HK&C: Day 5: Rainy Yongzhou

The rains fell well through the night, with the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard. I don’t think I’ve ever been so startled by thunder, really. The power went out around 0130, which left little for one unable to sleep to do besides really hope the power, and the glorious air conditioning it provided,would return.

We slept late, and as such, most of the breakfast vendors had already closed up by the time we mustered out, but we secured some of the fried wonton-y things, which I learned are a specialty pancake of one of the local minorities. and some fruit and headed back home for more Bust a Move, having officially tapped the vein.
Kiely and some of his students.

A group of my brother’s students and scheduled to come by to say goodbye and to give him a gift, and right on time at 1030, there was a knock at the door from a gaggle of girls. They came bearing a few extremely thoughtful gifts: a Chinese knot for good luck, some calligraphy, and a small notebook in which members of the class had each written a well-wishing note. Among my favorite notes were one where a student mentions Kiely’s left handedness (students in China are required to be right handed) and another which spoke of his, “golden eyelashes”. This gave me plenty of material to tease him.

A lot of my brother’s best students are female. According to Kiely, a lot of his female students work harder, and many have expressed that their parents would have been happier if they were boys. It’s a distressing thing to hear that any parent would be any less than thrilled to have any of these girls as their child. 

A Classroom –
the students are studying

Mid-day came, and we headed out for lunch again to the place of cabbage and chicken head. Today’s meal of beef and potatoes, sweet and sour pork, and eggplant may have been my favorite. The sweet and sour pork was different from that which I’ve had to date. It was less sticky and sugary.

After lunch, my campus tour continued from the prior day, and I got to see inside of the University buildings, including my brother’s classrooms.
Then, having been advised that I had truly seen it all, we headed back to Kiely’s to play yet more Bust a Move. This is where the tournament begins. We played for nearly three hours. Don’t worry, we can stop playing, really.
The Bus!

We had dinner plans that evening with two of my brother’s best students, Jessie and Emily, and we met them at the school gate at 1845, before heading into the city via bus. They brought me moon cakes, which was a wonderful surprise. The only time I had eaten moon cake before was in New York, and I hadn’t particularly enjoyed it, but these were delicious.

Dinner was excellent. We let the girls do the ordering. One of the restaurant managers kept coming up and just staring at us, so I did all one can really do and smile.

*Pigs Feet!*

The first dish arrived, and Emily advised that we should ask for gloves because it was much easier and neater that way. We each received a plastic glove, and indeed, so much ease! I took my first bite. It was flavorful and fatty, but not in a greasy way. I rightly assumed it to be pork.
 When I asked Jessie what the dish was called, expecting the name in Mandarin, she and Emily gleefully replied, “pigs feet!”

Their reply was such I felt like I was in the scene in a film where a person has just been alerted that they are eating something they really wouldn’t find OK. Surprise!
Thing was, I didn’t mind. It was delicious. Pigs feet are very popular with women, it seems, as the girls told me that eating them is suppose to give you radiant skin and have a benefit that was to be our secret, as they were too shy to tell me while Kiely was in earshot. (make you chesty).
Emily (L), Jessie (R), and I after dinner

The next dishes were also wonderful. There was a vegetable dish and a chicken dish. Chinese meals are served family style, with everything shared, and this was no exception. I also learned that many restaurants charge for napkins, so you should take the package with you when you leave. The napkins at this restaurant (1 yuan) smelled like jasmine, and I have kept them in my suitcase ever since.

We decided to walk back to the University after dinner, and along the way, we passed a funeral. Emily explained a bit of how a Chinese funeral differs from a Western one. The night before, the friends and family get together and play music, sing, eat, play mah jong, etc, and they do this until very late at night. The next day, they wake early and continue. White is typically worn by the immediate family at the burial in the form of a white wrap over regular clothes.
My dragon is the green one on the left,

We picked up provisions for our train ride en route and after saying goodnight to the girls, headed to Kiely’s to finish up our packing in time for our taxi at 2300.

While we didn’t play Bust a Move, we did decide to pack the controllers and load the Playstation emulator with our saved game onto my laptop.

Addicted? Us? No. I just need to catch up on the 15 point lead Kiely has on me!


HK&C: Day 4: Yongzhou, PRC

Pork Buns for Breakfast

This morning started off with more tasty food from the street, specifically more pork buns, a fried pancaky thing, and a bits of bread which reminded me of eating fried wontons, only they weren’t crunchy, all which we enjoyed while taking the bus into Yongzhou city.

Our first stop was an old temple, which had been closed for safety reasons; although a simple offer to pay for access allowed us to go exploring. We aren’t sure what the temple was for, as is the case with many places visited in Yongzhou, because there’s not much English about the place and neither of us speak enough Mandarin to understand the question if asked.

After that, we wandered into the city area, where I got to not only try out the frogger game that is crossing the streets. It really is a bit of a free for all, especially as cars don’t always stay on their side of the road. I also got to visit not one but two supermarkets. I saw lots of fun stuff qualifying for the Engrish Roundup, to be published later.
Business Town!!

After that, we headed over to an area that Kiely calls, Business Town, which is basically a large, stalled, indoor market selling all sorts of stuff, a lot of which is counterfeit. There were lots of Engrish shirts, Skin products made by “Oily” instead of “Olay”, etc. We also found a book stall where we picked up some books for me to use in my Mandarin lessons back in London.

We headed back to the bus stop to return to Lingling for a dumpling lunch, a bit of quiet time, and a nice nap.
On Campus

After nap time, we headed out for my tour of campus, which unfortunately couldn’t include seeing a classroom today because all sophomore students were taking a standardized English test called CET4, which all students must pass to graduate. It looks like the exam is broadcast over radio from a van, and the students have these small radios on their desks (no headphones) over which to hear exam instructions and questions.

University Tour completed, we headed back for showers and a bit more downtime before heading out for dinner with Albright, at yesterday’s place of awesome cabbage and chicken head. Tonight, there was more cabbage (my request), spicy beef served on a sizzling iron plate, and on the walk home, a really delicious egg roll from the street, which was rather like a burrito.
Look out, mosquitos!

We headed back home to repeat last night’s agenda of beer + porch, only enhanced by the addition of mosquito tennis.

This tennis racket-looking thing is actually a bug zapper, not unlike the sort you hang on a porch, only it runs off two rechargeable AA batteries. You wave it in the air, and mosquitoes and gnats that actually come between the gratings get zapped in sizzling, dramatic fashion.
The rains started to fall heavily, and we headed in. Kiely and I decided to play one of our favorite old games, Bust a Move. I got my ass handed to me. I will make a comeback tomorrow, surely. I can’t keep making my little dragon cry, and given the rains, the outdoors will not be easily faced.

HK&C: Day 3: Yongzhou, PRC

The commentary was a bit challenging for me to follow.

This morning started with pork buns, which made me really like Yongzhou immediately. Kiely went out and picked the buns up before heading out to give his exams, and they made for a most excellent breakfast.

I had thought I’d squeeze in a bit more sleep after breakfast, but such was not to be had. As I told Kiely to take the keys with him, I kept busy by watching Game 7 of the NBA finals, in Mandarin. (Basketball, Badminton, and Ping Pong are the most popular sports here. )

The head isn’t visible in this shot. Ignorance is bliss. 

Kiely returned, and we headed out into town to run a few errands, have lunch, and explore. We headed over to a local spot and had a delicious lunch of cabbage and chicken. As someone who doesn’t eat meat on bones often, doing so with chopsticks just adds to the fun. I found myself digging around the plate, trying to find easier pieces to start.

I was so focused in my search that I didn’t process that the rather uniform piece I was considering was actually the chicken’s head; eyes, beak, and all. It came as such a surprise, I jumped, much to Kiely’s amusement.  He told me the head was the best part, but only kept up that claim for a minute or so, ultimately admitting that he couldn’t eat it, either.

Yongzhou is a very big city, geographically. The area where my brother’s University is the old part of town, which is locally called, “LingLing.” We did much exploring around the area.

View of the temple from within.

We headed out to the temple closest to where Kiely lives, which we believe honors a famous poet from Yongzhou and then walked through the old part of town. this area contains older buildings which are now protected from demolition but aren’t really cared for either. We came back, enjoyed some AC, and headed out again, only this time onto the bus into Yongzhou city.

The LingLing Waterfront

The bus is amazing – when it’s moving. Yongzhou is so crazy humid that feeling the air whilst on a moving bus really does feel fantastic. Unfortunately, we had to sit on the bus and wait for it to start, but it may have been worth it.

What really shocked me was that as we sat there, hot and sticky as can be, plenty of people outside were heavily dressed; women wearing long sleeves and lots of older men wearing Mao-style jackets. I can’t imagine ever acclimating to that – it took my camera lens half an hour to unfog each time we went outside.

A view of the old part of town, near the first temple we saw.

We took the bus over the bridge, and visited two more temples as well as taking in the view from this music school. I also got to meet some of my brother’s students, all of whom clearly appreciate him. I can see why it’s a bit strange and wonderful to be a foreigner in Yongzhou. People definitely stare. A whole bus of middle school children was very excited to see us, and I have never had so many strangers tell me how pretty I am. It’s rather fun to suddenly be perceived as special.

The second temple was beautiful, but closed. 

We hopped back on the bus (no waiting + open windows = glorious), enjoyed more AC and showers, and watched a Chinese children’s cartoon, Pleasant Goat and Big Bad Wolf (喜羊羊与灰太狼) before heading out to dinner with my brother’s old friend , Albright.

“Dumplings again?”, was a welcome suggestion, and after a delicious dinner, we went for a walk. We ran into one of my brother’s students who was celebrating her birthday and setting aloft a lantern with her wishes noted… it’s a bit like when you light an Amaretto cookie wrapper on fire. We watched her wish blow off into the horizon with high hopes. She said that usually one keeps these wishes secret, but hers wasn’t… that she hoped there would be no weather related disasters, to which I had to tell her that wish for good weather was very English.

Poster on campus encouraging students to
speak Mandarin (the lady is a film star)

We headed back to Kiely’s, and Albright, Kiely, and I, and we sat out on the balcony, chatting and people watching, until bedtime.

HK&C: Day 2: Hong Kong to Yongzhou

The Western toilet at Shenzhen Airport
was not for the weak (see sign)

After a rather rough night sleeping, I unsuccessfully tried to sleep in until 930. There was nothing wrong with my hotel room, only that my asthma medicine really messes with my sleep.

My brother advised me of two things via email the night before:

China Rule #1: Don’t drink the water from the tap in the mainland

China Rule #2: don’t call a girl “xiao jie” unless you know her family name

I don’t know about you, but the first was an expected bit of advice that was never in question. The second, well, I couldn’t help but wonder if the consequences were potentially as dire as those associated with the first. The Pimsfleur Mandarin I discs teach that, “xiao jie” literally means, “Miss”, and is how one politely addresses a waitress. As this now seems not so, could saying “xiao jie” lead to vomiting and diarrhea, just like the tap water? I opted not to test this and just ask. It so happens that simply calling a woman, “xiao jie”, is colloquially the equivalent of calling her a whore. Yay Pimsfleur!
Fancy Yum Cha!
On to the day: 
Kimiko and I met for early Dim Sum at 11 and had more wonderful catching up time. The food was excellent, and I especially enjoyed the beef dumplings and pork buns. Time flew, and before I knew it, time had come for a mad dash to catch the airport bus to Shenzhen Airport.

Kimiko spoiled me rotten. She found the Airport Bus, put me on it, and even gave me tissues for the ride, just in case I didn’t know #3!

China Rule #3: Always carry tissues, ladies.

At Kiely’s advice, I took the airport bus which departs from the Airport Express Station at the West Kowloon MRT. The ride takes about 75 minutes (according to the sute), with buses departing every half hour between 0715-1915. There aren’t many flights to Yongzhou, and I didn’t want to risk missing the one I had, especially as my inability to actually read my ticket might slow me down.

The Bus on the Shenzhen side’s view of the terminal.

In Shenzhen, where you clear customs and immigration, only to emerge on the other side to board an identical bus with your fellow passengers, all wearing stickers to assume no one gets lost.

All I can figure is that between filling out the equivalent of a landing card and waiting in the foreigner’s line, I took long enough that I did not catch the first bus out that I could have because I was the first one on the bus, and I didn’t recognize any of the other passengers. As the website said the total ride was 75 minutes and we were still sitting there, I couldn’t help but feel a bit worried.A little Google-mapping managed my concerns, and I found myself checked in at the airport and ready to go with plenty of time to spare. Something I hadn’t counted on was that seemingly, no where accepted credit cards, and I hadn’t bothered to change any money into Yuan.

My tiny bird of pure Hunan chaos.

I had been warned that flights never leave on time, but I had hoped this wasn’t really so. I was to be disappointed. My China Southern 17:30 flight became an 18:45 that didn’t actually board until 19:00. I boarded my tiny plane, took my seat, and so the adventure began…

Just prior to take off, there was a verbal dispute (shouting match) between the guy in the 3rd row and a guy in the 18th row. (I was in 19C) Crisis averted, we had the most abrupt take-off ever, and thenI opted for a bit of a catnap.

I woke to the thud of something warm in my lap. A suspicious package labelled, “beef”. Unable to resist, I had to open it. I’m not sure what to call it, and I think it was probably pork. It was like a sweet white bun for a hamburger with a piece of meat in the top. It wasn’t half bad – of course, I tried it. There’s also a picture on my phone, to be added to this posting later.

Soon, it was time to land, and I swear, the entire aircraft bounced like a tennis ball when we first hit the ground. From that first bounce, anarchy kicked in. People started getting out of their seats, taking bags down, much to the protest of the in-flight crew. When the plane came to a stop, I unfastened my seat belt, and stepped into the aisle, only to find myself being pushed along and out of the plane as I grabbed for my bag, trying not to hit anyone. I was easily the tallest person on the plane, and I am pretty sure the people shoving me were old enough to be my grandparents. Down onto the tarmac I went, to the one tiny baggage claim. The scrum was small, and I emerged victorious, bag in hand.

Yongzhou’s finest pork dumplings!

Yongzhou only gets a few flights each week, and they had already closed the airports main area when I arrived. I was advised by a colleague of Kiely’s that  for many of the people on my flight, this was likely their first time on an airplane.

My brother and I headed to his flat, where I dropped off my stuff, and we went to eat dumplings before heading back to his. He has two exams to give tomorrow, starting at eight, and given my sleeping problems, calling it a night at midnight seemed sensible, especially when so much lies ahead.