My decision to spend my dream vacation in the corners of South West China, Yangshuo, felt similar to choosing exotic food on a menu, based solely on the name. I was spinning the wheel, randomly trying to pick the correct door behind which a grand prize might lurk. You blindly hope you’re getting something that doesn’t leave you disappointed, and the thought of bagging a pistol, well, isn’t that the motivation behind the risk? Simple probability says it’s likely you’ll miss that one, perfect choice. What are your chances of winning the lottery? Not very high, we’re told. But then, someone is going to win. Logic gives birth to reason. And reason, I couldn’t deny: photos of limestone peaks rising as gods making way for the golden sun. I chose wisely: “door number 3 please”. But reason, sometimes, is a forest fire.
A bus from Guilin is the most popular way of getting to Yangshuo. Some take the Li River by boat, but I didn’t have time to invest in such a venture. The burly bus left me close to West Street where tourists furnish the roads like Indians at a cricket game. I immediately boarded a motorcycle taxi to the Yangshuo Snow Lion Riverside Resort, which rests perfectly on the Li River. As the motorcycle drew me closer to my lodging I felt the breath of Yangshuo slowly inhale my heart. The green land moved across my eyes like a time machine as I stepped into the stories and the lives of ancient China. The unpredictable Karst landscape testified to earth untouched, unharmed by the ticking of the clock. Rice paddies, green and yellow, proudly displayed China’s prize crop. Workers ploughed their fields. Shifting scenery carried on like a movie, one wished had no end. The emergence of the moon’s reflection, bleeding into the Li River, brought awakening to my trance-like state. My guidebook promised a short drive from West Street to the Snow Lion Resort. But numbness in my backside testified to well over five minutes of motorcycle riding. Open tar roads became narrow dusty paths, street lights faded, local village fires blurred my vision, and suddenly then slowly, fear began to move through my veins like a steam locomotive.
I tapped the shoulder of the driver and turned my palms towards the early night sky in petition of this wandering. His head remained steady and stony, dead to my request. I pushed harder this time, on both of his shoulders, with barbaric shouting, into the dirty drum of his ear. A sharp, bony elbow came at me like a boomerang and almost forced me into the fast moving, coffee-brown earth below. Then he turned his head to face me, and pulled up his shirt to show a long, rusty machete hugged by the stale skin of his stomach. I had been warned. Dread bent every organ in my body, horror held me under a sea of panic. I was being kidnapped.
Hesitation succumbed to adrenalin, a wild wind to thoughts of logic. I leaped from the motorcycle onto ground, hard as winter iron, even through the pillow of my backpack. Blood gushing from my wrists, I ran from the path, towards a clutter of mud-walled huts, as fast as panic could move me. Now it was my head, stiff and unyielding to the temptation of glancing behind for a pursuing motorcycle. Opera-like sound became a rushing river, from the cave of my stomach, out of my mouth, then into the sea of humble Chinese ears around me: “Help, help!”
An old man, twisted and bent like a tree, came out from a small house, hurried towards me and reached for my hands. His sight was comforting and the only promise of safety. I followed him into his quiet refuge of a home. He immediately called for his wife, who came with warm water and cloths, to nurse my bloody wrists. None of them knew English and my Chinese was as sparse as shooting stars. But they knew what had happened. They had seen it before. And I knew that I was safe; that they would keep me until morning under their watch and care, to make sure of my peaceful passage from my horror in Yangshuo.