Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Rodent with Relish

Unsurprisingly our rooms were not ready when we arrived in Yangshuo, but at least we could leave our bags and head off for some breakfast. Early that misty morning, it was difficult to see the karst formations that this town is famous for, but every so often a peak would appear through the surrounding cloud to give us a taste. People were thin on the ground at that time, though one or two sellers were persistent in offering us umbrellas. After the oppression of the train, none of us minded the drizzle though.

As the day wore on the sun, and the people, began to come out. In fact it soon was warmer than it had been for ages. The town metamorphosed into a crowded, but laidback, backpacker place, with more Westerners per square inch than we had seen on our whole tour. The limestone outcrops were soon clearly visible too. Of course it is this scenery that brings everyone here. It is truly stunning with karst formations similar to Halong Bay backdopping the busy streets (apparently there are over 20,000 karsts in this region). We soon found ourselves settling back into the flow of the place.

When our rooms were ready I went straight to bed and didn't surface until 1. Duck in beer for lunch improved my mood still more and by the time we all met for happy hour in a local bar I was in the mood to do damage to their cocktails. Settling on Long Island Ice Teas I ended up doing a lot of damage to myself instead. The bar also served food and one thing they sold was snake. Apparently they would bring the snake out for the customer to hold (a photo opportunity), then slit its throat, pour the blood into a glass of rice wine for the customer to drink, then cook it up. This was all fine by me, though I wondered why the snake was not printed on the menu. It turned out the Government had banned eating snake and I could only presume it was because it was endangered. Certainly that was Haike's view and if there was such a possibility, I was going to refuse it. I wouldn't eat an endangered animal. Next on the list was dog. Much as I wouldn't have minded eating it, I suspected I would suffer guilt later as the man who ate Lassie. No, in the end I settled on the third exotic option on the list; Bamboo Rat. The waitress came out to me three times asking if I'd reconsider the snake and I should have taken that as a hint. Haike too tried to convince me that rat was an intelligent animal, though by that reckoning I'd have to give up all hope of one day eating squirrel. I stuck to my guns.

When the stir fried rat did appear, it didn't look particularly special. As with most meats in China, they had simply taken a cleaver to the skinned animal. The brown and green mess was laced with little paws and spectacularly a jawbone with some jutting teeth. The problem was that every single bit of meat - which didn't taste a million miles away from beef or pork - encased a bone or bones forcing me to suck and gnaw the meat off every bite, rather like a rat might do. Palatable though the meat was, this was just too much work.

Food notwithstanding, the drink continued to go down very well, and before very long I was a lot less than sober. I headed off in my messianic way to find new bars to explore and eventually ended up alone in a bar filled exclusively with Chinese. Munching on sunflower seeds, not bothering to remove the shells, I decided to bridge the Asia-Europe divide and began a stilted conversation with a lovely Chinese student. At least I think she was lovely; I know I told her so. Perhaps it was the lack of Mandarin, or the sunflower crunch, but all I got was a brief and happy conversation with smiles. I made my way back to the original bar where Nigel was chatting to some Scottish guy. Everyone else had gone, so I had another drink, saw few opportunities around me and headed back.


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