This is an expanded version of the latter part of an email sent from Xingyi on 30/10/10
In the morning, we set off for Xingyi, three hours away and just across the border into Guizhou Province. Here we would part with Wang and Mr Ma and pick up a new guide and driver for the next part of the journey. As we left, the clouds parted, the sun shone and the temperature started to pick itself up from the floor.
|Stooks of rice straw after harvesting|
Mr Ma drove us past pointy Karst mountains, and terraced fields. Tobacco, the main crop, had just been harvested and the leaves could be seen drying on balconies. The small fields contained rice, which was just being cut, maize and many other vegetables we could not recognise.
We entered Guizhou about 11 o’clock. Although the motorway did indeed end, we continued on a well-surfaced two-lane road. Visiting China so often involves being whisked from one urban centre to another, and we were pleased to find ourselves in deep countryside winding through a series of agricultural villages. We overtook a string of packhorses hauling newly felled logs up to a village depot.
|Chicken in a basket|
Tiguan were available at several stalls. They resemble turnips, except they have a root at each end, but are actually a fruit that, like the peanut, grows underground. They are easily peeled with your fingers and although it is disconcerting to bite into something that looks like a raw root vegetable, they are sweet and juicy. They have a texture somewhere between water chestnut and apple and a flavour between apple and melon. The Chinese call them ‘underground watermelon’. I know of no English name; typing ‘tiguan’ into Google leads only to the Volkswagen Tiguan, which is not, I think, the same thing at all.
|A cart full of Tiguan|
Xingyi is a strange shaped town, penned into a series of valleys between the karst hills. Entering through the industrial quarter it looked grim, but after a tunnel took us into the next valley, we found ourselves in a pleasanter if still down at heal central area. After much asking of directions, we eventually drove out to a posh recent extension on the town’s eastern edge.
Wang took us into the kitchen and we chose some smoked beef, chicken, mushrooms and broad beans. It takes a remarkably small time to turn simple ingredients into dishes that are complex and full of flavour. When the food turned up, a huge bowl of soup and a dish of minced beef had been added to the order. Buying lunches was Wang’s responsibility and he felt the need to compensate for yesterday’s very moderate fare. ‘Never eat in hotels’ he said, ‘unless you have to.’ We knew how high the general standard of cooking in China is, but Wang wanted to prove a point, and we were delighted to let him.
With six dishes on the table, not to mention rice, Lynne, Mr Ma and I were full long before all the food had gone, but for some time after we had downed chopsticks Wang kept on picking a morsel from here and a bite from there as though he had not eaten for weeks. The driver thought it was as funny as we did but Wang just laughed along with us and kept picking away. Wang may have been slight, but he had a mighty appetite.
Well fed, we checked in to the nearby Haiyu Hotle (sic). The automatic doors had ‘Welcome’ etched on them, and less explicably ‘Feeling Sea Treasure’.
Our Guizhou guide, a rotund and eager young man, introduced himself as Dylan. ‘I was late for class the day English names were handed out, and it was the only one left.’ he explained. We never quite got the hang of his real name, so Dylan he remained.