A little bit more about Omeida before I start in on Yangshuo itself.
The number of students at the school to study Chinese was pretty small. While we were there, there was just a handful of us compared to the large number of English students. The beginner’s course was only Roman and I and a lovely young woman from the Ukraine named Anna. So Becky could give us lots of individual attention during our lesson (much to Roman’s chagrin I think. 😉 )
The number of English students was much higher however. If we’d been staying for a longer, more comprehensive course, we would have taken advantage of the school’s offer of a study buddy – where we could practice our Chinese with a native speaker in exchange for helping them with their English.
We had the opportunity to run into most of the students every day at lunch, which was served cafeteria style (to complete the full back-to-school experience for me 😉 and was awesome. Simple but simply wonderful Chinese dishes – always with plenty of delicious vegetable options that I was of course thrilled about – and white mountains of steaming self-serve rice.
Another thing that the school is good at is field trips and activities. Yangshuo and the surrounding area have plenty of lovely natural and cultural sights to see and they’ll regularly organize group outings at the weekend. The school also hosts activities; while we were there we got to try our hand at a bit of traditional Chinese calligraphy. Our teacher made it look a lot easier in her demonstrations than it actually is, but I loved it, even if I wasn’t that good at it. 😉
We’d been a bit jaded by our experiences at tourist towns in Vietnam, and we were worried that we’d find parts of China to be similar – with interactions tending towards transactional, pushy, cold or downright unfriendly or dishonest. I was so relieved to find myself feeling genuinely welcome in Yangshuo.
Yangshuo is a very small city by Asian standards and we found it easy to navigate and a comfortable, accommodating place to spend a few weeks (although the course lasted two weeks, we stayed on for longer in order to extend our visas and see a bit of the countryside in good weather, since things were wet and cold while we were learning Chinese).
With a population of about 300,000, it’s got more small town charm than big city bustle. It’s a major tourist destination, so there are plenty of decent restaurants to choose from, not to mention useless, kitschy souvenirs to buy. But once you get away from the touristy strip it is just a normal town and quite a nice one at that.
Within days of our arrival, we’d get waves and smiles from the shopkeepers on the street round the corner which we would walk every day after class to head into town for a coffee or dinner. We became regulars at a few places – a fantastic corner fruit stand, a little general store and, my favorite, the stationery shop – where the vendors were wonderfully friendly and willing to speak slow, well-enunciated Chinese with us as we fumbled along trying to practice the day’s lessons.
I’ll write more about the touristy things to do in Yangshuo in another post, but suffice to say, as a place to spend a few weeks to get an introduction to Chinese and China, it was a great choice.