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I’ve only been once to China, for three months, as part of a journey of half a year, from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and China to Pakistan,
Then I went to Guangzhou (Canton) by train. I went to the nearest expensive hotel, to change money. As a foreigner I couldn’t get real money (renminbi), but got Foreign Exchange Curreny (FEC), at the same rate. Chinese loved these FEC, as you could only pay with these in the special shops with imported luxury items. Without FEC no luxury. The only problem with FEC is that in small remote villages they’ve never seen it before and won’t accept it. In the streets you can illegally trade them for renminbi, and I got up to an exchange rate of 1.4, and I’m mighty proud of that, as I didn’t meet anyone getting that exchange rate.
But back to the expensive hotel: after getting my FEC, I checked the rooms. For 25 US$ the best room of the hotel.That was a lot cheaper than the washhouse in Kowloon, and so I accepted this very tidy big room, with marble bath, mini fridge, worthy of it’s five stars.
I also checked out the restaurant in the hotel, and was happily amazed by the prices. Which was the only thing I could decipher from the menu, as all was in Cantonees. I ordered something on the right hand bottom of the menu, a slightly more expensive bite.
Soon I got it served, and didn’t recognize what it was. Then the rich lady next at the table next to me tried her English: ah, mister like pork intestine? Not really. She and her husband helped me to make a more decent choice: beef with noodles and broccoli. The broccoli wasn’t cut in short trunks like at home, but cut in the full length like long green strings. Fortunately the rich guy was at the toilet, so he couldn’t see my unsuccessful attempts to eat with chopsticks. The rich lady must have felt some pity, and explained me how it’s done: grab a string with your chopsticks, and place it in the porcelain spoon as you always see at Chinese restaurants. There it will follow the shape of the spoon, and curles up to a small ball. Pick that up with the chopsticks and enjoy. Aha, that wasn’t too difficult. The rice wasn’t difficult to eat, either. Just lift the cup to your mouth and shove it in with those bloody chopsticks. Then the rich guy returned to his seat and continued to eat. Going to the toilet halfway the dinner already gave some indication, but then he started eating the Italian way. He took the beginning of a broccoli string between his teeth, and started sucking. His helpful wife was a bit embarrassed, but the red on her cheeks remained carefully hidden under many impressive layers of makeup powder.
Later I went to Guilin, famous for its odd mountains as so often portrait in Chinese restaurants. It turned out to be a dull place, and some backpackers advised me to go to Yangshuo, a few hours by bus. Now that was a great advise, as Yangshuo was a magnificent village in a spectacular set. I stayed there for two weeks, rented a bike and had a wonderful time. I went from village to village, from mountain top to mountain top, whilst back in Yanghuo a tailor was making two pairs of trousers. I could choose between army green and navy blue. I choose both.
The owner of the restaurant tried to learn English, like many Chinese with a sense for commerce. We chatted about tea, and I asked him how he would write that. He said “cha” and draw the character. Then I took a bigger paper and let him write it again. I added “cha” and “tea”. Same for coffee, noodles, champignons, beef, rice, vegetables, ham, fried egg etc. etc. This was the most important document I had in my possession, and carried it on my heart. Sometimes I tried local edible surprises, but other times I had to actually stuff myself to gain strength. Then I didn’t need the menu, as I couldn’t read it, and normally they couldn’t be bothered to be that helpful to even provide me one anyway. I was eating “a la carte” from my own carte. I just showed my dictionary and pointed out what I wanted to eat or drink. You mei you erge piziu ? (literally: have you or have you not two beers?) In china you always have to be extra polite, and by asking it this way you indicate to the waiter that he won’t loose face whether he can serve it not. Have you or have you not this? Ok, then have you or have you not that? All pointing at my document, and I always ended up with a nice but predictable dinner. Now I should add that every district has its own way to spice things up. Farking hot in Shishuan, boringly flat in Beijing.
In the surrounding villages I felt like a celebrity. There weren’t many tourists that far off the road, and this is where I learned to talk with hands and feet. I noticed the Chinese were having doubts whether they should make strange gestures, too, but curiosity killed the cat. In big cities you won’t get far with hand and feet language, but over there you’ll find many Chinese who master English till a certain level. I even met an English teacher from china, with a level of English that even dutch kids at basic school with English as a foreign language would outlevel. But she kept smiling, she wasn’t even properly embarrassed, but just kept smiling.
Chinese do have a type of smile for every situation. A “what a nice day, huh” smile, a “not today” smile, a “yes that probably hurts” smile, a “no, not for you” smile, an “agreed, that’s way to fucking expensive” smile. There’s a lot of smiling in China.
In Yangshuo I saw this old woman, with a long pole over her shoulder, with to big baskets with fruit hanging. Someone tripped her, she got out of balance, and all the fruit rolled over the street. No one helped her, everybody was laughing. Rude.
Much later, in Xi’an, I visited an ancient bell tower. The bell itself was still hanging there, and I bended, to look under it, to see if it had a clapper. Nope. A Chinese guy say he looking, and bended too. After his inspection I heard a distinct “boing”, in F-minor. He came up and rubbed his hand over his painful head. As a revenge for this poor old woman in Yanshuo I started to laugh out loud, even though this is not my kind of humor. He wasn’t angry, but put on some painful type of smile. there’s a lot of smiling in China.
After Yanghou I continued to Kunming
Map of China