08/01/2013 - 08/01/2013 -1 °C
Day 2 – Baiyun district, Guiyang, Guizhou
When you meet someone in China, they always asked you where you’re from. It’s a way for people to quickly size you up in such a huge country. I’m from Guizhou. Hmmmm… it’s pretty much known for being the desperately poor backwater province. Every time I come back here I wonder how exactly it was that I ended up growing up in one of the most privileged countries in the world when I see where my dad came from – a farm where they only made a paved road eight years ago and it was such a momentous occasion there is a huge plaque next to the road listing details of its construction and the amounts of money that each villager was able to donate to fund it.
Guizhou is in China’s South West, inland, and right next to the more ‘famous’ provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan. Apart from being known as the poorest province in the country, it’s also famous for its Maotai rice liquor, chilli sauce (Laoganma chilli sauce, or “Old Dry Mother” – much more tasty than it sounds), being mountainous, rice paddy terraces and Huangguoshu waterfalls (around 80m tall and 80 m wide!)
Since I’m on a little introductory spiel, I’ll also explain a bit about names in Chinese for relatives. All cousins are referred to as either your older/younger brother/sister. Aunts, uncles and grandparents have specific names depending on whether they are from your mother or father’s side of the family. If you meet someone a little bit older than you, you call them sister/brother. Otherwise you call them auntie/uncle.
So we were staying at my Shushu and Shenshen’s house the first night in Guiyang. Shushu means uncle on my father’s side (ie my dad’s brother). Shenshen means my uncle on my father’s side’s wife. Get it?!
Shenshen made this amazing hotpot when we got up in the morning. Hotpot is a great way to eat when it’s cold because the food always stays WARM! We had some small dishes as accompaniments including ‘Ze’ergen’ which is a famous Guizhou dish. If you come here you have to try it. It’s a white weed stick thing that looks weird but is really tasty. That basically describes a lot of Chinese food. It’s better to employ an “eat first, ask later” policy – actually, your hosts will generally follow the “eat first, TELL later”. That’s how I ended up eating DOG MEAT one time and was traumatised afterwards.
My WuJu (literally, Uncle on my mother’s side, sibling #5 – I love the brevity of the language) drove us to Baiyun District, about 50 minutes away from Guiyang. The drive was pretty depressing. Two of the top 25 apps in the Chinese app store are air pollution index monitors and you can see why. Outside it was totally muddy, grey and bleak. Everything appeared greying, except for the store signs which were prematurely greying too. Most cars were covered in dust and mud. When you go out onto any Chinese city street, you see poor haggard people wandering around, faces black with soot. The people I saw that day seemed especially haggard and sad. We stopped for a few minutes due to a traffic jam, and there were five people who walked past in the cold, polluted tunnel jamming business cards in the car windows. That was their job. It reminded me of being in Jakarta one year in a traffic jam. Children would come up to the car windows begging, and others would try to sell things by holding items like a toy car. The cynic in me thinks the only reason there weren’t any beggars on the street during this particular traffic jam was because the government has banned them. The power the government has here is difficult to imagine. Right now they are banning frames on car licence plates.
Chinese bath house
That night, my Wu Juma (literally, wife of uncle, sibling #5 on mother’s side ie my auntie) took us to the bath house. This is a very stereotypical middle-class activity. Every bathhouse is basically variations on this theme: what happens is, you get inside and change your shoes for slippers. The males go into one area and the females the other. You take off your clothes and go to the shower area. After having a shower, you can go to the sauna or steam room or pool. Then you either stand or lie naked (depending on the luxury of the bathhouse) while some woman/man scrubs all the dead skin off you. All this black stuff comes off. You can choose to get other treatments done too. Then there’s a communal area or private room depending on how you pay, and you can watch TV and eat fruit/order other meals. Generally it may be a bit dodgy if you are a man. If hotels are booked out or you don’t have your passport as a foreigner, you can stay in a bathhouse in a private room, except sometimes they can double as brothels, of which there are also many varieties in China!!
My skin is now super soft and moisturised, ready for spending 5 days in rural Guizhou.