Sunday, November 4, 2012


Enjoyed another slightly smaller Western breakfast at the same café.  Read a British celebrity gossip rag over a piping hot frothy latte and watched the market stalls open up. I watched a little too closely - a boldly patterned pashmina sweater caught my eye from across the street. I went over “just to look” , next thing I was trying it on, and of course I bought it.

Suzanne was waiting back at the lobby and soon our cooking school teacher arrived. As we made our way towards the market to pick up our food, we picked up a few more classmates- a couple of Americans, a teenaged Australian and a Kiwi. As we strolled through Yangshou, we traded our origins and China adventures so far.

The entrance to the market was piled high with luscious fresh fruit of all kinds- many of which I didn’t know. Purple grapes the size of twoonies, and massive pear-like fruits that surprisingly resembled grapefruit inside.

Fruit at the Market in Yangshou

Past the fruit section, things got a bit more lively, with bubbling tubfuls of small fish, shellfish, eels and other small water creatures. The main section of the market held countless tables of fresh vegetables of every description- some familiar but many not. All the produce was spotless, and extremely artfully arranged for a striking presentation. Often, the marketers had samples cut up so you could see how it looked inside.

Now that's a cucumber!

On the perimeter we passed first the cooked meat section (deli?) where dozens of whole cooked ducks, chickens, geese etc were hung up high and also cut into pieces below- presumably for take out. Our teacher pointed out dog meat to us but assured us it was not on our menu for our lesson. We passed by curtains of bright sausage and thick-sliced bacon- extremely pungent.

Sausages and bacon, Yangshou Market

Things then took a more primal turn as we entered the butcher section, set up like a production line. First, cages of various live poultry from which birds were quickly pulled, throats slit and then placed in a large vat with a cover to bleed out. Next the birds were placed into barrel-sized metal pots of boiling water to loosen the feathers and several workers quickly plucked them clean on the other side and hung them up on hooks. Having grown up on a farm and helped with killing chickens and butchering deer and other animals, this was not shocking or disturbing to me. In fact, the speed at which it was done was very humane and I was not expecting the area to be as clean as it was. Not sterile as we hope our abattoirs to be, but at least as clean as most barns or home butcheries.

Dorothy, we ain't in Loblaws anymore!

Next was the rabbit area- also not disturbing to me. But the next stall held hanging dog carcasses having their remaining fur burned off with propane torches and I had to look away. Looked away only to see cages full of cats awaiting slaughter, so I skipped briskly over to the fish area, to which I am far less emotionally attached. Here, mighty catfish splashed and sloshed in huge tanks and you could pick and choose your favourite for lunch or dinner.

Upon leaving the market, our teacher asked if anyone had now converted to vegetarian. I shook my head, but my appetite was definitely gone for the day!

The cooking school itself was situated on beautiful grounds overlooking the Li River. We started by sharing cups of hot green tea in the traditional courtyard, washed our hands by the old pump, and were then ushered into the kitchen ara, where we were placed at stations along a long counter top. Each station was laid out with a small stove, a wok, spatula, tongs, various plates and bowls, a  bamboo cutting board, santoku knife and a number of condiments (soy oil and sauce,  salt, oyster sauce and water).

View from the cooking school kitchen window

We began by chopping up the various vegetables, then meat we would be cooking through the morning. I learned a couple tricks here- namely that cutting veg or meat skin-side down is much easier, and that cutting tomatoes lengthwise rather than crosswise secrets fewer seeds. These tricks may seem elementary to you, but please remember, my speciality is flambed oven mitts.

Look out Julia Child!

Next we turned on the gas and waited for our woks to smoke. “Hot pan, cold oil!!!” our teacher kept yelling. Once the oil was in our smoking woks, we lowered to medium heat and started adding ingredients. We were taught to add the ingredients by sliding them down the side of the wok to minimize splatter.

Timing seems to be everything in Chinese cooking- you start and it’s a mad dash of adding things in order, keeping the food moving in the pan on medium heat until you’re done. The exception was the beer fish, which we covered and allowed to simmer for a few minutes. Very little liquid was actually added until near the end, when a spatula of either water or beer (for the beer fish) was stirred in. I saw the error of my many soggy stir fries after this lesson.
I resolve to buy a wok , oyster sauce and  some high temperature cooking oil (peanut maybe rather than soy) and give it a whirl when I return home.
Just hope my kitchen fan –and quite possibly my fire extinguisher- is up to the task!

In addition to the beer fish and stir fries, we rolled some pork and green onion meatballs and stuffed some tomatoes and mushroom caps with the same mixture- these were taken away for steaming. I asked if these could be baked in the oven but the teacher informed me baking would dry out the exterior and undercook the stuffing so steaming or frying is optimal.

We enjoyed our meal in the courtyard and the teacher distributed recipes so we could try recreation back home. I thoroughly enjoyed the lesson and wished my mother and a special someone could have been along with me to participate.

Not bad, eh?

I dashed back to my room to change out of my cooking-oil smelling clothes for my sporty gear. Just to add to my apprehension with the climb, the cooking smoke gave me an asthma attack and I had to take my inhaler.
Needless to say, I was not dancing with enthusiasm when my lithe American rock climbing instructor showed up but I shoved my nervousness and negativity into my fanny pack as we soon fell into an easy sympatico of girlish chatter on the way to be outfitted. After being fitted for shoes, we jumped into a wickedly- tricked out Jeep Wrangler filled with a gang of heavy-smoking Chinese twenty-something guys, and sped off into the country side. Our destination was The Wine Bottle, a unique limestone formation that our group had passed yesterday on bicycle.
The guys quickly set up a series of lead lines- a beginner’s 5.7 , a 5.8 and a 5.9. There were about a dozen climbers on the face already- mostly Chinese guys but a couple white guys and one very skilled Chinese girl. A few came over to chat before my first climb.

The Wine Bottle-how appropriate- wish I had one right about now...

Having not climbed in 15 years, still battling a fear of heights and not exactly feeling physically with it, I had a lot of nervousness donning my harness and safety helmet. To my surprise I was much better than 15 years ago- I’m lighter, physically stronger and less afraid of heights than I was then. With coaching from my instructor, I did the 5.7 fairly easily and without falling once. Kaitlin took some great photos of me resting inside a crevice on the 5.8 which I completed at about 60 feet high. The beginning of the 5.9 was the challenging part and I could not ascend past an outcropping at 20 feet. I fell 3 times and got a grand smack and scrape on my left arm before finally surrendering to the mountain. After returning to the ground, I enjoyed watching the expert climbers ascend this line in record time and then set and climb a few other more challenging lines in access of 100 feet high.

Where's Waldo?

Returning to my hotel I showered, packed my gear and met the group for supper where we relayed our day’s adventures and discussed plans for the next leg of our journey.  My appetite was still stunted from the market sights but I managed to murder another king size pint of the delicious local beer. The TV in the restaurant was playing amazing footage of offroading vehicles in the desert and mud- unfortunately this was not an offered excursion  on our tour or I would have been first in line!

I stocked up on some drinks and snacks for our next overnight train jaunt the upcoming day and fell into a well-deserved sleep as the nightclubs pounded outside.

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