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January 28th 2012
Published: January 28th 2012
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Costume,  Fenghuang, HunanCostume,  Fenghuang, HunanCostume, Fenghuang, Hunan

Central Asian silk traders

….. the continuing story of a journey across China in search of balmy weather, sun, golden sand & a swim in azure waters. We've given up that idea, given that it's the middle of winter, has led us to Hunan province, about halfway back to Yangzhou & where there is no hope whatsoever of any of these things. To recap from last week's blog we finally arrive in cold, grey, wet & miserable Changsha, Hunan's provincial capital, more than 4 hours after the appointed time, about 20 hours on the bus. However we need to be in Jishou, about 400km west, where we would have ended up IF Sunshine could have bought train tickets in Beihai. My friend from the small Hunan city of Jishou, Mr. Xiang Kuan Yu, has send a friend to pick us up. Liu Di Bao looks remarkably cheerful having been there since 5am waiting for us. We get into the Toyota Highlander at around 10.30, ready for another 3 hours or so to get to Jishou....

…..there's snow on the road, which is littered with crashed cars & it actually takes around 7 hours. I have plenty of room in the front, George, Jenna & Sunshine are cosy &, more importantly, warm in the back. Full marks to Liu Di Bao, who does a sterling job on difficult & frustrating roads. Naturally, this being China, he won't accept any money for fuel, tolls or lunch.....

…..Mr Xiang meets us, with his wife & daughter, in Jishou, then we drive for another 50 minutes to Feng Huang, or Phoenix City. His wife & daughter remain in Jishou. He & I are in a police car he has commandeered from the department, (he is the public Prosecutor in Jishou). This apparently gives him free rein to overtake on bends & rather too close to the crests of hills for comfort at times. We're not sure at this stage what he has in mind. He told me before we left Yangzhou that he has booked accommodation. We're all hoping it's a) adequate, b) reasonably cheap.....

…..he leads us to a very large hotel near the old town. It's definitely more than; a) but almost certainly not; b). We are wondering how to get out of this saving face & money. He ushers us in & goes through the formalities. I think he
Fenghuang, HunanFenghuang, HunanFenghuang, Hunan

Stunning by night
has already paid the bill. For all four of us!? I tentatively enquire, in a small voice. With a strong, clear hand signal he ushers us to the lift & up to our rooms, George & I in one, Jenna & Sunshine in another, Mr. Xiang & Liu Di Bao in a third.....

…..within 20 minutes, after over 30 hours travelling from Beihai, he has us walking to the old town where we end up at a streetside Shao Kao, (barbecue), eatery. It's normal in China to eat outside, even in the winter. George & Mr. Xiang look at what's on offer, a considerable selection as you'll see from the photos. George asks, “What's that?”, as though someone can speak English. The woman grabs a handful & puts it on the hotplate. He turns to me. “I think we had these in Yangzhou...”. The woman follows his finger & throws another handful of those on. Hands in pockets & mouth closed he starts to peer at the selection. By now she's following his gaze & seems to throw in anything he glances at. Mr. Xiang doesn't seem to mind. Afterwards we are almost too full to get up for a walk around Feng Huang. Naturally we are not allowed to pay.....

…..Feng Huang is a very old city built around canals & World Heritage Listed. The buildings & walls are all stone & brick & it is sinking into a defiantly dilapidated old age. By night it is quite stunning, illuminated as only the Chinese can & reflected in the still waters of the canals. Some of the shops, stalls & bars are still open, on this freezing winter's night, a young duo are busking under a bridge & the place would be really buzzing when the weather improves. Jenna seems happier now that Sunshine is travelling with us. They comment on some bags a street trader has on sale. Mr. Xiang immediately buys them a bag each.....

…..we're up bright & early, except for Sunshine. It's left to Jenna to prise her out of bed for a walk around Feng Huang in the daytime, avoiding a trip on a precarious looking boat on the canal but rising to the challenge of a photo shoot in costume in which, I'm told, I look like an Uzbekistani silk merchant. Judge for yourself. I've been called worse.....

Fenghuang, HunanFenghuang, HunanFenghuang, Hunan

Night view over the canal
go back to Jishou for lunch with Xiang Kuan Yu's wife, Yan Li Ping & their daughter, Xiang Jia Wei. Note the married woman retains her surname, (Yan), children take on their father's name (Xiang). What a spread. Even I must be putting on weight.....

…..we're still not sure exactly what will happen after this. Remember Mr. Xiang's English is almost non-existent, his daughter is learning at school but certainly can't translate, my Chinese is still, sadly, pretty sketchy. All is slowly revealed. After lunch he drops his wife off, he & his daughter drive us to our next destination, Zhangjiajie, about 300km north. It's a small city but we're still a little surprised when we meet a young friend of his near the station as we go to buy train tickets to Changsha a couple of days hence. Alice knows some English, which is welcome & we get our tickets. She also helps to explain his desperately aggrieved expression when I try to give him the name of the hotel I booked in Zhangjiajie, (& mentioned several times over the last few week's exchange of messages). I end up having to cancel the rooms & he takes us
Jenna, George, Fenghuang, HunanJenna, George, Fenghuang, HunanJenna, George, Fenghuang, Hunan

Precarious canal crossing
to a hotel he's already booked.....

… seems he has employed Alice as our translator, (ha ha! more of that later). He is also planning to take us to Wulingyuan forest park & Tianmen Shan tomorrow & another park the following day, or “tomorrow tomorrow” as Sunshine would put it. She gave up the effort of learning to say, “the day after tomorrow” about 2 days ago, (or “yesterday yesterday”). At least he will allow us to pay for our own tickets, which is something of a relief. I'm already lining up friends who might owe me a favour should he visit Yangzhou & need a guide, translator, massage, personal assistant.....

…..despite the cold, foggy weather it's obvious we must be in one of the most stunning areas of China. The karst peaks rise behind us shrouded in mist & it's tantalising to imagine what it would look like in summer. I'd really like to come back to find out. Some might appreciate the lack of visibility on the precipitous cable car ride in a car with a glass floor above a drop of hundreds of metres. Sorry I have no better photos this time but I'm sure
Lunch, Jishou, HunanLunch, Jishou, HunanLunch, Jishou, Hunan

Xiang Kuan Yu, Xiang Jia Wei, Yan Li Ping
I'll be back.....

…..entry to the park costs ¥300 each, or around Au$45, not cheap but even at this time of year it's impressive. The ticket to the park includes entry to another park. The tickets are validated at the gate by electronic thumbprint recognition......

…..lunch, courtesy of, (you guessed), Xiang Kuan Yu, is at a small restaurant near the park. As usual in China at many small restaurants you eat either outside or with the doors open, even in winter. We sit huddled in our coats, gloves & hats but finally get a special concession to shut the door. It's still damn cold but the food is great, if a little hot for some tastes. Remember the Chinese joke, “Sichuan ren bu pa la, Hunan ren pa bu la”, (Sichuan people are not afraid of hot food, Hunan people are afraid of food that's not hot). This partly explains Jenna's look of horror when Mr. Xiang asked her at breakfast whether her chilli laden noodles were OK, (no!), while he piled extra hot chilli on his own. I'm pretty well used to chillis with any meal now. Ah, they've even turned the heater on for us. Luxury.....
Fenghuang, HunanFenghuang, HunanFenghuang, Hunan

Night view over the canal

…...table manners are even more lax in Hunan than we're used to in Jiangsu. I ask Alice why she throws the bones on the floor, not just place them next to her bowl. “If I put my arms on the table my clothes will be dirty”. You can't argue with that logic.....

…..back to Zhangjiajie & on another cablecar, this time from near the station, across seven kilometres of gently undulating countryside before it suddenly takes a sharp turn skyward & up the sheer sides of Tianmen Shan, another incredible natural feature obscured by the winter fog. The walk around the top, in visibility of 20 metres at best is saved by a good layer of snow & the frost on the trees & leaves which make for pretty magical, if slightly myopic, scenery. We get back to the cable car in daylight before the last car leaves.....

…..we have another helper with us, a guy whose name I don't quite catch. He is from Zhangjiajie & is our guide. He doesn't speak any English & doesn't understand much of my Chinese. It's a good thing we have Alice....

…..Alice is a student at Jishou university.
Fenghuang, HunanFenghuang, HunanFenghuang, Hunan

Night view over the canal
She is studying English but I sometimes have to explain in Chinese for even a 50/50 chance of a straight answer. George is alternately charmed & annoyed, Jenna alternately irritated & annoyed.

“Alice, does this path lead back to the cable car”.
“Yes, we will go back in the car”.
“But the cable car, this path, go cable car?”.
“Other path is longer time go”.
“No, Alice, how long...this path...go cable car”.
“This way OK, we just walk this way”
(Short pause to slap forehead)
“OK, we'll go this way”.....

…..a big hand for Xiang Jia Wei, Mr. Xiang's 9 year old daughter, who walks the whole way, around 3 hours, without complaint. She's a lovely kid, very bright & soon comes out of her shell once we start joking with her..... morning Jenna fails to raise Sunshine so we leave without her. She realises the picture that she bought in Shanghai to send back to Canada is missing. Not in the room, or the car. Naturally she's upset. The only silver lining is she is able to excuse herself from more searing hot chillis for breakfast & goes to get some street food before we
Bridge, Fenghuang, HunanBridge, Fenghuang, HunanBridge, Fenghuang, Hunan

Yet another stunning view
take a trip. Mr. Xiang gets a call. A friend's father in Jishou has died. He has to return but insists on taking us to our final destination in Zhangjiajie before we have to catch the train to Changsha. No, he won't hear of us making our own way there, so he drives us for nearly an hour to another park where, because of the fog, we decide to go to Huang Long Dong, (Yellow Dragon Caves). A short boat trip on a subterranean river & then innumerable steps through the immense chambers of the biggest caves I have ever seen. Lighting a little overdone in places but not as tacky as many others, the scale of the caves is phenomenal. There is a 19 metre high stalagmite that the Chinese government has insured for ¥100,000,000. If there's a sequel to Lord of the Rings I feel sure they'll shoot part of the movie here.....

…..a late lunch, finally, our turn to treat someone, Alice & her friend, before we catch the 5pm train to Changsha. 6 hours on less than spotless hard seats. A child in the next seat bangs a metal tray while its parents just speak
Shao Kao, Fenghuang, HunanShao Kao, Fenghuang, HunanShao Kao, Fenghuang, Hunan

Xiang Kuan Yu and George
louder to make themselves heard, other parents, deaf or crazy, decided the best toy for their kid on a crowded train would be a spinning top which revolves to a loud, high pitched chorus of, “Oh-lei-lei, Oh-la-la” & which, if used as evidence in court, could reduce a charge of murder to justifiable homicide.....

…..Mike has left Changsha already. He went there to see his adopted Chinese daughter, Xi Xi, but she wasn't able to make it home for the Spring Festival from her military training. He has booked rooms for us at the hostel. We only have tonight & part of tomorrow to suffer the miserable bathroom, absence of hot water & an internet connection that makes carrier pigeon look like a viable alternative. I mention the hot water several times & one of the staff runs upstairs appearing to be on a mission but on returning from an hour's walk around Changsha in the morning with George it's still only just lukewarm. Cross this hostel off the list.....

…..we can't find a taxi to take us to the nearest shuttle bus to Changsha airport. We finally take one of the many “informal taxis” that are constantly
Chinese breakfast, HunanChinese breakfast, HunanChinese breakfast, Hunan

At the hotel, Fenghuang
stopping to offer us rides. The driver offers to take us all the way in his small Daihatsu, for ¥90. There's just enough room for our baggage, George & Jenna in the back, I in the front, our gear packed around us like airbags that have already gone off. We finally get to Nanjing, finally get on a shuttle bus to Yangzhou & finally, get back to the school after what's been an interesting epic tour.....

…..we have agreed that it would be considered crass just to repay Mr. Xiang for his tremendous generosity & I'm sure he would be most offended if we did. However we're hoping he & his wife will find it acceptable to receive a present for his daughter. I asked her on the trip when she was using her father's camera whether she likes taking pictures, (“Wo xihuan” - “I like”) & if she has a camera, (”Mei you” - “Don't have”). When the Electronic Market is open again I think I'll need to go & buy something nice for her, though I'm sure we still won't have repaid him in full. I'll also start saving in case they visit Yangzhou one day.....

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 31


 Fenghuang, Hunan Fenghuang, Hunan
Fenghuang, Hunan

 Fenghuang, Hunan Fenghuang, Hunan
Fenghuang, Hunan

15 year old girl trying to persuade us to go on a boat ride
Costume,  Fenghuang, HunanCostume,  Fenghuang, Hunan
Costume, Fenghuang, Hunan

Cool or what? (OK, what...)
Meat,  Fenghuang, HunanMeat,  Fenghuang, Hunan
Meat, Fenghuang, Hunan

Flattened stuff, (pigs, fish etc...)

30th January 2012

Can't wait for the book...
Once again I'm sitting at my desk glued to the screen as I read your blog and check out the photos. I'm sure I'm smiling as I read and try not to laugh out loud. I'm itching to visit China. And I'l hound you forever until you write a book about your adventures! :)
4th February 2012

Laughing eh!
ha ha, you might not be laughing if you had to travel on a Chinese sleeper bus for 20 hours or try to hold a conversation with Alice....!!!

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