March 22nd, 2008

It was still raining when we left home early yesterday morning. After sitting through a ridiculous traffic jam on the Third Ring, we eventually made it to Nongzhanguan, then hung a left and drove down to Dongzhimen then around the Second Ring to Deshengmen.

Funny thing was, the taxi driver was also from Yanqing. He’d somehow gotten a fare from Xisanqi, where he rents a room, down to BeiGongDa, and then emerged from the BeiGongDa West Gate just as we were looking for a taxi- never easy on a rainy day- and we took advantage of the other would-be passengers having their backs turned and jumped in.

Seems he wouldn’t have minded a reason to head home to Yanqing. He seemed to be trying to persuade us to forget the bus and just take his taxi. We stuck with the bus- and took advantage of the usual idiots refusing to take the last seats on the bus and jumped the queue, getting on the road within two minutes of arriving at the bus station.

And we arrived at Dongguan, in the county town, bang on 11:30, just in time for the start of lzh’s classmate’s wedding. Fortunately the wedding was in the same restaurant we used, just across the square from the Dongguan bus stop. I was ready to just run across the square, but lzh decided taking a banche (flatbed tricycle) would be quicker. Whatever.

But here’s what surprised me. Sure, I know very well that Yanqing is always a couple of degrees colder than Beijing, but not that much colder than it was yesterday, surely. When we popped out of the Badaling tunnel, I saw smudges of white on the mountainside. The bus windows were mostly fogged up, so the view wasn’t very clear, and I instinctively assumed the trees must be blossoming, but then I looked out of a clear patch of window, and no: It was snow. Alright, we’re still up in the mountains, where you can expect it to be a couple of degrees cooler than down on the basin floor, and therefore several degrees cooler than Beijing. But we got down to the basin floor and there were still patches of snow lying on the ground.

By the time we emerged from the wedding and got a miandi home to the village, the snow had all melted so it isn’t too cold up here, but still, quite a bit colder than Beijing.

And then this morning we woke up to fog. I went out to the toilet, and on the way back noticed that the tap and two buckets of water that had been left in the courtyard had frozen over. The forecast on CCTV 9 this morning said four degrees. I guess that shows it was at least four degrees cooler up here than in Beijing.

But one thing I noticed at yesterday’s wedding: Based on my admittedly limited experience, Yanqing weddings are much better than Beijing weddings. For one thing, the soundsystems that I’ve seen used up here are of much better quality. You can actually understand what people are saying, rather than only hearing static that sounds like it might have been a human voice several lifetimes ago. Nope, no struggling to figure out whether the MC was saying 新郎 or 色狼, it was all perfectly clear. Loud, yes, ear-splittingly so, but if it’s happening in China, it’s happening at full volume. And, apart from the usual, “hey look, it’s a foreigner” bullshit from the less intelligent sections of the crowd, the people are a lot friendlier. Indeed, you still have to put up with the “hey look, it’s a foreigner” bullshit from the less intelligent sections of the crowd even in Beijing. And the food and drink were much better, too. And the restaurant was in the centre of the county town, not stuck on some remote and difficult-to-find corner of some far-flung and desolate suburb. In fact, had the 920 not left just as we were crossing the road to the Dongguan bus stop, we could’ve saved ourselves hiring a miandi to get out to the village. Why? Because the restaurant was at Yanqing’s equivalent of Wangfujing or Xidan.

We showed Ma and Ba carefully selected episodes of Country Calendar last night. No, we didn’t show half-wild cockies racing around mountains catching wild cattle, or the guy who lives alone in a tent in the Ureweras. We showed them more developed stuff: Sheep-dog breeders and trainers, shearing contractors, a bio-dynamic apple orchard, the guy who breeds whitebait, a crayfisherman. They were impressed. They said the sheep were huge. I pointed out they were bred for wool, and therefore their wool was very thick. They said, sure, but they’re still really fat after they’ve been shorn. And Ba wouldn’t mind getting his hands on some cuttings from those apple trees and planting them up here. And he was keen to find out just how big those crayfish were.

Success, in other words. Have to get that other Country Calendar DVD off my colleague and see if there’s any more good stuff for them to watch. Unfortunately, the episode on the sheep dog breeders we showed them didn’t show too much of the dog trials. I think they’d be impressed to see just how much control the shepherds have over their dogs, and how incredible the dogs are at herding sheep.

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