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Yangshuo is the legendary back-packer hangout an hour south of Guilin on the Li River. I joined my friend Glyn, a local whom I'd met on a previous visit to China, and hired bicycles for the popular day trip of cycling in the surrounding picturesque countryside. We put our bikes on a boat to the small town of Fuli where Glyn's extended family live. Fuli is made up of about 100 people who live an agrarian lifestyle of the most simple form.
The 50 minute trip downstream on the Li River was very soothing and once we arrived and unloaded our bikes we began the cycle to her family's farm. The path was small and bumpy as we crisscrossed the countryside, We rode across and around numerous fallow paddy fields - I was constantly stopping for photo opportunities. After about half an hour we arrived at Gyln's family's farm house.
I was somewhat surprised that her family's farm was not quite as poor as I had imagined. By no means were they well off, just comfortable I guess, in a simplistic sort of way. Not unlike what I had seen in other South Asian countries.
The house was made of stone and clay bricks and it was surrounded by a large concrete platform that was used for drying all sorts of produce. They also had a much smaller building that served as the kitchen and dining room. The farmland adjacent to the home was quite large. They grew sugar cane, rice (though was not in season at the time), numerous vegetables, along with some fruit trees. They kept pigs but not chickens, very unusual in China I thought. The number of times one is awoken by chickens or roosters in rural China is amazing, however, this was one wake up call I did not have to face here in Fuli.
The main building was two storeys. The lower level served as a sparsly furnished lounge room containing 30cm high wooden stools and an old television propped-up on a table that looked at least 50 years old. On the second level were the sleeping quarters. Quite modest indeed! There wasn't more than one metre between any of us, and only Glyn's parents bed was partitioned off. The beds were merely blanket rolls on straw mats on the floor, all of which had seen better days.
During my short stay I was surprised at the slow pace of life, (granted it was the middle of winter). Compared to the fast pace I was used to. This took some getting used to. No-one rushed about doing things. No-body had places to go. Nevertheless, I couldn't help myself and tried to make myself busy. I did odd jobs such as cutting and peeling sugar cane which turned out to be great to chew on, if a little fibrous! Mostly, I just wandered or cycled the fields and once even invited myself into a neighbours home and spent a few hours helping a very, very old woman prepare traditional Chinese herbal medicine. I didn't manage to sample any of this special brew as the stench was enough to know it must only be good for you, but I am sure it had helped to keep her alive long beyond the average lifespan for a Chinese peasant farmer.
I regularly helped cook meals which were mostly made up of pork and chicken dishes fried with leafy green vegetables, garlic stalks, eschallots, chilli and ginger and accompanied by steamed white rice. Generally the food was filling and tasty, although I wasn't too keen on the chicken dishes as the cooks had the habit of leaving all the splintered bones in, which you spat onto the floor whilst eating. Thankfully the dining is done apart from the main living quarters.
I felt at peace in Fuli, absorbing the scenery and appreciating the quiet and stillness of rural China. At first, it was a shock to be faced with such a slow pace of life and it took time to change down my gears. By the third day, I was well and truly relaxed and ready for the cycle all the way back to the small town activity of Yangshuo.