Wanderlust for Wild Places

阳朔 (Yangshuo)


I’ve said it before, but Yangshuo is a special place.

It is not typical China. Being as beautiful as it is, it attracts tourists from not only the rest of China, but also the rest of the world, and as such, for it’s size it has a high number of ex-pats living there.

It is also an easy place to live. Most people speak English and those who don’t are used to dealing with people who don’t speak Mandarin.

This was my second time in Yangshuo. The first time was in December 2015 when I spent 2 and a half weeks there as I travelled through China on my way to Thailand. I was completely struck by the place and was left with a yearning to return.

Returning felt like coming home. Albeit, things had changed, mostly the people. But it was still a captivating place, and a lot of my friends from along my travels were also in Yangshuo, so I was more than happy to be back.

This time I lived as a volunteer in Zhouyue English School to start with. It is essentially a boarding school for adults who want to improve their English, and they come for a number of months from all over China to learn and practice. In return for teaching conversational English Monday-Thursday evenings 6-8pm in Zhouyue’s English Corner, volunteers get a free bed in a dormitory and two free meals a day Monday-Friday. It’s a pretty good deal and what’s even better is that it is the perfect opportunity to get to know Chinese people from all around the country.

I really enjoyed living there and probably would have stayed had the Landlord of our dormitory building had not come to die in our lobby.

Yes, you read that correctly.

One morning, I walked down the stairs of our dormitory building to find a makeshift bed set up in the reception area, with a man under the covers. He had an oxygen mask and an intravenous drip, so it was clear he was not well, but I just assumed it was a temporary arrangement, thinking perhaps he was a local man who had not been able to get to hospital so they had made a temporary place for him there.

Later that day I found out that in fact, he had come to the building to die. You see, it is good fortune in Chinese culture to die on one’s own land, so he had come to the land he owned to pass away. I, and the rest of the students and volunteers in the building, felt quite unsettled by this and we all swiftly moved to other accommodation that school hurriedly rented.

Sometimes living in China feels so normal that it takes something like this to remind you just how different it is to the UK!

Not knowing how long this would go on for I looked elsewhere for other accommodation and found, through a friend and long-term resident of Yangshuo, another opportunity to live for free in my own room in return for two hours of teaching English to the owner of the hotel per day.

So I moved here instead.

It was a good deal, but also only temporary as Lulu, the hotel owner, was expecting her second child and was due soon.

it was also the first time I had taught one on one English lessons and I soon discovered that it is quite exhausting and much harder work than group lessons.

I moved once more in my time in Yangshuo. I lived in my friend’s house for my final two weeks, while she and her partner were away, looking after their adorable cat “Erji”.

Yangshuo is an amazing place for a foreign face and I was lucky enough to pick up work as a climbing guide and also in a bar. Freelance guiding work is sporadic, but surprisingly well paid. Working in a bar is less well paid but meant that I didn’t pay for many drinks, and combined with free accommodation in return for teaching English, meant that my time in Yangshuo was incredibly cheap.

It felt good to be in a place where I just felt that I was able to live “normal” life. I worked a bit, ate at friends’ houses and hung out in bars, went swimming in the river, on short and slightly longer cycling trips and climbed.

Inevitably I felt sad to leave, and otherwise would not have, except that I had a very good reason to. In a few weeks I will be reunited with my family, who are flying to Thailand for a holiday. What better reason to leave a place you love than to go see people you love?