Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Weekend in Guizhou - Saturday

We had a great itinerary - of that much I felt confident.  Having worked with many agents, and taken many short trips with children, I had some idea what type of schedule would fly for our family.  This agent had worked with us to create something my children could do.  And room for naps bodes well for a happy traveling family.

We arrived on Friday night after a simple 2.5 hour flight.  The lovely Vivian, our guide for the weekend, met us at the airport and directed us straight to the car.  Dressed for a chilly Shanghai evening, we began peeling off layers immediately as the late evening weather in Guizhou was humid and warm.  The van was comfortable, the driver was friendly, and so we entered Guiyang traffic for the 30 minute drive to the hotel.  We were settled in our spacious and clean room at the Royal Hotel by 11:00pm and each of us drifted quickly to sleep.

Saturday began with the hotel's buffet breakfast.  Guizhou province is a center for tourism, but very few Western tourists ever delve this deeply into rural China and so we were worried about the spread.  Even the most adventurous eater rarely feels up to something new over their breakfast.  Our worries were for naught, as each of us found plenty to enjoy at the breakfast buffet.  A full Chinese breakfast buffet, they served fresh noodles and dumplings, corn cakes and boiled eggs, loads of fresh fruit and plenty of cooked vegetables, and (of course) fried rice.  We feasted before entering the car for the first leg of our weekend road trip.

This evening we would be spending back at the same hotel, so our first road trip day would be more of a day trip.  The traffic in Guiyang made this the only error in our otherwise immaculately planned weekend.  Cars inched out of town, and our centrally located hotel now seemed like an unwise choice.  The drive to a small, local minority village should have taken 40-60 minutes and instead lasted closer to 2 hours.  However, with children's music CDs and bright eyes we took advantage of the time to study the passing scenery.

Hardly beautiful, Guiyang is the capital city of Guizhou province.  It is known as the mountain city because steep hills rise up all over the city, bringing welcome spots of green where buildings could no longer cling to the steep ground.  The trees notwithstanding, Guiyang is not a beautiful city.  Industrial, grey, dirty and less than modern, the city would have felt depressing had it not been for the bright rays of sunshine that cheerful spring day.  

With a population of 3.5 million people in a rather small area, buildings go straight up and life occurs on the street.  We passed simple shops without storefronts, selling industrial sized coils of wire, baskets holding live chickens, shining displays of shoes, and eventually plots of strawberries and decorative plants.

As the buildings diminished, the highway began to parallel a river winding along the hills.  At the edge of the road people sold baskets filled with bright red strawberries.  Behind the stands were fields with rows and rows of little red spots growing on the ground, the rows pointing straight to the winding river which hugged the sudden hills on the other side.  The further from the grey of the city, the more beautiful the scenery became.  Simple and agrarian, it felt peaceful next to the grime of Guiyang and Shanghai.

We arrived in Qingyan with two kids ready to run and two adults ready for something new.  
Dating back to the 1300s, this villae was originally built as preparation for war and has an intact city wall surrounding the village.  The stone buildings within the walls match the exterior, giving the town a unique grey stone feeling.  Although many people still live in the town, most seem to make their incomes off of selling gadgets and snacks on the main path.  Lanes made up of steps were lined with stalls selling trinkets and cheap toys, beautiful minority dolls, batiks and simple dresses, bone combs and loads of snacks.  We couldn't find anything sweeter than a gummy sweet potato for the girls, but we found a profusion of hot chilis.

Minorities dressed in rented costumes stood photographing themselves on the city wall.  And although most people had come to see these Chinese minorities, our girls became quick attractions as well.  The town felt overly touristed and crowded to us, and the girls were bored and intimidated by their celebrity status.

On the long ride back to town, we stopped at a noodle stand near our guide's university and ate beef noodles - one of the local specialties.  We each enjoyed slurping our noodles and Coke, and then piled back in the car with hopes for returning to the hotel for naps.

We returned to the hotel late.  After riding in the car for too long, the girls had no interest in sleeping.  Really, neither did Dave and I.  We rested for as long as we could, and then packed ourselves up for a walk around town.  One of Dave's co-workers had recommended a place for dinner, and since we had seen enough of Guiyang traffic we decided to walk.  The route we chose kept us off of the busy streets, instead walking down a food street which precious few cars and plenty of stands piled high with brightly colored fruits and vegetables, butcher stalls with meat
standing pre-cut in the open air, and gatherings of small wooden tables with propane tanks connected to large metal bowls dropped in the center for hot pot.

The "Snack Street" we had sought may have had its name lost in translation - maybe the name Jin Lusheng doesn't mean snack street at all, for that matter.  Hardly a street, this indoor space more resembled a Singaporean hawker center.  It was clean and bright, well organized and easy to follow.  No one spoke or posted in English.  In fact, we never saw another Caucasian family our entire stay in Guizhou.  Smooth brown wooden tables stood in clean lines filling the space in the middle.  Each table had chopsticks, salt and 3 types of chilis in the condiment tray.  We had a ball, sampling our old favorites like steamed buns, fried dumplings and freshly pressed watermelon juice.  A co-worker of Dave's hails from Guiyang and recommended the restaurant and his favorite local snack - chang wang noodles.  The noodles compared to ramen and the sauce was oily and full of chillis.  It had a tasty flavor, but the oil was too much for me.  I enjoyed the simpler fried rice full of fresh chilis.  Those Guizhou chili have a great flavor - and now I'm wishing I'd stocked up to bring some home!

On our walk home, we choose a different route.  This time we stuck to the major roads, finding them covered with food as well.  These stands held formica tables in bright orange and white, simple bulbs hanging from the metal awnings above.  The food displayed directly to the street, pushing pedestrians into traffic as the sidewalk was covered with tables and display cases.  The stands kept our interest, as people grilled and boiled beautiful arrays of bright vegetables, fish coated in chili sauce, and lovely piles of meat, chicken and beef.  The aromas of each items hitting the grill filled our noses and made us begin to regret our choice for dinner.  

That is, until we realized what the 4th meat was.

Many stands would display a long tail as one of their delicacies, right next to a pile of leg bones.  They say that people in south China will eat anything with four legs except the table, and we did not see many stray dogs in town.  Once we realized we were studying dog carcasses, we sped quickly home, having lost our appetites entirely.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Oh my! I hope the girls didn't figure it out!