Teaching in the country was a moving experience and we returned to Yangshou with our batteries recharged, ready to give the town a second chance. As it turned out our hotel in Guilin was booked for the next four days, so we locked up our valuables, kept our hands on our wallets, and headed out in search of some food. The food here is expensive relative to the other cities we’ve been in, but still a bargain by American standards. The local specialties are beer fish and snails, delicacies we’ve avoided thus far, but after 20+ years of catering to backpackers, Yangshou chefs have mastered a wide variety of Western fare. Though we love Chinese food, we eagerly ordered pizza, hamburgers, french fries, lasagna, and cheesecake for a change. We found one restaurant that was cheaper than the rest and Laurie confirmed that it was one of his favorites. We’ve tried a few others, but we always end up back at our favorite, the generically named China Cafe. $20 gets us about 10 entrees and a big bottle of water.
When we’re not eating, we’re strolling the streets, bantering with salespeople and letting Chinese tourists take our picture. The town’s most famous hawker is an elderly fruit vendor who greets every passerby with the phrase, “Hello, banana?” If that fails, “Maybe orange?” Her fame is sufficient that souvenir shops sell T-shirts proclaiming, “Hello, Banana?” Last night she followed us in to the China Cafe, which pointedly does not sell fruit. The kids and I told Tom he should buy Asher a banana and we would snap a picture of this local celebrity. She balked at first, but Tom told her we would only buy a bag of oranges if she indulged us with a pose. This may seem rude, but after the hundreds of pictures we’ve posed for in our 3 1/2 weeks here, we’re a little sensitive when the Chinese want to charge us for taking theirs (as did this little lady who was selling her wares outside the restaurant and scooping up leftovers off the plates).
We’ve forced the kids to fit in some extended schoolwork sessions in between our forays for food and they’ve complied. They know that if they complete enough they’ll be rewarded with games of “street hoops” and bouts of recreational souvenir shopping (they each get less than $1 which they quickly turn into tchochkes and Yugioh cards). McKane’s favorite activity is helping a nice young lady lure patrons into a disco by dancing on the street outside. Passersby enjoy his antics, but when Asher and Kieran join in, the crowds really begin to gather. The woman encourages the kids to join her but her fussy male counterpart often looks put out and unappreciative of their assistance. We’re not sure why he’s upset, especially since they draw lots of attention to the establishment. Maybe he’d lighten up if more of the spectators actually went inside.
Last night we committed to making the 1/2 mile trek from the China Cafe to the Fawlty Towers quickly, without basketball or dancing, so the kids could watch a movie and Tom and I could get some work done. There were multiple flaws with this strategy. The first is that we cannot walk 20 feet without being approached by someone wanting to take pictures of some or all of us. Each of us had multiple individual and group photo shoots last night. Then there are the people, usually college students, who want to try out their English skills and learn everything they can about us. Last night a particularly nutty guy from Yunnan Province followed us, danced with the kids, and shouted with delight every few seconds. The previous night we ran into an exuberant group of students from Changsha, Chairman Mao’s hometown in Yunnan. Dax was the highlight for this group: the girls looked ready to propose marriage and the boys wanted him to come “chill down the street” with them and play badminton. (Don’t laugh, badminton and its sister sport, ping pong, are fierce games here.)
Our days of relaxation and celebrity are nearing an end. After a few more days in Guilin, we’ll be heading across the border into VietNam. This will be the first overland border crossing of the trip and an adventure you’ll surely not want to miss. Stay tuned.