Stories of China - Chinese Boat Ride Adventure

 Author: Pat

Date: 2003

While we’re traveling together, I’d like for you to hop aboard a small wooden boat and go a ways down the Li Jiang (River). Lori and I made our way down to the docks in Yangshuo where we were asked if we wanted a boat ride. This was just what we wanted so we followed a woman in a dark coat into a recessed corner to hammer out details. I thought she just wanted to avoid her competitors hearing our negotiations and undercutting her price but as time went by I became less sure of that. Eventually we hammered out a price, a route, and a time frame (all in Mandarin except the word “boat” ;-)))) which was agreeable to both of us IF I could first see the boat to assure myself that it was seaworthy. (I knew my sister would absolutely kill me if I got my niece in some sort of situation involving a leaky boat.) She called her coworker on the inevitable cell phone and soon the boat came puttering across the water for our inspection. I insisted that it come up to shore, which she very reluctantly agreed to have happen. Up to the walkway it came until I nodded my head that we would employ the offered services. As we approached to climb aboard, the boatman pushed off from the pier without us;-O OK, hmm, what’s the deal here? The woman skulked off and we stood around with confused looks on our faces for a while before heading for our hotel. Climbing the stairs, we met the erstwhile suitor for our boating bucks. Looking furtively around, she told us to come back in an hour. After negotiating again, this time with myself to determine if there was anything wrong with paying for a business transaction that seemed squirrellier by the minute, I decided that although she seemed strange, I could go with a good conscience since I had no clue what was up. So giving her a little lecture about how I didn’t want to come back in an hour and have her change the deal yet again (in Mandarin;-)))), I offered her a lesser price, which she accepted, and squared my resolve to take my niece on a boat or bust trying!

The hour came and went and our lady finally appeared, cell phone in hand, to tell us to wait a few more minutes. At last our watercraft made its way back and with a final conversation about how we could overpower the driver in a pinch, Lori and I got on board!

Neither of us could have imagined the pleasant and relaxing hour and a half that we enjoyed aboard our little boat. The day glowed like a bright jewel. The bluish green river wound its way before us with flecks of silver sun dotting its surface. A cool, clean breeze sighed across the land. The unusual but beautiful mountains jutted up into the Carolina blue sky and were reflected in the still waters of the river. The only breaks in the perfect ambiance were the sound affects of our driver who had more phlegm than any man I have ever seen or heard. However, we were happy and at ease and we got a lot of laughs from those, too, so life was looking pretty good.

In the late afternoon and early evening, we saw the same thing on the water as we had seen along the roadways- people living their lives in public. Many men and women carrying pairs of wooden buckets on yokes made their way down to the riverfront. Refilling their pails, they shouldered the heavy yokes and climbed back up to their homes hidden in the greenery on the banks of the waterway.

Women sat beside piles of green vegetables at water’s edge, scrubbing them for the next day’s market or for that night’s wok. Others scrubbed laundry on rocks. Along dirt paths, men and women walked behind small herds of water buffalos in the waning light, taking them home to their stalls or fences before nightfall. Fishermen sat on bamboo rafts untangling nets before beginning their evenings’ work. Other fishermen loaded their cormorants onto their rafts and secured their woven baskets to hold their hoped for catch.

All the fancy tour boats stood at anchor showing a different side from the business-like appearance they usually put forth. On the upper decks, laundry hung both inside the cabins and outside on the decks; preparations for the evening meal were in full swing in the open-air kitchens at the backs of the boats; and people sat in small groups in various places….watching TV. 

We are constantly meeting people who want us to take their pictures but that evening we saw the most exhibitionist of all! Groups of men stood out by the river in their underwear soaping themselves and bathing. As we passed they yelled in high voices, “Hello, hello!” and beckoned to us to take their pictures. We declined. Although not examining their situation too closely, it appeared that this was, indeed, their personal shower/bathtub and they were not shy about it.

Our boatman DID offer to let us off beside the shore for a little walk by the river but Lori and I just looked at each other while all the possibilities buzzed through our brains. Let’s see, do we want to get off the boat in the wilderness, not knowing the way back, with a bunch of men bathing by the river in their underwear in the offing, and a boat driver we didn’t know who talked Chinese into his cell phone probably arranging for a bunch of men with clubs to greet us behind the first stand of bamboo????  “Mm, no, no thanks, no.”

As we returned to Yangshuo, the orange sun gradually sank behind the mountains in a blaze of glory while we celebrated the power and the goodness of God. Who would ever have thought that Lori and I would have three days to spend together alone, much less in China? What fun!

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