Sunday, 8 June 2008

Crouching panda, peely wally Scot



China is a country of constant contraditions - there's always someone trying to get you to part with your money, but always someone willing to help too. By the end of our time here we are exhausted by the constant refrain of "Hello! T-shirt? Coke? Postcard? Good price. How much? You say price, you say price!" On the other hand, we have met some amazing people and had countless encounters with Chinese generosity, mainly in the form of free food of one description or another.
A particular highlight is at our guesthouse in Tiger Leaping Gorge, northern Yunnan. The guesthouse is at the start of the famous Gorge trek, which we plan to do, and it makes sense to stay here. It's called "Jane's" and the Lonely Planet describes Jane as "a real character." Fair enough - there's alot of them in China. We are met at the entrance by the campest Chinese guy I've ever seen in my life. He directs us upstairs, where we meet an older woman. She's not Jane. Neither is the younger girl in the kitchen. Then it dawns on us - yes, that was "Jane" at the entrance.
We order dinner, which is totally delicious, and it turns out that Jane does alot of the cooking, so we start asking for tips and recipes. Jane is delighted with this and gives us a tour of the kitchen, telling us how to make sauces and not to buy ready-ground chillies. Then she asks: "Do you know how to make cheesecake?" An hour later, after a quick briefing session on the BBC Food website, I am in the kitchen of a Chinese guesthouse, directing operations for a lemon and strawberry cheesecake. After a bit of improvisation we succed and the result is left in the fridge overnight and served in enormous, complimentary portions for breakfast. It tastes surprisingly good considering the lack of key ingredients and kitchen implements. The only real problem is that I'm not that fond of cheesecake and I've just eaten a giant breakfast in preparation for an all-day trek. But free food cannot be refused in China and I choke it down.

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