Feb 112009
 

When I arrived in Yangshuo, I had only one intention: find a cheap, pleasant, convenient place to settle down and get some work done (after the fun and chaos of partying away the New Year in Hong Kong). So although the weather was beautiful and the skies unusually blue, I generally forced myself to stay inside. Few laptops have transflective screens, rendering them near useless under the 10,000 luxes of full daylight – so about the best I could do (during particularly bright days) was to sit working on covered patios of outdoors coffee shops.

Still, I didn’t plan to waste the opportunities yielded by staying in a place like Yangshuo. Instead, I intended to get ahead on my work first and only sightsee later, once I was caught up.

Sadly, by the time my stay was coming to an end the weather had taken a turn for the worse…and nearly every day had become foggy and gray. D’oh! I found myself wishing I’d taken Dave up on more of his invitations to head out and explore.

So when an Israeli backpacker* I’d met in the hostel lounge dropped by to suggest a trip to a nearby watercave, I said “why not.”

The Water Cave seemed to be one of Yangshuo’s main attractions, with posters and advertisements plastering the front of every travel agent and tour operator in town.

And it did appear to be pretty cool! Massive caverns, huge sloppy mud pools, and running underground waterfalls…sounds like just my cup of tea.

Still, my day’s companion and I were a little apprehensive at first due to the increasingly cold weather. But the woman at the ticket booth assured us that the temperature inside would actually be quite high.

…which it was. At least, the air was. But that wasn’t what we were worried about. The temperature of the mud, by contrast, was not so high. In fact, it was arctic.

…And do you think that stopped us from jumping in??

Hell no!

After all, we had to get our precious photos 🙂

Rinsing off after our dip was a nightmare. If that water were ONE degree colder it would’ve certainly turned into ice.

But looking back, I’m glad we did it…and the next hour or so of exploring, climbing around in, and photographing those huge caverns was magnificent.


*One thing that’s both very noticeable and quite saddening about virtually every international trip I’ve taken – except to Europe – is the demographic of the travelers. Because after yet another six months abroad, I can honestly say that I don’t recall meeting one single long-term backpacker from the United States. Not one. On the other hand, I’ve met dozens – if not hundreds – from Australia, Israel, Russia, all over Europe, and a few parts of South America.

Why is it that, despite being such a first-world country, we remain so provincially isolated from the rest of the world? And when we do leave our borders, why do we shack up almost exclusively in five-star hotels, completely covering our eyes from what the foreign countries and cultures really have to offer?

I truly believe that if we just stepped outside of our comfort zone a bit more (this does not include staying at the Hilton and watching hotel-organized Kung Fu shows, nor does it include going to other English-speaking countries only marginally different from our own) we could develop such a clearer understanding of the world as a whole…and work to end the less than favorable international perception of us and our ways.

  15 Responses to “A Muddy Mess”

  1. Coool mud photos

    Those bamboo boats are awesome…definitely a must with a date

  2. God…it was soo cold… 😯

  3. Ha ha, you look like Ben Grimm!

  4. Your question about Americans travelling is quite interesting. I thought this myself when I was in Australia( an English-speaking country marginally different then the US, but I think I learned something), and the only reasons I came up with were: 1) Americans get far less time off then do citizens of other nations – not just vacation time, but a lot of times we have to use what precious vacation time we do have on “taking care of business” – sick children, helping relatives, moving, jury duty, etc. The Europeans seem to take long vacations in the summer, like 6 weeks at a time! 2)Members of the Commonwealth of Nations (editorial: why can’t the US join this organization?) can travel to other member nations and work while they are there. This covers Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and a handful of others. 3) You mentioned the desire to visit other cultures – this isn’t as true of Americans, a lot of whom tend to have an insular view of the world. I was distressed to see some of the other Americans acting as the stereotyped “Ugly American” – declaring how much their locale sucked compared to the US, expecting everyone to treat them like royalty because of their American-ness, thinking money solved any problems.
    That’s why I like your blog so much – travelling the way I’d like to do it. Vicarious living at its best.

  5. P: I didn’t even know who that was until I Googled it 😆

    Dave: Interesting perspective. I agree and disagree with some of those points.

    For example, I don’t think that people from the US needing to “take care of business” really has anything to do with their comparative lack of traveling – because these types of commitments exist pretty much anywhere you look. Likewise, I don’t think it’s about the ability to work in other nations because, while some extremely long-term travelers do jump from place to place doing odd jobs along the way, such individuals are in the vast minority. And even so, it’s not at all difficult to secure work permission in most places if you really want to.

    One point I definitely agree with is that we get far less time off than many other countries. But this is partially our choice. We choose higher incomes and longer hours rather than more free time and less cash. The average-sized DVD collection here in the US is more extensive than the largest I’ve seen anywhere else, and I can’t think of a single other place I’ve ever seen so many unnecessarily large vehicles. These types of conveniences are definitely nice, but they come at a cost. One can always prioritize differently if they so choose. So what I wonder is, on a whole, why do Americans so overwhelmingly choose one instead of the other? Why, for every fifty Israeli backpackers I encounter do I only meet one American (keeping in mind that their population is fourty times less than ours)?

  6. I agree with Justin completely. In fact, I was gonna write something similar myself. In addition I might add that the “work and travel” concept in the Commonwealth is a really shitty deal. Many places (like in Australia) they give you about $10 per day(!) and free lodging and food, so it’s generally something people do for the experience.

    I’ve met people whose ten-hour job was to hold a sign on a pole pointing to a shop in an alley.

    And I have several friends in the US who choose to work and not travel at all. Go figure…

  7. I’m afraid to admit it, but I didn’t even know about working under the Commonwealth of Nations. Does that just make me one of those stereotypically oblivious Americans too? 😳

  8. DVD collections are probably only bigger in China 😉

  9. Lol…and for 1000th the price! 😆

  10. “For example, I don’t think that people from the US needing to “take care of business” really has anything to do with their comparative lack of traveling – because these types of commitments exist pretty much anywhere you look.”
    The commitments exist – it’s the disparity in paid time off. Here’s a link: http://money.cnn.com/2007/06/12/pf/vacation_days_worldwide/
    Likewise, I don’t think it’s about the ability to work in other nations because, while some extremely long-term travelers do jump from place to place doing odd jobs along the way, such individuals are in the vast minority. And even so, it’s not at all difficult to secure work permission in most places if you really want to.
    I worked one time in Australia – a hostel owner let me chop and stack some wood for him. Everybody else asked if I had a work visa, which at that time was granted only if you had a sponsor in Aus. to sign for you.
    “One point I definitely agree with is that we get far less time off than many other countries. But this is partially our choice. We choose higher incomes and longer hours rather than more free time and less cash. The average-sized DVD collection here in the US is more extensive than the largest I’ve seen anywhere else, and I can’t think of a single other place I’ve ever seen so many unnecessarily large vehicles. These types of conveniences are definitely nice, but they come at a cost. One can always prioritize differently if they so choose.”
    Every position I’ve held for the last 11 years (4) refused to negotiate vacation time. I offered to take ~ 8 % less salary in exchange for starting at 3 weeks paid, instead of 2, in Montrose. Taking the full vacation would have saved the firm ~ 3000.00 in direct salary, but was refused on the grounds of setting a dangerous precedent. Or maybe my negotiating skills suck.
    So what I wonder is, on a whole, why do Americans so overwhelmingly choose one instead of the other? Why, for every fifty Israeli backpackers I encounter do I only meet one American (keeping in mind that their population is fourty times less than ours)?
    Maybe Americans don’t know any better. Maybe the stress of living in a dangerous place impels Israelis to travel.

  11. Maybe Americans don’t know any better.

    I really think this is the bulk of it 😛

  12. Here’s an idea about the lack of US travellers: Family.

    The US is gigantic compared to most places. Americans aren’t able to easily visit family members who live hundreds of miles away. Thus, instead of running off to see fantastic foreign locales, lots of people are using their precious vacation time to see distant relatives. I know the only vacations my family took when I was young were visits to my family who lived halfway across the country from us.

    Now that I’m working in Japan, my family is the biggest reason I haven’t seen more of Asia yet. If I want to go back to visit family in America now, that wipes out a big chunk of my yearly vacation(and a ridiculously large chunk of cash).

  13. Stuart! Weird coincidence…I JUST checked in on your blog yesterday for the first time in like 6 months, and thought, “I haven’t heard from him for awhile…I wonder if he still reads mine?” And then there you were! I e-mailed you a couple of times about finding an apartment in Osaka but never heard back…

    Still over there in Nee-Hawn?

  14. Sorry about not getting back to the emails. Osaka was a hectic time for me… a point emphasized by the fact that I’m not in Osaka anymore! I’m in Tokyo now working a real job finally. My blog is rather dead…I should really get back to it.

    This is a great blog you’ve got going, so of course I periodically check it. I hope you’ll keep posting even though you’re in the States again.

    …why is my last comment logged from China? Did Japan get taken over when I wasn’t looking?

  15. Hey…no worries 🙂 So ur in Tokyo now, ‘eh? What kind of job? I’ll bet you’re enjoying that superstrong yen they’ve got goin’ over there!

    No idea about the China flag…the geolocation plugin isn’t perfect..and I haven’t updated the IP database for some time…hmmm…

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