My guide here in Guangzhou is a lovely young editor, Ellen Wong, whom I met last year at the Frankfurt Book Fair. She said today she has the same feeling I do, that there was something very special about our meeting. I had dashed over to the Chinese area, without having anything in particular in mind, and immediately I walked in I saw Ellen and her boss, Mr. Jin (who invited me to his home last night, to meet his familyâ€”thatâ€™s a story yet to come).
We drank tea and they showed me some books. I fell in love, then and there, with the horoscope books we will be publishing in a few months.
Iâ€™m writing this on the train to Hong Kong, which I barely made because I was talking on my newly functional Chinese mobile. Ellen hustled me to the gate and it was only then that I realized I was, sort of, leaving the country, which meant an immigration check. Fortunately I had filled in a departure form on the plane. Iâ€™ll use another when I leave from Shanghai on Saturday, and I have another entry to China ready (thank god for that advice from Tom) so returning this evening should be fine.
I heard a chicken crowing a few minutes ago and am fairly sure the sound came from the train. There are a couple of large cardboard boxes on the racks, so thatâ€™s my best guess. But the train itself is as clean and well-appointed as most trains in Europe, and better than the scruffy Metro-North trains I take to New York City, with their vinyl seats. (Commuter trains from New York to New Jersey are even worse, I think; amazing to think of high-paid bankers riding them every day; there isnâ€™t even a first-class service on those trains.)
Ellen took a photo of me eating my first chickenâ€™s foot (Iâ€™ll post it when I get a copy). Iâ€™d heard a lot about how the Chinese eat lots of these and many come from the U.S. because we donâ€™t eat them. I guess my Chinese friends are surprised Iâ€™m so adventurous, but Iâ€™m really just curious. And if it takes good Iâ€™ll keep eating. The chickenâ€™s foot was delicious, fried, I think, and cooked in a spicy sauce.
Most surprising is the lovely pastry you get in China. We had â€œmorning tea,â€ which is a dim sum breakfast. One of the dishes was tiny custard tarts with perfect crisp pastry. On top of the custard was a mound of sweet, clear jelly (jello, to Americans). I asked what it was. â€œIt comes from an animal that looks like a frog,â€ said Ellen. â€œThis is one of its organs, and itâ€™s considered very good for ladiesâ€™ complexion.â€
I havenâ€™t figured out what that could be, but since Iâ€™ve also come to like jellyfish this week (crunchy strips in a vinegary sauce), Iâ€™m not worrying about it.
Outside the train, lots of farming. Banana and many other things I canâ€™t identified, as well as rectangular ponds (fish farming?). There are square concrete building everywhere but also fields and small houses. The sky is gray and brown, heavy humidity and a lot of pollution. Iâ€™m a little snuffly from the pollution but itâ€™s not too bad. If I lived here, I think Iâ€™d be taking extra care with my health in various ways, and I certainly will appreciate the clear air of the Berkshires.
I could write an entire blog about Chinese food, I think. Speaking of which, there are food and drink carts coming up and down the train every few minutes, so I wonâ€™t go hungry. In fact, there are hot roasted chicken legs ready to be fished by a big dish and dropped into a plastic bag for easy eating.