Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Sweeping Up

It has been pleasant to walk the streets of Liuzhou over the last couple of days, especially in the mornings. The sidewalks have been relatively free of cars and e-bikes. And people. The city seems almost deserted. Everyone is on holiday and spending the first few days of the spring festival at home.

Most shops are still closed. Some until Monday; some until Wednesday.

One group of workers is not so lucky. In fact their workload is heavier than usual. The city’s many street-sweepers.

clean1

They are busy clearing up mountains of red paper which has been strewn across the city by firecrackers. And then doing it again the next day.

clean2

Today many of the banks opened for the first time since New Year’s Eve. Before opening each branch, these have to exorcise the demons of the old year by setting off firecrackers, depositing another mountain of red paper for the sweeps to clear. On Monday, more businesses will open and the process repeated again. This will go on until the Lantern Festival on March 8th.

clean3

Until next year.

Spring Festival Price Hikes

Some of the locals are up in arms about raised prices during the Spring Festival, which starts tomorrow. A number of shops have displayed notices setting out higher prices during the holiday.

People are used to the railway and intercity coach prices being increased for the holiday, but now the rises are are applying to all sorts of things. Even car washes and rice noodles.

This sign appeared at a car wash place on 桂中大道 in the east of the city announcing that for the holidays the cost of a car wash will rise from ¥40 to ¥60.

Quite who wants to celebrate the new year by washing their car isn’t explained.

Car wash

Car wash

The owner of the business claims remaining open over the holiday means that he has to pay higher than normal labour costs.

Similar reasons were given buy the owner of a rice noodle place on the corner of 白沙路 and 锦绣路 in the north of the city who posted this notice informing customers that between Feb 16th and Feb 25th all noodle dishes will cost ¥1 extra.

Noodles

Noodles

Price hikes have also been seen in car parks, hair dressing salons etc.

Liuzhou Consumers Association (a government department rather than an independent watchdog, of course) has announced that the increases are legal so long as the business give clear warning and do not set out to deceive.  They also point out that these places are in the minority and most businesses are operating at the usual prices.

No doubt customers will  remember which ones are which.

What Year Is It, Anyway?

Whose year is it?

Whose year is it?

I’ve seen a number of articles in the media asking what Chinese year it is this time. “Is it the Year of the Goat? The Sheep? The Ram?” they ask. The problem, they explain, is one of translation. They say that (Yang) is the Chinese for all three. So 羊年 (Year of the Yang) can be any of the three.

However, it’s not so simple. is really only an abbreviation of the relevant names. Of course, it is possible to differentiate when required. Goat is 山羊, while sheep is 绵羊 and ram is 公羊. Ewe, by the way is 母羊.

So which one is correct? Unfortunately the Chinese zodiac only says , so it’s left open to interpretation. The locals are just as confused. The shops are full of pictures and stuffed toys, some being goats and some being sheep.

However, a look at Chinese history and culture would suggest that Goat is the more likely. Goats were and and still are much more commonly raised in China than sheep, especially among the Han people.

So, I’m sticking with the Year of the Goat.

Goat

This goat/sheep confusion is not limited to China, however. I remember being in India and mutton was often served as “goat” and vice-versa. Same in Jamaica.

One pair of animals where the Chinese seems impossible to differentiate is mouse and rat. They are both 老鼠

Many people are similarly confused between rabbits and hares, insisting they are the same. However Mandarin Chinese can differentiate – rabbit being 兔子 and hare being 野兔 .

Happy Goats!

Spring Has Sprung

spring

Spring

Spring Festival, starting with Chinese New Year’s Day on Thursday the 19th, is particularly late kicking off this year. In fact, it is as late as it can be – almost – in 1985 it was February 20th, which is the absolute latest.

The advantage of this lateness is that, for once, Spring Festival is turning up in what feels like spring, instead of the usual mid-winter.

I don’t know. Maybe the calendar is out of synch or something. Spring Festival is usually in winter and Mid-Autumn Festival seems to be in high summer.

That said it has been an unusually mild February. It is usually the coldest month, but temperatures have been hovering around the low 20ºC* mark for the last week or so. The forecast for New Year’s Day is a high of 22ºC/low 16ºC but raining.

It is, as spring always is, rather wet even when it isn’t raining, but at least not freezing wet this time.

Global warming, I guess.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the weather will not change. It just takes the wind to change direction and we could plummet back to single figure temperatures, but overall I have noticed a decided tendency for winters to be much warmer than in the past (on average).

2008 bucked the trend, bringing the worst winter in living memory. It was quickly dubbed the “China Snow Disaster”. Unfortunately, my father died on February 7th, 2008, which was New Year’s Day. He had been sick for some time. Sadly, I was unable to return to the UK for the funeral as all transport in China had ground to a halt. No trains. No planes. Millions stranded in stations and airports.

My family understood, but I still feel bad.

*Do your own conversion. I live in the 21st Century and so, am metric!

Handstand Rabbit and Other News

Some of the more bizarre Liuzhou news items from yesterday:

a) Handstand Rabbit

rabbit

This rabbit is in Liuzhou’s rancid excuse for a zoo. It is apparently suffering from some congenital disorder, as it only moves around by walking on its front legs. Of course this is being promoted as an ‘attraction’.

Actually, it turns out that was one of a group of bunnies purchased by the zoo as food for some snake that only eats live food. Its acrobatics saved its life.

b) Kimono Whores

kimono4

15 people were arrested on suspicion of engaging in commercial sexual services in a Liuzhou ‘health club’ where the women were dressed in Japanese kimonos.

kimono2

kimono3

kimono

…c) Exploding motorcycle death

explode

A man was killed when his motorcycle suddenly exploded.It is not clear whether there was a malfunction with the bike itself, causing the fuel tank to explode, or whether he was carrying explosives. Witnesses have been reported as saying their was a strong smell of gunpowder. Police and fire authorities are investigating.

Friday Food 141 – Hongzhui Mushrooms

Friday Food is an occasional article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week some rare mushrooms.

A while back, I received a parcel from an old and dear friend, 李美 (who uses the English name, Vera). It was a large box of dried mushrooms, but not any old mushrooms. These are rather special. I’d heard rumours that they existed, but had never been able to track them down.

hongzhuijun box

The hongzhui tree, 红椎树 (literally ‘red vertebrae tree’) (Castanopsis hystrix) is a subtropical species of evergreen broadleaf tree, which grows up to 30 meters in height. It is found in the eastern Himalayas of Nepal, Bhutan, and north-eastern India, across Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam), southern China (Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, south-western Hunan, south-eastern Tibet, and southern Yunnan), and Taiwan.

In a few areas of China, particularly Guangxi, but also Fujian and Guangdong, the hongzhui forests are home to a unique species of red mushroom. These are named after the trees and so are hongzhui mushrooms – 红椎菌.

Hongzhui mushrooms are found in the mountainous areas from May to August when it is both hot and wet. They grow under the shadow of the hongzhui trees, which also bear edible fruit similar to chestnuts but smaller.

Hongzhui mushrooms have so far resisted all attempts to grow them commercially, so they are all picked from the wild.

Pubei County in Qinzhou on the southern coast of Guangxi contains the largest area of hongzhui forests and the town of Longmen is the centre of the mushroom picking area.

My friend Vera writes:

I was born in a village of Longmen town, the major growing area of hongzhui mushrooms. Around the town, we have the most red fungi in the area. Picking them from the hills behind my old house is a very good, funny and happy memory from my childhood. We got up at dawn or even earlier, took a basket and started our journey. And we would also do it right after a sudden rain in the afternoon. There would be a good harvest. When walking in the wild, we had to be careful, otherwise we would suffer from being attacked by hornets or get itchy because of worms. I suffered many times but I enjoyed seeing the red “babies”. Because they could help earn money to pay for my school tuition.

We moved to town when I was 12 years old. I have never had such an experience again since then

The amount of hongzhui mushrooms picked is decreasing year by year due to environmental and climate changes. These mushrooms are much more rare than wild matsutake mushrooms but they are easier to take care of as they do not decay so rapidly.

They are normally sun dried, but in inclement weather over hot wood or coals. They are also eaten fresh, but fresh hongzhui mushrooms are only found local to their picking grounds. A trip is planned for the new season next year.

They are used with chicken, ribs, fish and with pig stomach, both in main dishes and in soups. It is said that they taste better when ginger and rice wine is used, but Vera prefers them plain so that she can get the full, natural taste.

Hongzhui mushrooms come in up to four grades. Nutritionally, there is no difference. Rather they are graded by appearance and texture. Prices vary from 170 – 400 yuan per 500g. (US$27 – $63, UK£17 – £39).

So here they are:

hongzhuijun - dried 1

Dried Hongzhui Mushrooms

Dried Hongzhui Mushrooms

Dried Hongzhui Mushrooms

Opening the bag released a strong mushroom scent. Almost overpowering. The whole room smells of mushrooms!

As an experiment, I set four specimens to soak. The water immediately turned pink and after five minutes was distinctly red.

Soaking

Soaking

Here are the reconstituted mushrooms

hongzhuijun - reconstituted

Following Vera’s suggestion and continuing my experiment, I used these four babies in a simple chicken soup, minimally flavoured with a bit of ginger and salt. Of course, I strained and added the soaking liquid, too. The red soaking liquid was diluted by the chicken stock giving me a nice pink soup.

The mushrooms remained firm to the bite and tasted slightly sweet and somewhat nutty. They certainly went well with the chicken.

Chicken and Hongzhui Mushroom Soup

Chicken and Hongzhui Mushroom Soup

Thank you 李美!

I have since seen these on sale in Liuzhou. Here. Only once.

Confucian New Year

Liuzhou Confucius Temples

Liuzhou Confucius Temple

Stuck for something to do in Liuzhou on Chinese New Year’s Eve?

Next week, the city’s fake Confucius temple will be open from 22:00 on the 18th (New Year’s Ever)  until 0:30 on the 19th (New Year’s Day) with various activities to bring in the Year of the Goat. Admission will be free.

Thereafter, from February 19 to February 23, there will be temple fairs, traditional cultural activities, sale of traditional goods and related items. The traditional activities include drumming displays, music and local-style opera performances, stilt walkers, fashion shows etc. An unspecified entrance fee is payable for these.

The temple lies on the south bank of the river near Wenhui Bridge (the pretty red one).

Liuzhou Luosifen Losers

Now I only went down this route to see how terrible it could be. I wasn’t disappointed. It was revolting.

Luosifen (螺螄粉) as anyone who has spent any time in Liuzhou knows is the local noodle dish of choice. It is well-known throughout China and abroad. It even has its own Facebook page.

Made using a snail and pork bone stock, the rich red, spicy rice noodles with greenery and bamboo or dried tofu are very, very popular.

But there are also these monstrosities.

Instant Luosifen

Instant Luosifen

instant luosifen 2

Yes, the pot contains the usual pot noodle crap.

instant luosifen 1

The usual crap

Dried noodles, unidentifiable sauce, dried veg, and a foil packet of MSG and what I suspect is chicken powder. Not a snail in sight.

After rehydration it looks like this.

WTF?

WTF?

It doesn’t look like luosifen or smell like luosifen and certainly doesn’t taste like luosifen. Not that I expected it to. It just has that horrible taste all Chinese pot noodles have.

Avoid.

You can get cheaper good luosifen all over town. A new place just opened a noodle-length away from my home.

The Real Deal

2015 China Public Holiday Schedule

llw-china-holiday-schedule-2015


Infograph via Lost Laowai

In addition to the above, Guangxi may again have April 20th and 21st as a public holiday in recognition of San Yue San, a minorities’ festival. This was introduced last year, but it has not yet been confirmed if it will be repeated.

Hunan Supermarkets

nancheng

Now, I don’t know why, but I’ve never understood finance, economics or anything related. So I have no real idea what this is about.

One of Liuzhou’s larger supermarket chains is Guangxi Nancheng Department Store (南城百货) with several stores in the city. It used to have one under Liuzhou People’s Square but that has long gone. It is one of the better places to shop, but still not a patch on RTMart. I use the Yufeng branch occasionally.

What I didn’t know until now is that, despite the use of Guangxi in the company name, is that it owned by a Hunan company,  Better-Life Commercial Chain Share Co., Ltd. This information came to me via a report saying that the company has acquired 100% ownership after buying the other shareholder,  Shenzhen Cowin Capital’s 2.32% stake for 36.5 million 元.

What is it about Hunan and supermarkets and shopping malls? Bubugao on the north side of the square is also Hunanese. The other supermarket chain Lianhua is Shanghai based while RTMart is Taiwanese.

Lianhua was originally Liuzhou owned, operating under the name Jiayong but sold out to Lianhua, China’s largest supermarket retailer, some years ago.

Jia Yong Supermarket 2003

Jia Yong Supermarket 2003


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