Man Bites Dog & Other Stories from China
Our last post from China is a bit of a post mortem from our three weeks in the country. Our final impressions of the people, culture and what happens when westerners step out of the tour line and into the local scene.
Ruffing it in Nanning
On our way to the Vietnam border from the karst mountains of Yangshou, we stopped in the bustling (and bulging) city of Nanning. Not much of interest from a tourist stand point, it’s usually just a stop over for most, but there is a local market and that’s where we took in some local cuisine plus some friendly western faces.
This is probably the most controversial thing we will write on the trip.
We ate dog!
Yep, man’s best friend, on a dish (actually, in a pot.) Let’s set the record straight. We love dogs and cats, and know numerous friends who treat them as family or even more; as regal members of their clan. BUT… we were in China and it would be hypocrtical of us to question their diet when everyone knows most Americans have equally unusual eating habits. Hindu’s would never dream of treating cows like we do. Peruvians salivate at the thought of Guniea Pig, which I have tried on numerous occasions. So why would we pall at the thought of eating dog.
Also, we were curious to try a meat that is considered an ancient tradition and the best way to stay warm in the winter.
We had already spied some shocking treatment in the market. Dogs and cats bundled into crates ready to be sold and prepared (pictures withheld.) No matter how it was justified in our mind, it just seemed crazy. But they were displayed right next to chickens, ducks, pigs, etc; all things that Americans consume ravenously and in some cases raise in worse conditions. We also saw hanging cuts of dog and other animals from butchers windows. By the time we hit Nanning we thought it was about time to try the delicacy.
The market was teeming with stalls offering different preparations of dog, the only problem was, how to order. We were now off the tourist grid, and this began our weeklong journey of staring awkwardly at menus while the Chinese stared awkwardly at us. We could only point at the dog and then the plate, but had no way of instructing the chef on our preferred method of preparation. Luckily, at that moment, the only two westerners living in Nanning ambled along, said hello to a familiar face and proceeded to help us order a whole range of fascinating food. Sometimes, these things just work themselves out if you pause long enough and look utterly confused.
The dog came in cuts, boiled in a hot pot with rice and vegetables. The taste? A bit chewy and fatty, but still edible and in the right culinary hands is probably a good dish. I doubt we will eat it again, but I’m glad we had a sample and hope that others in the U.S. don’t lump us in with the likes of Michael Vick (I know, he’s probably paid his dues. Go Eagles.)
Yang Bang and Beijing Brian, as we shall call them, were incredibly helpful, fun and informative. They both live in China and gave us an amazing profile of living and working in the country. We talked for a while and then late in the night, visited the new pad Yang Bang was building in a high rise nearby. He and his wife have just completed an epic residence and we hope to travel back to christen it in rock-n-roll style.
From Nanning we took local buses to the city of Daxin. This was to be our launching pad to several natural features nearby, but ultimately became a window into traveling in a communication black hole.
The minute we arrived in town, we knew we were facing an uphill battle just to get around and find a place to stay. We were stared at by everyone. People, young and old, would stop what they were doing and often follow us from a safe distance. We wandered up the street with our heavy packs looking for a familiar sign; “Hotel” or “Room” would have been a good one; but everything was in Chinese characters and when we stopped in what looked like a hotel to ask about rooms the attendant lost all speaking ability. It took 15 mins to finally pantomime the symbol for “no rooms available” which is basically a throat slashing gesture.
After an hour and a half, we secured a hotel vacancy and wandered the city. It was actually a very pleasant town and the upside to no communication was the lack of pestering by people selling random shit in the street. Our dinner amusement was watching the passersby do a double take at the two bleached aliens in the restaurant and then try to non challantly backtrack to get a better look.
After candid camera dinner, I sniffed out a basketball court that was being set up for a game. We waited around and were joined by what seemed to be half the town. It was a local bball tournament and the players turned out to be very good. We rooted with the crowd and enjoyed feeling like pro scouts on a mission to find the next Yao Ming.
China in the drivers seat
The next two days were spent visiting one famous waterfall on the border of China and Vietnam, Detian Falls, as well as beautiful Tongling gorge, hidden in the country side. Both were amazing sites, but just getting to each was a lesson in patience. After being slightly ripped off by a van driver and co-starring in many a chinese tourists home videos we were on our way to the border of Northern Vietnam.
As we approached the border and left China behind, we reflected on our experience. China was a special place and it would take years to even begin exploring it. More interestingly, China is an ever-evolving phenomenon. The country is drastically different today than what it was five years ago. And five years from now, it will be a completely changed place. The thing we noticed everywhere we went was the attitude of the people. They have a confidence in their future and the strength of their country. They feel outsiders need China more than China needs them. They can rely on their neighbors, their smarts, and deep rooted work ethic. Today, anything can be accomplished in China. They’re acting like… Americans of the past. When the only true believers in limitless potential were Americans themselves.
If you think China is just on a brief rise and will fall back to reality, think again. China is here to stay and we should do more than get used to it, we should prepare for a very intimate future with a billion plus friends from the land of the rising dragon.