Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Paradise Regained

[When we last saw our intrepid explorer, he had bicycled across the surface of the sun...]

I soaked in cold water for awhile back at the hotel to get my body temperature out of triple digits and finally ventured back to West street to find a little dinner around 9pm or so. I picked a place that smelled pretty good and had at least a little air-conditioning. That's where I met Emily. She was a waitress at the Mei You Cafe and when I couldn't decide between duck or pizza (aside: I know they're very dissimilar, but my brain was fried) she recommended the cashew-chicken. (aside: Sorry Heather, I love it.) The place was dead, so she came and sat with me for a bit while I ate, getting up every once in a while so her boss didn't get angry.

Let me digress a moment to discuss oral hygiene. My teeth aren't perfect despite nearly 4 years of orthodontics and, being a tea-drinking southerner, they're not sparkling white. Still, I brush regularly and don't have a problem showing my teeth when I smile. Chinese teeth, on the other hand, are much more utilitarian in nature. In general, they are dingy, worn, snaggly things better left to your imagination than actually seen. I know, I know, it's terribly ethnocentric of me to even mention it, but I'm not saying they're bad people because of their teeth. On more than one occasion I saw a pretty chinese girl who, after smiling back at me, inspired the thought- to paraphrase another popular guy thought- I wouldn't kiss her with your mouth.

Emily's teeth were perfect, straight and shiny. It's funny how you notice the little things. She spoke decent English, having gone to classes, but she's the epitome of small town girl. We talked for several hours and I had to keep my sarcasm in check, since I quickly learned it doesn't translate very well. We exchanged email addresses and occasionally chat via IM, although it's difficult with a 14-hour time difference. (aside: The 1st Yangshuo entry took me nearly 2 hours, since I was chatting with her at the same time.) Her parents are pomelo farmers an hour outside of town and she's socially obligated to send money home to her little brother. She's a beautiful girl, and since I love the "Eww, Mister" response, I'll tell you she's only 18. With barely an 8th grade education, I really don't see much future there, though she always asks when I'm coming back to Yangshuo.

Day 2-
Yangshuo is almost entirely supported by tourism, and wherever there are tourists there are junk stalls. We spent the morning looking at t-shirts and knick-knacks then stopped at a cafe along the Yu Long river that runs through town to sample the local delicacy: River snails. I've never had escargots, so I can't compare, but these were a lot like garlic-butter sautéed calamari. Oh yeah, there was the egg-sac. I don't know if it was the time of year, but the snails were with child. A thin membrane concealed a dozen or so tiny snail-lets with crunchy little shells.

While sitting in the cafe we got to see one of the local fishermen paddling up the river with his cormorant on the back of his raft. For those who aren't familiar, the traditional fishermen of this part of China are fascinating. They raise and train cormorants to do the fishing for them. At the fisherman's instruction, the bird will dive into the water and catch a fish, flipping it up onto the raft with it's beak. Often, the bird has a metal ring fitted around its throat so that it couldn't swallow a large fish if it wanted to. Instead, the bird gives the fish to the man, who often cuts off a piece small enough for it to swallow. This is something worth seeing to believe.

We piled into a taxi to Guilin Airport for a flight to Hong Kong. Since were were officially leaving the People's Republic the departure tax was an extra 40 RMB (US$5). (aside: Although now returned to China, Hong Kong is in what they call a Special Economic Zone. US Citizens do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong.) I don't remember whether we got to the airport early or whether the flight was delayed, but I do remember we spent an inordinate amount of time in this tiny airport. Guilin is pretty far off the beaten path, but there were a number of westerners waiting for the same flight to Hong Kong. One particularly attractive couple waiting for the flight was probably on their honeymoon, and the woman was the spitting image of Missy. I couldn't stop sneaking peeks of her playing with her husband's hair as they waited. One passenger was an American of Indian/Pakistani descent who introduced himself as an economics professor from Columbia University. Having just finished my first macro/microeconomics course, we discussed the chinese economy. Little did I know we would see him again...

[Next: Hong Kong]


At 5:06 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

I'm not too sure about the crunchy baby snails thing. I think I'll avoid Chinese escargots, even though I've managed to eat practically everything that has been presented to me so far in this 'we'll eat anything!' country, including grasshoppers (or were they locusts?). There's something about the combination of 'crunchy' and 'baby' that I find... difficult.

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

Jethro found the same oral/dental problems in Vietnam. He said mothers would ram their pretty daughters at him, and he was cool with it until they smiled. I have a feeling the dental issues are what saved him for me.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Theic- I wasn't so crazy about the baby shells either, so I scraped that part off. I don't think I'd order the snails again, but it's the local delicacy (read: dare) so I couldn't not get them.

Zelda- It wasn't your teeth, darlin'. It was your big bountiful destiny. ;)

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Allie#3ga said...

glad to see you're back with us safe and sound .. and yeah i did the "EW MISTER" on the crunchy and baby part myownself.

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Seven said...

hey! glad you're back!
now for some readin' hehe


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