- We landed in the airport for the provincial capital, Guiyang, sometime after midnight. Lanxin’s elder cousin and his wife picked us up for the drive to their hometown. The first cool thing I spotted on the way were food tents across the city–– they were night markets, only open very late and through the early hours of the morning.
- The road to Duyun was foggy so we proceeded slowly and with care. Along the way we stopped at a gas station and Lanxin bought me some baozi, which were okay but not great (to be expected, considering it was from a gas station). Lanxin’s cousin was shocked that I liked it at all and said those are some of the worst he’s ever had.
- Water from dispensers in the airports (Shanghai and Guiyang) had a very odd taste, almost herbal. The two options were “hot” or “warm.”
- I committed my first faux-pas a bit under 10 minutes into meeting Lanxin’s parents! They gave me some wonton soup with chicken, and I tried to communicate that it was a bit hard for me to use chopsticks to eat the chicken because of the bone–– but nan chi, literally “hard to eat,” means the food is difficult to eat because it’s so bad. Oops… They were a little bit taken aback but after an explanation from Lanxin all was well.
- Duyun: I expected the city to have a drab, communist bloc look, and while it does have elements of that (especially with buildings desperately needing repair or fresh paint), it is also a charming town with a lot of traditional architecture, including very old stylized wood paneling in several city blocks.
- The second night the whole family came over for dinner to welcome Lanxin home and of course they were intensely curious about me. Over the course of the dinner I found the “Uncle Ganbei” stereotype to be very accurate (ganbei roughly means “cheers” but carries the implication “finish your drink”); most of the men and some of the women wanted to take a drink with me.
- Lanxin’s cousin asked me to give his son an English name within minutes of meeting me. Giving someone a name is an honor usually reserved for respected family members, so I decided to give him something Greek (my own far-off heritage); he spent the rest of the night asking me if he was pronouncing “Alexander” and “Alex” correctly.
- Everyone refused to believe I could eat local spicy food (even as I was in the process of eating local spicy food). They kept warning me “that dish is spicy!”
- …They play majiang for hours. Literally hours.
- They all wore heavy jackets indoors and the majiang table has a built-in heating system to boot. It was probably only around 60F outside but they still insisted I wear socks. Lanxin’s mother also gifted me an incredibly warm heavy winter pajama set (which was very cute and boyish but waaaay too hot). Her step-father, a fairly manly and buff guy and the town’s chief of police, wore even cuter pajama set with a childish monkey pattern. I told him it was really cool but Mrs. Zhang called me out and said it’s cute rather than cool.
- I was surprised they left the tv on at high volume during dinner even though no one was watching. Later I found out it’s generally a Chinese custom to do that because they like noise in the house. I offered to turn it off on multiple occasions hoping they would take me up on it, but no luck–– eventually I just started turning down the volume without asking first. If they noticed they didn’t call me out on it.
- At several points military parades came up on television, and the music was extremely reminiscent of old Red Army parade themes. I’m not quite sure why that is, maybe at some point in the past Russian music or parades influenced the early Chinese communist propagandists?
- Big celebratory meals in China follow a similar pattern: they’ll have many dishes, with a variety of meats prepared in different styles. Everyone gets a single rice bowl (surprisingly small) and grabs a tiny bit at a time. It’s impolite to have more than a few bites’ worth of meat in your rice bowl at a time. (ed. Later on in the diary I ranted a bit about how difficult it is to meet gym diet protein quotas, especially because so much of the food is vegetables instead of meat).
- Duyun is pretty far out of the way of most people’s travel plans so it was amusing when we overheard some astonished schoolchildren while walking Lanxin’s little brother to school: “a local girl probably married that foreigner!”
- We had some spicy rice noodles with beef for breakfast; the store where they sold them opened long before dawn. They were pretty awesome and easily my favorite food of the trip.
- Most people on the street just walk past, but teenage girls categorically nearly always stared at me.
- I started munching on a local fruit that I didn’t recognize and everyone told me not to eat the skin; I told them I even eat mangoes with the skin on and that I wouldn’t die. I ate the skin.
- Er jiu (“second uncle on mother’s side”) noticed I was eating disproportionately from the meat dishes, and he secretly told other people to avoid eating the ones I liked since they noticed I had a massive appetite. You da real MVP er jiu.