Yangshuo, China: Paradise Lost, Innocence Regained…

20180712_074435But you can’t swim in that river again…though you can try…and you should…but it won’t be there, not like you remember it, anyway. Everybody’s gone elsewhere, just like they always do, and those that stay behind are not necessarily the ones you want to see, anyway. Everything changes, all the time, by habit, and tradition, if not by design. The little things that endeared you to the place are the first things to go, being that they were so hard to define anyway, more phantoms of consciousness than features of existence, the mind easing itself into submission…

It’s not often that I get to re-visit a place I used to go, used to know some twenty years ago, or even ten, but it’s usually interesting when I do. Sometimes things seem little changed. Other times the changes seem drastic, especially in America, which is known more for its changes than its pro-active response to them, more often than not seeming more like blind flailings than direct failings…

20180720_212413But nothing prepared me for China. If the China of twenty years ago was defined by its bicycles, poverty and primitiveness, it’s defined now by its smartphones, traffic jams and forty-story apartment buildings, people stacked upon people endlessly vertical, an entire nation drawn in from the fields and stacked on end, cities taking on a life of their own, like monsters from a futuristic sci-fi novel, ‘rise of the machines’ or something like that, or maybe ‘evil erections’, so sci-fi porn…

And then there’s Yangshuo, which was always a little bit different, even way back when, but not in the same way as now, then because it had class, and tradition, and a lively backpacker scene that could appreciate it, and the lovely landscape, something the average work-a-day communist Chinese hardly had time or money for, as the Chinese economy was merely nascent in 1997…

20180718_115319But that was then, and this is now. China has a booming economy and Chinese tourists are flooding the world, but nowhere like home, threatening to make a mockery of their own culture, anything slightly different from the mainstream culture a prime target for tourist dog-and-pony shows, and if others are willing to maybe pony up more, nobody can dog it quite like the Chinese. Authenticity is not the overriding concept—just the opposite…

So the bucolic burg where I once found sympathy and succor in the arms of a mug, a nod and a wink, and an invitation to drink, has now long since sold its soul to the highest bidder, shops once selling the most righteous crafts from the most righteous tribes this side of the Yangtze now given over to cheap carnival rides and the most hideous displays of hubris, humans acting as if they owned the universe of which they are only a small almost insignificant part…

20180723_143021And the European and other Western backpackers who rescued the burg from oblivion long ago are but a footnote in the town’s history now, nothing but the English language a legacy of their one-time prominence and predominance, making it one of the few places where you can have a genuine English-language conversation with some very fluent locals, mostly older, vestiges of the classic period. There’s only one catch…

If you’re a Westerner who knows Mandarin, you just might have a hard time convincing the locals of that. We’ll see, maybe a year or so from now, when I’m next there—maybe. I’ve been through this all before, and it isn’t always pretty, having to fight for the right to speak the local language, even when you understand every word they say, just because it might make them lose face, once they’ve identified themselves as English speakers. Welcome to Thailand…

20180728_103400I know that now, what I didn’t know then, back when I was looking to ex-pat myself to Asia, and trying to decide between Thailand and Vietnam, then China, Indonesia and/or Cambodia. Follow the money, and so that’s what I did, straight to Thailand, and a few solid years of compensated efforts, mischief and misgivings, until finally finding some solace in the Buddhist forest temples, and a new lease on life that is my current status…

It’s better this way, as I have a clean start, older but wiser, knowing now what I didn’t know then, ready to start over again in China—or not. I only know that it won’t be in Yangshuo, but somewhere open-minded to foreigners, with neither the English language nor the silence in its absence, as neither will do for me in the long run. In places unspoiled by tourism, locals just assume you speak Mandarin, so speak it to you, no English and no awkward silences, and that’s the way it should be…

Only innocence will do, the innocence of open-mindedness and belief in progress, that one is not limited by false narratives and quick conclusions, but only by his own honest efforts and willingness to succeed. If that is a sin, then I am guilty. If not, then I am vindicated, for in the long run there is no other way. China’s frustrations and disappointments only propel me to fight another day—or not. Meanwhile, forget Yangshuo, and the other backpacker centers that Chinese party animals have turned into hedonistic playgrounds. It’s hideous, not kinky…

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