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.
Setting off along another empty motorway, Wang started giving us dire warnings about the state of the roads in Guizhou, a province he regarded as at least ‘backward’ and quite possibly ‘primitive’. The three lanes of the excellent Yunnanese road were labelled – in English and Chinese – ‘Overtaking Lane’, ‘Main Carriageway’ and ‘Non-motor Vehicle Lane’. This third lane was well populated by ox-carts. The Chinese economic miracle is something of an urban event and oxen, clearly, still played an important part in the agriculture of relatively advanced, civilized Yunnan.
|This post is about a journey from Shilin in Yunnan Province to Xingyi in Guizhou|
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.
|Stooks of rice straw after harvesting, Yunnan Province|
Ten kilometres short of Xingyi we joined a traffic jam caused by a village market. We left the car and walked down the street. While the traffic hooted and snarled in the centre of the road, the edge was lined with stalls of all kinds. There were fruit and vegetable stalls, baskets of live chickens...
|Chicken in a basket, Village market near Xingyi, Guizhou|
|' a testle table laden with pieces of pig'|
Village market near Xingyi, Guizhou
|Smoking a water pipe, village market near Xingyi|
|Ploughs on sale, village market near XIngyi|
Tiguan were available at several stalls. They resemble turnips, except for apparently having 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, Village market neat Xingyi, Guizhou|
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. He 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.