After a delayed and bumpy flight from GZ, we arrived at the small aiprort in Shantou, Guangdong, where we were met my our friend and driver for the 1 hour drive to Zhao’An (I now know the name of the town we have been planning to go to), up the China coast in Fujian Province. The drive through Shantou was not pretty, littered streets between farms being heavily sprayed with pesticides. After about 30 minutes, we entered the countryside, and my thoughts drfited to what our accomodations would be like…Admittedly, I was concerned since it’s very cold now (low 40s) and raining.
Finally, we crossed into Fujian and arrived in Zhao’An, a small city of about 15,000 people. It is a relatively clean city from what I’ve seen in China, and has vibrant markets and shops. Imagine my surprise, however, when our car stopped in front of a very large three-story home with black gates. The gates opened and we met our friend’s parents. It is a huge and wonderful home, about 4 times the size of our home in Vermont with every modern amenity. It has a garage, big fridge, big kitchen, large living room, multiple bedrooms, at least 6 bathrooms, and we’re sharing our own bedroom with its own western-style bedroom. The only difficulty has been the weather…since it’s quite warm here most of the year, there is no real inside. The living room entrance has no door and is out in the open and the home has no heat. So we’re “outside” all of the time. EVERYONE is wearing coats, hats, gloves, and many shirts while conversing and eating “inside” the house. So, it’s been bit difficult to keep everyone warm, especially at night. Our bed is also Chinese style—a couple of thick quilts laid upon the very nice hardwoord floor. This really is a luxurious home; but there’s no hiding that it is very cold inside and out.
Upon arrival, we soon re-entered the car, and arrived at a private dining room in a local restaurant to have a HUGE meal with our friend’s friends, and her parent’s friends. Her father is Vice President of the local bank, and clearly is quite respected in the community. Thus, our dinner companions also included Party officials and half the police force of Zhao’An. Needless to say, we have no concerns about our safety while here. Dinner was all presented as “Zhao’An local food” and, amazingly, of the two dozen dishes prepared, I had only eaten two before (the huangshou eggplant and dumplings). New dishes included, fried tofu/custard squares, fried sweet potato triangles, a sort of seafood and egg pizza, octopus, fried pork, a type of fish ball soup, a seafood soup, a crab dish, an intresting pancake filled with sugar and carmelized fruit usually served at local weddings, and the list goes on. I had to drink to many toasts (The Chinese always seem surprised at how well I hold my liquor, but Chinese beer is really quite weak), and the locals seemed to enjoy practicing their English, while appreciating our attempts at speaking Chinese. We returned home for hot red tea (fyi: red tea is excellent) and some Olympic viewing (China won their curling match against Switzerland).
In the morning we had breakfast in the first floor kitchen (yes, with our coats on). Breakfast was very filling…kai shui (hot water), rice congee, locally famous wild small chicken eggs, nai huang baozi (custard buns), steamed red bean paste buns, steamed bread, homemade fried tofu in broth (excellent!), and an assortment of pickled items. After breakfast, a motorcade of people arrived and we all drove for about 45 minutes to the Buddhist Jiu Hou Temple located high in the Jiu Hou Mountains above town. Upon arrival at the entrance to the road to the temple, the road was blocked. The first car in our group stopped and the guard indicated that we would not be allowed to pass. Then our frined’s father got out of our vehicle, walked to the guard, said a few words, and the gate was immediately opened…it was an impressive display of clout.
The mountains were quite beautiful with rounded boulders perched upon peaks, with the temple shrines and Chinese characters carved into the mountains. We were invited to pray with our friends and making offerings. They even brought the organges that we gave them as a gift so they could be blessed. We viewed the various natural sights and temples, and then got to have a vegetarian lunch with very good fake meat inside the temple. I thought it was pretty neat to eat lunch in the temple. Upon returning home, the kids were overtired, as was Andrea, and they tried to sleep as I began drafting this blog post.
For the evening, we were invited to a fancy dinner with our friend’s father’s business friends. We arrived at the home of the President of the local bank. His home is literally a 6-story mansion, at least 10 times the size of our current home. Oddly located within a metal fabrication business (maybe his other business venture?) on Zhao’An’s main street, it even had it’s own Karoake room. After tea in the huge living room, we had a dinner of shark fin soup and other dishes. Shark fin soup is a very expensive delicacy in China. While tasting very good, it is hard for me to enjoy it given the ecological status of sharks and the heavy toxin levels found in shark flesh. (I’m such a downer to have dinner with sometimes.) Following dinner and many toasts, we were led to the private Karoake room, but with music louder than any human ear can handle we had to leave so as to not permanently damage our kids’ ears.
At this point, I realized that we were hanging out with the very upper class of town. Bankers, more police, the local judiciary, and local businessmen were at dinner and more friends’ home for tea. I also realized that we did not bring nor could we have brought appropriate gifts for the kindness being bestowed upon us. Following dinner, we were taken for a “shampoo,” where for 90 minutes Andrea and I received a shampoo, upper body massage and blowdry in a hair saloon, while the owners and staff played with our children and fed them candy. Our kids have received tons of affection, candy, and little red envelopes filled with far more money than I would have anticipated.
On Saturday morning, following breakfast at the Zhao’An Hotel, we went to to Chaozhou in across the border in Guangdong province to see the Hanyu Hero’s Memorial, the Thai Temple, and the famous Kaiyuan Temple. It turned out to be a fairly long and exhausting morning, and we were relieved to have a safe, uneventful, and scenic drive through the Fujian mountains to Xiamen.