Published: April 10th 2009April 7th 2009
We were told a couple of weeks ago that we will be going on a picnic. All the staff from Always English School in Tai'an. Ok. That sounds like fun. Where are we going? I ask. To Yi Shui. I am yet to find it on the map. It's about 200kms west of here.
Well today is the staff holiday for Tomb Sweeping Day. A Day when everyone mourns their ancestors by burning incense and (fake) money...to pay their respects (get it?). The actual day was Sunday and Tai'an was inundated with tourists. Many to hike the mountain for the luck it brings. The air around Tai'an and Taishan was completely filled with smoke and smog because of the burning ritual. The mountains were hidden behind the smoke.
We found today that our day trip destination is 2.5 hours drive on a mini bus. We met at the office before 7am and quickly got going. There was a guide, only in Chinese, that spoke for a while and made the girls laugh. Then the girls took over the microphone and gave us Karaoke for the next hour or so. Reminds me of a bus ride many years ago with
a group of 60 years olds reliving their youth and singing all the golden oldies all the way home.
David and I were told this morning on arrival that we will be going underground. They thought that I would be very cold as I was dressed in 3/4 pants. All the gasps when I arrived...they couldn't believe it. But in my defense, it is going to be 26 celsius, I tell them so. Showing a bit of skin here is not the done thing, apparently. Even Dave in his T-shirt and hairy arms cause a stir.
We soon find out that we are going to a cave. This cave under an unassuming hill is like a mini mini theme park... underground. We walk past a Buddhist Temple...I quickly sneak in to have a look. Yes, there are lots of photos today. Already Lisa has been assigned to me to make sure I keep up. We walk a little way to an entrance where we are told that we are travelling by mini roller coaster. Two people per carriage and we have the controls. Off we go for about 1.5km to the other side of the hill. Slow but
at Yi Shui sa da gu - roughly translated to water underground, we think.
This shot was taken with auto exposure and no flash. The colours of the lights are enhanced because of this.
an interesting way to get around. We hop off the other end and make our way to the entrance of the cave. Some rocks and man made waterfall. At this point I will make mention that everyone is taking pictures. In front of the entrance, in front of the roller coaster carriages, just about everywhere. They all have this fixation on doing the 2 finger victory sign in all their shots, too.
We enter into the cave which is more like a passageway that has been etched out by water (and the Chinese) over thousands of years. The walkways, railings and steps are all made of cement to look like rock. In some areas there is crazy paving with tiles. Man has helped nature to ensure that the tourist is safe and happy with their visit. There are the string lights fixed everywhere you might bump your head. Which in it's favour enhances the spectacle of it all. We are ushered quickly from formation to formation. Of course, I'm bringing up the rear again for being so slow with my photography. Lisa is with me, waiting patiently but encouraging me to move faster. Sheesh what's the rush. She says
we might get lost. I think, it's a one way trip along well lit walkways, how can we get lost?
Anyway we turn a corner and right before us is a flashing neon sign. You know the ones that look like they are advertising a casino? Which is what I said out loud. But it is just the entrance to the next ride. A flume ride down the water way. I'm not sure that this is the natural waterway anymore. Another enhancement by the chinese. But who cares. Dave and I jump in the first boat and off we go. A mini rapids kind of thing. Obviously made for lighter people and we seem to bottom out on a lot of the corners and dips. It was a neat ride too. We all come out of it a little bit wet and we still have 1.5km to walk to the end. More colourful formations and then the steps out. A real neat adventure for a couple of hours.
So we head back to the bus in the carpark. We get in the bus thinking that we are going somewhere, like a park, for the picnic. Well, the bus
starts up, backs out and repositions one space down. We stop and get off. ha ha. Everyone unpacks the food and the little BBQ thingy that looks like roof gutters. AND everyone thinks they know how to start the charcoal bricks.
A little about eating food here. There are no niceties here that were drilled into us in our youth. Eat slowly and chew 20 times before swallowing, wait for everyone to have their meal served before starting, hands on knees while waiting, no elbows on the table, don't talk with your mouth full...blah blah. There is no special order of courses like entree, main, dessert. It comes when it's cooked. So one dish might arrive at the table and placed on the lazy susan. It's a free for all. If you are the fastest with the wheel (and the strongest to hang on) you get first serve. Then more dishes arrive. And you have to be quick. What we learned before we arrived about not using your own chopsticks in the communal plate is not true. Everyone selects food with their own sticks. It's the done thing. There are some rules about seating arrangements. Like the most important
person sits at the far side of the table facing the door. It's automatic that the restaurant staff will take instruction from whoever that may be.
Back to the picnic ... So the feeding frenzy begins. There is no waiting for the BBQ to be hot enough. The cook, Jojo, is doing a great job at keeping it alight and sets about putting the pork skewers on the heat. All the others squat on the ground in there circle feeding on all the dishes each of us are supposed to bring. It reminds me of the vultures around a carcass, jostling and fighting for best position. There will be a prize for the best dish. There is no room for us so if we want any we reach over the top with our spoon or chopsticks to get some. Sometimes a dish will be held up for us but otherwise we have to fight for it. Dave helps with the BBQ for two reasons. Firstly, to make sure he gets some meat and secondly to make sure it's cooked thoroughly.
We have considered the chinese language for some time now and have come to the conclusion that the
language has developed mostly while eating. We have found that the sounds are the same with or without food in the mouth. We watch these girls at the picnic or having lunch at work and they are so intent on getting as much food in their mouths and also getting there quota of 10000 words a day. Bits of rice will spray out or some sauce will dribble down their chins, and this is considered normal. Nobody cares.
So back to the question in the title of this blog. When the chinese eat chinese food are they hungry a half hour later? The answer is NO! They eat so much at one sitting. They love their food. And at this point we must say that there is no food shortage around here. The people are of a healthy size. The thin ones want to be thin. And there are some chubby ones, too. But there is not the obesity we see in the western world. Although there is the crap food at the supermarket and at the street stalls and it's ALWAYS difficult to find a table at KFC. And we also thought that they would all be short
but we have learned that the Chinese are taller in the north. There are many men and women taller than Dave. That was a surprise. If that's true the Mongolians must be huge!!!
Lunch is finished and we all pack up. Now for the games. David and I are the leaders of two teams. We are to compete in some very serious games. First up, pick up large marbles with chopsticks and drop them in a bowl 5 metres away. No problem...we are getting good at chopsticks and cheating. By the way, we are still in the carpark. I'm the better cheater and my team wins this round.
We play eagles and chicks where I, as the leader, have to protect my babies from being caught by the other eagle, Dave. Quite a physical game and we are all puffing at the end. We are even on this count. 4 chicks each.
By this stage we have an audience. People are sitting around us to watch the spectacle. We are running out of time though and we soon call it quits. No outright winner but who cares. Each game has Helen dishing out small prizes to everyone. Things
like shampoo, tissues, little toys left over from the easter party, socks. There was a suitcase full.
We hop back on the bus and head for home. Another 2 and a half hours. Of course, the girls start up the singing again....all the way home. I fell asleep a couple of times. Miss Yen was stretched out on the back seat snoring up a storm. The roads are smooth and straight so it's a comfortable trip...except for all the chinese girls singing.
A great day for all.
There are more photos below