When my old mate Monkey Jane first contacted me to ask if I could help her out with the building of her new place in a little village up the river from Yangshuo, I was immediately attracted. “I can pay you back in one year, with interest” she said. “I’d get it from the bank but I’m 36 and not married so they think something is wrong with me…”
Over the past 13 years of regular visits with friends and family to my spiritual home of Yangshuo, which included a 6-month stay in 2004 working with Chinaclimb, I’ve been very proud to call Jane a great mate. As one of her first guests in the original Monkey Jane’s Guesthouse, it’s been a pleasure to watch her grow her family business over the years, enjoying many great adventures and too many late nights at her infamous rooftop bar.
Through our friendship I knew she wasn’t pulling a fast one on me. She could’ve asked anyone for help. But she came to me first. I had to check it out before anyone else did.
We arrived in Pubutang on motorbikes, Jane ever the tour guide leading us up a freshly laid road up east side of the Li River, passing through the familiar paddy field and karst peak scenery, which after 13 years has never ceased to spellbound me, and all who go before it.
“Welcome to Monkey Beach!” she said. Having just signed a 20 year lease on this property, Jane had been putting the occasional party here, bussing the town’s local foreign and Chinese party crew out for barbecues by the river. While it would never pass for a beach in Australia, I suppose a rocky riverbank is pretty beachy in Yangshuo.
Climbing up the riverbank through the bamboo and empty Liquan beer bottles still left from the last month’s party, the old village school, a once magnificent mudbrick courtyard dwelling came into sight.
Jane’s already put a fair bit of money and work into this place. The roof has been waterproofed and resealed with a partly-built two-room red brick extension jettisoning out the side of the original mudbrick building. But there is plenty more yet to do before anyone will be staying here.
First impressions? I’m blown away by the courtyard house. It’s definitely seen better days, there is still plenty of work yet to be done but like Jane I can definitely see its potential. Old mudbrick and stone has met new redbrick and concrete with a resounding question mark left over how the finished product will look. There is no design, no plan, not even an idea where the kitchen might go.
I’m hooked, I can’t not take on this challenge, but we are going to have to take a step back and slow this ship down a bit. Jane says she has got a 20 year lease, which 10 of the village elders have signed off on…we have some time!
The next day we meet Xiao He, a young local building developer who Jane has enlisted to build it. Xiao He takes us in his new Honda sedan to Pubutang, passing by another similar mud brick guesthouse he has redeveloped recently. I like his work. A lot.
A feast of river fish and local produce, hosted by the village Chief in his modest home is awaiting us at Pubutang. Government officials just also happen to be in town and join us. While I have no way of understanding the local dialect and rely on Jane and my rudimentary mandarin to get me through, I totally get the sense of importance of this first ever foray into tourism has for this village. I feel very much welcomed by them and have a very good feeling about it. I’m definitely interested, lets do this!