Yangshuo or Bust

April 16

Hello, Readers. :) So, what do you think of when you see/hear the word “China”? Do you picture The Great Wall? Perhaps you see a horizon of drab apartment high-rises? Some folks imagine vast terraces of rice patties edged into rolling hillsides. And others may be familiar with the dramatic, jagged terrain in areas of the south.

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!

Recently, I spent a four-day weekend in Yangshuo. It’s in northern Guangxi Province, adjacent to the west of my province, Guangdong. Here’s a map for ya:

Kinda tough to see, but Zhuhai is nestled in just to the left of Hong Kong right there on the coast. Yangshuo is in the NW corner of the map near Guilin

That distance represents an eight hour car ride, yet look at how little we moved in the grand scale of China:

There we are down in the south. I went from the middle of the pink province to the edge of the orange one. Yep, China's big.

And yeah, maps are cool, but the sites on the ground are what we’re here for:

Me on the river.

Actually, this is just a teaser shot for what you’ll see later. Oh, but don’t be dismayed. There’s some cool stuff we saw on the way up, and that’s what this post is all about. :)

I’ve wanted to see Yangshuo since arriving to China. It’s one of those places you see pictures of and think, “that’s Earth?” It has a surreal, mysterious feel to it. And indeed, its features resonate with a variety of emotional notes, all coming together for a complete and lovely chord. And all this only a day’s drive away.

I went with my friends, Jordan and Carla:

At our lodging in Yangshuo.

Going by car, I was almost as excited for the travel itself as I was to see the destination. There’d be much to take in. Other villages, rural areas, new landscapes.

Oh, and this guy:

Smile, you're on!

Since most of my stay in China has been in Zhuhai, even just entering a different city has enough novelty and freshness to remind me, “oh, ya, I’m in China.” :)

A new city to lay eyes on.

And sticking out everywhere are the unmistakeable reminders that I’m not in the U.S. At a bathroom stop along the freeway, pictures of highway crashes (and corpses) hang over the urinals–I assume to encourage safe driving.

Then again, people do travel a little more risky here:

Hold on to that baby for dear life. Actually who knows? Maybe it’s a watermelon or something.

I got a kick out of these road workers. Apparently, they’re on cleaning duty:

You can imagine his first day on the job: ‘Alright boss, what do you want me to do?’ ‘Well, son, I want to you sweep the freeways.’ ‘Uh, did you say sweep the freeways, sir?’ ‘That’s right. You’ll be plenty busy, now get to it’. Brings back memories of adopting that 2-mile stretch of highway 71.

Soon, the occasional hill turned into consistent ups and downs. The gradual lands of Guangdong were evolving into the geological drama of Guangxi:

Things were starting to get a little rocky.

And with the mountains, comes mountain villages: Chinese style:

Actually, to be more precise, I should say Guangxi-style. (I know how picky you readers are.) Because many of the people here aren’t your typical Chinese. They belong to an ethnic group called the Zhuang who live life their way:

My way or the highway, says their water buffalo.

I got out and followed these beasts back to a pond behind some houses. The ladies thought it was nice to have a new herder:

With robes and staffs, they were kinda biblical.

But I had a heck of a time feeding them (the buffalo, I mean):

I was surprised he refused. I remember feeding an apple to a horse once.

This roadside village represents one of many “Old China/New China” contrasts. Carla, my Chinese friend in the picture above, told me when we first met in Zhuhai that I haven’t seen “real China”, or at least that there are “two Chinas” to discover. In the city, I see the modern version. But there’s another China that hasn’t incorporated current technology into their ways of life. This drive provided a view, if just for a short while.

And the contrasts were clear. On a new road in the middle of this town, traffic cruises 45 mph by people living life at 10 mph. Something’s gotta give, right? But here, it’s the pavement and vehicles that stick out in a backdrop of livestock, small farms, and people with handmade clothes.

This kind of interaction continues in countless forms as modernization reaches into more isolated areas of China. And more than about adapting to new technologies, it’s about a consolidation of cultures. “One China” is a common slogan, but China has 56 ethnic minorities.

These populations are dwarfed by the Han majority, though, and China seems to walk an effective line, putting an over-arching rule over these people while giving them freedom to do what they want inside the “One China” bubble. As they blend, one hopes that these “two Chinas” means the benefits of each predominate.

After this stop it began to darken and after two missed turns, a construction detour, and slow windy roads, we arrived. An 8 hr drive became a 10-hour drive. Ugh. But actually, it was kind of nice not seeing much around us in the dark. It made the scenery the next day all the more surprising.

Next time you read, you’ll see the wonders of Yangshuo. :)

to new plateaus,


p.s. Feel free to comment or email me at I love hearing back. If you want to connect with facebook or twitter see the sidebar. And in case you missed my introductory post last week, here’s it: first post


Posted by on April 16, 2011 in Culture, Society, Travel


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3 responses to “Yangshuo or Bust

  1. lz

    April 17, 2011 at 3:27 am

    Thanks for the beautiful tour. lz

  2. Mary Beth

    November 6, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Hi Brandon!
    My first graders and I are comparing the Chinese family to the American family. I’m going to share your post with them as the pictures are wonderful. For some reason they are fixated on the water buffaloes. They want to know how the people use them. Like cows? (this is what they are wondering) I thought it may be fun to Skype with you and you can share your knowledge with us?
    Mary Beth

    • Brandon Ferdig

      November 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      How wonderful! I’d love to converse with your class: ) Where do you live?

      I do have to say, though, that the water buffalo belonged to one of China’s ethnic minorities, so don’t represent typical Chinese life. But I agree with your class–they are cool! That one just never ate my apple.

      To find out more about how they use the water buffalo, I’ll need to do a bit of research.

      But regardless, count me in for a skype!