Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Changsha day 2: visiting 双溪 -Shuang Xi and munching snake

Lunch time
Soaking up sun on the porch
Yang Niu and her cousin

Yang Niu, her mom and aunt

Old Chinese middle school

Rocky's cousin with the puppy 'Xiao He'

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for some time should know about my friendship with Rocky, alias ‘the Hunan boy.’ He’s one of the trainers working at my gym and over the year that I’ve been working out there we have become great friends. When I told him last week that I would be spending the wknd in Changsha he got really excited, and told me that I should get in touch with his sister and his family that lives in on the countryside, somewhere outside Changsha city.

First I wasn’t sure, as it felt a bit strange to call up a complete stranger and ask if I could visit her town, but then I thought ‘well, why not?! Rocky is so lovely so I guess she will be too?’ and called her. And that was a good call!

Rocky’s sister, who’s name is Yang Niu (杨妞) invited me and my friends to come and visit her village, a small country village called ‘双溪’(Shuang Xi) during the Saturday. We decided to meet at Changsha’s south bus terminal at 9.30am in the morning as she was scared we wouldn’t found our way to her village without her help (and that’s something that she was definitely right about).

From the first moment we met her we knew it was going to be a great day. She was so friendly and happy, despite the fact she had never met us before. She didn’t speak any English so this was a perfect opportunity for me to rely on my spoken Chinese, and it went way better than I had expected it to. All in all, I think I spoke more Chinese that day than I do during 4 weeks of classes at the university (traveling is really the way to go to improve your spoken Chinese, especially traveling to smaller places where the people don’t speak English).

Together we caught a ‘bus’ (more like a minivan) where people were sitting almost on top of each other, to get to her village. We became the object of curiosity already on the bus, as I suppose most of the passengers had only seen laowais on TV before. 45 minutes later we had left the gray looking city and entered a totally different looking landscape. Green trees, red, muddy ground, and a chaotic wet market greeted us when we stepped out of the bus and into (what felt like) a completely different world. Think that it only takes as little as a bus ride to put a different China in front of your eyes: the people of this village were nothing like the city residents of Changsha… (and quite a contrast to the glamorous Shanghai residents that we have gotten used to) They all looked much more ‘rough’ and ‘worn out,’ and they were all so tiny. In fact, Rocky’s sister, who is quite tall for being a Chinese girl (1.70) told us that her height had become a problem for her, because she is too tall for all the men in town… So ironic! Every other Chinese girl I have met have told me they wish they were taller –and not this girl wishes she was shorter.

First we went to a wet market to get some fruits and veggies before we walked for 25 minutes to get to Yang Niu’s home where the family was preparing lunch for us.

Everywhere we went we got curious stares but no one yelled ‘hello’ or anything like that. They were just looking at us, and I guess I would have been staring too, because we looked completely out of place and were probably the first laowais to have visited this tiny little village.

Once at the house we were introduced to Rocky’s family: his mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, uncle, another uncle, cousins, and some other people. We then sat down and enjoyed a fabulous lunch that they had prepared for us. The food was delicious and it was really nice (and a bit weird) to sit there and talk to Rocky’s family. The old people spoke with heavy Hunan dialect which was hard for me to understand, but Yang Niu helped translating and I was positively surprised when I realized that I could actually have proper conversations with his family members, rather than just the very basic ‘oh this food is so good,’ ‘I really enjoy living in China’ –talk.

After dinner we moved our chairs to the porch and enjoyed some tea and snacks and continued chatting. Friends and neighbors kept dropping by, as we quickly became the ‘talk of the town’ and everybody wanted to come and meet the ‘Chinese speaking giants’ that had come for a visit.

We sat there for hours, soaking up sun (it ended up being a lovely day with a blue sky, fresh air, and 20 degrees! We even managed to burn our faces only during those hours in the sun) and chatting, before they wanted to take us for a walk and show us some mountains and lakes. Rocky’s mom, sister, aunt, and cousin joined the tour and we walked on muddy roads and saw some quite wonderful nature scenes (as you can see in the photos). Every now and then we stopped and had some fruits (that Yang Niu had thoughtfully brought) and took photos. And the aunt kept filming us with her flash mobile phone! It was a really lovely walk. And SO NICE to be out of the city and see some real nature. Not just a park, but actual mountains (or big hills as I would call them), trees, and wild flowers. We all told ourselves that we have to do things like this more often. It’s like therapy when you are living in an urban jungle like Shanghai/Suzhou.

Back at the village we spent some hours at the grandma’s house, being offered all kinds of local snacks and candies. Everything tasted quite different but most of the stuff was very good. Time flies when you are having a good time and soon it was 5pm and time for dinner. Rocky’s family had again prepared a delicious feast and even gave us some snacks to take with us home. I don’t have enough words to describe the friendliness of this family?! They had never even met us, they just knew I was a friend of their son, and they treated me and my friends like royalties. And still, they kept apologizing for their home being ‘so simple’ and ‘nothing special?’ If there is something us Swedes have to learn from Chinese people it is how to treat your guests.

After dinner we said our goodbyes (and I was told that I HAD to come and visit again next time Rocky came home, I could even get my own room and stay for a week) and Rocky’s uncle drove us back into Changsha city. What a day!!

Although we were exhausted from all the new impressions (and there was almost smoke coming out from my head after all the Chinese I had been speaking. For a while I couldn’t understand my Norwegian friends’ dialect… it became language-overload for my brain) we decided to head to a cute little pub that we had driven by a few times for a beer before we called it a night.

The pub (called Coco Bar) proved to be an excellent choice. Cozy setting, good tunes, friendly waiters, and a laid-back crowd. It didn’t take long before the manager sent over a complimentary fruit plate for us to enjoy, and a moment later 3 Chinese men came over, welcomed us to Changsha and asked if we wanted to join them for some spicy fish head.

We declined the food offer and they left, but 20 minutes later one of them came back and wanted to hang with us. He was very friendly and we were in a great mood, so we decided to head for a KTV and sing karaoke.

The guy (whose name was Jackie –he was a lawyer from Beijing) was really friendly and once at the KTV he ordered in loads of beers and snacks, despite our protests. His English wasn’t that good so he sang mostly Chinese songs. But then came ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which he knew, so we ended up singing that one over and over again…

Sometime way beyond bedtime Jackie suggested we’d go for ‘spicy snake’ and we thought that sounded like the best idea ever (note to self: never agree to eat anything after 3am in the morning). We went to a dirty little restaurant located in the middle of nowhere and ordered all kinds of strange food, including some bird, crab (which was delicious), rice pudding, clams, eggplant (of course –our third one that day too, gosh!), and snake… The spiciest snake they had. Actually, it was so spicy that Jackie couldn’t even eat it, and he screamed in delight when he saw us dig in, not the slightest concerned about how the chili peppers were burning our mouths.

As for the snake –it was kind of gross! I actually cannot believe I ate it now afterwards?! But it was fun to try and I think we were in the right kind of mind to try it that night (If he would have suggested ‘bugs’ I think we all would have screamed ‘YEAH BRING IT ON!’ –get my point?). Jackie insisted to pay for everything, and refused to take the money we offered (he kept saying 入乡随俗 -when in Rome, do as Romans). When we continued to protest he suddenly revealed that he was quite loaded, making some insane 90,000 yuan/month??! (although not every month of the year.. in fact, he said he only worked maybe half a year and then took the other half of the year off to go backpacking because the job was so tiring) Our jaws dropped to the table. He definitely didn’t look the part, dressed in jeans and a hat and sneakers? (also, I should add that he didn't say it in a 'show-off' way at all...)

When we spotted a large rat at the restaurant we decided it was time to leave, said goodbye and went back to the hotel. What a day/night! Although it was hard to get up the next morning it was well worth it -that's a day I won't forget at the first place.

KTV time
Chinese song time

Snake pot...
Fancy a snake bite?!
Yummy crabs
Not-so yummy rice pudding.


Nancy said...

This was an incredible post! Rocky's family sound so wonderful and friendly. I am always so amazed at the graciousness of people all over the world. As for the snake, well, NOT! How was your stomach feeling, come morning?

Jonna Wibelius said...

LoL -yeah I know.. the snake bit is GROSS! I have a quite sensitive stomach although strangely enough, it didn't react after the snake...

As for Rocky's family, I know... totally wonderful people! :)

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a scene from a movie! What a perfect day!! You're really lucky! :D

As for the snake, well why not? I like to try different things so... (bugs are another story though!)

m--e said...

This is the stuff that I really regret missing out on, not speaking Chinese like you do. I would give anything to be able to just hang out with a family in the country and chat the day away! If you ever need a travel partner, let me know! :-)

Christopher said...

What a fantastic experience to have in one day. Going to the village and seeing Rocky's family is exactly the kind of thing you will remember of your time in China I bet. Times like that really remind me why I came here in the first place, not just to see the skyscrapers and 21st century cities, but to see some of the China that may no longer be around in the not-too-distant future.

It's incredible to hear about how rich that guy from Beijing is, I'm always stunned to learn that the rich aren't just rich in China, they're completely loaded.

Well done with the spicy snake too! Egg plant would do for me I think.

Colleen said...

Wow, that is my idea of an amazing vacation! What a great experience to get to see all that! AND practice speeking to the locals! That family sounds just amazing!

Melanie said...

Oh my gosh! I really enjoyed this post. (I enjoy all your other ones, too.) I laughed the whole way through. I like the "english speaking giants" story.

It's been awhile since I've been in the "right kind of mind" where most anything sounds good to eat, but usually it's something like fridge omelets. Anything you can find in the fridge, put it into the egg mixture for the omelet.

I heard snake tastes like chicken??

mantse said...

You are so great to try to those "Chinese" food -- "snake". some of my western friends really think how people can eat such things!!!

btw, this is just for tasting.

Jonna Wibelius said...

kanmuri -well if not a movie at least it was the longest day ever... I don't think I've ever gone to so many different places in one day only.

m--e -always looking for a travel buddy, where u wanna go? ;) Well, it has taken a while to reach this level of Chinese where I can actually enjoy hanging with locals instead of just feeling left out because I only understand 20%... So I know your feeling. If it is any comfort most people on the country side speak with heavy dialect that I find very hard to understand too... so much for learning Mandarin, ha!

Chris -yeah, I reckon the country side is where u should go to experience China... Sure, all the cities are China too, but u get a whole different feeling from visiting the country side... I count my trips to the country villages is Yunnan and this last one to Hunan as my best trips here in China.

colleen -truly amazing. I just kept thinking to myself: If he came to Swe to meet my family he would have been so disappointed. Not that we are rude in any way or so, but I just cannot imagine my whole family sacrificing a whole day just to make sure he's having a good time. Also, I find it hard to believe that all my relatives would have dropped by just to have a chat with him. Thought-worthy!

Melanie -you are perfectly right. Snake tastes just like chicken. Although the skin on the chicken is much nicer to eat than the skin of a snake... yuuuuh!!

Mantse -yeah, nothing wrong with trying once, right? Although I think it will be a while until I do something like that again.. maybe during my next trip!? :)

Unknown said...

Hi Jonna

Amazing post what a great day. But I want to know about the ribs... Did you get your fill of those spicey bad boys..

Awesome to hear that all that sweat, blood and tears spent learning Chinese is paying of so much. You have inspired me to keep learning, even a little language goes a long way in bridging the gap.

happy blogging


Anonymous said...

I just want to say i love reading your blog <3333

The Candid Yank said...

i really did go to the store after reading your post yesterday and buy eggplant and tofu and make a yummy dinner. what i will not be doing after reading today's post is wrangling any snakes and turning them into dinner *blllllllllgh* LOL

Chocolatesa said...

Those pictures are so beautiful and your trip sounded amazing, it makes me want to leave the city and move back to the country where I'm from, but it's easier said than done...

Brad Farless said...

It sounds like you had a fantastic time!

Your story reminded me of the difference between Manila and some of the provinces in the Philippines. Especially the part where you mentioned everyone stopped to look at you. When I was in Pampanga province, which is barely over an hour from Manila, I got a lot of prolonged looks that almost became uncomfortable after a while.

Also, I wouldn't mind trying snake, late night or not. The only thing I've encountered so far that I wouldn't try is a Filipino "delicacy" called balut, or balot? Well, it's a partially formed chick that has been steamed in the shell. You first crack the top of the egg shell, suck out the juice, and then eat the fetus with salt. Somehow, I just can't summon an appetite for it!

Kosmo said...

Sounds like a great time. Always good to hear stories of great hospitality.

I think Jackie has the right idea. Why spend lots of money on expensive clothes when you can wear comfortable jeans and use the extra money to have fun :)

Janet said...

That sounds like a wonderful break for you, what an experience! It reminds me of some times I had whilst backpacking around Europe.

I have to ask, though, b/c I wonder what the average Chinese person thinks of things like their fur farm industry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_8Ko-9uKRs - warning, this is very graphic & disturbing). I just sometimes think the Chinese are crazy and so inhumane! So do Chinese people care about animal welfare at all?

Jonna Wibelius said...

Sam -thanks!! :) No ribs for us, Silje isn't big on meat so we had a bit of a vegetarian wknd...(unless u count the snake, the crab, the bird and the... eh... ok, no, I guess we did not really have a pure veggie wknd!) and that was all good! :) Too much good food to choose from already!

nefarli -thanks soooooo much!!! :)

konichiwa, bitches -haha, excellent! How did you prepare your eggplant and tofu? Or did u go to a resto and eat it? I am not sure if I would be able to cook up an eggplant feast on my own...

Chocolatesa -yeah u r right. It is easy to think that 'wow, I could totally live here' but to do it is a completely different story...

Brad -the 'novelty factor' because evident as soon as u travel outside a big city here in China... I don't mind it so much because 99,9% of the people I have met have simply been curious and friendly. As for the balut -uhhh, that sounds kinda gross... I would get so stomach sick after eating that I believe?!

Casual observer -yeah, Jackie was a champ!! We all looooooved his hat!

Gigwriter -I don't know enough about the farming industry in China to answer your question, but something tells me that people all over the world abuses animals to the fullest when it comes to the fur industry. But u r right, here in China u don't look at animals the same way that we do in, for instance, Sweden. Having said that, there are loads of Swedes who shouldn't be allowed to have pets as they abuse them.

Brad Farless said...

Jonna, if I were in China, I probably wouldn't mind it as much, but the Philippines is a bit different, and it can be dangerous for foreigners if you don't keep your wits about you.

Filipinos seem to have the mentality that if you're a foreigner, you must have money, so you're seen as a 'juicy' target for being robbed. It's not as relaxing or as amusing when you have to wonder each time if they're simply curious, or if they want to take your wallet.

Balut is definitely on my list of things to never eat.

That reminds me though... at the markets in China do they sell skinned frogs and frog legs? They do in Singapore. I thought it was interesting, because that's not commonly found in the meat market in the US.

Anonymous said...

I'm ridiculously envious. We've been in Shanghai 2 months now and can't find these little villages, let alone figure out how to get there, let alone make/be friends with someone there... It's kinda our dream to be able so I'm living vicariously through your photos ;)

The Candid Yank said...

i just did it pretty simply--sauteed some garlic, gingerroot and thai chilis for a couple minutes, then added cabbage, covered the pan until the cabbage was a bit soft, then added tofu, eggplant, bell pepper and onions, sauteed it for a minute or two, then added hoisin and mushroom sauce and served it over shrimp noodles (would have preferred rice but didn't have enough for everyone). I do a lot of Asian cooking in my house so I'm usually pretty well-prepared ;)

Prabath said...

Nice pics and good post, I like this blog, Keep it up.


slushdot said...

Why don't write yout blog in both English and Chinese ?

Anonymous said...

Reading yours stories is making me want to go back to China.
Amazing, amazing visit.
Thanks for taking the time to write it all down!