"Reflection; Beautifoo."

With limestone peaks at their backs, local tour raft operators maneuver their vessels on the banks of the Li River in rural Yangshuo, Guangxi province.

Calling Captain Planet
Amongst the many factors that compelled me to visit China was the notion that this country would confront me with some of the most breath taking views I had ever seen. One too many Ang Lee movies had me dreaming of dense bamboo forests, jagged peaks and pristine rivers, and having been in Hong Kong and Guangzhou for the first week of my journey, I was anxious to make those dreams a reality. The road to Yangshou in Guangxi province did not prove to be an encouraging prelude for my time in what I had hoped would be the beautiful countryside. As a result of the continued push for rapid growth and industrialization, China has become notorious for obscene levels ofenvironmental pollution and degradation. I was expecting such disregard for the environment to be relegated to the coal mines of the North East, China's big metropolises and its factories. However, it was disheartening to witness first hand two things that contradicted my assumptions. First of all, the factories that contribute some of the most harmful pollutants to China's environment, dot the countryside. Peppered amidst small farms and rural villages are refineries and factories whose smoke stacks loom high on the horizon. Secondly, China's rural population seemed to have as much disregard for their environment as its captains of industry. Strewn across the road--adjacent to the many farms that lined the road on the nine-hour bus ride to Yangsuo--were heaps of litter. Plastic bags rolled around in the wind like tumble weed, and it seemed that the local government's idea of curtailing the littering problem was by providing concrete corrals for people to pile and then burn their trash in. Trash--namely plastic--was not the only thing being set on fire, as animal manure seemed to be the fuel of choice for outdoor fires designed to keep farmers in the fields warm. Although these fires may seem an efficient and age-old use of animal waste--akin to using manure as fertilizer--the carbon gasses they emit, especially when put in context of the millions of similar fires being burned in China, no doubt contribute to the overall problem.

The smoke from a farmer's manure fire mixes with the fog. Although fires such as this one may seem benign, they have a heavy environmental footprint when put in context of China's burgeoning rural population.

China's government is trying its hardest to change people's way of thinking when it comes to the environment, knowing full well that it can not continue to ignore urban and rural pollution. However, despite all of the recent measures the government has implemented, and the rather clean living conditions in cities such as Chengdu, litter remains the bane of China's environmental existence, at least as witnessed by this quasi-conscientious observer.

Touted to be the Best

No reflections, but beautiful nonetheless. Winter in Yangshuo means no water in the rice paddies and no sun, hence less than ideal conditions for viewing the peaks.

If there is one thing I have learned since having left Guangxi about three weeks ago, it is that China will disappoint and make you happy a thousand times in one day. The journey to Yangshuo had us viewing the glass half-empty, but our time in this small but growing city had us viewing the glass half-full by the time we would leave. You hear about these people called "touts;" they will sell or get you anything. Need a hostel, meal, tour or camel to ride through the Gobi Desert? They, the touts, are your men and women. More often than not they will scam you at every turn. The guy that greeted us as we got off the bus turned out to have some scruples, but he also had a rather bothersome sales strategy. I can't recall his name--which is quite surprising--but this guy must have had a contract with every hostel, restaurant and tour service in town. He spoke perfect English and after bargaining with him for long-enough provided us with a cheap--five dollar per night--place to stay. I'm sure if he wasn't skimming off the top, it would have been a whole lot cheaper, but this was only to be the beginning of our negotiations with this guy. Yangshuo is famous the world-over for its Karst Topography, and from the minute we put our bags down in our room, our tout was trying to push a tour down our throats. He followed us around the touristy city center on his motorbike as we looked for food promising to give us "information" about our surroundings. He busted into our room and would not leave afterward when we returned. The "information" he wanted to give us, consisted of a flip through a book of professional photos of the Yangshuo countryside taken under ideal conditions. The photos of the peaks, complete with their "Relections; beautifoo" in the rice paddies beneath them were the bait, and we took that bait hook, line and sinker. However our credulity only went as far as agreeing to take the two-day tour. We were nowhere near paying the 70 dollars each he asked for the tour package; we talked him down to twenty five dollars, which was just barely value for money.

Rollin' Down the River

The one, the only, our tour guide (an L.A Laker fan).

The actual tour, which took up our remaining two days in Yangshuo was rather enjoyable and provided some exercise. We toured the countryside on the first day by bike and by foot, led by our amiable, L.A Laker supporting tour guide and accompanied by our now Austrailian friend Nick, who was duped by the tout into paying 50 dollars U.S. The conditions weren't ideal but I finally got to see my first glimpse of what I had been anticipating.

A glimpse of the China I had been anticipating.

The second day of the tour consisted of a tour of the nearby Li Xiang (river). We slowly made our way against the current on a raft consisting of P.V.C pipes and bamboo patio furniture, our "guide" who powered the vessel up-river with what seemed to be a motor designed for a model boat, provided us with life-jackets as we ended the tour. Despite these rather precarious circumstances and a bitter cold breeze we managed to enjoy the Li River nonetheless.

A view of the Li River from the U.S.S P.V.C.

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