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There is a simple joy in being entertained. The younger me would sit back on the end of my bed, eyes filled with excitement while immersed in a video game. However, there are times when what is designed to entertain captures our mind, our imagination, and our heart.
It is here that I must move on to the topic of today — Shenmue. For the uninitiated, Shenmue is an unfinished martial-arts video game from Sega. Set in Japan during the 1980s, it defies typical genre labeling and has developed a cult following. However, unlike many cult classics, this game was not subject to a small budget or limited marketing release. In fact, Shenmue had ground-breaking graphics and features for the time and was reminiscent of the big-budget, open-world games that we see today.
Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the visual feast, it was the presentation of a new culture that grabbed the heart of my 12-year-old self. Playing Shenmue was like peering through a window into the far East. As the protagonist Ryo’s adventure had him slowly understanding Chinese folklore, learning martial arts, and interacting with everyday Yokosuka, Japan, I was fully immersed in this experience as the player. It compelled me to one day visit the locations explored in Shenmue. That journey, very much unlike our beloved series, is finally complete.
Now, I present my journey into the real-life locations of Shenmue, sprawling two countries, four plane trips, and three trains!
Note: I would like to point out that I visited the locations in reverse order and will present them as so. I will be embedding a few pictures but will link to the full photo albums.
First stop: Guilin
Guilin is the last stop of Ryo’s journey and the first of mine. Needless to say, I was excited — not only because Guilin is the setting for this wonderful game but also because it is considered one of the most beautiful areas in China, its scenery gracing China’s 20 Yuan note. It’s hard to argue when you see it in person.
The first thing I am struck by is how big Guilin is. Shenmue doesn’t actually present any of Gulin city itself and doesn’t lead you to believe that it is a city of over 4 million. This is why the most iconic pictures in my collection are from Yangshuo, a smaller town with better views of the mountains.
After arriving in Guilin Airport and managing to find a bus, I was left in central Guilin with no idea where my hostel was. I spent 30 minutes in a taxi trying to find my would-be residence. Eventually, with the help of some locals and the realization that I was in possession of my hostel’s phone number, I found my way. I arrived and was greeted by this forklift parked directly outside. As those who have played Shenmue well know, a forklift is heavily prominent in the game, and I knew it was a sign.
So I was finally here. I was excited but tired. Traveling does that for some reason. So I grabbed some late night KFC (yes, KFC — they omitted that from Shenmue, funnily enough) and rested my head for the night in wait for the big day ahead.
In Guilin, I made several excursions, namely to Elephant Trunk Hill and the Reed Flute Cave. If you are in the area, try the Guilin specialty of udon noodles and beer-cooked fish, which you can select from the tank outside!
That’s me in Guilin. P.S. — getting a haircut in a country where you don’t speak the language can surprisingly result in some half-decent results.
Elephant Trunk Hill in Guilin.
Reed Flute Cave, reminiscent of Shenhua’s father’s cave.