One of the costumed Miao women, known for their dancing are also costumed interpreters at the Shangri-La tourist site.

Today was indeed a full day with a few more trips to the tourist office on West Street including booking a car to the airport for the next day.

Standing on my balcony with my coffee, (thanks to Patricia’s Muskoka Roastery coffee – you are a lifesaver!) I notice I have new neigbours today. Judging by the hanging laundry on their balcony, one is a woman with a gift card for Victoria’s Secret!

In the Shangri-La village, you can watch as the local people make their trditional crafts for which they are known. Here, a woman applies melted wax to an intricate design which later will become a beautiful batik fabric.

This morning was dry! Cloudy as usual, but dry. I tried out a new place for breakfast. A western breakfast today. Just down the street from my hotel, the Venice hotel is a place called Café Del Moon. It has a pretty full and seemingly international breakfast menu. One can order an American breakfast, British, French, Dutch and also an Israeli breakfast! OK, I get the American and the French – Yangshuo has been invaded by the French in the last few days! But Israeli? That was a new one to me. International indeed! Though I think back bacon was missing on all the breakfasts menus in town!

A painterly scene (this is an HDR image) from the Shangri-La site. This is a very typical site not only here, but all over the region.

This morning’s first outing is a boat ride along a short river system at Shangri-La village. This tourist site offers a look at the clothing, crafts and activities of four distinct ethnic groups, the Tong, Miao, Yao and Czhuang People. Costumed interpreters from the four groups are on hand to offer any answers or display their particular skills. These are four groups who have lived in the Guangxi area for thousands of years. Each have a distinct spoken language and express their language through such means as embroidery. Shangri-La is only about 15 minutes from Yangshuo and well worth a visit. Set this up by dropping into any of the tourism offices on the street in Yangshuo.

One of the massive chambers in the Silver Caves system.

After returning for a bite to eat, I was off again in the afternoon for a little caving! Nothing so exciting as dangling on the end of a length of climbing rope over a subterranean lake, but pretty cool nonetheless! As I have noted many times, this area is peppered with karst mountains. These are limestone mountains formed by water eroding all the land, leaving behind some perky rounded mountains geologically known as karst mountains. As these are limestone structures and hydrologicaly formed, it is not surprising to find caves everywhere. One just needs to take a bike out for a spin and see many cave openings right off the road at the base of any number of the mountains.

Both stalactites and stalagmites are common sites in this cave system.

The particular cave system I visited was discovered in 1996. Since then, not missing a chance to turn this into a profitable venture, lighting engineers set to work lighting the massive 2 kilometre cave system. With powerful spotlights, coloured gels and solid footing, one is treated to a slightly kaleidoscopic dose of cave eye-candy. There are some massive cave galleries the size of cathedrals. As well, there are some well lit winding passageways offering a tactile sense of arterial reaming as you brush up against the undulating walls trying to keep up with the speedy tour leader with the squawky speaker around his neck. Mind you, if you don’t understand Mandarin, it really doesn’t matter.

If you like caves and pretty lights, this is a must-see. I took my tripod and had my camera solidly anchored to it the whole time. I’d see a great scene, spread the tripod’s legs and bang off a few 20-second exposures, then run to catch up to the group lest I be assimilated into the group nipping at my heels.

As usual, a mini bus is arranged by the tourism office where I booked my tickets, and ferried us all back to Yangshuo, about 15 minutes away.

Dinner was a little place that specialized in dumplings. Two women sat in the small restaurant making the dumplings as quickly as they were ordered. It was fascinating to watch them. I don’t think I could imagine my fingers moving as quickly as those two women!

One of the scenes during the evening performance showing local singers.

The main event of the day was the Liu Sanjie river performance, acted out on the water. This is going to be a bit difficult to explain, as it was SO spectacular, words cannot do it justice.

The scene is set! This is the Li River which acts as the stage for the evening performance.

About 10 minutes out of town, the mini bus drops our group off and we are under strict orders to stay close. There are literally a few thousand people attending. Close is the right word! I have VIP tickets, so that meant I sat high enough to see the whole stage and at a pretty central spot. The stage is pretty huge! The stage is the river with several mountains also lit as part of the river’s backdrop.

A scene during the performance showing life on the riverbank

I’m sure, unless you were in a coma at the time, you saw the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games. Pretty outstanding I think you’ll agree. Well, the director of that spectacle also designed the show on the bank of the Li River. The one-hour show (8 p.m. and 10 p.m.) features a look at local life on the river.

A chorus line of young Tong singers, known for their singing, perform their traditional songs.

The cast of actors are taken from the local fisherman and farmers who actually work the land and water during the day. As well, there are scores of school children singing. The director had his work cut out for him as he had to take tough farmers and teach them to step lightly and with precisian timing. Also, the director had to take hundreds of leathery fishermen and get them performing in a flotilla of boats with the same timing and grace as skilled synchronized swimmers.

River Performance from Spencer Wynn on Vimeo.

The staging, singing and jaw-dropping water sequences were nothing short of amazing. Five years in the making, this evening show, performed under the stars, is something that must be seen to be believed. It is pure magic. The final scene, when you thought you’d seen it all, is mystifying, brilliant, hi-tech and something you will never forget!

If you go out onto the water or wander the rice paddies the next day, take a moment to look at the locals. Nod, smile and offer a “Nihao” and consider that under the tough, weathered exterior, there may just be a graceful actor taking you up the river or guiding her water buffalo between the paddies.

Life is not always as it seems.



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