Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Another Fishy Tale

China Daily (English version) has a story where the reporter gets himself tied up in geographical knots. The first paragraph states that the events take place “in Liuzhou”. The second para says “160 kilometres away from Liuzhou”. Which is correct?

Well, both are. The story’s setting is Rongshui County which is in Liuzhou Prefecture, but not in Liuzhou city. This is why we get locations like Bingbong Village, Dingdang Town, Yingyang County, Liuzhou. (That’s one imaginary location).

It is always puzzling working out what people mean when they talk about “Liuzhou”. What does it mean? I’m regularly asked about the population of Liuzhou. Do you mean the city or the prefecture, which stretches all the way up past Sanjiang to the border with Hunan?

Anyway, the story concerns a man, Huang Chao who graduated from Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University and then decided to take up fish farming in Rongshui, Liuzhou Prefecture. The local peasantry tried to dissuade him, thinking it was a forlorn venture, but he insisted and took out a thirty-year lease on 13.33 hectares of fish-farm appropriate property – i.e water and an additional small area of land to build an office on.

His plan was unusual in that he had settled on the fish variety he wanted to farm, one that the locals didn’t know.

Huang Chao, who graduated from Tsinghua University in 1992 is farming Polyodon spathula, otherwise known as American or Mississippi Paddlefish. In Chinese they are 匙吻鲟 or simply 匙鲟 which translates as Spoon mouth sturgeon or spoon sturgeon. They are related to the sturgeon family, but are not true sturgeons.

Mr Huang and A “Spoon Sturgeon”

By all accounts, he is doing well. Each fish sells for around 80 yuan (approx $12 / £9 per jin (0.5 kg)). What the article fails to mention is that aside from selling the fish as meat, Huang is probably also separately selling the prized roe from the fish, which also fetches a good price. Perhaps Mr. Huang is keeping that information to himself, as his neighbours begin to see his success.

Paddlefish Roe

The paddlefish was introduced to China in 1988, specifically to be farmed. Around 4.5 million fertilized eggs or larvae are imported to China every year from Russia and The USA. Very fishy.

Friday Food 182 – Chinese Celery

chopsticksFriday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, we are looking at celery with a difference.

There are two types of celery widely available in China.

First is what we westerners think of as regular celery (Apium graveolens), known in Mandarin Chinese as 西芹 or western celery. Then there is what the Chinese think of as regular celery, simply known as 芹菜. (Apium graveolens var. secalinum) Chinese celery or more properly Leaf Celery. It is not exclusive to China is thinner and longer than the western plant and its taste is stronger. More obviously, the Chinese version is sold with its leaves intact. These are eaten as a stir fried vegetable.

Here are the two side by side.

Left: western celery; right: Chinese celery

Unlike western celery, Chinese celery is rarely eaten raw, instead being used in stir fries, soups, hot pots etc. It is also pickled.

Chinese celery is available from every market and supermarket at around ¥7.50 / 500g; western celery is similarly priced, if not a bit cheaper.

Snake Arrested and Released

Several years ago, I was sitting in a now long-gone Liuzhou bar and got chatting with an American guy who was working in the city. I forget how, but somehow, the topic turned to snakes. The guy said that he had a serious snake phobia. In fact, he looked rather ill just talking about them.

Ever the diplomat, I asked him why the hell he was in Guangxi, snake central of China.

“Are there snakes here?” he asked.

“Yes, millions of them!”

He left shortly after.

Wuzhou city in the south-east of Guangxi is famous for its Snake Depository and they ship snakes all over China as food. Especially to Hong Kong. The snakes are captured throughout the region, including in Liuzhou.

Every year, there are stories of people illegally trying to sell protected snake species and being bitten, sometimes fatally.

I bring this up because yesterday a poisonous snake was found in a student dormitory at Guangxi Science and Technology University in the east of the city. The police were called to deal with it. By the time they arrived, the snake had left the dormitory and taken up residence in a e-bike. Police removed it using tongs.

The snake turned out to be a one-metre-long many-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus), also known as the Taiwanese krait or the Chinese krait (Chinese:银环蛇, literally ‘silver ringed snake’.) It weighed about 500g.

Although their bite is relatively mild in terms of pain, the species is highly venomous and, if untreated, bites can lead to death.

It is native to southern China and is a protected species, so the police were anxious that it came to no harm. It is reported that they later released it in a remote wooded area. Rumours that they actually took it home for dinner are unconfirmed.

Snakes for dinner are available in some markets or from dodgy dealers on the street. Many restaurants also serve snake. I love snake meat! Snake soup is also often served at wedding banquets as it is considered to be helpful for one’s fertility. I dunno!

Many Banded Krait

Sex Assault Voyeurism in Liuzhou – Maybe

I have some serious doubts about the veracity of elements of this story supposedly in Liuzhou and reported by Shanghaiist, a site I’ve had accuracy issues with before.

According to their report a drunken young man passed out on a public bench in Liuzhou. Well, despite20 years in the city, I’ve never seen a public bench remotely like this.

What’s with the ovens at the rear? Where in Liuzhou is this?

Anyway, whether I’m right or wrong, the story continues with a relation of how an assailant came by and interfered, first manually with the drunk’s genitals, then attempted to stimulate him orally before emptying his pockets of around ¥600 and leaving the scene.

The report says that the alleged assailant was tracked by CCTV cameras and arrested at a nearby hotel where he had kept the victim’s ID card as a keepsake.

There are very blurred, heavily pixellated videos from the interweb on the Shanghaiist website, but I am not linking to them because, if genuine, they are

a) evidence and I retain a romantic belief in not prejudicing trials (even in China. I know!)


b) pure voyeurism.

If things pan out as normal, we’ll never hear about this again.

Fake News! Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know. But, I won’t say China invented it, but they certainly mastered it.

New Electric Car

General Motors is again taking full credit for a product produced by Liuzhou based SAIC-GM-Wuling in which it is a minority shareholder.

They have announced the launch of a new electric car, the Baojun E100 which will retail at around 33,000元 (USD $5,000; GBP £3,800).

With a 29kw motor, the car has a 100 mile limit before needing recharging, which takes around 7½ hours for a full charge.

The car has been launched with this extremely non-Liuzhou-like image of where you are supposed to keep and recharge it.

Baojun E100

The tiny two-seater car also has a digital dashboard, 7-inch touch screen centre console and its own wi-fi connection.

Baojun E100 – Dashboard

The vehicle will initially only be available in Liuzhou, but there are plans to roll it out across China in the future. They’ll have to roll it – a charge won’t last that long!

Friday Food 181 – Crayfish

chopsticksFriday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, we are fishing for invaders.

Crayfish, crawfish, crawdads, freshwater lobsters, mountain lobsters, mudbugs or yabbies – whatever you call them – have in recent years become ridiculously popular in summer. Often served 麻辣 style (with chilli and Sichuan peppercorns) or simply boiled with dipping sauces of your or your restaurant’s choice. From 1000 kilos in 2015, the number produced in one Guilin aquaculture farm rose to 10,000 kg by 2016 and more and more farms are popping up all over Guangxi, including of course, in Liuzhou. Prices have also risen

In Chinese they are 小龙虾 or little lobsters.

Restaurants which don’t usually do seafood are selling them, from hole in the wall shacks to five-star hotel restaurants. Even Pizza Hut is doing a crayfish pizza! And some of the the supermarkets are selling them. Bubugao, for example.

But not all is well.

Crayfish are omnivorous and there is little or no inspection of the creatures before they are sold. In other words, neither you nor the vendor have any idea what they have been eating or where. Concerns have been raised that they may contain excessive, cancer-causing heavy metals or other forms of pollution. Or, they may be carrying diseases which crayfish are prone to.

They are also an invasive species in China. That is, they are not native to China but have been introduced and are threatening native flora and fauna. As the price has risen, more and more people see the opportunity for a quick profit, but many crayfish farms have failed and the proprietors have just let any remaining crayfish go free. In other cases, heavy rains have led to flooding or perimeter fences failing and crayfish have escaped.

They eat young rice plants when they are in the paddies and they attack and consume native river life such as small fish, freshwater shrimp etc. And they aren’t shy about breeding.

All in all, they are bad news. Normally, I would say eating invasive species is a good idea but.. Either you get poisoned or the land does or both. And anyway, they are a load of trouble to eat for very little reward.

My honest advice? Do as many of my Chinese friends do and avoid them completely.

There’s something I’ve never said before on Friday Food.

Ducking Out Of Poverty

Rongshui Miao Autonomous County of Liuzhou lies to the north of the city proper. It is a mountainous area populated largely by the Miao people, but also has other ethnic minorities.. Most people there are subsidence farmers and there is  a great deal of poverty.

In order to relieve this, in recent times fifteen duck farming cooperatives have been formed to try to raise 2,400 households from poverty.

Income can be derived from both egg and meat sales.

I always buy duck eggs.

Life Bans

According to figures released by Guangxi Public Security Bureau Traffic Police Corps, 169 people have been give life driving bans in Guangxi, ten of which were in Liuzhou. Six cases involved drunk driving and the remainder were for hit-and-run accidents caused by dangerous driving.

In most cases, the life ban was imposed because the incidents leading to the drivers’ convictions resulted in deaths. The banned include both male and female drivers. The youngest was a 26 year-old woman who collided with two e-bikes killing one rider then failing to stop or report the accident.

Figures regarding temporary bans have not been released.

Friday Food 180 – Long Beans

chopsticksFriday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, we are longing for  beans.

Long beans, yard long beans, snake beans, long-podded cowpeas, asparagus beans, pea beans,  or Chinese long beans are all the same thing, Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, a type of legume  that grows as a vine, the pods of which are used for food throughout southern China and SE Asia. In Chinese, they are 豆角, literally ‘bean horn’. They are very fast growing, putting on inches each day of their season.

Despite the ‘years long’ name, the bean pods are only about half that. The Latin name is more accurate. Sesquipedalis means ‘one-and-a-half-foot-long’.

They taste similar to other green beans, but don’t boil them or otherwise cook with water. They become water-logged and tasteless. Instead, the beans are normally cut into manageable pieces and stir fried. Mr Google has a load of recipes. I particularly like this treatment.

In SE Asia they are often first fried then finished in coconut milk with spices. Also, delicious.

There is also a  variety known as 白豆角, or ‘white long beans’. They aren’t exactly white – more a very pale green. They are prepared in the same ways and taste the same.

Cool It!

The recent spell of hot weather, with temperatures hitting 38.8ºC is due to have a respite.

Tonight or tomorrow morning (30th and 31st July), typhoon Begonia is due to make landfall in Fujian province. Although this won’t directly have any bearing on Guangxi, it will lower temperatures across southern China and bring rain to some areas.

The Liuzhou forecast is that between August 1st and 4th, temperatures will drop back to between 33 and 35ºC and there will be rain and perhaps thunderstorms.

Who thought that 35º would seem cool?

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