Our flight ended up being a couple of hours late and we arrived at the small Shantou airport quite tired – although the actual flight was not even forty minutes long. Our friend was there with a friend of her father’s. We headed out to his subaru sedan and began the hour-long drive to her town. Our driver drove as fast as possible, blaring his horn to warn all pedestrians, buses, motorscooters, etc, that we were coming through and that we would stop for nothing. We arrived at our the home of our friend, Xiao Yin, without any trouble.
Although the stories we heard prepared us for no plumbing, dirt roads, and living with and eventually eating the family pets, we instead found ourselves in a well-kept little town with nice shops, fruit markets, and absent the abundant trash littering the streets and sidewalks of other small towns we have passed through (indeed, even during the drive in). The home is quite truthfully a very big house, called a villa here. It has a decorative wrought-iron fence with gilt detailing, a single-car garage with a car in it, and marble tiles. You enter into an open air hallway with a marble and darkwood staircase going up to the second and third floors. There is a huge family room with a giant plasma tv and state of the art sound system, very large pieces of art (golden buddha as big as Mei-mei, one 8 by 12 foot traditional Chinese painting, another set of the 4 seasons paintings, a piece of wood that naturally resembles a cat, and a large display case full of smaller pieces of art). The furniture is the intricately carved dark wood chairs and coffee table similar to the one we saw at our friends house. There is also a downstairs bathroom, a cat (pet) roaming the house, and a dog (security system) chained in the driveway when everyone is out, and in the garage the rest of the time.
When we arrived we were shown to our room, Xiao Yin’s room. The room is on the second floor, off an open-air hallway. It is a large room with private bath, including a Western toilet. The bed consists of a couple of futons on top of a raised built-in platform. The room is at the front of the house, curved with windows along 2 sides. We gaped at our plush accommodations complete with brand new slippers and toothbrushes in each of our sizes, dropped our bags, and headed downstairs to leave for dinner.
We traveled in 2 cars to a nearby restaurant and walked into a private dining room with 2 large tables already seating about 20 people. Obviously, we were the guests of honor. The kids were quite shy in light of the noise and the attention. We were seated and treated to a wonderful meal of Fujian food, with several dishes that are unique to this small town (pop. 15,000). We also made the acquaintance of our
hosts and the guests. Xiao Yin’s father is the V.P. of a bank. The restaurant owner was present and gave the first toast (the boss, after all). Most of the other guests were not bankers, but local police officers (instead of saying police, they said, in English, that they were “Polish” – and, of course, we got a kick out of that because Jason is also Polish). There were many toasts and Jason mostly bore the brunt of making sure we were good guests by drinking much beer and eating lots of food because I often had one or both children in my lap. I found it interesting that we did not meet any extended family members. All the guests were friends but, quite close, “like family” Xiao Yin said (all implied illusions). I am a bit leery about the guanxi we are developing on this little trip.
The food was great, and most of it was brand new to us. The meal consisted of a fabulous mushroom dish that had a flavor that was a bit like a hint of sage, dumplings, a shellfish and egg bake that was quite unlike anything I have seen before, thinly sliced fried pork, battered deep-fried pork, crab served over noodles, fish ball soup, clam and lobster soup, this fried and sliced rice roll with tofu in the center, home-style eggplant, ginger chicken and greens, deep fried yam, deep fried tofu, coconut & egg custard, and steamed bread in the shape of a pocket that you stuff with a sweet mixture of sesame seeds, wax gourd, and peanuts. I tried everything because all eyes were on us, but, as I said, Jason did the heavy lifting.
After the meal we came home to red tea in the fancy tiny tea cups. Eventually I excused myself to take my exceeding over-tired children to bed. Jason joined us shortly as Xiao Yin’s dad was called out to a late night meeting. Tomorrow it is breakfast at 9 and then departing for a nearby temple at 10. If it is not raining in the afternoon we will walk around town.
So, needless to say we have fallen on our feet and will be spending the next few days living high on the hog.