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Seven Weeks in Tibet: Part 2


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On the plane to Kunming (the capital of Yunnan Province, dubbed the Eternal Spring City due to its mild climate year round), although we theoretically had assigned seats, we found that the other passengers had happily settled themselves into ours. Every seat on the plane was full and we stood blocking the aisle.

The flight attendants pushed up and, rather than moving the people who were occupying our seats, they simply moved the flight attendants’ belongings out of the last row -- the row that doesn’t recline, the one next to the bathroom, the most uncomfortable row on the plane --and pointed. So three people took those seats (admittedly, I was not pushing to get seated there) and, little by little, uncomfortable and cramped seats were procured for most of the members of our group. But we were still a few seats short and I was still standing.

My fingers were crossed: it looked like Bev and I might end up in first class (not that this would mean much, but at least the seats wouldn’t be cramped). We were directed to follow the male flight attendant forward and, as we got closer and closer to the front of the plane, it was looking like we might be headed for the soft seats. But at the very last row of sardine class before the comfort zone, a uniformed arm shot out and pointed us to the two bulkhead seats -- a middle and an aisle. I wasn’t complaining, mind you, I could have been in the last row of the plane, but I had been so close to escape. As I was later served my beverage (there seemed to be an ample selection on the cart, but the male flight attendant seemed to have ESP and so decided on my behalf that indeed I did want the unidentifiable orange-ish, overly sweet drink that he plopped down in front of me in the paper cup that had all but disintegrated by the time I picked it up to take my first and only sip) and my fried peanuts (a worthy bar snack), I could only imagine the tantalizing delicacies that I must have been missing in first class.

Those of you who have driven around France are no doubt familiar with the Carrefour chain of supermarkets (hypermarches, the French call them, “hyper” being one step up from “super” in the pecking order of marches). You might be surprised to learn, then, that the chain is represented in China as well. (They actually have more stores in Asia than in Europe). So, after checking into our rooms at the Camellia Hotel, Kay and I, roommates for the night, decided to make the 25-minute walk over to the local Carrefour before heading to the “Muslim strip” for dinner.

We stepped into a bizarre, sterilized Chinese version of Western -- now very much incorporated into Chinese culture -- consumer heaven. It was the size of the two largest Costco warehouses you've ever seen, one stacked atop the other. The first floor had clothing, household items, electronics and wine. But the second floor was where the action was. All of the food products -- packaged and fresh, baked and bulk, fish, meat and poultry and alcohol both domestic and imported -- were here, with fixed, no-haggle prices. And it was all as clean as if it were in Ogden, Utah. Better still, the majority of the food was local or at least domestic. There were a limited number of imported items like chocolate (Snickers bars, for example) and biscuits (cookies, to Americans) but, for the most part, the Kunming Carrefour was a hypermarche paradise of Chinese food products.

We hadn't anticipated this level of complexity and diversity, so we were short on time. I rushed around wildly, like a woman on a television game-show 60-second shopping spree, examining as many of the local products in the packaged food section as I could. The dried sweet potato looked promising, and while I would find that it was a bit like shoe leather, it was tasty, gave my jaw a good workout and became a staple of my diet during travel and trekking days. I also found a selection of mantou (buns), which I had been trying to find in Hong Kong and Yangshuo. While nobody at the counter spoke English, I could tell based upon color that the plain white buns were the traditional plain steamed bread (eaten at breakfast), whereas the burnt orange buns appeared to be pumpkin flavored. The gray bun speckled with black flakes remained a mystery. I selected one of each and determined that I liked plain best. The other two didn’t really have any identifiable flavors but had a bitterness that made them unpalatable. I don't really know what I ate. I looked forward to our return to Kunming at the end of the trip, when I would have ample time to further explore Carrefour.

Kay and I studied the map and tried, based upon the mosque we had passed and the mosque we were headed towards, to determine where we would find the strip of Muslim restaurants we had heard about. (Yes, they have mosques and Muslim restaurants, and even Muslims, in China). Through diligent forensic detection (will CSI: Kunming be next?), or maybe just dumb luck, we stumbled upon a two-square-block area that had approximately 30 restaurants packed into its. As if the selection wasn’t great enough already, in the middle of one block we stumbled upon an indoor food mall which had another 20 or more restaurants -- some with seating inside the individual stores and most with seating in the center aisle that divided one side from the other.

Both inside the food mall and out, people stood outside of their restaurants with menus, trying to lure customers inside. The bigger restaurants outside of the mall had both large indoor restaurant spaces and equally large outdoor sitting areas. They had grills fired up outside, along with displays of all the ingredients, upon which the Muslim cooks maneuvered skewered meats around the grills to utilize the varying levels of heat for different degrees of doneness.

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We settled on a restaurant in the mall. We walked by each of the entryways (none had proper doors -- they were just open, like the three-sided stores) and looked at the produce in bins outside the kitchens. In many restaurants around China, the produce is displayed out front of the restaurant, presumably for patrons to see freshness, variety and quality. Most that served fish had tanks or buckets out front rigged with aeration tubes, and an assortment of vegetables -- whatever was in season. Considering that, at first glance, they all looked the same, it seemed a daunting process to make a selection amongst all those restaurants. But we narrowed it down based upon the appearance of the fresh produce and what we saw people eating; and so we selected one in the mall that had tables and seating inside the shop (we didn’t want one of the more upscale restaurants with patio seating, but we didn’t want to sit at the McDonald’s-style plastic chairs attached to plastic tables in the center of the food mall either).

The restaurant we chose had no English name, no English menu and no English speakers present -- anywhere. Luckily, I had my phrasebook, which has a section dedicated to eating, we had a cheat sheet from our orientation and I was getting better at Chiniculation every day. No matter what, one could never be certain of what would actually turn up (I'm convinced this would be the case even if you spoke every Chinese dialect fluently), so each of the methods was equally viable. Kay had just come off of another Intrepid trip (through a different part of China), on which her group ate virtually every meal together with the leader, so she already had some favorite dishes and had accumulated a body of trial-and-error experience in restaurant ordering. Between us we selected four dishes: spicy sauteed tofu; egg and tomato (one of Kay’s staples and soon to be one of mine too); spicy sauteed eggplant; and sauteed greens with fresh garlic. We ordered rice to accompany our small feast. We heaped some rice into our bowls, and atop that we served a bite or two at a time of each dish. Every dish was excellent -- my best meal in China yet (though the trip had scarcely begun).

The next morning we were off to Dali. It would be another long travel day, this time on a bus. If there was no road work being done, the trip would be a five to six hour trip but, due to the road work (aka absence of a road), we were in for a nine hour bounce-a-thon.

Breakfast was included with our rooms at the Camellia hotel and we fortified ourselves for the day ahead. There was a full buffet with an assortment of Eastern and Western specialties: Danish and pastry rolls, yogurt, a couple of varieties of meat dumplings, mantou, raw vegetables, cut fruit and fried eggs cooked by a griddle man who cooked the eggs one egg at a time, plated each individually, hoarded the plates until several had accumulated, and then threw a dozen or more plates up on the pass at once -- an ideal arrangement for producing consistently cold fried eggs.

By 8:00 am we were on our first bus, which would take us from the hotel to the central bus station (45 minutes). Our next bus was in its bay and ready to board. We threw our big bags underneath and wedged ourselves into our assigned seats (ironically, on the bus everyone obeyed the seat assignments, but that’s probably because it was all Westerners on the bus). Luckily, I got an aisle.

The first hour was relatively smooth sailing, and I wondered what all of the hubbub had been about. Then our bus took the right fork and, suddenly, the road disappeared. In China, when a road is being built, do not assume that the road is closed and traffic is rerouted. To the contrary, it means that the vehicles drive wherever they can, switching from one side of what might someday be the new road to the other and avoiding heavy machinery -- in operation -- and lines of small muscular men wearing what appear to be hard hats made of paper and doing manual labor like sifting sand with screens and chopping up the dirt with pick axes, cooking bricks on the side of the road in ovens and carrying wheelbarrows of dirt from one place to another. One of the many incongruities I’d see in China: big modern heavy machinery operating just up the road -- on the same project -- from these manual laborers who, based upon the tools with which they were working, could easily have been mistaken for Chinese peasants building a road 100 years ago.

We bumped along for the next three and a half hours and, in addition to getting my knees slammed into the seat in front of me on a regular basis, the “road” was in such a state (well, there wasn’t really a road) that people’s belongings rained down upon us from the storage area above, clocking some in the head, on the legs or perhaps just in the lap for a wake up call. One of the highlights was when John got knocked on the head by a 1.5 liter bottle of water as the bus tilted 15 degrees (when you're in the bus, that seems very steep) and we all held on to our seats for dear life. A strapping young Aussie surfing farmer, he rubbed his noggin and took it in stride.

Our lunch break was at a road junction just off the construction zone and marked the end of our drive on the road-in-progress. I selected snacks from my purchases at Carrefour and wandered out of the parking lot and over to the nearby fields to watch farmers harvesting their rice. To my surprise, they had a small threshing machine. I expected the harvest process would be traditional “separating the wheat from the chaff” sort of threshing where the plants are beaten to extract the grain, or tossed up into the air. Having this small portable machine was another surprising incongruity. The harvesting was done manually, with small hand-held scythes, but the separation of the rice from the stalk was done in the modern machine. Standing on the side of the road, I was unable to see what the end result was -- did the machine actually thresh the rice or did it simply cut the stalk from the grain to be threshed at another time, presumably by hand.

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We arrived in Dali at about 5:00 and, fortunately, got Shanghaied by a couple of cabbies who were waiting for the bus to arrive. (I had overheard Sylwia discussing the impending activity of finding yet another bus to get us to our final destination). We checked into our hotel in Old Dali (15-20 minutes outside of Dali -- a separate town, really), where we would be staying for the next three nights, and reconvened for a little orientation tour around town. Sylwia brought us to the main street and announced that it was time for dinner. We looked around at each other and I declined, as did Martin and Bev. We had just been cooped up on a bus for that last nine hours or more, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit down again. I was in a new place, I was excited and I wanted to get out and see what was around.

Bev, Martin and I set out wandering down the two main cobblestone streets that made up the center of Old Dali. The city is surrounded by an old stone wall with entrances at the compass points, complete with lookouts above the gateways. The two streets cross in a T and other cobblestone streets in the town center bisect and radiate out from them. On what locals consider the main boulevard (Wenxian Lu), on one side there is a stream separating the street (which is restricted to pedestrian traffic) from the sidewalk and adorned with trees. On the other side of the boulevard is a mirror image -- benches, trees, sidewalk and shops -- but without the stream. It was a lovely environment for strolling both at night and during the day and, as we explored, the streets were lively with locals and tourists, the shops were open and Bev and I darted into a few shops to check out the local wares while Martin wandered about trying to amuse himself while we behaved like girls.

By 8:00 we were ready to eat but we wanted to get off the beaten path, so we decided to venture outside of the city walls. Not far out of the south gate, we came upon a street that seemed to be, go figure, the wood-carving district -- virtually every store front had someone carving wood shutters and furnishings by hand. On the same street we also came upon a few restaurants in the now-familiar format: a room with no front wall, bins of produce out front, buckets of water with live fish and, at the one that drew me in, a significant Chinese matron standing over two large burners -- one with a wok, the other with a boiling cauldron -- and working both, one with each hand. Inside there was a woman eating dinner with her daughter. It had the right feel and I steered us into the restaurant.

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Of course, there was no menu, or at least we never saw one, but it’s not like we could have read it anyway. Bev and I went outside and pointed at the beautiful fresh mushrooms. A nod of acknowledgement. There was a pot, bubbling on the burner, that contained tofu and greens. I pointed at that. Bev suggested a beef dish -- a nod. We selected some greens for the wok and that’s when the woman at the other table got involved. The Chinese matron was concerned that we had no fish on our menu. What about a dish with fish? We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. We weren’t really interested. Having picked my way through all of the bones of the filleted beer fish, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of this dish because I knew that there would be even more bones to work around as well as skin, fins, head and tail. I know that cooking the fish on the bone theoretically adds more flavor to the meat but I’ve never been able to tell the difference (except maybe with turbot) and the number of bones in the regional fish that have to be fished out of the mouth with each bite far outweigh the pleasure of eating it. But there was no explaining this to Mama (literally and figuratively) and, as she stood with her hands on her hips and a stern look on her face, we took the safe route and told our intermediary that we would indeed have a fish dish -- whatever Mama said. Fish soup? Yes, yes, fish soup sounds perfect.

The three of us settled into our table for six and, chuckling amongst ourselves, we debated what dishes would actually appear on the table. In the mean time, Mama was hard at work on the fish. She reached her big paw into the tank and grabbed an energetic flapping fish of indeterminate species. She walked to the edge of the sidewalk, almost to the street, squatted down, raised the wriggling fish out in front of her and threw it down onto the cement.

Nope. The fish wasn't dead yet. So she picked it up and threw it on the ground again. Now the fish was dead, or close enough. Without a moment’s pause, she grabbed a small knife and gutted and scaled the fish in about the time it took me to take one photo and for my flash to recycle. The fish was handed off to one of the three young girls working in the restaurant with Mama. None of them, it turned out, was her daughter, but they were living with her and working in the restaurant while attending the local school.

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The team of them went to work on our meal: one hacked up the fish, another was cleaning the mushrooms and the third was working on the ingredients for the fish soup. It was not long before the dishes started to arrive at the table. The mushroom dish was first and it was bliss on a plate (I love mushrooms more than most any other food). Red peppers had been added for color and two types of hot chili peppers, red and green, had been added for a little zing. The greens arrived -- straightforward and delicious, stir fried in the wok. And the piece de resistance -- the fish soup, bubbling in a cast iron cauldron -- was placed on the table for our inspection while Mama stood over us waiting for our nods of approval. We looked up at her and nodded our heads like bobbing head dolls and she lumbered away, back to the stove.

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Watching Martin try to sift his way through the bones was enough to confirm my choice to avoid the fish, but that didn’t stop me from digging into the broth and the heaps of vegetables that were floating around in the kettle. Martin got into the spirit of things, first removing the bones from his mouth by hand, and then, when we told him that the Chinese just spit them out onto the table (most restaurants have plastic sheets over the table cloths), he began to do the same, creating a significant mountain of bones next to his bowl.

Throughout the meal we interacted with the three girls. They had some basic English and, after they got over their initial shyness about speaking the foreign language, they tried to answer some of our questions. One of the girls was surprisingly proficient -- more so than many of the other people we had encountered around town including shopkeepers, who presumably deal with tourists on a daily basis. One thing I came to learn, however, was that in China tourists don’t usually equate with Westerners. If you look at the population of China -- well over a billion -- and the expense and difficulty of getting a visa and going abroad, you won't be surprised to learn that, when most Chinese take vacations, they travel within their own vast and varied country. So most tourists in China are, not surprisingly, Chinese.

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Every once in a while, our Chinese Mama would stand over us at the table, checking our progress. She would reach in with the ladle in order to examine the remaining contents of the fish soup and shake her head in disapproval. I fished out lots of vegetable from the cast iron pot and Martin valiantly made his way through the fish -- meat, skin, bones, tail and head. When he finally proclaimed himself full up, Mama (her name, we learned, is Yang Su Fa) came over and, with a great deal of solemnity, ladled through the casserole dish, shook her head in disapproval and proceeded to ladle the three remaining pieces of fish into Martin’s bowl. She nodded at him in assent and no amount of gesturing on his part -- patting his stomach, blowing out his cheeks or making a circle with his arms out in front of his stomach -- would remove the frown of disapproval from her face.

Martin looked at me and then at Bev and said “I suppose there’s no way I can get out of eating this, is there?” It was, of course, a rhetorical question. We all looked up and saw Mama standing over him, now with her hands on her hips and her feet spread apart -- a clear indication to me that she wasn’t going anywhere until Martin achieved an outcome that was to her satisfaction.

Mama stood over him and watched as he consumed each bite and spat the bones onto the table until he was through, at which point her stone face broke into a wide smile and, with a big paw, she clapped Martin on the back in approval. By my estimation, that ranks as high praise from Mama.

The bill total: 50 RMB. That's $6.04 US.

We took a round of photos, some prints of which which are now en route to Dali (Cecil, the owner of the China 46 restaurant in New Jersey, addressed the envelope for me) and, should I ever have the opportunity to return, I expect I’ll find our group photo pasted to the wall. We departed beaming, with friendly waves and wide smiles as we made our way back to the walled city.

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The next two days were free days in Dali and, on our first free day, we all decided to take a day-long tour that would include visits to neighboring villages of ethnic Chinese minority groups. Our guide, Henriette (a Dutch woman), married a local guy of Chinese and Tibetan descent and together they opened a restaurant in town (catering primarily to Western tourists). They run these tours to neighboring ethnic minority (as everyone other than Han Chinese are referred to in China) towns and villages.

In retrospect, after spending more than nine hours in transit the day before, the first half of the tour would have been enough (dayenu, if you get my meaning, to those of you who have ever celebrated Passover). The second half of the day included more than four hours on a mini bus crossing a mountain range yet, to me, the most interesting part of the day was the first half, which was only 20 minutes from old Dali. It’s possible, I suppose, that had I not spent nine bone-jarring hours on a bus the day before I’d have felt differently.

Our first destination was Xizhou, a Bai village (Bai being the name of the relevant minority). It was market day and we had 30 minutes of free time to wander around. The market was alive with brisk activity -- everyone was buying or selling something. All of the usual merchandise was available: meat, poultry, fish, many varieties of whole and crushed chilis, pickled vegetables, blocks of brown sugar (I had never seen this before but I would see it in most every other market I would visit) and giant pieces of crystallized sugar that looked like chunks of minerals from a mine (or really big rock candy).

A few items unique to the Bai were the local cheese (cheese, in general, is not an ingredient in the Chinese diet) and different forms of soy products (sold by the pound and cut from blocks based upon the desired amount) that looked like giant rectangles of wobbly cheese, whitish and sometimes yellow in color.

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We walked through the streets and were lucky enough to be able to enter a home. There were still many indications that the cultural revolution was hardly ancient history: political slogans were still visible on many of the town and residence walls and, outside of one home, there was a chart with a list of people’s names with numbers next to each name indicating the number of hours each person had worked.

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In the courtyard of the home we visited, there were paper thin slices of apple laid out on flat U shaped baskets drying in the sun -- there were no orchards in evidence around the village, though it was peak apple season, so the family likely had apple trees in an orchard outside of the city (or they had bartered for the apples) and they were drying the excess for the upcoming winter season.

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The kitchen was off the courtyard. It was a relatively large rectangular room with no window. The stove was in the far right corner -- the farthest possible location from the door (and therefore from ventilation). Immediately inside the door was a stack of what looked like black honeycombs. These, it turns out, are the common local fuel source for stoves: coal dust compacted and stamped into honeycombs and then cooked in an outdoor oven in the village. The men I observed who were making the honeycombs had coal smudges on their faces like coalminers, although, fortunately for their lungs, every step of the job takes place outdoors.

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The honeycombs are stacked vertically one on top of another inside the body of the stove and the holes allow the air to circulate and the coal to heat up hotter and faster. Regionally, it is the most inexpensive fuel for cooking (and the heating byproduct -- which is why the stove is so far from the door and the room has no windows) and therefore the most widely utilized. Other fuels, like yak dung, are used in Tibet and the economics of the free fuel are not insignificant; and elsewhere, where wood is readily available, it is collected and used for cooking.

As we exited the courtyard, we were directed to the electric meters above the entryway. There were three. This, we were told, was the surefire way to know how many families were in residence on the property—three electricity meters, three separate families, three separate bills.

Lunch was on the other side of the Cang Shan mountains, in a Muslim village. The food was Hallal Chinese food -- same drill as regular Chinese food, but no pork.

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Next to the restaurant was a mosque, which, interestingly enough, was not architecturally reminiscent of any other mosques I’ve seen -- it looked nothing like a mosque (yet in other parts of China, like Kunming, for example the mosques look like mosques) to the extent that you wouldn’t know it was a mosque . . . unless you knew. The bathrooms at this mosque, in an attached building adjacent -- were a cement trough (standard for modern, not fancy) with two slots for standing, divided by a three foot wall and no doors on the building or the individual slots. Why then, one might ask, do they even bother to put a wall between the slots when, in reality, there is no privacy since the person who is squatting (we’re talking about women here) in the first slot is not only passed by the person who is going to the second slot (both on her way in and on her way out) but if there is a line (as there was with the women from our group) the woman in the front slot is doing her business in full view of the line of women who are standing in the open doorway. Yes, things in China are very public. Not much room for privacy. Of course, there were plenty of toilets that were communal -- not even a three-foot wall between the slots -- and you can be sure that all of us Western women (I can’t address the male toilets first-hand, though I assume the same rules apply) were wishing for that wall when faced with the open trough alternative, especially, dare I say, when one’s bowels were active.

From the restaurant we visited a second, much sparser market, this one populated primarily by the Yi (another ethnic minority), and then to a Buddhist pagoda-style temple with an excellent lookout point over the surrounding countryside.

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Upon arrival back in Dali at 7:00 pm, Sylwia dropped the bomb on us that, upon departure from Dali the morning after our second free day there, we would need to separate out seven days worth of belongings for our trek through the Tiger Leaping Gorge. In our trip dossier, a “day pack” was suggested for days 11-15 of the itinerary in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. It turned out that we really needed to account for 8 days (including our day of departure and our day of return when we would be reunited with our bags). You can imagine our surprise, and many people, including me, were caught off guard and some even purchased intermediate-sized packs, since we had observed the written instructions and brought only day packs, to accommodate the belongings they would need for the eight days.

Thrilled to be off the bus, and processing the new packing and travel information, I decided that I would wander the old town streets and try to find a more promising place to get my linen trousers copied. I walked into a few shops and ended up with a very sweet girl with extremely limited English (though more than my Chinese).

Armed with my phrasebook, however, which had a complete section on shopping -- including tailoring -- I managed to convey what I wanted. At least, I thought so. This was proceeded by some pantomiming about a jacket I had tried on in another shop the night before where they had told me that they could not make the jacket to my color specifications. Here, I was told, I thought, that they could get it done but I still had been unable to convey the issue of time and multiple jobs -- the jackets and the trousers. These items had to be done by the following night, whenever the store would close, and furthermore, I tried to explain, if the trousers came out well (I wouldn’t make that mistake twice), I wanted to get additional pairs made.

Much Chinglish and Chiniculation ensued. I didn’t grow up in a game-playing family (thank heaven) so I’ve never been able to test this out, but I’ve come to think that I must have a talent for charades. If there were a pantomime game show that involved conveying information -- entire conversations -- between two people who speak different languages, I’m pretty sure I’d be in the Showcase Showdown.

Communicating all of this information to a point at which I was relatively confident that I had a chance took about 45 minutes and, in the process, I got to teach the girl some English, which I wrote down for her so she could remember the words later (purple, material and jacket were the beginnings of our lesson). There was some back-and-forth between my girl and another girl who seemed to be the go-to girl. She was the one who could make it happen -- who could make my trouser dreams come true.

It was at this point that I was taken to the “factory.” I was led down a dark alley (with my passport, all of my money, travelers checks and camera gear in tow), into a dark courtyard, then a dark vestibule and finally into a room of about 14' x 20' full of different bolts of material and one guy, working on a ping-pong table. They must have explained the jacket to him first and, with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth with ash on the verge of dropping off at any time, he whipped out a tape measure and expertly took my measurements, said them out loud to himself, jotted them down with a pencil on a scrap of paper and then told the two girls -- my English student and the go-to girl -- that it couldn’t be done, he couldn’t get the trousers and jacket ready by 4:00 the next day, it would have to be 5:00 for the trousers and later, 9:00, for the jacket. They argued back and forth, meanwhile I was watching the cigarette bob up and down in the corner of the tailor's mouth, waiting for the ash to fall.

The girls ushered me back outside into the dark courtyard and, after a few quick hushed exchanges between them, the English student whispered to me (as if the tailor could now magically understand English) that I should come back at 4:00 pm tomorrow to try on the trousers, not 5:00 as they had said inside. The go-to girl nodded her head in assent. I left with a mixed image of success. On the one hand, I had a gut feeling that this guy really knew what he was doing. On the other hand, I had the instinctive feeling that these, my favorite trousers, which the ping-pong loving, cigarette-smoking, ash-dropping tailor now had in his possession would not be ready at 4:00 tomorrow and if I was going to gamble, perhaps I should have simply told them from the start that I wanted 5 pair made all at once, not a first sample pair to be theoretically ready at 4:00 and 4 pair to follow by night’s end if I liked what I saw.

Once again I was walking back to my hotel, well after dark, pressed for time, having voluntarily given up my trousers -- the bottom-half equivalent, I mused, of the shirt off my back.

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Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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:blink:

Mo bettah you make one pair, first, instead of five trousers, five ways, later!

Awesome, Ellen! Thank you for the wonderful sequel travelogue. I expect we will not hear from you until after the Gorge?

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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.Thanks for that. I'm glad that you had a wonderful and interesting trip and I am even happier that you shared it with us. Thanks for the photos and for the narrative. They are both equally enthralling.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Mayhaw Man, I'd keep a close eye on that duck of yours, you might find that it's sold at market and ends up in a pot for dinner.

Friday morning I hope to see five or six of his cousins lying in the cold water at my feet, shot full of holes. And with any luck, again on Sunday and Sunday p.m. All of the results will end up in a pot. I love ducks more than any other wild game.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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As always, Ellen, magnificent pictures and text.

It's like Indiana Jones posting on a food board.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Thanks for the great pictures as always, Ellen!

Some random thoughts:

I saw those honeycomb coals in Beijing last summer, but I don't remember noticing whether anyone was using them for cooking, and I sort of assumed they were for heating in wintertime. But I didn't make a big point to note what fuel was being used in kitchens.

Those roosters for sale as food look beautiful; it's almost too bad they were going to be killed. But I wonder how they prevent them from pecking each other in that basket, and why they don't flee. Do they breed roosters for docility in that region?

Did you try any of that cheese in the market?

I look forward to the third installment!

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Those roosters for sale as food look beautiful; it's almost too bad they were going to be killed. But I wonder how they prevent them from pecking each other in that basket, and why they don't flee. Do they breed roosters for docility in that region?

Did you try any of that cheese in the market?

Pan, as far as I know, the roosters are not bred to be docile here or anywhere else in the country. The handling of birds in China is so different from the U.S. and other western countries—the ducks on the back of the motorbike or the chicken in the bag on the bus—are commonplace. There are more such tales and photos coming, too.

As for the cheese, I did try some. I particularly liked the kind that was flat and dried (as pictured). It is eaten cooked and is something that street vendors in old Dali sell as a snack. Of course, processing the cheese like this preserves it through the winter months.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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That cheese looks almost like pasta, though the colors get all muted on my low-quality LCD screen.

As for the honeycomb coals, thanks for showing how they're made. I wondered about that in Hanoi, where they're used regularly for street-side cooking. Imagine a metal pail lined with concrete, or just a medium concrete 'flowerpot' with one of those in them... they use metal tongs to turn the coal over or pull it out, and you just stick a new one on top of an almost-burned-out one to keep going. Or so my memory says, it's a bit fuzzy.

Cooking fuel is a major issue in almost every third world country, both economic and environmental. (Coal is full of all sorts of toxic stuff, wood isn't much better and cuts down trees, gas is nice but the subisidies are often an issue.)

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Actually, the cheese looks like yuba (soy milk skin) to me.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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That cheese looks almost like pasta, though the colors get all muted on my low-quality LCD screen.

As for the honeycomb coals, thanks for showing how they're made. I wondered about that in Hanoi, where they're used regularly for street-side cooking. Imagine a metal pail lined with concrete, or just a medium concrete 'flowerpot' with one of those in them... they use metal tongs to turn the coal over or pull it out, and you just stick a new one on top of an almost-burned-out one to keep going. Or so my memory says, it's a bit fuzzy.

It does indeed look like pasta, your eyes do not deceive you but it is dried and hard (the way commercial pasta is when it comes out of the box, though not as thick and therefore not durable enough, for say, macaroni necklaces), unlike fresh pasta.

Regarding Jinmyo’s observation, it does look like it could be soy milk skin and while the Bai do make and consume a number of soy milk products I was told that this particular product was cheese of, amongst other things, the sort they sell on the street cooked and served on a skewer as a snack food (which Bev, Martin and I tried our first night wandering around in Dali before dinner at Mama’s).

mb7o -- The honeycombs are used exactly as you remembered—stacked one on top of the other. Good recall!

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Superb report, Ellen, beautiful photos, and a fine read. Thank you!

Cheese is from what dairy source in this region?

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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Okay, yes, it's cow's milk. The Bai cheese in Dali is called rushan and is made from cow's milk. In Kunming the cheese is called rubing and is made from goat's milk. Both could probably be described as "acquired tastes," although I'll get to discussing some Tibetan stuff later that's even more special.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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