Arresting Kaili

Written by Mar 15, 2006 07:03
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What is it about men in uniform –soldiers, sailors, firemen – that so many women find irresistible? What possesses an off duty policeman to stay in uniform on his day off? The Chinese seem to have a fetish for uniforms, any uniform and it’s often hard to determine what some of them represent, especially those of the rumpled and sloppy appearance type. My friend and I spent the best part of the day pondering these things.

We arrived in Kaili with plans to meet some locals who wanted some practice with their English speaking and listening skills. At the station we were met and introduced to Yang Feng or ‘Mountain’ as he wished to be known in the English speaking world. Mountain worked for the local county government and was expecting to spend some time studying in Australian in the near future. He then introduced two of his best mates – brothers – an off duty policeman, still in uniform and his older brother, a mechanic – two very useful friends with connections and cars – neither of whom spoke a word of English.

These three young men would be our hosts for the day. It was Sunday and in keeping with local customs they planned to treat us to a barbeque and a swim at a popular local swimming hole not far from town. We were ushered toward two waiting sedans, loaded our packs into the back and prepared to move off but our car would not start. The mechanic disappeared, returning about five minutes later with some tools and very quickly had the car running. With typical Chinese hospitality we were whisked away for breakfast. Nothing fancy, but a popular and tasty local dish of noodles with meat and vegetables and a liberal dash of hot chilli of course. Just what we felt like for breakfast on the first day of our summer holiday! We ate on the footpath, seated on low stools around an equally low table, much to the amusement of other patrons and local businesses on the street nearby.

While we checked into our hotel room, the boys left in search of another more reliable vehicle. They were back in no time and we headed off to the market near the station to buy food and drinks for our barbeque. Chinese markets are always a source of immense interest and often entertainment for me. They abound with the strange and exotic and unidentifiable. This was the first time for my friend to experience one like this since she arrived in China just a few days before. It was mid morning and a young boy slept blissfully on his mother’s vegetable stall. Like most markets there was a good range of live fish, fresh cuts of pork and fat, fresh vegetables, and the usual array of fresh and dried herbs and spices.

A group of three mobile dentists had just set up shop on a small card table with a display of false teeth, instruments and pulled teeth. One of them moved around amongst the shoppers and stall holders looking for prospective patients but would not allow us to photograph them at work. We wandered around soaking up the atmosphere while our hosts shopped for meat, tofu, noodles and vegetables for our barbeque. Back out on the street the brothers waited with the two cars now well stocked with a couple of cases of hot tall beers. We were ready to go.

We headed south towards Leishan – most of the time following the river which meanders through picturesque countryside studded with Miao villages on the slopes with rice paddies and terraces on the flat lands above the river. I began to recognise this area as one of the places we had passed though last summer. At that time we had looked longingly from the bus window thinking how nice it would be to stop and enjoy a swim in a water hole at one of small resort facilities along the banks of the river. Eventually we pulled off the road.

A row of gazebo style shelters lined the waters edge on the dry gravel river bank. Another row of small open huts nestled beneath the road housing chairs and tables for card and mah-jong lovers to shelter from the hot summer sun. We drove down between these huts and parked the cars. There were still few empty gazebos near the water so we collected some chairs and our belongings and settled in for the afternoon. The guys put the beers and two watermelons into the clean cool water of the river to cool them down while we looked around for somewhere to change into our swimsuits.

Down by the water at one end of the swimming hole stood two colourful striped structures barely two meter square, with a sheet iron roof. The only sign of their use were the large black characters for ‘male’ and ‘female’ that I am now fortunately very familiar, painted on one side. Inside the ladies were a few puddles of water on the ground and a handful of nails on which to hang your clothes. It’s a good idea to change with a friend, one at a time. It was mid summer so we did not sit around long before hitting the cool refreshing water. On the opposite bank we could climb out and dive from overhanging rocks. This stretch of river was deep and long enough to have a good swim. The guys challenged us to a race across the swimming hole and they seemed suitably impressed that we could not just keep up but actually beat them across.

As soon as we arrived we’d been offered a bottle of luke warm beer and Mountain and his mates began to toast and chat, toast and chat, swim, toast and chat, toast and chat. For an Australian a hot beer on a hot day is a bit of an insult and if we drink beer at all we like it ice cold and prefer to drink at our own pace. I had experienced this style of toasting over dinners but to now be expected to drink a hot beer at the beach in this manner was something else. I don’t drink much beer and certainly not while swimming on a hot day – it’s usually a recipe for either sunstroke or a hangover if not both. So with tiny sips at each successive toast we managed to make one hot bottle last quite awhile.

Our policeman was a man of some notoriety having successfully apprehended some serious villains in the past two years. He also seemed to be good friends with almost everyone and we soon had one of the local style barbeques delivered to our gazebo. These were a metal box full of hot coals with either narrow metal grills or square mesh grill over the top. I love barbeques but I have discovered that they can vary enormously from country to country. This was a little like a bush barbeque cooked over an open fire with little or no cooking implements. The two brothers got to work cooking the tofu, potato chips, lotus roots, cucumber and pork. The only tool in sight was the small glazing brush which we had purchased back at the markets along with plastic bowls and disposable chop sticks. One of the small bowls was used to mix a tasty brew of oil, chilli and msg which was liberally basted on everything including the cucumber.

Older women from the nearby villages roamed the beach collecting recyclable rubbish – beer bottles, plastic water bottles and bowls – discarded by the visitors so they were keeping a close eye on our almost empty bottles. We were none too keen to give them up since it would mean having to start on another fresh but still warm bottle of beer.

While we ate what we could of our barbeque others around us and possibly their friends generously offered more tasty morsels from their own barbeques nearby. We continued to toast and sip slowly on our second hot beer leaving a little beer in the empties bottle for the old ladies to finish off. We continued to swim whenever we felt like cooling off and everyone else continued to dispose of their rubbish on the beach and in the water. As the afternoon wore on the water got a little warmer and a little dirtier with litter floating on the surface but it didn’t seem to bother anyone but us.

Late in the afternoon we made a reluctant move to return to town once again we used the ladies striped change shed before we left. Several of the small Maio villages in this region are now enjoying the economic benefits of entertaining the many tourist who come by the bus loads to experience a little of their culture and lifestyle. We crossed the river by the wind and rain bridge to Nanhua and drove up to the village square. For just Y5 each we found ourselves helped into the beautifully ornate ethnic costumes of the local ‘long skirt’ Miao, complete with heavy silver horned head dress. No matter how hard we tried we would never be mistaken for the local women but my two young Chinese companions could have lived in the village all their lives.

Two local farmers laughed heartily and smiled as they pushed a large push cart across the suspension bridge to get another load of dirt for their building. For some villages a bridge like these is the only access. We stopped to cross over and walk in the paddy fields on the other side while our hosts enjoyed swinging and jumping and watching us stagger across the wildly gyrating bridge.

On the outskirts Kaili we stopped at an old warehouse. Again our hosts seemed to know everyone, especially the owner of this popular restaurant and several other tables of guests already seated. We took a table outside on the patio where more beers were ordered and the most delicious hot pot dish I had tasted in a long was delivered to our table a few minutes later. A Kaili specialty, this ‘sour fish’ dish was garnished with a local lemon flavoured herb and mild chilli. It had been a long day for all of us on top of an overnight train trip from Chongqing. Had our day ended here, we would have all been very satisfied.

But this was not the end of our host’s hospitality. By the time we returned to town it was close to nine and bed was looking good for all of us but our policeman was exerting his authority and pressed us to join them at a night club. He stopped off to change his shirt – still off duty – and collect another friend of his who spoke great English but in the nightclub it was almost impossible to hear anyone let alone have a conversation. Immediately, more beer and nibbles was on the table and we toasted constantly with our policeman and Mountain. This was only my second visit to a Chinese night club and yet another interesting experience. After the singers finished, the MC announced a game which patrons were encouraged to participate in. Good prizes were on offer.

Then the DJ returned with more music for dancing so out we went with the strobe light flashing, the floor bouncing, and bodies bumping. It was hard to hide on the dance floor but it was smiles all around. Soon I was grabbed by one enthusiastic female dancer who tried to drag me up to pole dance with her and a couple of friends. She was very persistent and I struggled to remove her grip from my arm. I was not about to attract any more attention to myself, certainly not by pole dancing in this loud smoky club. Suddenly at 10.30 pm Mountain announced that he must attend an urgent meeting? Could we also make our excuses and leave?

Our policeman wanted to party – having drunk very little all day – and continued to toast. Our host was accustomed to making arrests with perhaps little resistance. Although his hospitality was a little hard to resist we eventually made our escape.

 More Kaili Travel Reviews
1. The Mountains of the Miao Majority JABAROOTOO from CN Mar 10, 2006 08:03
2. Xijiang's Miao Majority JABAROOTOO from CN Mar 10, 2006 08:03
3. For cities "off the beaten track"'s a different world JEANNE Apr 1, 2004 17:04
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