“Let’s go walk about, you never know what you’ll find”, I recited one of our travel mantras. “No, we’re not going”, the boys repeated their part of this daily routine as on queue. We were used to it by now. You hope kids will be as excited about traveling as you are, but the younger ones simply want to play, preferably on a screen. In the end of course they always have a good time. So we packed everybody in a taxi and left for town anyway.
West Street in Yangshuo used to be a backpackers haven, but with China rising and local tourism soaring backpackers have moved down the road to the village of Xingping. We arrived during Golden Week, when all Chinese had vacation and 475 million domestic tourists moved around the country. Yangshuo city received it’s fair share and West Street looked like a waving field of flowers, as local tourists made their way past the shops shielding themselves from the heavy rain with colorful umbrellas. The unrelenting rain was a result of typhoon Mujigae, which had unexpectedly touched down in Southern China, but we were so disconnected from the news we didn’t even realize it was a typhoon we were experiences. We joined the crowd, wet, but unconcerned.
Usually before we approach a souvenir shop, or a street full of them, I recite another one of our travel mantra “Experiences, not Stuff.” We have a zero-souvenir policy because if you are traveling for a year, you can simply not buy something everywhere you go. This time, I was so busy keeping track of my kids, and trying to stay dry under my miserly umbrella that I had forgotten to recite the mantra. The rain seemed to have washed away our memory of our “Don’t eat on the street” mantra as well and we ended up sampling cane juice and coconut juice, bought passion fruits and walnut cakes and we warmed up in a local restaurant without reviews or recommendations. We thought it reassuring that our plates arrived wrapped in cellophane, but the fish tanks situated in the restrooms installed less confidence. “At first I was scared to eat the chicken because it still had it’s head, but it was actually delicious”, I overheard my eight-year-old open a Facetime conversation with a friend about our lunch there.
“Mom”, suddenly this same eight-year-old was hopping up and down in a puddle. “You always say ‘Experiences, not stuff’ so I want to spend my allowance on that!”. He pointed to two giant egg-shaped chairs with Chinese kids in them wearing VR goggles. The chairs were moving and a big sign promised a 6D experience. Of course I didn’t mean giant-screens and VR goggles when I said experiences trump stuff, but he went on enthusiastically: “You were right, if you walk around you DO find the most interesting and unexpected adventures.” It seemed that I was defeated in my own game. I went over to the cashier and paid for two tickets. There was nothing Chinese about the VR game, but it made my sons believers in their mother’s silly travel mantras. “Although my feet got soaked, this was the best day of my life”, my eight-year-old glowed as I tucked him in that night.