MagazinesPost Magazine
SUNDAY MORNING

So near, yet so feared: culture vultures

Cecilie Gamst Berg

 

A friend is coming to see me this summer together with the two children, I think aged 14 and 11, she has acquired in the many years we've been living on different continents.

She wants to go to Guilin and Yangshuo, home of possibly the most famous of all famous Chinese landscapes: scraggy crags surrounded by fields and water buffalo with some mist thrown in. She wants us to "hang out" and do lots of fun stuff with the kids, including a bike tour organised by the hotel.

This opened up an abyss of wildly contrasting feelings in me. My first reaction was: has this woman listened to a word I've been saying for the past 25 years, ever since I met her smoking a joint in a toilet in Beijing?

Tour? Organised? Being led around like a feeble-minded sheep and treated like an idiot child by a person half my age?

Yangshuo is beautiful - but it is also one of the worst tourist hellholes in China.

Originally a haven for stingy backpackers, with its organic this and that, whole-wheat pancakes and rustic signs in (only) English, it has now been Starbuckified with "boutique" hotels and air-conditioned limousines driving you to the top of Moon Hill, where a six-piece orchestra plays Abba songs. That's not my idea of a good holiday.

Also, I swore I'd never go to a constructed new-old tourist trap again after visiting Lijiang, Yunnan province, in 2006. Hailed as one of China's last traditional towns, it is in fact a large, rough-hewn wood-built Disneyland manned by members of the Naxi minority, famous for their blue clothes and willingness to perform to disco tunes in the main square (a spectacle advertised as "Grand Primitive Ecological Real Scene Performance").

The Old Town, a warren of plastic-looking houses built yesterday, was so packed with tourists that we couldn't even see the trinkets in the airport-style shops, so we succumbed to the city's Bar Street, with its baseball-capped hordes and young Tibetans dressed in colourful garb, belting out the latest ethnic hits in Putonghua.

In one bar we met some Naxi guys and, at last, a game of cards! At 2am, me, L and Naxi Boy were in my hotel room, playing cards and drinking beer. When L left and NB fell asleep in a chair I eased into bed, only to wake up on our last day of the holiday to find my camera gone. Stolen by Naxi Boy.

Inexplicably, there was a note with the guy's name and phone number, saying he took my camera because "I didn't care about him".

So that's one reason I don't feel like going to Yangshuo. Oh, and I really, really don't like organic pancakes.

 

Share

 

Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive