The was no doubt that the level of our Putonghua (Mandarin) was not as good as we had thought. The villager was now addressing all her comments to me, as I was slightly better at feigning understanding of what she was saying than the others. Her mimes became increasingly desperate as she tried to convey ideas to us.
This was a pity as I won’t be able to share much about this ancient Chinese village in Guanxi with you. In their main room, we shared oranges with her mother, a lady of 100 years we were told. They took delight in mei mei (younger girl) and jei jei (older girl) and marvelled over how much taller they were than them.
The village was mainly populated with old people when we visited. The parents were working in the fields and the children were at the village school. The children, all dressed in jumpers and coats to counter the lack of heating in the school, repeated by rote what the teacher was instructing. We heard them exercise to the sound of patriotic music, and, at lunchtime, saw them sprinting to their homes with the same smile as any child from anywhere in the world in a similar situation.
Lorna had chosen a village in a tourist area near Yangshuo about 90 minutes from Guilin in Guanxi province for our first foray as a family into China. We did the tourist things. We rafted down the Yulong river. This wasn’t the whitewater experience of the Zambesi, though there were 10 weirs to negotiate. The area has thousands of limestone mountains (karsts), which lined the river on both sides. Nancy and I shared a raft and had a good conversation. The Chinese were very keen to take her picture at every opportunity, which unnerved her somewhat.
In the evening, we dined at a vegetarian restaurant in Yangshuo. The food was fantastic. We had ordered more than was polite, and the waitress was concerned for us. The food was beautifully presented and excellent. I think we surprised her by how much we had eaten.
We made a mistake earlier in the evening by going on a cormorant fishing trip down the river. We were in a boat alongside a fisherman’s raft. This was equipped with a searchlight that lit up the river. The cormorants dived for fish in the lit area of the river. Every now and then, the fisherman would pick up a cormorant and empty regurgitated fish from the cormorant into a bowl. We soon realised this was possible because the fisherman had tied some string around the cormorant’s neck that prevented fish from entering the stomach.
In general, the Chinese don’t treat animals well. We had seen lots of monkeys earlier in the day, tied to posts dancing to music dressed in human clothes. It’s only a matter of time, I’m sure, until we see bears.