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April 18, 2006  |  China -- Sunday (2nd)  |  4687 hit(s)

Sunday found us feeling a bit queasy, due both to the previous night's quaffery and the distinct lack of coffee or suitable substitute caffeine beverage. We opted out of breakfast next door and set off with Li Xian Dong to visit his village. Twisty roads on an empty stomach, oy.

But soon enough we arrived. Li Xian Dong is part of a partnership that's developing the area surrounding his village and several more. They rent (can't buy) the land from the local cooperatives and are putting up facilities for tourists. They have a modest hotel already, plus a restaurant, and are working on creating an upscale resort in the area. This is all good news for the local inhabitants. Although the development takes land away from agriculture -- a charged issue in China -- the income for the locals is so much better from tourism than from farming that they're quite happy to lease their land.

Here's the hotel, carved out of the mountain.

Bob said that the business climate in China right now is like the Internet boom -- the place is bursting with ideas and plans and deals. There are some issues, primarily governmental, in how business can be transacted, but ambitious and hard-working people (which would include Li Xian Dong) stand to do very well for themselves in the coming years. To paraphrase Coolidge, at the moment (and perhaps always) the business of China is business.

We had lunch at the Li Xian Dong's restaurant, where if we had wanted to, we could have fished part of the lunch out of the little pools out front:

An unusual feature of that meal was that one of the greens consisted of delicate little buds from willow trees. Try finding that at your local Panda Express. In fact, I should note that if I remember correctly, we virtually never saw a dish that we would ever order at home. Many, many interesting things to eat, pretty much all of them brand-new to us.

Li Xian Dong gave us a ride back down to where the highway ends so we could find a ride back into Beijing. Bob found a taxi with a female driver, the first we'd seen, and he negotiated a price. A second negotiation then took place in which the girl asked her family for permission to drive into Beijing. The ride into town illustrated why they might have been wiser to say no. She had never been in Beijing, and our ride included some heavy braking and a couple of last-second turns. We kinda wondered if she'd find her way home again. (Incidentally, we calculated that gas costs just about the same as it does here in Seattle.)

That evening Bob took us out to eat with a neighbor friend of his, a woman who'd run a soy sauce factory and then helped found and run a chain of bookstores. This time we had cuisine from the Yunnan province, which featured a lot of red peppers and more shrub-derived greens. This was our last hurrah for Chinese food, since we were up and out early the next day.

Monday we got on a plane at 9:05am in Beijing and arrived Monday morning at 8:30am in Seattle. I realize this is all logical and stuff, but c'mon, that's just weird, heh.

All in all, it was a great trip. We actually saw more than I thought we would, and being able to see Beijing through the eyes of, effectively, a native was truly invaluable. In many ways Beijing reminded me of Mexico City, which also has insane traffic and bargaining and well-attended tourist activities and friendly natives. But China is different, a country that's both emerged from some tough times in the last decades and one that's obviously a huge, vital force. I would love to go back again.