Sha Ping and Strange Dragon Lake
This trip promised to be truly authentic and if anyone was
still in doubt the bus trip into the countryside proved it. No
luxury hired coach for us oh no - public transport Chinese style
- what an experience! Being 6' 4'' tall it was no fun being squeezed
into a seat for 6 hours that was designed for the average Chinese
man, and sharing the bus with live chickens and locals who continually
ate boiled eggs certainly added flavour.
I should add here that finding out any actual facts and figures
relating to the places in the rural areas we visited was nigh
on impossible. Although our guide was fluent in Mandarin and
Cantonese he had spent most of his time in Kunming where the
dialect of the city is completely different from the outlying
areas, so although we had no problems in finding out the basics,
trying to get in-depth information was difficult. This only added
to the excitement of the trip though, as there was always this
air of uncertainty and the feeling we were going places not many
westerners had been before us.
After a rather circuitous route through the beautiful countryside
we arrived in the small but rapidly expanding city of Sha Ping.
We were staying in a government hotel where you were awoken at
6 a.m. with stirring Martial music which was supposed to set
you up for the day; personally I'd rather have been woken more
serenely. I decided to stand outside the hotel which was situated
on a roundabout and have a smoke, but quickly realised that I
was going to cause an accident because everyone was swerving
and slowing to have a look. My appearance was so alien to the
locals, and I suddenly realised I'd finally arrived in "China".
From then on I was constantly being scrutinised, but far from
being disconcerting it was actually quite nice and although the
people were naturally curious they were ever so friendly. The
small children were the best though and the look of bemusement
on their faces was a joy to behold.
We took some taxis the next day to Strange Dragon Lake, where
there were many varieties of Nelumbo growing naturally. We hired
a small boat and spent the day right amongst the lotus, taking
loads of pictures and just soaking up the amazing feeling that
was created being surrounded by this truly wondrous plant. That
evening we had dinner on the lake which was prepared by the boatman
using only ingredients from the lake and its environs.
I'm usually quite conservative in my eating habits but on
this trip you had to eat what you were given. Because of this,
I tried many dishes throughout the journey that I wouldn't have
dreamt of touching in my wildest dreams. Admittedly some were
awful but some were lovely. I'd like to think that since returning
I'm not so fussy and would at least try most things once, another
little character building episode. Of course every meal we ate
included some part of the Nelumbo and now I must have eaten every
part of the lotus cooked in every conceivable way, and an unbelievably
versatile plant this proves to be.