Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

[travel] Nanfeng to Beijing, day 10

We cracked out of bed at a reasonable hour in Nanfeng. The big day was behind us, and this was the beginning of walking back the spiral to make our way home across the oceans. Our little hotel in Nanfeng had no breakfast service, so we ate lightly of the snacks we'd bought the day before, and the fruit Mrs. Ping had given the_child, then we loaded up the van for the drive back to the airport in Nanchang.

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This was the clearest sky we'd seen yet in China. Almost blue, in fact, at least for the first while of driving in the sticks. We followed the same route back to Nanchang we'd taken down the day before, so we knew what to watch for. I kept trying to photograph odd local vehicles, farm life, village life, and so forth, but all of it through the tinted windows of a moving van, so not so much. As I commented, had I been driving we'd have stopped for pictures dozens of times.

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The highway is quite new, we were told, and it looks it. When the_child made the trip back in 1998, they had to use local roads all the way. Now there is a four lane expressway, with roadside art to relieve the views. Traffic was oddly light, as on the way down, and we made much better time back to Nanchang than we'd planned for.

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In Nanchang we stopped for lunch at a Chinese tourist restaurant. This was to say, not food for locals or for Westerners, but for domestic tourists. It was apparently Jiangxi cuisine, which is not one of the famed flavors of China. The restaurant struck me as unusual in that we had to order in a fashion I'd never encountered. Once seated, Dad was invited to a side room at the front of the restaurant where plates of all the dishes on offer were displayed inside large coolers. Imagine a sort of automat, except the display food wasn't taken out ot be served. Rather, a waitress wrote down your selections, and off the order went to the kitchen. This is the real-life version of that plastic food which is so popular in Japan, and to a lesser degree in China.

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The restaurant specialized in seafood, and there were a number of tanks with lunch swimming in them. This included some depressed turtles, and a batch of crabs that had been tied with straw, possibly for convenience in handling, possibly to keep them from injuring one another. Which, of course, leads to the realization that someone in the seafood distribution business in Nanchang has the unenviable task of being the crab-tier. Imagine doing that every day.

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The food in the coolers was highly varied, and mostly seafood. Plates of tentacles, dull-eyed fish, things which looked like they'd unsuccessfully tried to invade the earth from another planet. My personal favorite on the weird-o-meter was the plate of pig fetuses. (We did not order those.)

Unfortunately, we're not much of a seafood crowd. I was scarred for life by a bad experience with live eel soup when I was seven years old, while my Dad doesn't care for it either. Mother of the Child is a vegetarian, with occasional forays into pescetarianism, but also usually eschews it. So we ordered dumplings and baodze and a couple of vegetable dishes and some crispy fried bing and the single chicken and pork dishes they would reluctantly agree to sell us.

I'm pretty sure we annoyed the cooks, because the chicken and pork arrived in exactly the same preparation — a dark brown sauce which was medium-spicy to the Western palate, several varieties of chopped peppers, and a hunk of the whole animal cleavered down into medium sized pieces. Skin, bone, gristle, fat and meat in odd chunks. There was a deliberate lack of grace and presentation in those dishes which was much in contrast to most of the meals we've eaten here.

We feigned being ignorant round eyes and enjoyed it anyway.

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After that we made it to the Nanchang airport rather ahead of schedule. Our guide got us checked in for the flight and shephered to security (as they did at every airport here in China), then we spent a couple of hours idling in the departure area. Nanfeng rather reminds of John Wayne Orange County Airport, except that John Wayne is my least favorite airport in the United States (with the possible exception of Newark), whereas the Nanfeng airport seemed rather well managed, and without the rampant idiocy I've found every time I've flown into Orange County.

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The Air China flight to Beijing was crowded, as all the flights we took inside China were, but it ran on time and even arrived a bit early. Luggage was collected, our new guide took us to our driver, and we headed back into town for the Prime Hotel, where we'd first stayed. I did some quick shopping down the street for bottled water, snacks and some last minute dongxi, including a few more postcards to send out.

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the_child, Mother of the Child, and I were checking out early the next morning for the flight home (where I am writing this now somewhere between Beijing and Tokyo), but Mom and Dad are staying in Asia another ten days or so to do some more China tourism, then head to Taiwan to visit some of the places of my youth and the first years of their marriage.

I'd arranged dinner that night with prof_brotherton and bridget_coila. Everybody from our group except MotC made it down to dinner, and bridget_coila brought her sweetie Justin. We ate at the hotel buffet in the interests of expediency, as going out anywhere would have been a major logistical effort. The dinner buffet was every bit as eccentric as the breakfasts, including some masterpieces such as "Cattle Fish Mouse" and "Cock in Wine". We did alright off it, and had some very nice conversation, including a discussion of the relative merits of drinking turtle's blood, snake blood and snake bile. the_child and my parents went up to bed before I did, but I eventually bid goodnight to my friends as well.

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Upstairs in the room the lights were all off. Most Chinese hotels use this system of a console to control the room features, and a power cutoff next the door which is activated by inserting your room key. This is fine unless the console doesn't work correctly, which was true in every hotel room we stayed in. MotC and the_child had cut off all the room power in order to get the lights to go out, as there seemed to be no other way. I was reduced to stumbling around in the dark with the flashlight thoughtfully provided with the room. Hmmm.

Nonetheless, I finally got the Nanfeng visit report posted (had been awaiting the painful upload to Flickr of some of the pictures). That wasn't easy to write, and it wasn't easy to go through — lots of emotional loading there, for everyone, but the trip has been so very worth it.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: child, china, family, photos, travel
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