Yangshuo is cold. Much colder than I care for. Much colder than it should be. I keep hearing the words "unseasonable" and "freak weather" and you know what? I've heard that every day for the last two weeks. Not sure I'm buying it anymore.
On Monday I walked around Aishanmen village where my guesthouse is. And by "village" I mean small cluster of barren stone and mud brick structures that resemble low gray cubes. They look unfinished and uninhabitable, and when I first rode past them in the dark I thought surely they were abandoned. After being hassled by touts to take a bamboo raft along the river "bamboo! bamboo! hello! bamboo! hello!" (Do I look that idiotic? Have I mentioned it's FREEZING outside? And you want me on an dinky little bamboo raft exposed to the elements?) I came across the Eco Farm Restaurant, which lured me in with its very Meg-friendly name.
The restaurant was run by a friendly man who spoke terrific English, and I was able to barter him down to a more moderate price for lunch (less than I'd pay here at the guesthouse, but still 3x what I'd pay in a city at a noodle house). I had a heaping plate of fresh farm grown veggies and rice, and would like to go back with a few people to sample other dishes, as they are meant to be shared family style.
As I was waiting for my food I noticed a bunch of pictures on the wall depicting a man wrestling massive, giant snakes. And then other pictures depicting him pulling them out of great big ceramic jars. And then my eyes continued down the wall to the floor, where several big ceramic jars were lined up along the wall, looking all too similar to those in the pictures.
And then I noticed the last jar, made of crystal clear glass, filled with some sort of liquid and DEAR GOD THAT'S A BIG SNAKE. I'll let you in on a little secret: I hate snakes. HATE them. And then some. So I try to act all nonchalant and ask him what's in that jar. "Rice wine." I'm sorry, come again? Rice wine? Rice wine in China is unlike rice wine in Japan (sake), which is soft and smooth and delicate and so delicious it complements literally everything. Rice wine in Korea (soju) is far less polished and tastes like really bad cheap vodka and will put hair on your chest. Rice wine in China makes Korean soju look like an aperitif for pansies. It's like moonshine, only worse. It's FOUL. And apparently a specialty of the region is rice wine with snakes in it, which are forced into the liquid while they're still alive, I imagine putting up quite the struggle, and the wine is "enhanced" by their skin and organs and adrenaline, after they ultimately drown and are left to marinate for who knows how long.
Excuse me while I go vomit.
Since it was so cold outside the guesthouse decided to do an impromptu dumpling party (for a fee, of course -- nothing in the country is cheap). A bunch of us gathered around a table and folded the stuffing into our little dumpling shells, the woman correcting mine more than once and ultimately laughing at me. (The Chinese don't laugh with
you. They laugh at
you. I'm laughed at on a daily basis.) But the dumpling party consisted of foreigners like me, saying who cares what they look like, they're tasty! My sentiments exactly. (And I thought mine looked pretty good, thankyouverymuch.) It was fun.
BJ and Colin surprised me by showing up at my guesthouse; they're staying in a neighboring village and we had been emailing to coordinate when to meet up during the week.
We walked back to their guesthouse, also run by a Dutch couple, two lovely people who are definitely at the top of the "world's nicest people" list. After dinner the woman lent me a bicycle to ride home, and BJ gave me a little reading light to strap to my head. I set off into the pitch black, freezing cold, most treacherously potholed of potholed roads, past squat barren ominous-looking shacks, slipping and splashing in the mud, hearing all sorts of animal noises, gripping the handlebars for all their worth. One wrong turn and I'd end up flying off the road into the fields below, into some miserable frozen flooded ditch. And what do I think of? What happy warm thought occurs to me? Blair Witch Project
I haven't seen or thought about that movie since I was fourteen. And THIS is what I think of. BLAIR WITCH PROJECT! Gee. How comforting. Needless to say, I never, ever want to do that again. It was AWFUL.
Aishanmen is gorgeous. Pretty pricey, because it's so far out of the way, with Yangshuo the giant tourist trap being the nearest town (at least out here in the country there aren't any touts). Freezing my ass off, but I've got no shortage of breathtaking views to take in while my teeth chatter. Nice to be enjoying life at a slower pace outside of China's monstrous congested cities.