The Guilin ferry eventually drops you off in Yang Shou which is where Jimmy Buffett would live if he were born in a quasi-capitalist, one-party state like China.
If you’re the young English guy who drank the “snake wine” during the cruise, this is the moment when you stagger off the boat and projectile vomit onto the hostess. She will in turn shriek (a universal language, understood by all) and run crying back onto the boat. Welcome to Yang Shou.
You can pronounce Yang Shou anyway you’d like: Yon Shoe, Yong Shoo, Yang Zoo – it doesn’t matter because you won’t pronounce it correctly and will only elicit a Weh?. Fortunately you’re already there.
One thing about Yang Shou is clear: They want your money. From the second you step off the boat you are accosted by vendors. Hallo! Sir? T-Shirt? Postcard? Hallo? It’s like anywhere else in China, but it’s nice and tropical here and the pollution haze is greener because of the lovely mountains.
The vendors all sell the same things and they’re all stationed every four feet – the general theory being you’ll get tired of saying no at some point. Just bear in mind, if you buy something straight off the boat you’ll be marked as an easy target so prepare to spend the next mile being aggressively marketed to.
The tourist shops in Yang Shou all sell the same things as the shops everywhere else in China – and Chinatown. It’s a haggle-fiesta and everything is negotiable. Anything you buy you will drag back home and then reconsider as in Did my toddler really need a frightening old Chinaman puppet? If you forget to buy something you can find it at Pearl River Mart on Broadway in Manhattan.
Yang Shou seems to cater to the kind of folks you’d find in Florida: Alcoholics in shorts. The bars all have outdoor seating and large open windows which allow the many beggars to approach you and contribute to your dining experience. We felt right at home as the bar was out of all the good Chinese beers and, like any crap bar in Florida, could only offer Western tinkle brands Heineken and Corona.
This was the only place we’d seen in China that seemed to have people who could actually make cocktails with Western spirits and not their “Mao Tai” rocket fuel.
I’d already eaten a bird’s nest on my journey, declined donkey meat and stared in shock at plates of sautéed bamboo worms and bee larvae. This made me wonder: What does a hungry patron wash all that gorgeous food down with?
The answer? Snake wine.
Snake wine is easy to make. Put live snakes in a bottle of alcohol, seal the bottle, watch them die, let the thing fester in the cellar and open it some day to celebrate a snake wine-worthy occasion, such as the kidnapping of your aunt or losing a toe to cancer.
A Canadian brave enough to have tried it reported that it was “nasty” and I believe him because Canadians don’t lie. And I’ll not forget the Englishman from the boat who speed-barfed on the hostess. Circumstantial evidence, sure, but in the spirit of Guantanamo I’m going to convict the stuff without due process.
Great news for snake lovers: There’s lizard wine – which is just as cruel and vile but made by killing creatures further down the evolutionary chart.
THE MINORITY CAFÉ
A place where you can be free to be whatever the Ku Klux Klan or the British National Party hate. At least, I’m assuming that’s what it is because I never went in.
THE FACE A GUEST SOIL SPECIAL PRODUCT SUPERMARKET
I spent a lot of time trying to determine what this sign was supposed to mean. Then I stopped trying and wept like a gay mullah.
WEST STREET UNDERGROUND DEPANTM STANE
Again, China’s sign-making industry is in need of able-bodied, literate English-speakers willing to work for $2.12 a day.