As one of China’s high speed trains winds through the southern countryside, passengers begin to roll up the window curtains and turn their heads. Sharp, ancient-looking mountains, veiled in fog, rise taller and taller, breaking up the surrounding farmland. As the train chugs to a halt, an ominous feeling creeps over the wide-eyed passengers. At every point the train stopped before, a huge train station stood at attention and even skyscrapers could be seen in the distance, but not at this stop. In fact, there’s nothing at this stop- nothing but peaks of mountains towering above the small train platform. The train doors open and an underground passageway exits to a ticket booth and a line of buses.
Welcome to Yangshuo Station- the gateway to China’s Secret City.
You’re not in Yangshuo yet, though. This is just as close as the railway line could get to the hidden city. The bus will take you an hour even deeper into the mountainous area until you reach what seems to be a small civilization marked off by a couple elegant rivers and a few main roads.
But, although this is a petite town of only one gas station, Yangshuo is far from being a ghost town. Look closer at the hundreds of scooter drivers whizzing by you. Many of them are from nowhere near here, some of them even coming from the other side of the world. Its a strange feeling- yet an exciting one, to tilt your head down from staring at the surrounding green mountains, and think that these people call this sanctuary home. Its almost a bonding feeling, the kind that might be experienced among those who share a most wonderful type of secret.
Perhaps it may not be completely fair, though, to call Yangshuo “China’s Secret City.” After all, Yangshuo is a major tourist destination for Chinese people and known country-wide as a “Paradise Under Heaven.” But since Yangshuo is a developed town with countless English teaching opportunities, over 20 international restaurants run by foreigners, and even its own Chinese Academy for foreigners, its natural for a newcomer to wonder “Why hadn’t I heard of this place before?” And especially for those who have already taught English or studied in China before:
“Why did I spend so much time in Beijing and Shanghai when I could have been here all along?”
Indeed, there are those who, for other reasons, choose the gargantuan urban centers and prefer to live in the shadow of a skyscraper rather than reside at the foot of Yangshuo’s green giants. But for the adventurous soul, the one longing for the Saturday morning rock-climbing with friends, the Sunday evening open musical jam session at a local restaurant, and the Tuesday evening football match beneath a nearby cliff- it may seem for this adventurer that the seasons and places lived before this were but stops on a journey that led them to, what they might eventually call, home.
Or, at least for a little while. 😉