Knowing that we wanted to spend this weekend in the provincial capital Guiyang, CeCe offhandedly suggested last week that we use Friday to travel to Liupanshui. It’s the province’s second largest city and home to one of the International Crane Foundation’s partner schools. CeCe had hoped to learn about the school’s pioneering summer and winter environmental education camps. Our minder/mentor/partner-in-crime Xiao Li jumped at the suggestion. We were surprised at his enthusiasm. We now understand.
After a perfunctory meeting at Liupanshui’s Experimental Primary School of Zhongshan District, brightened only by short presentations by six of the school’s top-performing students, we decamped to a fancy Muslim restaurant for a decadent 21-course meal with 12 of our newest friends. As honored guests, we were seated next to the school’s voluble headmaster, who spent much of the meal’s two hours to toasting CeCe, me, President Obama, and anyone else present or absent, who he felt worthy of recognition. Poignantly, he also toasted to peace between the U.S. and China.
I was CeCe’s designated drinker, and had at least twenty slugs of Guizhou ‘wine’ from the thimble-sized ceramic glass placed before me. (Wine to them is more like corn-based moonshine to us.) Halfway through lunch, the city’s minister of education arrived with her assistant to welcome us and the toasting resumed with vigor.
Meanwhile we gorged ourselves on a multitude of dishes, many familiar, a few not, and not all tasty. One reminded me of the smell of Meow Mix catfood. The mushy shrimp was lamentable. But they were the exception. Like most of our meals here, the dishes were indescribable in flavor, and often in ingredients, and also absurdly tasty. At one point, the group sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to CeCe in English and Chinese and she was presented with the traditional Chinese birthday meal: noodles with a fried egg on top. As always, she ate the whites, I ate the yolk. We also were provided with a sampling of moon cakes, the traditional gift food of the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival.
When lunch was over we were herded into the school car and driven around the city by two English teachers and a third instructor clearly not chosen for her skill behind the wheel. We visited the central people’s park, an ancient Buddhist temple, and a 10-year old, yet strangely derelict, high-end hotel situated at the reservoir above the city, all in 120 minutes.
Liupanshui is a clean, orderly, and unbelievably compact city nestled in the valley of steep, forested karst/limestone peaks. I liked it immediately. It offers many of the amenities that Weining lacks and we look forward to returning. The school has asked us to teach a few English classes.
As I write this, I sit, drunk on Guizhou wine (or could I possibly be hungover already?), in the VIP lounge in Liupanshui’s train station. The wide-screen TV is tuned to a Chinese cable news station. The current segment is devoted (we think) to the Pentagon’s plan to sell F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. So much for peace.
Today is Teacher’s Day and our friends had another celebration to attend. So our escorts deposited us here in the hands of a fellow traveler. I commented to them that this was the first time in my life I was considered a VIP and that my mother would be very proud.
We await our train to Guiyang where we plan to attend a few events of the 9th National Traditional Games of Ethnic Minorities of the Peoples Republic of China. We’re going on a whim, hopeful of a few unique experiences. Here’s the schedule of events for Sunday, translated awkwardly by Google. Which games should we attend?