Thursday, August 13, 2009

Improbable Tour (part I)

My first big holiday journey in China was Spring Festival (Year of the Dog) 2006. Jia and I had been dating for almost two months, but weren't telling anyone about our relationship. She contacted some relatives who hooked us up with a People's Liberation Army tour of Guilin and Yangshuo. By the end of our stay, word had gotten back to Jia's mother that we were dating (but that's not the fun part of the story).

We landed late in Guilin and were greeted by an official in a suit and PLA soldier who would be our driver and guide. I hadn't been informed that I would meet anyone from the Chinese military, and they weren't informed that Jia would be traveling with a waiguoren. It certainly made for a nice surprise upon our arrival.

We were taken to a greasy spoon with only three walls to sample the Guilin's specialty noodles. I was exhausted and didn't care what we ate--no food would have been memorable at that time. I was much more excited about seeing our hotel rooms. I was certainly a little disappointed to see that my room was simple, yet clean while Jia was given a suite. The next day I realized how far out of the way our accomodations were--there was nothing nearby except for a very dirty Internet bar which we used a few times (it was a dark, smoke-filled concrete room with old computers that hadn't been cleaned in years). Every day we had private meals at the hotel--just Jia, myself, and our PLA guide.

On our last night we met the official who organized our tour of the area. He asked what I'd like to drink, and, being the naive foreigner at the time, I said I'd drink whatever he'd like. He got a bottle of some local baijiu (although it was not clear, but rather a slightly yellow hue) that tasted a bit like a smooth scotch. This was the only time in nearly four years that I can say I enjoyed drinking baijiu. Throughout the meal, we drank casually and my host and others toasted me. I remember dinner being very good, but not much afterwards. Jia says I was speaking Chinese the whole way back to the hotel.

The next day was painful. Even though it tasted better than other baijiu, it still produced that horrible day after result. To complicate matters, we were treated to dinner before our flight to Shanghai, at which time the official brought out a bottle of Moutai baijiu--which I still consider the worst tasting baijiu I have ever had despite it's great reputation in China.

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