Day 5 – Wednesday, March 10th

Today was a travel day as we left the Linden Center at 1:00 to return to Kun Ming.  In the morning we walked around the village of Xizhou.  We started out about 10:00 and it was obvious that the town was just starting to wake up.  The shops were opening and people were getting on with their days.  There was the typical town square where food vendors were set up and people were sitting at various tables talking or playing games.  It was interesting to see this set of shops as these are NOT for tourists but are for the general residents of the area.  We saw a man who was hand carving a tombstone and it was interesting to see  how he had drawn the characters on the marble and was now chiseling them out a bit at a time.  He kindly allowed us to photograph him at work. 
We also saw our first food stall that had chicken feet.   They were marinated and ready to be grilled.  Because this is an agricultural community, there were numerous stores devoted to selling seeds, fertilizers and food preparation items.  They had some woks that were probably 4+ feet in diameter!!  One of the shopkeepers was pulling lengths of plastic sheeting off of a big roll.  I wondered what this was for but then remembered seeing the workers planting crops where this plastic was laid down first, covered with soil, and the plants put into holes in the plastic.  At home, we might use this to control weeds, but here they use it to conserve water.  This area is in the middle of a draught and some of the crops are struggling because of it.
When we left the Linden Center, we were escorted by most of the staff and they stood and waved as we drove away.  The trip took about 5 hours and was comfortable and enjoyable.  The van was very nice and the driver was great.  Most of the trip was accomplished on a 4 lane highway and was much the same as driving at home.  The biggest difference was seeing people standing on the edge of the road holding out live pheasants that you could stop and buy!!   One of the things that we found amusing was that they had cut-out policemen (Doug called them “Scarecrow Police”) holding signs that said to slow down.  It was really disconcerting to see these “people” straddling the center median of the highway!! 
Most of the trip was in an agricultural valley and mountainous area. The mountain areas were terraced into smaller plots, while the valley area had large expanses of crops.  Most of these were divided into many smaller plots.  Doug said that these plots would be owned by an individual family rather than the whole acreage being owned by one person.  All of the work is done manually, from the initial breaking of the ground into large clumps of almost black soil, to the breaking up of these clods to prepare it for planting, to the final harvesting of the crop.  Because these plots are so important to the family income, they use a large amount of fertilizer to ensure good crops. 
We arrived at the hotel (a five star….more about it later) at 6:15 and were supposed to be back downstairs for dinner at 6:30.  Since Michael was the guest of honor, he felt like he really should take a quick bath, so while he did that, I unpacked and got dressed myself.  It was probably the fastest that we have ever gotten ready!!!
We were met in the lobby by Jai Lin and taken by taxi to a restaurant that specializes in mushrooms.    The attendees at the dinner included Doug (our host), the director and assistant director   of the Kun Ming Institute of Zoology, another woman from the institute, and the Party Secretary (the Communist Party’s liaison to the Kun Ming Institute)…..quite an auspicious group.  A few of them spoke English quite well while the others did what I was doing…..smiled and nodded!! 
We sat in a private room with the big round table and carousel on top.  Each place setting had a small plate, bowl with Chinese spoon, a small porcelain spoon rest that housed your serving spoon (for putting food onto your plate) and an indentation to rest your chopsticks on.  There were three glasses, a large stemmed one, a smaller stemmed one and a tiny glass that looked like a shot glass.  Once the decision had been made to drink beer, the two smaller glasses were removed.  The main point of this discourse is to say that it was a gorgeous table setting!!!!
When we first sat down, we were served a black tea from the Pur region.  It was probably the nicest tea that I have drunk in a long time.  It was served in a small white porcelain cup whose top was cut on an angle. 
The Institute Director cannot drink alcohol so he ordered another drink that arrived in a pitcher and was a creamy dark purple color.  When we expressed interest as to what it was, he had the waitress pour some for us too.  It is a drink that is made out of ground walnuts and rice flour.  It is served hot and had a very strange texture….more like a cream soup than a liquid. 
We were served 12 different dishes, starting with a cream potato soup with a few slices of a very expensive mushroom ($2,000 per kilo) in it.  We then moved to a steamed fish, a chicken soup with a very rich broth, a super spicy pork (Michael and I picked out the peppers, but most people ate them), and 3 or 4 dishes that included a sautéed green vegetable of some sort  (many of these included mushrooms as well.) There   was a dark mushroom that was stuffed with Cuttle fish, and a mixture of two types of cucumber that was really interesting…..there were slices of cucumber that looked a lot like celery, surrounded by a type of cucumber whose flesh is a net.  It wasn’t my favorite taste of the evening, but it certainly was interesting.  One of our favorite things were the steam buns.  They are dough that is rolled into a ball, stuffed with a filling (beef in this case) and steamed until the dough is cooked.  These were also colored with a natural vegetable dye and were green….they were SO cool!!!!
The presentation on the dishes was magnificent.  Each had some special thing, whether it was served with a flower on the plate, a vegetable carved to look like a flower, or an interesting pot that had a candle under it to keep the dish warm.
There were several waitresses attached to our room and they were constantly in motion, removing dirty dishes from the table and replacing them with clean ones, scraping the dishes onto smaller plates as the servings got smaller, and rearranging the remaining dishes so that they were presented evenly on the carousel.  One poor waitress was pouring the beer and managed to poor it down my back.  She felt so bad and I couldn’t easily tell her that it was ok, so I just smiled a lot!!! 
It was a nice evening but was especially nice to return to the hotel for a few minutes of relaxation before sleep took us over!!!

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