I think it’s fitting that Guilin, a place I’ve been trying to get to for half my years, is a great metaphor for life. Ready for it? Sweet! For me, Guilin is like finally scoring with the girl of your dreams, only to have her tell you about that time she pulled the train for the local footy team. Sure, it’s still beautiful and fun and you can tell all your mates about it, but it’s tainted somehow. Not quite what you were hoping for.
Don’t get me wrong, the scenery around here is so mind-blowing I almost felt like I had to wear a Stackhat. I was late for my pick-up, of course, but an hour later I was cruising the Li River, and it is incredible. It almost doesn’t feel like it’s part of this world. The emerald hills climbing out of the water were strange and surreal, as if I’d just eaten a bad chicken pie beforehand and was in a food poisoning-induced craze. This actually happened to my father during one of our bi-monthly family trips to Spencer when I was a young boy. Whatever was in the pie must’ve worked a treat, because he became convinced he was a helicopter and was found in Parkes a week later, wearing nothing but a knitted beanie and a smile.
Even though I was on a tourist boat full of people, when I stood out on the deck with those green hills reaching to the sky in front of me, I felt as if I was alone in this world. Guilin has beautiful, untouched wilderness as far as the eye can see. Trees, waterfalls and cliffs come together in a dizzying assault on the senses. I will never, ever forget the feeling of sailing down that river, past that wonderful vista.
At the end of it was Yangshuo, which I’d been led to believe was a water village, but was actually a city of several hundred people. So it was a bit like Newcastle with pagodas. It was heavily touristic but still charming, with shear cliffs rising up behind the shops and houses. I enjoyed just strolling around, hearing birds chirp in cages and locals yelling and rushing around, while the enchanting scent of Chinese cooking wafted through the cluttered streets.
From there the tour moved on to a short raft ride through the most amazing landscape I’ve ever seen. I saw old men catching fish with the help of birds, small children riding strange animals, and green foliage as far as the eye could see. I shared my small boat with a South American chap named Carlos. However, Carlos exposed himself to one of the many brides by the side of the river and was taken away and beaten.
This area was too pretty for words to do justice. But anyway, getting back to the whole life analogy; in life there are moments of such beauty that you almost fall to your knees because it’s too much to take in. A smile from a pretty girl, for example, or handing over a tenner at the pub and getting change for a twenny. My trip down the river was like that.
And then comes the bad shit. For me, that was walking through downtown Guilin, a town I have looked forward to visiting for so long, and having elderly Chinese men do that finger-through-the-OK-sign thing to me. You know, the international symbol for making le root. Over and over and over again. I stop to get a beer – an old man asks me if I want sexy time and does the sign. I stop to take a photo – an old man pops out from a bush, licking his lips and rubbing himself. I’m an open-minded dude, but it was just sad and wrong. I mean really, come on, how many blokes are walking down the street, see an old Chinese man jacking himself off and think, “I’m gunna get me some of that?”
Put your hand down, Rolf Harris!
I wrote this on May 3, 2012, which was International Wear Underpants to Work Day.