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|Essays · Travelogs · Poetry · Comedy · Art · Digifilm||spring 2007|
Death in Yangshuo
Tuesday afternoon, Xiao-Yi's Cafe, Yangshuo ,
I went over my situation with the very cute Xiao-Yi, who is also a travel guide, and decided to go ahead and book a ticket on the overnight sleeper bus to Guangzhou. Xiao-Yi brought me delicious banana pancakes and, though he kept alighting about, taking care of other customers, he sat with me a lot, and we talked. He's 23. From the countryside. Been in Yangshuo a couple of years. Business is good. I notice that 'the Gregalike' is out there in the sidewalk seats. Xiao-Yi indicates him as he says, "You see that guy? He's been in China six months! Studying in Beijing. Speaks Mandarin very well."
I'm not a bit surprised. I ask Xiao-Yi if he knows what his shirt means.
"Yes," he says, in the tone of 'yeah, I know, this is my Dad's old sweater': "Yeah, I know, it's for girls."
Later I ask him if he has a girlfriend.
"No -- no time. Too early."
Right. A guy this cute. He asks me the same. I say no, but make no false excuses.
Xiao-Yi takes me out to the nearby Black Buddha Cave, the Banyan tree, and a snake farm, and does the tour guide thing. All the while I'm aware that the poor guy is exhausted. But he's cheerful and happy to accompany me.
Later, in my determination to unearth the story, I ask him, confidentially, if he knows the English word, "gay." He doesn't, but his ignorance seems manufactured, self-protecting. I try to explain: "that's when, instead of a girlfriend, a guy has a boyfriend."
"What -- it's a girl with two boyfriends?"
I somehow think he is feigning ignorance for his own safety in this oppressive political regime -- there are too many signs, and his English is too good to not know this word -- but I decide not to press it any further.
Still later though, as we're sitting back at his cafe, waiting for the bus, I refuse to let this one go without at least telling him, "You're good-looking."
He's delighted, and thanks me -- but then quickly changes the topic: "Yes, I'd like to travel soon. I think I will be traveling in September."
He gives me his name card -- twice -- and asks that I write to him. I certainly will, if I can find a toehold in Hong Kong. It'd be great to come and visit him in the winter.
While we're sitting there, a truckload of about a dozen Commie-uniformed Chinese young men rolls by and some guy gets out and starts dismantling one of the oversized umbrellas set up over the outside seating area. Immediately Xiao-Yi runs out and starts dismantling the second umbrella and stows it indoors.
"Traffic police," he explains.
"So I've got about 2-1/2 hours before my bus," I say, "What can I do until then?"
He thinks a minute, then proposes a quick local tour, with him as guide. I'm game for that and return to my hotel for shower and shave.
I return and, while we're sitting there waiting for the hired motorcycle, a cadre of siren-swirling vehicles rides by.
"Do you know what that is? The lohyers come."
"Lohwyers? Is that how you say? Last night, the police kill some people," he says, as he makes a rifle gesture.
"Probably they killed somebody. The police only kill bad people. If you kill somebody, the police come and kill you," he apologized.
It wasn't until hours later that I put the pieces together: Sometime in the middle of the previous night, while sleeping deeply in my hotel after that horrible day-long bus ride, I had been awakened by a commotion coming from outside in the street. I heard lots of back-and-forth arguing in Chinese, then an eerie male shriek, and then, utter silence.
David SaiaDavid Saia traveled extensively in Southeast Asia in 1995-96. These travelogs were originally sent out via email to a select group of friends and acquaintances. The collected travelogs, now in manuscript form, are awaiting print publication.