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Published: October 26th 2008
Tina just told Billy that he won't be allowed out to play until he's eaten all his noodles.
In the evenings Yangshou is characterised best by the brash neon that lights the narrow café, restaurant, bar and souvenir shop lined streets of its ‘old’ town and by the foreign tourists who walk with an awkward John Wayne style shuffle between these gaudy Western-Chinese fusion establishments.
During the day, the done thing for any visitor wishing to truly appreciate the landscape for which Yangshou is best known is to hire a bicycle and head off along any one of the many tracks and paths that wind their way along the rivers and between the rice paddies squashed into the spaces and slopes beneath the dramatic, knobbly, limestone karsts.
But with it’s extremely basic back-of-a-fag-packet map and inadequate descriptions, the Lonely Planet; which is the false bible by which most pancake-munching backpackers guide themselves around the area; fails to point out the huge number of paths to be navigated nor the incredibly bumpy, ball busting, bum numbing nature of their surfacing.
Thank Giant and Specialized for full suspension bicycles is all I can say. Given the option of paying the Y10 (80p) recommended for bike hire in the LP, which gets you a set of wheels held together
Village near Yangshou
I'd love to be able to tell you what this quaint little village was called but I haven't the foggiest and the map we had may as well have been a pocket size globe for all the detail it contained.
with rigid steel and a basket; or upping the ante and getting a Y40 mountain bike with suspension that has the added benefit of allowing you to produce children in the future should you so desire; I know which one I’d choose.
Beware the old ladies with the massive odd looking fruits is another piece of advice I’d scribble in the Yangshou suggestions book if there were such a thing. Like everyone else in the area, they have learned that there’s money to be made from the masochistic foreigners that seem to enjoy busting their nuts on the ‘roads’ around Yangshou.
When the chain came off Viks bike and we stopped for a quick repair, a passing old peasant lady was quick to spot a sales opportunity. She disappeared into her little hovel and came out a moment later with three giant pear shaped things that she shoved into my black, oily hands. She then did lots of gibbering and scrubbing movements that seemed to suggest that these particular fruits had the magical ability to remove filthy oil from skin.
Now, we’ve all seen the adverts with Andy McDowell telling us with the aid of science graphics
how the extracts of pea juice and potato in her new face cream have kept her skin tighter than a Brazilian bongo. Well, I never believed her for one second - I’ve rubbed fruit and veges of my face before and all I got was a mouth full of soil and Chiquita stickers up my nose.
But for some reason, this shrivelled old prune of a lady who had less teeth than something with very few teeth and who was dirtier than a team of mud wrestling coal miners had me believing that my skin would be whiter than white if I just opened one of these fruit and rubbed my hands all over it. I might write to Oil of Olay and suggest they get this woman in for a screen test because despite the fact she didn’t have any science bits with ceratoptides and bingbongboptides replenishing and cleansing skin cells like Andy does, she was waaaay more convincing.
So, after much umming and arring on our part, the old Oil of Olay lady realised she was going to have to take these tourists through the process step by step and whipped out a vicious little switch-blade.
Pay attention - here comes the science bit. With a few deftly placed incisions and some expert fluffy pith removal, she opened the fruit in a precision manner and presented us with what looked like a giant grapefruit.
I took a piece of the giant fruit and like some equally giant idiot began rubbing my hands on its fluffy, pithy surface as the old Oil of Olay woman had seemed to indicate. Obviously with the benefit of hindsight I should have realised that the net result would be a particularly grubby and unappetising piece of fruit and hands that were now covered in an oil and grapefruit pith mixture. I think this may be the Chinese equivalent of being tarred and feathered.
As I stood there rubbing giant grapefruit pith on my oily hands I felt like a bit of a plonker but it seemed to amuse the old crone who watched in an unsettling kind of disbelief before walking away indicating that I should follow.
With grapefruit thing in hand I followed our wrinkly friend to a tap outside her hovel where upon she produced a bar of soap and some washing detergent. Now this is
more like it I thought as the thick oil and fluffy pith melted away to reveal my skin once more.
So much for plant extracts - give me skin irritating chemicals every time and bugger the aging process.
But you don’t get something for nothing in China. With my hands clean our Oil of Olay friend began firing numbers at me in Chinese and holding up fingers. I pretended I didn’t have a clue what she was trying to say, but from what I gathered the bill thus far was - Y12 for three pear shaped giant grapefruits and Y3 for detergent and tap hire. With one fruit already used I realised that our chances of getting away without paying anything were slim (if it came to a fight I reckoned this old crone would make mince meat out of me despite being possibly 100 years old).
Once back with Vik at the bikes I tried handing the other two fruit back. This didn’t go down well, but eventually I managed to prise open her bony little fists and stick the stalks in her hand. Ha! Now they’re yours again old Olay lady! But I felt bad -
Chinese Head Torch
Chinese Opera is much better than your regular run of the mill fat ladies belting out stuff in Italian. Chinese Opera is all about lots of slightly chubby blokes balancing stuff on their heads and falling over. Now that's what I call entertainment.
okay, bad is the wrong word as the stress of bike maintenance, the craziness of rubbing my hands on magic fruit and a toothless old crone snapping at my heels for cash were all taking their toll on my temper - and though the option of jumping on the bikes and high-tailing it was tempting I decided to hand over Y3 for the useless fruit and the hand washing.
She was obviously disappointed and put up a bit of a strop as she tried to hand back the fruit and get more money, but by this time she could see that having played her magic fruit card early in the game, she wasn’t going to be getting anything else out of these gullible foreigners, and so, with a toothy grin and a bit of gibbering and hand wafting our little Yoda-like friend waddled down the road back to her hovel, giant pear grapefruit things in hand.
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