For 24 hours last Wednesday's storm prevailed. All night long the rain hammered down and the gigantic game of bowls thundered and crashed overhead, the sky lit and rent by lightening. Wild trains hurtled past on the track beside the school, as though pursued by demons and sleep proved difficult. The gradually flagging force of the storm was revived at dawn. Rain water streamed and cascaded, turning all flat surfaces into lakes and rivers, lashed by the wind and amid morse-code flashes of lightening - tightly packed and almost continuous. Even the omnipresent loudspeaker (which regulates all aspects of school life) was drowned by the rain and thunder. The dawn swan-song eventually abated. The rain continued to descend in a grey curtain, obliterating all colours and shapes, except those nearest but eventually even that stopped and normality returned.
On the bus from Guilin to Yangshuo the damage was apparent. All the fields along the Li River were submerged in coffee-coloured water and The Dragon Boat Festival had had to be abandoned!
So, to Yangshuo for a final fling; some final shopping, some final posting stuff home and finally doing things I've been thinking about doing for the last 3 months, such as going to a cookery class and hiring a bike.
The cookery class was great! First we (me and 2 Chinese/Americans) went to the market - an amazing spectacle of what not to eat!!! (or so it would appear!). Delicacies such as chicken feet, pig noses and ears, entire cooked ducks, stuffed snails and, of course, the inevitable skinned dogs. Definitely not for the squeamish! We returned to our roof-top kitchen and cooked up a feast in the shape of Beer Fish, Pork Dumplings and Kung Po Chicken, which we then consumed with relish!
The next day was a rarity - a sunny day! The opportunity was not to be missed - it was now or never with the bicycle! My guide, a gentleman by the name of Su, and I set off, wobbling (me, not Su) through the traffic of Yangshuo and headed for the Yulong River. It was wonderful. We cycled through little villages and past farms and in amongst the karst hills. Disaster struck, however, when I hit a very muddy puddle, skidded and crashed into said muddy puddle and emerged looking as though I'd had a mud bath! No damage was done, so we continued, the mud gradually baking hard and stiff in the sun! We then dumped our bikes and boarded a bamboo raft on the Yulong river for the return journey. (Our bikes were transported by truck to where we were going to disembark).
The bamboo rafts consisted of 2 chairs, a sunshade and a boatman with a long pole which was used to punt the raft. (No engines this time, unlike the Li River). We spent the next 2 hours drifting through the most glorious scenery. With all the colourful sunshades up, the rafts looked like so many giant flowers floating on the water. Every so often we came to a weir which meant hanging on tightly to the chair and lifting one's legs as the raft slid down to the next level. It was very strange to see the rafts in front suddenly, for no apparent reason, sink into the water a foot lower than they had been before. Accidents were not unknown - one raft ahead of us misjudged the angle of descent and turned over, spilling everyone and everything into the river.
Su and I had (quite an expensive - I was paying!) lunch in a little restaurant and then cycled the final saddle-sore hour back to Yangshuo. It was a great day and I was pleased to have, at last, ridden a bike in China.
Last , but by no means least, in a bid to unfreeze my shoulder (which has been frozen since leaving the UK and has added immeasurably to my woes!), I paid a final visit to Dr. Lily Li. I say 'final' because never again do I intend to darken her door! This time I submitted to an hour of agonising massage, followed by an even more agonising acupuncture. I couldn't look at my shoulder, which, I'm sure, resembled a pin cushion (and a sieve with the needles removed), and the pain actually reduced me to tears!! I felt quite unwell afterwards. So, enough is enough! Any further pain can wait for the wonders of Ibuprofen. My shoulder is still too sore to be able to tell whether the treatment has worked. If it has, then, I suppose, that the suffering would have been worthwhile. I hope so!
OK, there is no way I can avoid this - Yangshuo was a sauna and I was in the sauna, wrapped in a damp towel! My hair took almost all day to dry when I washed it and even the pavements, buildings and trees seemed to drip perspiration! But escape is imminent - I fly to Beijing on Friday and swop hot and humid for just plain hot. In the meantime, I have finally found a bed which, when I bounce on it, actually moves up and down!! It's not exactly a trampoline, but it has SPRINGS!!! I love it and want to stay for ever!!
But, it's back to school for the final week, or, as we were told yesterday, the final 2 days!! Exams again rear their ugly head and all the teachers are required for invigilation, so the rest of the school are being sent home, while the grade 9's sweat it out. The testing intensifies with Bianca and I putting in an extra 3 hours each evening. Bianca is, typically, much more efficient than I and has nearly finished. I have a long way to go and no more time but have really relished to chance to talk to the children individually. I wish I had had the opportunity to do this earlier. It is fascinating to rediscover how, in spite of superficial differences, alike we all are underneath.
So, I shall leave tomorrow with very mixed feelings! In many ways it will be a relief and fun(?) to start travelling again, but I will, undoubtedly, miss the students, who have been a joy and who, for the most part, have welcomed me into their lives.
Bianca and I are going to a little village, called Fengyang, for tomorrow and Thursday, where we will be staying with the lady who organises the teaching placements in China. It is a very quiet, rural (help!!!) village and if it's very rural, I might just stay one night! But I'm at a loose end until Friday, so think that it could be an interesting experience.
So, the next time I write, it will probably be from Beijing (where, at least, I should be able to access emails). So, until then, bye!