Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China
The bus next stopped at Huaquing Hot Springs, where we were offloaded for three hours. It was bitterly cold. We ate jaozis in a shack and had a look round the springs. People were queuing up for baths and the surroundings were beautiful – but cold. Every tea house was closed. We asked a woman outside a pagoda where we could rest or eat.
‘Mayo,’ she said. ‘Not have. All closed.’
We trailed off, and then Elspeth, who had looked through the windows of the pagoda, said: ‘There’s loads of settees in there. I bet they serve tea.’
‘Right,’ said Cheryl, so we went in and asked the woman for tea.
She looked at us in astonishment. ‘Oh, you want tea?’ She was amazed that we wanted tea, when we had said we had wanted two different things.
‘We want to get warm,’ said Elspeth.
The woman bowed to the capriciousness of foreigners. ‘You sit down,’ she said. ‘I bring tea.’
The inside of the pagoda was richly carved and decorated a la Fu Manchu, but the furniture was strictly 1930s with sofas covered in lacy anti-macassars all lining the room. It was very warm and very civilised and we gradually thawed out with the tea, while the women at the other end of the room washed their smalls and hung them over the backs of chairs to dry.
Back for dinner at the restaurant in the People’s Edifice. I decided I ought to order the dog meat in brown sauce. I mean, if it’s on the menu, and it’s what the Chinese do, then I think I ought to try it. The waitress came and Cheryl and Elspeth ordered noodles as per usual.
‘I’ll have the dog meat,’ I said.
The waitress scrawled on her pad. ‘Two noodle, one dog meat.’ And then she disappeared.
‘It’s probably going to taste disgusting,’ said Elspeth.
‘I know,’ I mumbled.
Eventually, after what seemed like several days, the waitress came back and looked at me very seriously. ‘We are sorry,’ she said carefully. ‘But tonight, dog meat off.’
Relieved? You betcha.
Stayed in bed as long as possible – our train leaves at 10.30 tonight. Stuffed ourselves full of food at lunchtime and went off to meet the artists again.
There were four of them this time and we all crushed into this chilly, concrete cell. They gave us green tea and the Chinese equivalent of pretzels. None of them could speak English but they were all very good natured. The room was plastered with photos of impressionist paintings, Western book covers and their own efforts. They particularly wanted to draw us, they said, because they earned a few bob on the side by illustrating comic books and they needed a few European faces.
The flat was full of good smells, preparations for the Spring Festival, and we were asked to stay to eat, but we decided not to because Cheryl had used a restaurant’s chopsticks yesterday and was beginning to look very pale.
Back at the hotel the restaurant was full of visiting Hong Kong Chinese all celebrating the New Year. The waiters were pouring rice wine like they were just emptying the bottles. It was delicious – like apple froth and probably very powerful since it tasted so innocuous.
When we left the hotel, fireworks were going off left right and centre. The night was just a sheet of white shimmering light with head-splitting bangs. It was like the place was under rocket attack. I wanted to throw myself on the ground and put my hands over my head, but I didn’t; we all just ran like the clappers in case any of the fireworks hit us. The outside of the hotel was all lit up, the fountains were going, and people were setting off more fireworks on every street corner. Still, we got the train.