This is a continuation of a previous post. For technical details on Yangshuo, check out the previous post.
* For anyone not wishing to see a dead dog being roasted on a grill – you might want to skip this posting. *
Yangshuo may be most famous for it’s delicious scenery, but there are plenty of cultural experiences to be had as well. Open air village markets can be found all around Yangshuo and offer the authentically rural ethnic scene. Back in town, the ever popular indoor market sees a unique blend of tour buses, curious independents and locals alike. For an over the top experience, the Liu Sanjie show is a must see. But of course, this is China, and if there is one thing we know about China – they do fake well. Enter the Shangri La Village – one of many tourist trap places designed for the local tourist.
The market in town, while not as atmospheric as the ones in the villages is a good place to start off a market going experience in China. Tame by some standards, the market features your usual veggies, fruits and meat along with a few local delicacies. River snails, eels, and…yes…dog meat can be found. We were here as a starting point for our little foray into Chinese cooking.
After our tour of the Farmers Trading Market, we took our fresh ingredients and attempted to whip up something good. Chinese cuisine is arguably the most available in the world in some fashion. From stir fries to dumplings many variations of foods that we eat today can trace their origins to the Chinese. On the menu for us tonight – one of my favorites – Cashew chicken, fried eggplant, some tofu dish (but NOT stinky tofu – our vote for world’s worst tasting dish – coming in a couple of posts from now) all washed down with a nice cold local variety of beer. Compliments of the Communist era mentality, nearly every region has a local brew that comes in big, cheap bottles – suitable for the uniform one-for-all-equal government. It’s a bit socialistic, but I’m never one to complain about cheap beer!
For a little more authentic rural Chinese experience, we turned to the afore mentioned Lilly (http://lillylu.webs.com/Index.html) and a little motorbike ride out to Fuli Village for market day. Having to take a local ferry across the river to visit Fuli from Yangshuo keeps some of the bus hoards at bay and gives the market a more authentic feeling. Wandering up and down the lanes of produce, textiles and general supplies ranging from ‘gently-used’ hoe heads to cheap bars of soap can elude a feeling of a million miles from your local Wal-mart (although even they are closer than one would hope). Sustenance living still makes up a large part of the Chinese population and there is no better proof of that than a woman sitting on the ground all day trying to sell just a handful of extra crops their family has grown.
There may be no one-hour photo processing, but there is a dentist in the house should the need arise.
In doing our little part to try and set the record straight on dog consumption, here are our three little facts about dog that we know. 1) As a foreigner, you will never ‘accidently’ get dog meat in any restaurant – it is much too expensive to just be ‘throwing it in’ when the beef runs out. 2) Not every Chinese man woman or child eats dog – in fact – very few do and a growing number of Chinese are starting to keep them as pets and find the idea of eating them repulsive. 3) Of the ones that eat dog, most only do so for special circumstances – namely – when trying to conceive a child. Dogs ‘never miss’ and the superstition of ‘you are what you eat’ plays heavily in the decision to plate up Fido for the evening meal. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and with all that being said, a steaming pot of dog stew was on offer this fine morning – we opted to keep moving. Yes, that’s a blow torch, the preferred cooking method.
In need of something a little more….well…pure for the soul, we ventured from the market area to check out some of the local handicrafts on offer. Here are some rice noodles drying in the sun. With so many rice fields it should not come as a surprise that the grain plays heavily into their cuisine. What does come as a surprise is that Chinese eat less rice than most of their neighbors, opting for the noodle variety more often.
Fuli is famous for its hand painted fans and you don’t have to go to far before seeing them also drying in the sun or an open gallery with a couple of people painting away.
Farming is still very much a way of life and you don’t have to go far to see fields plowed using the traditional water buffalo hooked to a plow. Where food production in America has become big business, here it’s still a simple means of feeding the family one day at a time.
Liugong Village is located just a short distance down river from Fuli and provides an even quieter setting. Narrow, cobblestone streets are the norm rather than the exception and very little is going on during the daylight hours as the farms are being tended to.
Being one of the most beautiful areas in all of China, it should come as no surprise that the famous Chinese film director, Zhang Yimou (best known internationally for his production of the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing), chose this setting for his first Impressions show, Liu Sanjie. With the stunning karst backdrop, the show features over 600 actors and actresses acting in various degrees of unison to produce a visually stunning performance. Well beyond my personal expectations, the show is well choreographed and even though it’s all in Chinese, one can get the sense of the story by following the movements and visual cues.
Shangri La – just the name itself conjures up images of paradise, the proverbial land of milk and honey. In China, in it’s always mindful best-face-forward state of mind, the word is thrown around fairly liberally and applied to just about anything the government wants you to pay attention to. When Lily said we had time to stop at this interesting but different place we really should have followed our instincts and said no thanks. Figuring what the heck, why not – we ponied up the couple extra buck and popped in anyways. The only other life experience I can equate it too would have to be the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney Land. In the ride, you sit on a boat, float down a fake river and just as get close enough to see the exhibits, the mechanics snap into action – singing and dancing and gyrating much to the pre-teen kid’s delight. It’s like that only replace the ‘drunk’ pirates with real ‘ethnic’ people (yes, the government PAYS them to be there) and you get the gist. The only thing that made this place redeeming was the sweetest tour guide you could ever imagine. Designated as our tour guide because she was the only one who could speak English, the gal made sure the pirates…err…ethnic natives fired up right on cue. During the boat portion of the program, she did an impromptu rendition of John Denver’s “Country Road” that we still get a good laugh about all the time. Sadly we failed to take a photo of the girl, but the memory was almost worth the price of admission.
Having been serenaded, fed well, entertained, and educated in the culinary arts (and I don’t mean how to blow torch Max to the proper internal temp) it was time to bid adieu to Yangshuo and make our way to the Dragon’s Backbone – a cool name for more agricultural marvels.