Saturday, June 25, 2011

Yangshuo, China

Every time I am in China, there comes the time to splurge on a 5-star hotel. On a four-day trip to Yangshuo, an hour's taxi from Guilin (see photo above, on approach) and three-hour flight from Beijing, I selected the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. A western-style dining room, baked cookies served on arrival and spying a New Yorker jarred my Asian immersion, momentarily. Spacious quarters, ambling gardens and room lights that could only be activated by remote control corrected the disjunction: indeed, this is China.

Men rowing long bamboo rafts with chairs affixed floated past my balcony on the clear and gentle Yulong River. No greater luxury than a motorcycle taxi to purchase a ticket and be rowed gently downstream, mountains looming around. Have your photo taken here, eat some beer fish there, beckoned small, river-based business as our raft drifted past. Natural waterfalls puncutated the meandering pace of the raft, sometimes suddenly, drenching us, other times gently. It reminded me of the rocking pace of Disneyland rides as a child: Pirates of the Carribean, particularly. I wonder how many Disney designers traveled to Asia--seems so many of their ideas germinate here.

What I love about China, and for that matter Los Angeles, is the natural abundance in landscape. There does not seem to be any limits to what the land will do. Pine trees growing out of rock? No problem. Water, mountain and desert combined? Why not? In Yangshuo, the karst mountains loomed irregularly from the river, creating a Flintstones-like terrain I cannot wait to paint. Above, the views from my room are still beautiful, photographed on an iPhone in the raw, hot middle of the day. Yet, it was on a night motorcycle ride that the views were most amazing: the mountains' shapes reflected in the river, moonlight glowing, seen at a glimpse as we sped past, the engine of the motorcycle the only noise one heard.

Yuan Dynasty painters and their commitment to landscape as a mode of resistance to unwelcome political rule led to some of the greatest painting in China. Wandering was not simply a matter of spiritual seeking, but an active choice for freedom, to live as one wished beyond the confines of institutionalized demands. Yet, wandering is also practical in my experience of China. Each time I go, the landscape opens itself to deeper exploration, like chapters in a book. One place summons an association to another place, or demands more time spent than I have. There is never just one landscape and never just one reason to wander.

1 comment:

Ann Knickerbocker said...

Beautiful sketches... they live up to their inspiration!