No cars go

Some of you may not know that the game of chicken was invented in China. In fact, highway driving etiquette here is an extremely nuanced and advanced game of chicken. I haven’t quite figured out all the rules yet. The highway between Guilin and Yangshuo that passes by the art park/hotel where I’m staying has two wide lanes and a wide shoulder on either side. Everyone is allowed to play chicken with anyone on this road; massive trucks belching smoke, buses and minivans of all sizes, kids on bicycles or teens on scooters and motorcycles, old ladies with carts full of wood or plants, the occasional private car, and even these crazy “san lun che,” which are three-wheeled metal and wood truck-carts with an internal combustion engine cantilevered out in the air above the front tire.

The actual game play involves complicated patterns of honking (one bus I was on had two different horn tones), and, at night, flashing your high beams, at oncoming traffic. While doing this, you veer out into the oncoming traffic’s lane and attempt to pass as many other cars from your lane as you can before being killed. One bus I was on passed about eight cars, buses, and trucks at once.

I was introduced to this game the night I arrived in Guilin, and found myself in a taxi to the park/hotel at ten pm. The game play was special that night as it was extremely misty out. My taxi driver was also talking animatedly on his cell phone the entire time, because, unbeknownst to me at the time, he took the fare without being exactly sure of where the place was. So he somehow got the phone number, and talked to the park staff, to figure out where the park was and which hotel I was staying in. Since I’m staying with my friend, and both hotels are mostly vacant, the hotel staff told him, and then me, in halting English, that I didn’t have a reservation and probably should go back to Guilin. The hotel staff’s English didn’t extend to “Don’t worry, I’m staying with my friend who works there,” so I had to convince the taxi driver to keep going anyway. Luckily, Ian met me at the gate.

This place is crazy. There are huge modern art sculptures all over the sprawling, landscaped grounds, interspersed with paths, gardens, lakes, and groves of pine trees. Just outside the park are the massive karst mountains that this area is famous for. Among other things, my friend is the park DJ, so Bjork, Cocteau Twins, and other relaxing, perfectly eerie music plays from speakers disguised as rocks everywhere. Several ultra-modern interesting buildings cluster around another karst peak right in the middle of the park. At night, multicolored lights illuminate the sculptures, and last night there was a fireworks display. Think Burning Man crossed with the Di Rosa Preserve, humid, completely deserted and smack dab in the middle of China.

Oh, and at night, there are fireflies. Everywhere.

Just outside the park gates is a tiny Chinese peasant village, a collection of maybe thirty or forty brick and cinderblock buildings along the 2KM road to the highway. Most of the people who live there are rice farmers, and flooded rice patties lie between each clump of buildings.

The village has two stores, a very primitive hospital/clinic, and three restaurants which are little more than garages with a few tables and chairs, and a kitchen at the back. They serve noodles that are quite good, and dinnerware arrives at your table shrink-wrapped from the government run program to wash and sterilize dishware. And there’s a bus stop for when you get a hankering for another game of chicken.

On Thursday, I took the chicken express bus into Yangshuo, a tourist-trap of a town about 45 minutes (depending on your driver’s skill at the game) south of the park. Once there, I was swamped with people trying to sell me, and ten thousand other western tourists, postcards, picture books, rental bikes, boat cruises, and who knows what else. On a recommendation, I headed to Drifters for some western food (fried chicken sandwich with “cheese”) and then rented a bike and rode south, away from the major tourist river, the Li, to the Yulong river. I rode upstream to Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, where I had a milkshake and asked after friends of friends who work there, but they were not around. Then it was off along a muddy dirt track, past a river crossing where I could have paid to have my bike ferried across the river on a bamboo raft, through another small town, and back to Yangshuo through a massive, multi-block, multi-story constrution project on the southwest end of town.

After lunch at Kelly’s in Yangshuo (a “tuna” sandwich with “cheese” and a “chocolate” milkshake) , I returned my bike and experienced another game of chicken, this time in an air conditioned bus.

I’ve uploaded new photos.