Tim and I Went to Yangshuo.

Yes, indeed. I’d meant to write about that while the experience was still fresh and sticky on my fingers.

Yangshuo, along with neighboring Guilin, is centered in what is often thought of as the classic Chinese landscape, with the classic Chinese mountains. Referred to as “karsts” in our Lonely Planet, they are not proper mountains – masses of rock forced outward by tectonic movements – but rather the results of constant erosion. What look like jutting, bulbous mountaintop towertops everywhere indicate where the ground once was, and what feels like lowest valley floor is actually the lowest level to which it’s eroded.

Tim and I arrived by train around 7am (let’s say). The sky was dense with mist, accentuating the intense visual awareness of depth of field already created by the karst-struck landscape around whose forms the city is arranged. Once we got outside of town, Tim and I put words to what felt so different: not only were we surrounded by immeasurable greenness but the air itself tasted green. We hadn’t tasted unpolluted air in nearly 8 months.

After stumbling upon and quickly signing into Fun Sam’s (American-style) Bed & Breakfast, well outside of town, Tim and I went wandering Northward with an almost entirely detailless tourist map, a pocket phrasebook, and a couple raincoats. We quickly ditched the roads, passing over a lake, through a narrow pass, down into a village that felt as if it could have been nestled there between three karsts’ slopes for centuries. We took our time, getting to know our world.

Tim said, “Of course people who lived here would believe in taoism.” He’d just started one of my recent favorite books, Alan Watts’s The Way of Zen.

I said, “Living here, nobody would ever come up with linear perspective.”

Only perspective I can gain is

that perspective is

a verb rather than a noun,

And that its motion

is whimsical, rather than undular.

We walked through woods and fields, over irrigation to the river, crossed the river on a bamboo boat, and walked along the river side of the river where very many graves and shrines were being visited for the ancestor-honoring Qingming Festival.

Fireworks in the mist.

We crossed the river by bridge, drank tea and ate lunch by the water, and walked through the most rural landscape either of us had ever seen, on increasingly wet and winding, and eventually absent, paths. We walked for hours and ended up in a somewhat remote town northwest of Yangshuo. I believe we paid somebody to drive us to town in her family car.

On our first day we walked something like 12 kilometers north of town. On our second, we biked more than 15 southward. As much as there was to feel, there is little to say. It was perfect. We went to an enormous ancient banyan tree. We went to Moon Hill, where I rested in the cafe and finished reading RAW’s Prometheus Rising after five intense months. We went to a cave, explored the innards of a karst, and let moisture drip on our heads and hands. I am become stalagmite. We biked home, on what really looked like it would be a shortcut which eventually put us in utter, natural, moonless darkness with several kilometers to go and hearing the most overwhelming and uncanny orchestracophany of what we might as well call insects.

We made it back safely; and on our last day in town, we rested. We sat around at our B& B, at the Twin Peaks Cafe, at another cafe, in a park, on the river.

Dreaming to the sounds of the Li River,
I startle awake to a blaring horn,
that I hear 1 second later.
Ripple preceding current.

At 8pm on the third day, we caught our bus home, which dropped us off on the edge of a desolate Guangzhou at 3am, from whence we had to take a 45-minute cab, a 2-hour rest in a lobby for a 1-hour train ride homein time to shower, drink two pots of coffee, and read about James Joyce’s process of formulating Finnegans Wake before a full day of work, at some late point in which I wrote down that

I feel all the harmony
of a madman’s eyes
and wisdom’s chortle.
Or perhaps in unverse:
I am blissdom,
hear me secret

and then

Who me?
I’m a hypedelic hepcat
Cavorting through time travels and dime novels,
I escaped from the future
To put the pasts to peace,
the right to laughing,
and the left to rights.

I have slept about 14 times since then, but I have felt largely the same. I am really just very well these days. The weather’s changed rapidly and I have yet another new relationship building with the mountains around my school. I spent the next week incapable of doing anything other than read. I read the last 250-some enormous pages and 20 or so years of James Joyce’s biography in 5 days. I spent the weekend getting sick and using the opportunity of sitting inside nursing myself to catch up on a lot of backed-up business, personal work and homework. The next week largely went to drawing a mural on blank papers that now take up a whole wall of my living room.This weekend I celebrated a fabulous Erismas with my friends, a bacchanalia lasting from the Friday night sabbath on Thursday to sunrise Saturday morning.

I’ve been spending as much time as possible outdoors, celebrating storm season. I’ve also a nefound awareness of the left nape of my neck, thanks to my first ever dangly earring. I’ve been continuing to challenge my small, mechanical prejudices by enjoying sport, wearing flip-flops, and listening to screamo with my friend Hugh, who is an enthusiast.

Meaningful things I’ve done in school include teaching William Butler Yeats and Margaret Atwood to my literature class and screening three of my favorite French movies to my film class (Zazie on the Metro, Stolen Kisses, Amelie).

– – – – – – –

Having finished James Joyce and Prometheus Rising as well as my mural, I feel a new lease on reading. In the last 2 days, I have finished a book on Chinese history that I started in January and Emerson’s Nature, which I started 2 years ago, and read the first quarter of E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. I am including a fragment I jotted down as a tangent to the latter book, since I think a few people who read this will be interested.

Spirituality, and what I think of as its necessity, are based in any understanding of self as exhaulted, exhaultible, infinite in potential as much as in mystery; as marvelous. And in this recognition is carried the same recognition of value, and equally importantly of indefinability in all others.

This type of thought has been fostered by atheist and agnostic and christian humanism, by ecology, by quantum mechanics, by radical impetus of surrealism, through microcosmic study of impressionism, by communty-based and voice-respecting impulses in feminism, by oral history, by pure psychology, even by exploring the malleability of human identity/consciousness on the non-material plane of the internet.

Neither religion nor atheism is a problem. Those brands of either which relegate the self (and, in tow, all others) to mechanical simplicity, to statistical definability, to material appeasement, to cynical entrapment, or to any other manner of seeing the self as subject to anything so impersonal – Grand Abstractions – as a state, church, corporation or ideology before being subject to itself and its direct corrolaries – Grand Presences like community, environment, behavior, bliss, output (creative output, functional output, violent output, pleasurable output, spectacular ouput, pollutant output, and its accompanying effects).

Without wonder, and thus without uncertainty, we cannot feel what Schumacher calls “the stillness of liberation” from “that soul-destroying meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work [which] is an insult to human nature [and] which must necessarily and inevitably produce either escapism or aggession” (39). Something which spirituality makes essential – in taoist acting non-action and in post-structuralist self-determinism – is the recognition that everything we do can be remarkable, and likewise that the grandiloquence of modern material living is much more laughable than are the paultry efforts of a woman to make a clay cup or a child to climb a tree.

Paradoxically, the result of such small-scale aggrandisement is cosmic humility.


One Response to “Tim and I Went to Yangshuo.”

  1. Fred Says:


    “I’d meant to write about that while the experience was still fresh and sticky on my fingers.”

    You’re a disgusting man, College Stanhill.

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