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Friday, October 14, 2005

On hospitality and misinformation

There is more misinformation flying around China than even there is coming from the White House. At least, though, here it just relates to bus tables and the possibilities of getting from place to place in a given day, or, in a more annoying fashion, visa issues. It is with this in mind, and tied into a "f'ing hospitality" theme that I recount today.

I started the morning with great plans to take a bus to a town called Xiao Huang, and then from there another bus to another town, from which I would walk about 18 KM through the country side and through some attractive looking villages before returning to CongJiang. Then I was, in the afternoon, going to visit another town called Xia Jiang before returning again to CongJiang for the night. Everything was ruined by 7 am.

First I was told at the bus station that the bus to Xiao Huang (of which there is only one in the morning, at 7) picked passengers up on the road across the bridge. I went across the bridge and was told by two other men I needed to go back across the bridge, and down to the left, where there would be another road by which the bus would pass. The problem is, there is only one road leading through the town and so, even now I have no clue where to get the bus to Xiao Huang. I have a feeling those two guys just didn't know what they were talking about.

So, back to the bus station and a slight change of plans. I would go to XiaJiang in the morning, and the return in the afternoon to go to the largest Dong village in the country, Shao Xing. I would spend the night there. I told the service girls at the hotel I would be back in the afternoon to get my bag, which I had packed and left in the room, up against the wall, as I have done in other hotels in these smaller towns. I would have put it behind the front desk, but I couldn't even get into the lobby as it was locked. Please remember this.

Off to XiaJiang, an hour or so away. An uneventful bus ride. XiaJiang is a nice town. A mix of Miao, Dong, and Han Chinese, plus one other minority group, whose name I forget. The architecture was a mix as well, with dark chocolate colored wooden houses and grey brick houses with rectangular balconies hanging over the road, and traditional ugly bathtile Chinese buildings which I seem to mention in just about every post.

There were more flies per square meter in Xia Jiang than I have seen in any other town in China. Perhaps because of the small market that was running when I arrived, or perhaps because of the wedding feast being prepared by 20 or 30 people sitting at a long wooden table, chopping red peppers and mushrooms and crushing herbs. Women were defeathering just-killed and boiled chickens by hand. There were stomachs and intestines lying around on the table, waiting to be cooked. The happy mood was physical and after taking some photos and chatting, they invited me to come back to eat.

I went out then to walk a bit more, up the hill side away from the river, past isolated wooden houses and through stillness. The heat, by 1100, was stifling. I returned to the town and sat in front of a run-down temple with statues worshipping the sun and another deity, which I am not sure of at the moment. In front of the temple was a massive tree that must have been several hundred years old and which provided shade for a large swath of land. While sitting there, a group of girls passed by, wearing traditional clothes, black outfits with pink and turqoise highlights which I mentioned yesterday. There hair, again, up and wrapped in a beautiful way, held in place by bright colored combs. Off I went to see if anyone would be willing to take a photo.

Then I was back to the second largest street in the village, which is not saying much. There was little action. Sleeping dogs, a woman sewing a booty, sitting on a low stool in front of her shop. A few old women. A few kids popped out of a doorway and I snapped their pictures. Then the mother invited me to eat with them, a large meal with several Dong dishes, mostly fish based, or spicy veggie mixes.

Three teachers from the middle school came as well and we ate and chatted and all was nice. I told them of my plans to go to Shao Xing (I told them early, so that I would be able to leave without causing offense at an appropriate time). We talked about sports and China and America and the war (and while I'm thinking about this, I forgot to mention the man I met in Guiling who was raving about Hugo Chavez--he is the president of Venezuela, right? [Right.--ed.] and how he has insulted Xiao Bushi many times on TV) The man of the house pulled out, appropriately, an oil can which contained Mi jiu, or alcohol made from rice grains. It was brutal, better used as something to move a car with, and after a few drinks I explained about my bai jiu day in Beijing and said I did not think I could finish it. This meant the 12-year-old boy was off running to the store next door for a box with 9 big bottles of beer.

We talked more as we ate. We were sitting on stools no more than a foot high, and as we ate the fish - small fish, which you pretty much just sucked the meat of as their little dead eyeballs peeked at you - we were expected just to spit the bones onto the cement floor. Light cut in through the windows above the broad wooden front door and as the bones piled, and the empty bottles, a wonderful motif was created, with a bright red-orange soup as the centerpiece.

It was a nice time, but having been told that there was a 3:30 bus and a 4:30 bus to Shao Xing, and not wanting to get drunk, I continued to give strong indications that I would like to leave. Each time another glass was poured and a parry was offered--one of the teachers was saying he was going back to Congjiang as well, at 4:30, which meant he could go with me. But I need to be there by 4:30, I explained. He then called a friend to buy a ticket for me in advance, but the friend said there were no buses to Shao Xing. But the ticket lady told me there is, I said. At 2:45, after more than 2 hours, I was able to extricate myself at last, feeling bad that perhaps the man of the house was feeling a loss of face, but wondering why they wouldn't just listen to me and understand that I wanted to get to Shao Xing.

Why was I in such a hurry, you might ask? That is a good question, and one I've been asking myself. I think it has something to do with the fact that I need to be in Kunming by Tuesday at the very latest because of visa issues and I still want to get to a few more minority areas in the meantime. By staying another night in Congjiang, because of the roads and bus links and such, I would lose a lot of time and I was not willing to do that in the name of getting drunk with my new friends. So there you go, my justification.

Anyway, I waited about 20 minutes by the road, three women near me talking and playing with a small baby the only life about really. There were a few people walking but it was all slow motion in the heat and with the beer and food in my belly. The bus came and I was happy to see I would able to get to Congjiang by 4.

Only to find out that there was no more bus to Shao Xing. I could go to another town first, but there might not be any more buses from there today, and there are no hotels either, so the best would be to go in the morning...but that was exactly why I had left those people behind in Xia Jiang. I formulated a new plan. Forget about Shao Xing. I will go to Rong Jiang (alhough a lot of people here say Yong Jiang, so I'm not sure which is right) tonight, and then in the morning, after talking to Natalia (which was also a motivation for getting to a place tonight as we had arranged to talk tomorrow morning), go to Leishan and then to Xia Jiang or some other minority town around there.

Then there was the little matter of getting my bag, and then my deposit back. Getting the bag, no problem. Getting the deposit, well...I think I have mentioned before the way everybody stops what nothing they are doing to watch when two people have an argument in the street, and today I was in the middle of one of those small crowds, watching from in front of the hotel (the door is like a garage door, and so the front is exposed to the street). The lady was upset because I was leaving well after the 12:00 checkout time which was not posted anywhere. I explained to her that I told the cleaning girls in the morning that I would be back in the afternoon to get my things which I had already packed and set aside so someone else could use the room. The cleaning girl told you that checkout is 12, the woman said. No, she didn't, I said. Yes, she did. You must not have understood. Now, I think if I had said, yes, I did not understand, things might not have become so heated, but I was just not in a happy mood about this woman trying to take 50 RMB from me and I said...no, she did not tell me that. I would be able to understand her if she did. Then I said, look, this is huai dong xi (scoundrel like bad stuff). You want my money, fine, give me 30 RMB and piss off. After going next door to buy some water, I thought why the hell am I even giving her any extra money. Yes, check out is usually 12, but no one ever said that and I've been in other hotels where what I did today was no problem and if they had had another guest, all they would have had to do was move my stuff because I did tell the girls I was leaving. And besides, as I mentioned earlier, there was no one at the desk in the morning even if I wanted to store my stuff.

I went back to the hotel and in a cooler voice explained that I thought she should give me the other 20 RMB for just this reason and at first I thought she was cooler also. She walked to the desk, but then she flew off the handle and this is when everyone started watching. She pretty much threw the 20 RMB at me and I think told me to piss off and not bother coming back. Well, no problem. I know I could get a cheaper and much quieter room at a different place if I come back...so, I am not sure of the name of the place but it is the hotel that has an English name (the only one) and that is across from the bus station. The guy there was super helpful, and for this I recommend it...the woman, though...that turned me off the place just a bit.

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