Yesterday the boys and I checked out the "Panda Research Base," or whatever they call it. Really, it's just a zoo. With pandas. Only pandas. I had no interest whatsoever, but the boys were pretty keen on it so off we went. Pandas are nocturnal, which means we had to get up early and schlep out to the panda zoo in time to watch them eat dinner before they passed out for the day. There were both giant pandas and red pandas (which look more like raccoons or oversized ferrets), and most were divided into their own cages. Some had outdoor "natural habitat" areas, and some were just locked up in a small glass and concrete cell, with way too much poop on the floor. Zoos in general are somewhat depressing. Zoos in China make you want to cry.
Side note: I heard that at the Beijing Zoo, unless you were a panda or a dolphin your cage was small and dirty and you were miserable and neglected. The pandas here didn't look much happier.
So we walked around, watched the pandas eat and act suicidal, and made our way back into town. The boys weren't feeling so hot, so we chilled out for a few hours. One napped, the others watched a pirated Chinese copy of Indiana Jones
, I tinkered around on the internet. We then checked out a Chinese massage place down the street and had the shit beat out of us for an hour. Those Chinese, they know what they're doing with their hands. Sometimes it's uncomfortable, sometimes it tickles, sometimes it's downright painful.
But when they're done -- oh baby you're GOLDEN. We then sauntered home with enormous grins on our faces and groaning and going "ohhhhh yeahhhh, that's the spot." We rounded off our "spa" afternoon with a round of ginger tea, which turned out to be hot water with slices of lemon and loads of fresh sliced ginger and some honey. That's one hell of a cure-all. Taking that little recipe back to the States with me. Delicious.
We were all in agreement that we didn't want another hot pot. I'm a bit noodled/souped out (and starting to jones for western food -- what I would do for some olive oil, a baguette, and a massive hunk of brie), and the boys were taking a day off from one-upping each other in the chili paste department.
(I would say they learned their lesson but I know better. I have no doubt they'll be back at it again tonight.) So rather, we walked around the hood and feasted on street food. First up were steamed buns for me and pork dumplings for them. Tasty, but cold, and cold isn't exactly what you're after for when it's dark and chilly out. From the bun place we lapped the block and ended back at a random corner with several different food carts on it. Two vendors made little mini crepes that they'd then slather whatever you wanted on them: peanut butter, a whole rainbow of jellies, salty pickles, chilies, marshmallow fluff, you name it. We each had a sweet crepe to start, and then some of the boys noticed a cart manned by a woman frying a whole manner of things: veggies, tofu, sausages, weird dried fish (we think), poop.
Yes, poop. Two of the boys pointed toward a weird dried fish stick to give that a whirl and ended up with poop on a stick instead. Good god that smelled foul. There's no way I was going to try that. They did, and were choking on the spot. "Yep. Poop. Holy god that's gross." Don't think they'll live that one down. The fried food lady knew her stuff and made for some pretty yummy street food, but everything was absolutely covered in salt and MSG and dripping with oil, and after my third stick I couldn't take any more. We had: cauliflower, green onions, tofu, poop (see above), potatoes, lotus root, and cucumber. It was then back to the crepe man for more sweet treats. Yum.
And so Meg and the Meatsticks comes to a close, with me heading east and them on a quick jaunt up to the Three Gorges before heading out west to Yunnan.
I sent them off with a bunch of American junk food I inherited from some dude along the way, and will possibly meet up with them in Thailand for round two. I told them they'd be crying themselves to sleep tonight and Eddie corrected me: "We won't have a bed to sleep in, because we won't be able to find where we're going." Apparently between four boys they lack skills in the cardinal directions department -- something that's been supremely entertaining for me. They "can't find their way out of a wet paper bag," as Eddie puts it, and were always looking to me for directions. How's that for a wrench in the stereotype? As for me, I'm off to get a haircut (something I REALLY hope I don't regret) and roam around for a few hours before my train to Guilin
And for those of you who were wondering, I don't recommend the salted duck egg for breakfast. Barf-o-la.