25 October 2015

Greg & Penny’s Adventures in China for Adam & Ava’s Wedding Celebrations – Part 2

So, on Tuesday morning we said “good-bye” to the Grand Hotel, Liuzhou and made our way to the bus station to catch the “express” bus to Yangshuo, a mere 3.5 hour journey away. Although the bus had no “facilities” as such, Adam assured me that the driver would stop somewhere about half way so that those of us with the need would be able to “refresh” ourselves. After about two hours into the journey and with the driver showing no indication that he intended to stop, I asked Adam to enquire, which he did. The driver said he had not intended to stop but would do so at the next available “rest area.” Let me assure you that I was not the only one needing to spend a penny – I was nearly trampled as almost every passenger went scampering across to the Chinese slit, many, to judge by their posture as they raced across the pavement, in considerably greater need than was I.

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Eventually, we reached Yangshuo and a short taxi ride later found us at the excellent Xi Town Riverview Inn which, as its name would suggest, had an excellent river view considering that it was immediately adjacent to the river. We had a splendid room on the fourth floor with a gigantic bathroom and spacious balcony overlooking the river. The staff were very sweet, spoke reasonably good English (certainly considerably better than my Mandarin) and couldn’t do enough for us. The lack of a lift/elevator was, in fact, a bonus as it meant that we were easily able to burn off all the calories we were acquiring through the consumption of some fabulous meals. The only small drawback was that the mattress on our bed (and Ben said much the same about his) was very hard, something akin to sleeping on a slab of concrete which, I gather, is the norm in China. The hotel also had the distinct advantage of being the venue for Adam and Ava’s second wedding celebration on the upcoming Saturday.

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Ben and Donna had flown in on Tuesday and we met up with them at the hotel – they were checking in as we returned from a short excursion to see Adam’s bar, the Lounge, for the first time.

The Lounge Open Mic

That evening, Tuesday, was Open Mic evening at Adam’s bar and it seems he had already booked the night’s opening act – he, Ben and me! I was concerned that the rest of the clientele would be somewhat alarmed by the wailing caterwaul we subjected them to but there were no rotten tomatoes thrown and after two quick pieces we vacated the stage for other more talented performers. Unfortunately, there is video evidence of the calamity!

On the Wednesday morning we set off to find ourselves some noodles for breakfast and, after a few false starts not understanding how the arrangements worked, we managed to acquire bowls of delicious Guilin noodles. It wasn’t until later in the week that we discovered the owner was charging us twice as much as he charged the locals – 80p rather than 40p! The outrage!

After a bit of exploration, we made our way down to the Lounge again and, along with Adam and Tally, we wandered up the canal and out into the countryside. I don’t imagine I will ever get used to the sight of the karst mountains rising majestically out of the landscape – the scenery is simply stunning.

No visit to Yangshuo would be complete without a visit to Dr Lily’s traditional Chinese massage – an hour of vigorous manipulation which set us up nicely for the evening’s entertainment, a trip to the outskirts of town to see the Liu Sanjie Light Show.

We visited the Light Show in 2004, just a few months after it had opened. It is now even bigger and more spectacular than ever. The amphitheatre now seats 2500 for each show and it is more or less packed every night. The show was the brainchild of the Chinese film director Zhang Yimou (Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)) who was also responsible for creating the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The whole experience is quite simply stunning – the music is fabulous and the cast of easily 1000 or more put on an incredible performance, all of which is presented on the water (an artificial lagoon created on the Li River) with dazzling multi-colour light displays thrown up against the karst mountain backdrop.

Of course, we couldn’t understand any of the story – much as if we were to attend the opera in Covent Garden, I imagine except that I gather they now have “subtitles” flickering across the top of the stage to assist the ignorati. Apparently, the show is about the legend of a woman called Liu Sanjie, which means “third sister”. Liu Sanjie had a beautiful voice at an early age, so beautiful that it could raise the dead. A local gangster, Mo Huairen, falls in love with her and tries to make her his concubine. However, the boy she truly loves and his friends in the village free her and the couple escape by turning themselves into a pair of larks. I have to confess, we didn’t catch much of that on the night but the show is simply sensational.

Thursday was a day of strenuous exercise and excitement for Adam, Ben, Pen and me – biking, hiking, white-water rafting, eating . . . Donna wisely excused herself and enjoyed a peaceful day meandering around Yangshuo. We intrepid explorers hired bikes and cycled out into the countryside around and about.

Actually, Adam had an ingenious strategy in acting as our tour guide for the day. We were on bicycles and he was on his motor scooter. He would guide us to a stretch of road and then tell us to keep cycling until we saw him again. So, off he would disappear into the distance as we pedalled our way along the road, eventually finding him waiting for us at the next junction or intersection, helpfully pointing the way to our next destination.

Our first stop was a cave (the area is riddled with natural limestone caves) through which we traversed to emerge some moments later on the far side of the mountain with gorgeous views along a beautiful valley in which Adam and Ava lived for a time. Remounting our bikes we cycled more or less along the river through small villages, stopping occasionally for refreshments and a fabulous lunch at the Secret Garden Boutique Hotel, operated, not surprisingly, by a friend of Adam’s. There don’t seem to be many people he doesn’t know.

On one occasion, I guess it must have been the Tuesday evening, we were in a taxi which was allegedly taking us to the Lounge. The driver, having listened to Adam’s directions before he (Adam) set off on his scooter, swore up and down that he knew exactly where it was. We got somewhere near but couldn’t find it and, as we cruised up and down the side streets, we passed the entrance to an English language school outside of which were a collection of what I assumed to be students. I leapt out and asked if they knew where the Lounge was. Their faces were completely blank as I tried to explain what we were looking for. Eventually, I said that we were looking for Adam’s bar. “Oh, Adam!” they all exclaimed and immediately set off to guide us to the bar, about a three minute walk away. The confusion arose because I was referring to it as, not surprisingly, the Lounge. Their pronunciation left a bit to be desired and they knew it as the “Loun Gue” i.e, with a hard “G”. The universal connection was Adam, it turns out.

After a splendid lunch at the Secret Garden we cycled along to a site where we could clamber aboard a bamboo raft and float gently down the river back to Yangshuo. After considerable negotiations, Adam secured us all a cut-price tour, our bikes were loaded onto a truck to be transported down the river to our finishing place and off we set. The rafts had seats for two and we were punted along by two very hard-working raft-polers. There are four or five weirs along the way which created considerable excitement as we swooshed down from one level to the next. The high point of the rafting, however, was when we pulled up alongside a raft tethered in mid-stream where a lady was selling beers and soft drinks. Adam ordered some and then the fun began – Adam and the woman began haggling.

Watching two people haggle is always highly entertaining and Adam does it to perfection. The facial expressions as the negotiations proceed are simply marvellous. The first offer is met with an expression of utter surprise and bewilderment – how much??!! You cannot be serious! The counter-offer is met with disdain and scorn, as if you had just insulted the vendor’s mother, father, sister and favourite pet with profound disrespect. The next counter-offer elicits an expression of contempt, as if the vendor had, in turn, insulted all your maternal ancestors as well as proclaiming that your breath was akin to a buffalo fart. And, this goes back and forth and back and forth. In this particular instance Adam was able to proclaim that he runs a bar and knows exactly how much the beer costs; the woman countered with the fact that she’d had to get all the beers, transport them out to her raft in the middle of the river and wait all day for passing trade. Adam’s response was, “Yes! And you don’t pay any rent or other overheads, either!” At one point Adam gathered up all the drinks and placed them back on top of the lady’s cooler, even though she had already opened them, as if he was prepared to walk away from the transaction altogether. Eventually, though, a price was agreed upon and both parties ended up smiling and laughing although Adam claimed he had still been gouged by the grasping old woman. Naturally, it reminded us all of the haggling scene from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian.”

Friday was a day of relative rest and relaxation for most of us. For Penny, however, Friday marked the arrival of the Great Chinese Bake-Off Challenge. A few days before we left for China, Adam had e-mailed asking if Pen would be able (and willing) to make a couple of wedding cakes . . . for about 120 guests . . . in a small Chinese kitchen with no proper facilities, a distinct lack of cake-making implements . . . and a relative scarcity of western ingredients! We even discovered that the oven had to be transported from Mila’s home (one of the bridesmaids and an excellent cook in her own right – proprietor of the Bite Me café and cupcake shop in Yangshuo) to the Lounge on the back of Adam’s scooter and that it was too small to accommodate the baking trays Pen had brought from England. The door didn’t close properly, the controls were all in Chinese and seemingly not terribly reliable and there was room for only one small baking tray at a time. One final obstacle – due to building works in the town there were rolling power outages throughout the day!

Penny and Adam spent much of the morning whizzing around on Adam’s scooter as they scurried about trying to secure various ingredients and in the afternoon Pen set forth! There was, I am afraid, much wailing and gnashing of teeth but in the end she produced five layers for the wedding cake of the year – three chocolate and two lemon drizzle. Pen couldn’t make any sense of the controls and so the first two cakes emerged somewhat underdone. However, as these were two of the chocolate layers, their gooey-ness was outstanding and the whole construction, iced in purple cream cheese frosting and topped with a plastic bride and groom, was fantastic. And delicious!

And so, that brings us to wedding celebration number two on the Saturday. But for that, I’m afraid, you’ll have to wait until next week.


DadOn a sad note, one of our most loyal and longest-suffering readers had to cancel his subscription this week. My father passed away on Thursday after a struggle with Pulmonary Fibrosis at the age of 92. He went out peacefully on his own terms with my mother and my brother Sandy and his wife Pam at his bedside.

My weekly scribblings started with my desire to keep in regular touch with my folks (and my brothers and sisters) at a time when trans-Atlantic telephone charges were somewhat more than a lowly school teacher could sensibly afford. Originally, these scribblings were posted (air mail – at least we could afford those stamps) and then, as technology developed, they became weekly e-mails and finally, they morphed into a “blog”, some little time before the word even existed, I think. He is the “Hanover Bob” mentioned on the About tab – his ISP, Comcast, were so convinced that my weekly scratchings were the most virulent form of spam that they consistently blocked their delivery. More amazingly, he actually “complained” – to me, not to Comcast! Hence, the migration to a web-based presence that has polluted the internet ever since.

I never met anyone who didn’t like my father – I am sure there must have been some who he annoyed to a sufficient degree that they found him tiresome or tedious, but I never met them. He was sharp as a razor, always interested in dozens of things at once and he read voraciously, always having three or four mighty tomes on the go at once. Whenever I visited I would bring a gift of two or three books I hoped he would enjoy which, for the most part, he did. However, I also chose the titles based on what I fancied reading as I knew that he would have finished them within a day or so and would kindly offer to “lend” them to me. It worked for both of us, I think.

He had his moments of grumpiness no doubt, sometimes with cause and sometimes for no good reason whatsoever. Above all though, he was a kind and generous man who shared his love equally with my mother, my five siblings and the gazillion grandchildren and great-grandchildren who emerged through the years. I shall miss his wisdom and wit as well as his advice and support. Goodness knows how I will get along without his guidance! I am sorry he won’t get to read this week’s episode – I know he would be very interested in and proud of the exploits of one of his grandchildren. But maybe they’ve managed to install broadband in the hereafter and perhaps he will get his delivery forwarded after all – as long as Comcast don’t hold the franchise.

Love to you all,

Greg

 

 

 

 

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