It’s late in the evening in Yangshuo, China and after a busy day sightseeing and climbing the surrounding landscape to catch a glimpse of the breathtaking limestone monoliths, I am tired, grumpy and sweating from the unexpected humidity. My hotel bed is calling me, and the desire to sit in the air conditioning is overwhelming.
I realise that tonight is my last evening in Yangshuo, and I am yet to experience the late night atmosphere of West Street. “Watch your bags, pockets and cameras”, the guide says. This always makes me hesitate.
Each step I take to scale the steps of the pedestrian overpass causes my muscles to scream in pain. At the top I catch a glimpse – in all directions I can see the majestic landscape – with the evening mist and sparse lighting, the shadows of the looming mountains make me shiver. I feel like I am a world away, in a different land where I’d expect to see dinosaurs.
On the other side of the overpass I stop to take in my surrounds. The path takes a gentle slope towards a confused mix of cultures. Closest to me there is a scattering of ladies with their leftover fruit they haven’t sold today. The choice of berries, bananas and mangosteens bombards me. Further on there is a gathering of tourists – taking selfies with West Street behind them. In the distance is too much for my senses. I can hear dance music, smell fried food and see blazing neon lights. Intrigued, I head into the chaos.
With my bag gripped tightly I take my first steps into the crowd. A couple of metres in and I am shoved; I have selfie sticks in my face; I have store workers trying to sell their goods, yelling to compete with the store across the path who just happen to be selling the same products.
In this pedestrian street there is no place to stop and take in your surrounds. The crowd gently moves you along – it is safer to move with the flow than to resist. I manage to stop and watch some salespeople at work. They are neatly positioned in front of their shops, battering silver and crushing some sort of plant to turn into candy. Next door I look inside to see a dimly lit restaurant with a handful of romantics trying to enjoy dinner. I have no idea how they can hear each other talk; between the crowd noise of the street; the stalls with their salespeople who have microphones and the uniquely placed nightclub across the street.
I walk another few minutes and stop briefly to find my water in my bag. That’s when I look up and see him. He stands, in the middle of the street amongst the chaos. I am captivated as his eyes lock on mine. The crowd flurries around us, but we are both standing there, a few metres apart, just watching each other. I can barely hear the sound of his traditional flute; since it’s wisped away in the evening breeze. For a few moments, time stood still. I am amazed at the contrast of what is in front of me, which in essence is the story of China – a land of contrasts and variety.
After what seemed like minutes, but in reality was probably seconds; I smile; nod in acknowledgement and continue on.