The Bamboo Forest (Yangshuo)

A favourite place of ours to have a picnic was in a bamboo forest - a 30 minute walk from the village.  It was very beautiful and slightly surreal with the constant groaning of the trees as they moved in the gentle breeze.

picnic 03One time we were picnicking beside the river when we heard a louder noise than the usual creaking and groaning of the forest and when looked behind us we saw a huge water buffalo carrying large quantities of cut bamboo.  The buffalo was accompanied by a group of women who giggled non-stop when they saw us.

They took the buffalo down to the river and unloaded the bamboo into the water, we guessed they would be soaking it in readiness to bend it.

After a while they started to cool off and paddle in the water. They were having a lot of fun; every so often they would look at us and giggle then they started making gestures to let us know that it was very hot and they were cooling themselves.

Eventually they started gesturing to Anna to join them.  She didn't need much encouragement and leapt at the chance to join them and cool off.

The women were very picnic 04curious and laughed at Anna's feet, she has quite broad feet and they thought this was hilarious.  In their society only women who work in the fields have such broad feet, wading through the paddy fields I guess.

Another thing that caused laughter was when Anna took her sandals off.

We had been wearing shorts and sandals for a few weeks and we were quite brown with the sun so when Anna took her sandals off there were white bands where the straps from the sandals had blocked the sun.

This caused fits of laughter but when it died down they all paddled in the water and had a great time together.

picnic 02Another time while we were picnicking and writing out postcards we saw another water buffalo but this one was being led by two children, a girl and a small boy.  They took the buffalo down to the water and then the girl came up to us and started talking, she started with the usual "hello" and we replied "hello" to which she then replied "how are you" and we gave the standard "we are well how are you" after that she was lost and didn't know what else to say.

We had our phrase book with us and gave it to her to look through, luckily the phrases were written in Mandarin as well as Cantonese (both words and Chinese characters) and she soon found phrases to be able to ask questions.

We had our map of the world and showed her where China was and where we came from, this caused fits of laughter because she couldn't believe how big China was compared to the UK.  Her pride in her country was easy to see and through sign language and the phrase book she let us know that her whole life was centred around the river and the forest.

picnic 01A little later the small boy appeared with an old man who seemed to be carved out of gnarled wood, so brown and wizened was he and he had an incredibly warm and friendly toothless smile. The old man, who appeared to be their grandfather, was very bemused by the situation and looked on in awe as his grand daughter led the conversation with us, clearly, he was very proud of her.

Eventually I made them balloon animals which the old man loved and he laughed when he couldn't blow a balloon up.  My only regret is that neither the old man nor the boy wanted their photos taken.

I think this was one of the highlights of our whole trek through China, cultural and language differences were just not on the agenda and it does make one wonder if most world problems could be sorted out without politicians or the media muddying the water.

Reading back through this article I realise that the photo (top right) taken looking down on some women was not taken in the bamboo forest, it was taken while we were crossing a bridge in the village. Anna and I looked down and saw some women washing clothes in the muddy river. They were rinsing the clothes in the river then laying them across a rock and hitting the clothes with a smaller rock. We had never seen anyone do this before so we stopped to watch and realised that the pair of shorts they were beating the crap out of were mine. We had put some clothes to be washed in the "hotel laundry", even though the water was muddy and the water buffalo seen in the photo was probably crapping everywhere I must admit all the clothes were extremely clean, a little softer perhaps but very clean.

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