A Blog Around The Clock

Kevin is popular with the ladies….too popular…

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything so I decided to write up some stuff. Many cultural things have happened, but very few herps. Nearly everything is from Muyu with an occasional trip here and there.

13 July

This is where I last left off. We had left Bancang earlier this morning, around 6am. I do not know if I had written before about seeing two Chinese Pheasants in the road on the drive back. They quickly ran off so I was unable to get any pictures, just have visual images. Oh, and I found out about my “illness” on the trail at Bancang, it was heat exhaustion. My arms had stopped sweating simply because there was no more water to sweat. Luckily my head was still sweating. The next step after heat exhaustion is heat stroke. So next time I’m in that situation again I am not going to hesitate in drinking stream water.

I had brought back the king rat and the smaller Ptyas to show Vanessa because both of these animals are very impressive (especially the king rat) and Vanessa hadn’t seen either species in person. I ran into earlier in the day and asked if she would like me to bring them to class (it was a Thursday, her last day of the week). She said she would love it if I brought the snakes in. So around 8pm I show up with the two snakes and as usual, give my little speech on how the snakes are nonvenomous, can bite, and their names and then walk around the room and let everyone who wants to touch the animals. Vanessa’s classes have become very popular with children and there were maybe 30 or so little kids and only a dozen or so adults.

After my talk I went ahead and left. As I was walking down the stairs some girl was running after me. After a few floors she caught up with me and in broken English was telling me that a girl upstairs was wanting to be my friend. I had learned earlier that friendships are different in China. If you want to be friends with someone, you basically have to ask them. So I thought to myself, well that’s nice, and told her “ok, sure” and started heading back upstairs. I kind of thought that maybe it was a little kid that was impressed with the snakes or something. The girl (from now on referred to as “the younger girl”) introduced me to her friend which she said was her sister. Her sister was a fairly attractive girl and knew very little English. The younger girl introduced me to Wen and asked if I had a girlfriend. I told her I did not and she started jumping up and down and clapping. I should have taken this as a warning sign…

As the three of us left, they asked if I was busy that night. I told them I was meeting Vanessa later to show her pictures from Bancang. The younger girl said Wen was going to go to dinner with her aunt for one hour and wanted to know if I would be available around 10pm. I told her that I might be ready. Walking back to the hotel the younger girl was telling me that Wen was going to Yichong the next day and since we would have very little time together we had to – *she starts making hand motions, bringing her hands and fingers together* – “long time” that night. I was like “what?” Knowing surely she didn’t mean what I thought her hand gestures were suggesting. They got my hotel room and I told them I’d meet them outside my hotel around 10pm. I figured we’d go get a bite to eat and I’d just make another friend. So far I have enjoyed meeting new people in China and making new friendships.

Vanessa showed up around 9:10 or so and I started showing her pictures. At about 9:45pm, Wen, the younger girl, another girl, and this little kid showed up in my room. The kid was perhaps the coolest person of the group, he looked like an identical version of an Asian Dewy from the TV show “Malcom in the Middle.” We all talked for awhile. Since Vanessa was there she was able to translate a lot. The younger girl asked Vanessa, “do you think he could love her?” Vanessa had a surprised look and a grin on her face as she translated the phrase to me. I now had the reigning surprised look. I was like “ummmm, it doesn’t really work like that.”

Vanessa explained to the younger girl about how in American relationships we usually make friends first, then go on a few dates, then say we like one another, and then after that we may love the other person. The younger girl looked defeated and exclaimed that her sister was going to Yichong the next day and that that would take too long. After awhile Vanessa finally retreated and I really did not want her to. Not wanting to be in my room alone with these girls, I suggested we go for a walk. It started to rain and I had to hold an umbrella over Wen… I was just being nice, though I’m sure it meant other things to them.

As we walked, Wen was trying to tell me that her younger sister liked me as well. But her younger sister was far too young to even consider anything. While we were walking the younger girl asked if I thought her “sister” was pretty. I said she was. Then she asked if I liked her sister and whether or not I would be sad when she left the next day. I had just met this girl about an hour ago. I told her that it was unfortunate that she was leaving the next day and that I wouldn’t get to know her better. This sentence was too complex though. So I eventually had to say, “yes, I will be sad.” Next time I’m going to stick to the complicated sentences.

As the rain got heavier we decided to go back to the hotel. Wen started pouring through my Chinese-English book and was writing a note in Pinyin. The younger girl and I started talking while she was writing. She asked me what I did in Muyu at night. “I sleep.” She looked like she was expecting more of an answer. I asked her how old her sister was – which in Chinese is “nide zhi zhi sway la?” The younger girl immediately busts out laughing and can’t stop. I was quite confused. Zhi zhi means “older sister” but I later found out I mispronounced “zhi zhi.” And that “zhi zhi” in the way I was saying it was also a way to say “penis.” So basically I was asking her how old her penis was.

The younger girl started asking me questions about what kind of girl I liked. Did I like quiet girls or wild girls? I told her I liked quite girls. She said “she is not quite.” About that time, Wen tapped my arm to get my attention and pointed to a word in the dictionary. She was pointing to “gentle” and said “I am not gentle.” Oh geeze… All I wanted to do was make a friend. I was very worried about what Hi Yin might think about having these two girls in my room late at night.

As the night progressed, the younger girl kept asking if I loved Wen. I told her that I didn’t even know Wen! She kept on trying to say I should kiss Wen as well. I told her that that was too fast for American relationships. The younger girl did not seem to realize this. I told her we had to become friends first. The younger girl said, “but if you are only friends, and she leaves tomorrow for Yichong, you will forget her. If you kiss her, you will not forget her.” I told her I would not forget her. Then she asked me “what happens to Wen when you go to America?!” sounding concerned for her “sister’s” (she was actually her aunt, but they were so close they refer to each other as sisters, Wen is 22, so their ages are close as well) feelings. I was like “exactly!” When I go to America that would be it. I wanted to say that sometimes things just don’t work out for whatever reasons, and this was obviously one of those situations, but I knew this concept would not be recognized. The idea I was starting to get formed in my head was that basically if I kissed Wen, that would mean I was in love with Wen and wanted to marry her and would basically have to bring her back to America with me which was soooo far from anything I wanted to do!!!

I started making exaggerating yawns and trying to drop hints that I was tired but to no avail. I started to tell them that late at night the hotel locks the door. Both were excited about this and were like “oh good, we’ll stay the night.” I was like “no no no, that’s not what I meant.” After more time had passed I finally pointed to a phrase in the book and said “I am sleepy.” It was close to 1am at this time and I was afraid the doors would be locked. We went downstairs, and all the lights were off. We got to the bottom floor and sure enough, the doors were locked. “Oh hell” I said out loud. I walked upstairs to the 5th floor where Hi Yin’s brother stays but he wasn’t there. So the only other place to go was to Hi Yin’s room… I knocked on her door and rousted her and told her that my friends were trying to leave and that the door was locked. She went downstairs and let them out. I was sooo apologetic to Hi Yin. As we came to my room, I wanted to tell her a word I didn’t know and had to look it up. I told her “women are confusing.” And then told her in my broken Chinese “she likes me. I do not like her.” Hi Yin smiled and told me goodnight and to sleep well. I was so nervous telling her that, when she left I couldn’t remember if I had actually said the word “like” which is “she juan” (spelled phonically, not in pinyin). So not only was I stressed out from earlier but now I wasn’t even sure if I had told Hi Yin the right sentence.

So I called Vanessa and talked her head off for who knows how long. I asked her if the behavior I observed was normal and she said it was not. She was telling me she has never heard me so stressed out. She said “you know, you spend most of your days hiking in the woods and catching venomous snakes. Then when you finally come into civilization, a place where you have a bed, hot shower, tv, food, and girls are throwing themselves at you, you get stressed out. Most people would be more stressed out from the venomous snakes.” Venomous snakes I understand, females are the complex organisms. I know the intentions of most snakes I come across, females on the other hand are a completely different story. I wished I smoked marijuana or some sort of drug because I really needed something to calm my nerves. The day was horrible. I had to wake up so damn early, having not recuperated 100% from the super hike, then couldn’t get to sleep earlier in the day, then these girls stressed me out and I wasn’t able to go to sleep until about 4am.

14 July

I slept in finally. I wasn’t sure what the plan was for the next couple of days. I just wanted to relax for the day. I made it outside around noon for some breakfast. Right next to my hotel is a small little bakery with some incredible rolls. They taste like the rolls from Golden Corral with the loads of butter on them – except these rolls don’t have all that butter, but they taste just as good. So I bought one of those, another roll with something that looked like sliced apples on top, and a third roll with diced onions. As I was standing there, I saw a somewhat American face walk behind me – it was definitely not Asian. I said “hello?” and got an accented “hello” back. The guy asked me where I was from. I couldn’t place the accent. I told him I was from the States and introduced myself. He said his name was Juan and that he was from Venezuela. “Yo hablo en poco espanole” I told him (I speak little Spanish). I asked him what he was doing in Shennongjia. He said he was a botanist and he was studying the area. He was only in town for a few days though. I told him I hoped I would run into him again before he left and went to eat my bread.

Nothing special happened that day. I think I spent most of my time looking through pictures from Bancang and deleting the bad ones. Vanessa and I went out to dinner that night. I think we ate at the Red Lantern place. We order Kung Pao chicken which was awesome. Ordered some more tempura leaves and some kind of soup.

Afterwards I went to show Vanessa the rest of the Bancang pictures since she wasn’t able to get through them all before because of those damn girls. As we were looking at the pictures the girls showed up at my room again!! I was worried about this. I was letting Vanessa read the write-up to Bancang at the time and after she got done reading it, I was like “here now read this.” “But I’ve already read it.” “I think you should read it again, and take your time.” I wanted to do anything to keep Vanessa there. Luckily, not too long after that, Juan shows up. He sees the four girls and is like “wow, you are very popular. I just wanted to stop by and say hello again.”

I was soo thankful he showed up. I immediately showed him the king rat and the Ptyas. He said he was very happy that the snakes were still alive. I told him that the reserve wanted many specimens and that not all the snakes I found I was able to release. He said that it was much easier for him since he is a botanist. He apologized for his current state of mind – he was fairly drunk. He said “please excuse me, I just got back from a drinking competition.” Vanessa and I were confused for a bit, then it hit me. “Ohhhh, did you have dinner over there?” and I pointed to the fancy restaurant across the way. “Yes.” “Oh yeah, gam bay, gam bay, gam bay??” “YES! Many gam bay’s.” I told him that I have been in the same situation and understood. He told me and Vanessa about where he lived in Venezuela and how he and his wife grew organic coffee in cloud forests. He said I was welcome in his home anytime I wanted to come to Venezuela! Making connections is always a good thing.

The girls were still in the room and I could tell I was in deep conversation with Juan, and about this time Linsen came into my room. “Oi, lot of people.” He stopped by to tell me that he was heading to Yichong that night to get his camera repaired (it broke when we were at Dalongtan). His presence was enough to convince the girls that I was busy and that they should leave. Yes!!

After Linsen and Juan finally left, Vanessa was like “do you think they are still out there?” (the girls had said they would wait in the hall). “I don’t know. We’ll stay in here for awhile and see what happens.” No one showed up. We took the time to head to Vanessa’s to get something from her hotel, then decided to go to an internet cafĂ©. I was wanting to upload some photos. We were at the internet place until about 11pm. As we walked back to the hotels I could see from across the way the locks on the door. Oh no. I considered climbing the windows but they all had bars across, so that was out of the question. I had to call Hi Yin… I had Vanessa call her since I didn’t know how to say that I was locked out. She came down. I asked if she was asleep and she said she was. Two screw ups in a row. I felt horrible. I made a note that I needed to do something really nice the next day.

15 July

Woke up around 11 or so. The plan for today was to learn to cook some dishes with Li Yen and Wong Jing (Wong Jing is the sister of Wong Ming, one of my friends from Xiagu) at Li Yen’s aunt’s house. As I left the hotel, Xiaoli (Hi Yin’s friend that knows a bit of English) and Hi Yin were outside. Xiaoli said “so you are in love with some girls up the street?” “No no no no no. THEY like me. I DO NOT like them.” “You like Hi Yin?” “Yes, I like Hi Yin” and pointed directly at her. She smiled and hid behind Xiaoli. I was happy, now there was no misunderstanding.

At Li Yen’s aunt’s house we learned how to cook a number of dishes (about 10). The first one was a variation of the cucumber dish with minced garlic and red peppers. A touch of vinegar was then added to the cucumbers and they were ready.

The next dish was “to do” – potatoes. The potatoes are sliced paper thin. Oil is added to a wok, followed by minced garlic and onions. This is allowed to burn for a few seconds before the potatoes are added. They are then cooked in under a minute and that dish is done. Then fermented garlic and red peppers are added. The garlic and red peppers are actually marinated with salt in an airtight container for several days. The container is one of those jars with a deep rim around the mouth which you pour water into, and then place a bowl upside down in the water. The bowl then cuts off the air from the outside – unless the water dries up, in which case it’d no longer be airtight. So long as you keep it filled with water, you’re good. After this ferments for a few days, it is ready. Throughout the house there were many jars and who knows what all were in each one.

Next was a lotus dish. The lotus root was very crisp and prepared with garlic, vinegar, and a few other things Vanessa was able to write down, but I wasn’t. For the green bean dish, oil was added to the wok, then the beans and then the garlic. Apparently the order in which all these minor ingredients (like the garlic) are added is all dependent on timing. In some cases garlic was thrown into the wok before the food, in other cases it was after, or at the last second.

There was one dish that they had already prepared before I showed up that was some sort of weird noodle of something, and I have no idea how that one is done. There was a beef and green chili dish. The beef and some salt were thrown into those same kind of jars and allowed to dry.

Another dish with basically bacon and green chilies, some sausage steamed, and then a tofu dish with some kind of alcohol. By this time I was too slow to write, so I did not get these recipes, but luckily Vanessa did.

As we ate, Wong Jing’s fiancĂ© was showing off his MP4 that he purchased for about US$50. He was showing us music videos of the Shennongjia songs, said he had Brokeback Mountain on it as well. Linsen also had seen Brokeback Mountain and was asking me about it. What a terrible movie to represent the American West and the image of cowboys. I hope everyone here does not realize that is typical cowboy behavior. Then he started playing some Billy Joel or Michael Bolton song… When a Man Loves a Woman or something like that.

After lunch we all went for a walk. It started to drizzle. We headed up to the scenic area closest to Muyu. Locals are allowed to walk the area for free, but they said Vanessa and I had to pay 30 Yuan. Wong Jing made a few calls in order to get us in for free. While she was making the calls, we were all sitting on the railing of the bridge in front of the scenic area and Li Yen starts to laugh and tells me that my girlfriend was here (nearly everyone knew about what happened because Vanessa had asked many people about Chinese customs and whether or not what happened was normal). I looked up to see the younger girl walking around in the parking. “Oh hell…” I turned away and pretended to be a tree. If I don’t move she won’t see me I thought to myself. She made her way over. I didn’t want to be rude and said hello. She said hello and started asking Vanessa some questions and gave her a present. It was looking like she was liking Vanessa now more than me.

In fact, the other night, she said it was Vanessa’s job to find her an American boy. She wants Vanessa to send an American boy to Muyu to be her boyfriend. That first night, when she had expressed this interest, we told her about Bramble Phoenix Eagle Jack – the guy who is taking over Vanessa’s position in August. Vanessa told her that he was a football player and she started clamping and jumping up and down again, all excited. Neither Vanessa or I know how old Bramble is, and of course we have no idea about his relationship status. I didn’t think about it until just now, but when Vanessa said “football player” in China, that means soccer player.

Back to relevant things; once we finally got permission to go in for free, it was basically drizzling nonstop, so all my photos had to be fast. I was able to get a couple of nice waterfall pics. At the top of the river is where the water seemed to come from a massive spring. The saying here is that if you drink three cups of the water you will have good luck. Always the follower of the quote “When in Rome do as the Romans do” I didn’t hesitate. The place “upstream” of where the spring originated was full of rocks and looked incredibly inviting. I think Linsen and I need to come up here and spend some time flipping some rocks.

Somehow Vanessa and I got the idea that the dance showing was going on that night and I really wanted to photograph it. So I got my tripod and camera and we headed up to the stage area. It was around 7pm or so. We went to the place and they said it was going to take place at Shennongtan at 8:30pm. They had actually said “the lower stage.” Walking down to the base of Muyu we stopped and asked several people where the lower stage was. We eventually found out it was Shennongtan, but we still had no concept of how far away it was. At one location we asked if it was walkable and the lady behind the hotel desk said that it was walkable. This was quite an understatement. It was currently 7:45, so we had 45 minutes to make the show.

Walking along the road I found a DOR Lycodon fasciata, a species I hadn’t seen yet. The DOR was in bad shape, so I didn’t bother bringing it back, plus the museum already had a specimen. As it got darker Vanessa asked me a question I was expecting. “Did you bring a flashlight?” “Nope. You?” “No.” I felt like we may be able to make it to the show with the little bit of light we had to work with, and on the way back we could get a taxi. Worst case scenario, if we were to come across a snake for example, I always had my camera flash I could use for a few quick flashes of light.

After walking for about 30 minutes, coming close to the entrance to Qianjiaping I get a call on my phone. It was Linsen. “Hello?” “Hello Kevin. I am returning from Yichong and I see you and Vanessa walking down the road. What are you doing?” “Walking to Shennongtan.” “I think this is too far.” Me: “We were told it was about 30 minutes or so, we are just now approaching Qianjiaping.” Linsen: “No no, you are still at least an hour away.” Well so much for that plan. We turned around and headed back to Muyu. We would have to wait for another day, hopefully when the show was in Muyu. At least most of the night was spent away from my hotel room in case that girl came looking.

16 July

Today I wanted to go to Guamenshan to release the King rat and the Ptyas. I also wanted to do some laundry in something other than my sink or water basin, and Vanessa had access to a washing machine – I probably did too, but have yet to ask where it is. So I went over to her place with all my clothes aside from the ones I was wearing and we started a load. The water was coffee colored. The clothes needed a wash bad.

While we waited Vanessa was studying some GRE stuff. She really does not need to as her verbal score was something like the top 95%, but she felt the need nonetheless. While at Pinqian and many other times I would tell her scientific names, or she would ask me questions about some words she didn’t know and I would break down the etymology. There were a few cases in which I was completely baffled. One word, “eructate” I wasn’t able to break down. We knew “erudite” meant book smart so we kind of thought maybe the word was based around this. It wasn’t. Eructate means to belch.

After a while I went to the top of the building to hang my clothes. Then afterwards recommended to Vanessa that we walk to Guamenshan and let the snakes go. She wanted to study for the GRE and I was too lazy to argue, so the entire afternoon was spent doing nothing except lackadaisically going over the etymology of vocabulary from A to E.

Continuing to hang out at Vanessa’s we started watching some made for TV movie about the Bermuda triangle, starring Sam Neil (the lead role in Jurassic Park), Eric Stoltz (the red-haired druggie from Pulp Fiction), and the actor that played the character “Senator Ferguson” from X-Men. Oh yeah, and Lou Diamond Phillips also had a small role (Young Guns, Hero). It was a fairly good movie. I had seen part 1 the week before, the day before going to Bancang. Most importantly is that it was in English. A welcome break from Independence Day, which still plays around 3 times a day. Worried about Hi Yin locking the doors to the hotel I left during a commercial and headed back around 9:30 or so. The doors weren’t locked.

17 July

Vanessa called me early this morning to tell me that Xue and Emma had returned from Qianjiaping. I headed down to their hotel to say hi. On the way down I saw a beautiful collie and a dachshund – two breeds of dogs that are extremely rare in Muyu. These are probably the only ones actually. On the second day in Qianjiaping they found the monkeys. They were doing some laundry and were then going to grab some food.

I went up to the museum today to check some mail and to update some things on the computer and to upload some more pictures. As I headed back to the hotel, there were a few people sitting in some chairs outside. As I walked up the guy said “hello.” This happens very often with me, which Vanessa says does not happen often with her, but usually it is just a “hello” – this guy, however, spoke English very well. He was from Beijing and was in Wuhan with his assistants and had a few days to visit the area, so they came to Shennongjia and were spending two or three days here. He asked what I was doing and I told him all about my situation. I asked if he had any interest in seeing some snakes as I still had the king rat and Ptyas. He was interested, so I went upstairs, dropped off my laptop, picked up the snakes and headed back down.

Sitting outside the hotel I pulled out the king rat. He and his friends were very impressed. The women of course were scared, but Cui Yue Ling was very interested and held the back half of the hissing serpent. Not surprisingly, before I knew it I was surrounded by about 50 onlookers asking about if the snake were venomous and if it bit or not, despite the fact that the snake was hissing and occasionally striking. One of the people amongst the crowd was an attractive girl named Hua Ci Ling (this is her Cantonese name, and is pronounced “See Ling,” her surname is very hard to pronounce, so I have just been calling her by her first name as I do most people). She is from Hong Kong originally, but lives in Shanghai. She speaks Mandarin, Cantonese (a separate language), English, a little bit of Shanghai-ese, and a little bit of French. I am envious of people that can speak so many languages. My only multi-lingual bragging right is being able to say “snake” in 20 different languages (it used to be 19, but now I know Cantonese), which is fairly useless…

Next I brought out the Ptyas, Ci Ling wanted pictures of her with both the snakes. After showing both snakes to the crowd I put the animals up and took them back upstairs and then joined Yue Ling back outside for a sit. While sitting around we got into a dialogue with a local who seemed to be a bit drunk. He was asking me questions about the population of the United States. I have no idea and guessing 250 million. He said Americans are so rich because our population is so low. Then he went on to say how the war in Iraq was stupid and I told him that most Americans felt that way. Then he tried to tell me that Shennongjia does not have any venomous snakes and that cobras are good eating. I really did not want to get in a debate about any of this so I just kept nodding my head as Yue Ling translated.

At the end of the conversation, Yue Ling invited me for dinner. We were eating on the second level of my hotel, so that was fairly convenient. The dinner was great, we had the sweet potatoes, some bacon with a very weird potato dish. Another dish with egg and potato. We had invited Hi Yin to join us but she was actually cooking the dishes. I felt bad about that. I would much rather have her eat with us rather than having her cook for us. The main dish/soup was “wa wa yu” – salamander. I was offered and of course declined.

Yue Ling gave me his number and told me to call him when I come back to Beijing in September and that he would show me around. He was incredibly generous. He also was a multi-lingual individual, speaking Mandarin, English, Japanese, and Russian.

After dinner I went up to Ci Ling’s room to show her some pictures of the Shennongjia area. She was only in town for a few days and wanted to visit all over. She had met some friends in Sun Bie. They were on the dance team and showed up at her room later that night. A guy and his girlfriend – they met on the dance team. I told them that I had seen their show once and would love to see it again and photograph it. They said they were having a show on the 19th and that Ci Ling and I were welcome to come and that they would get us free tickets.

The plan for tomorrow, so long as it wasn’t raining, was to head up to the highest field station in Shennongjia. I cannot remember the name, but the English name is simply the tower. The elevation here is around 2900 meters. Ci Ling had asked if she could come along and I told her I didn’t see why not.

18 July

The morning was bright, so rain seemed to be out of the picture. I called Linsen to ask where he was. He was getting breakfast and invited us to come. We had a few dumplings and were ready to go. I had told him the night before that Ci Ling was going to join us, or at least drive up with us, spend the afternoon there, and then take a taxi back to Muyu that night, but for some reason Linsen didn’t realize what this meant and after breakfast he waved to Ci Ling and said “goodbye.” I was like “what do you mean, she’s coming with us?” “Huh? Why?” “Because I invited her. She wants to see some snakes. I told you she was coming with us last night.” “Oh, ok.” Yu Hui Liang was also coming with us, a guy I met at Dalongtan.

We stopped by the office where I saw Xue reading a book on the lichens and fungi of Shennongjia. The Golden Monkeys eat lichens and Xue was trying to ID the species they had around the camp. Apparently there are 190 species of lichens in Shennongjia. I felt sorry for him. As he walked up to the taxi and saw Ci Ling he was like “every day you have a different girl.” The day before I had told him about my horrible experience with those other two girls. He and Emma were leaving for Qianjiaping later that morning.

We finally hit the road. The drive up was beautiful. Gorgeous sky with thick clouds in the upper tops. Ci Ling picked up on this before I did. “Maybe it will be cloudy up at the tower?” As we continued to climb, we got closer and closer to the thick clouds. We were just below the tower and things were still clear, then in about 10 minutes drive we were at the tower and in such dense fog that you only see maybe 20 ft in front of you. Not only was it foggy, but it was also misting rain. Crap. No snakes are going to be out in this. And I couldn’t see a thing as for habitat or environment, or trails. Ci Ling asked what I was going to do. It was still early. I told her there was a chance it could clear up and that we’d just have to wait and see. We decided to go to Banbiyan, the place close by that had all the rocks that all the tourists went to so we could pass some time. We walked the entire Secrets of Nature trail and by the time we were done the cool mist felt great, but no snakes.

Next on the schedule was lunch at the tower. We had pickled cabbage, carrots, and stems, the main dish was chicken with potato and peppers. Some turnip was served as well. This was the first time I had this and I thought it was a piece of meat at first and I was crunching through bones it was so hard. Not too good. The head guy at the station of course brought out the alcohol and distributed shot glasses. There were two main officers at the station, Linsen, Ci Ling, and Yu Hui Liang. Ci Ling and Yu Hui Liang didn’t drink, so it was Linsen, myself, and the two officers. At one point Linsen and the two officers were talking to one another and Ci Ling smiled and leaned over and told me “be careful.” By this time I had already maybe three shots. I looked over at Linsen and he grinned and said “they want to show their respect for you.” So I started to raise my glass and he was like “no no.” So I just sat there and the two officers and Linsen all took a shot from their respective glasses, then refilled and then set each cup in front of me. So now I had to drink their three shots and still had my own. “Ok.” So I downed one of the cups, then another. They started picking up the cups and re-filling them. I was like “what’s going on, I thought I was just drinking three??” “Three is an unlucky number, six is a lucky number. You must now drink six.” Oh geeze. As I finished the sixth cup, they re-filled it and I protested “what are you doing?!? Seven is unlucky!!” They cleverly responded with “one of the cups was already yours to begin with.” I had hoped they didn’t notice.

Later in the lunch, the two gentleman start moving their cups in Linsen’s direction and Linsen was like “now we show our respect to the host” which meant we would take our shots and then give him our cups and he would have to do the same thing. I looked at the other guys and understood what was really going on. “No no, I think we are showing our respect to you!” We all took another shot and placed our cups in front of Linsen. Payback is nice.

I was tired of sitting and wanted to walk around. I knew I wouldn’t find any snakes, but I wanted to do something. “Xiexie, ma man chi” I said and walked out (“thank you, eat slowly” – basically, saying “don’t rush to finish your meal”). Ci Ling, Yu Hui Liang, and I walked around the top of the tower. There was a short little nature trail that we took through the mist. When we finally arrived back to the tower about 30 minutes later Linsen and everyone was still eating. In order to pass the time I broke out the cards and showed Ci Ling and Yu Hui Liang the three magic tricks followed by a few rounds of poker.

Eventually Linsen and others came out of the dining room and started a series of games of Chinese Chess. I went outside to photograph some flowers in the mist using the tripod. After a few hours Linsen and them were done with their game and it was time to pack up. On the way down we hit a few more scenic spots. The one area with the large rocks behind you, which of course you couldn’t see, then up to Shaolongtan where that big waterfall was when we all went with the Stanford family, and then to Xiaolongtan to the miniature zoo. Ci Ling was not at all happy with the zoo and just wanted to leave. It is a really poor place and the animals are in such bad shape and not cared for properly. A comparable place in the US would be considered illegal and shut down for animal cruelty. From here we headed back to Muyu. It has now been about 6 hours since lunch and Linsen is still drunk.

Ci Ling and I decided to get some dinner and dragged Hi Yin along with us. Hi Yin picked the spot, an awesome little place where you are given a hot plate and toss the ingredients on yourself as they come out. It has so far been the spiciest place I’ve eaten at.

19 July

Today was the day when I was finally suppose to get out to Guamenshan to release those snakes. Linsen called me and told me he had things to do but that Yu Hui Liang from the day before would take me out there. Ci Ling wanted to go to Shennongtan and one other location, so after we got lunch we went our separate ways.

Yu Hui Liang and I took a taxi and started to head out of Muyu. When we reached the road block Yu Hui Liang said that we were just going to Guamenshan to release some snakes. I am not sure the guy believed him and said “let me see the snakes.” So I got out and pulled the king rat out. Everyone immediately jumped back, opened the gate and waved us through saying “go go!”

We walked much of the same area Vanessa, Linsen, and I had walked earlier when we went to Guamenshan. Saw two more Sphenomorphus skinks. These skinks love to sit in such naturally picturesque positions.

I found a nice spot to release the two snakes, and then we started to head back. I came across a white trumpet flower with three flower heads, took a couple shots, then snapped it off. Hui Liang looked at me strangely and I said “for Hi Yin.” A huge grin came across his face and he said “this is a very good flower to give her! Good job.” The sun was starting to come out and we were still a ways away from Muyu. So I broke off a broadleaf from another plant to shade the flowers and prevent as much wilting as possible. Along the way I ended up picking up a pair of tiger lilies, two purple flowers, and a butterfly flower.

When we finally got back to the main road the wedding jeep was heading towards the road block but had to turn around. My friend knew this guy and we were able to hitch a ride in the jeep. The Chinese jeeps are pretty nice. They look like a combination between a CJ, YJ, and unlimited. They are 4-door (that is the only way they are similar to unlimited’s), though all the doors are small and narrow. The headlight position is like that of a CJ, they have the leaf springs of a YJ. This particular jeep is used around town whenever people get married. It is pink and has ribbons and such on the roll bars. The married couple takes the jeep for a fun ride after the wedding I suppose, and the ostentatious color obviously advertises the marriage. As we were riding, I told my friend that this was very similar to my jeep, with the exception of the color…

When we got back to Muyu, Hi Yin was in the lobby cutting chili peppers for a dinner that night. As soon as she saw the flowers a big smile came over her. I told her I would be right back – I had to put the flowers in water as they were dying quickly. I came back down with a phrase Hui Liang had told me to say “Songni yi dua bai ho hua” – I am sending you a white flower. Apparently when a couple gets married, the white trumpet flower is the flower of choice. Of course this was not my intention, I just thought it was a pretty flower, and smelled nice as well. She said thank you and I placed the make-shift vase on the table in front of her.

Ci Ling and I were planning on going to the dance show later that night, so I went ahead and took a shower and got ready. We were going to leave early so we could get good seats. Ci Ling was running late and basically showed up, ran upstairs, dropped some stuff off, and ran back downstairs. Her friends greeted us at the gates and the guy said “welcome” in English and shook my hand.

The show was great as usual. I took around 280 photos, many were blurred, some I wanted to be blurred to show movement though. The chairman of Hubei Province was at the show as well. He had a police escort into the stage. At one part during the dance, the women are dancing about some sort of wine festival or something and pour all of the VIP’s some alcohol out of the bamboo vases, and then give all the VIP’s some sort of necklace.

After the show Ci Ling wanted to get some pictures with her friends and then from there we headed back. That night Ci Ling didn’t stay at Yuan Yuan hotel. She had to get up at 5am to catch a car to go to the western border of Hubei to see some scenic sight.

20 July

Not terribly sure what to do today. Called Vanessa up, asked what she was up to. She always has the same response, something along the lines of: “umm, let me check, oh yeah, nothing!” Ci Ling has praised Shennongtan and the other location she went to, unfortunately I couldn’t remember the name of the other place, so I asked Vanessa if she wanted to go to Shennongtan. She was up for it.

Walking down the stairs, Hi Yin was in the lobby. She was dressed like she was about to take some tourists somewhere (white shirt, white pants, and a white sun visor). She gave a smile and said hello. When we got outside Vanessa was like “by the way, that was an incredibly sweet smile Hi Yin gave you.” I had no idea the smile was any different from any other day she’s smiled.

We took a three-wheeled taxi and coasted down the road to Shennongtan. Due to the roadblock, we were basically the only ones there. The place was pretty nice. Hi Yin’s friend, Xiaoli, had told me that the statue of Shenlong was equivalent to our Jesus. You would go to Shennongtan, tell him your worries or concerns, and everything would be fine. The statue was gigantic. I am really curious to know when it was built.

We made our way up to the top where we were greeted by some locals that wanted to sell us some little trinkets of course. I had yet to really buy any gifts for people back home and I saw a few things among their baskets that looked nice. I paid for mine, and waited for Vanessa to pay for hers. After a while I looked over and she was still searching through her book bag. “I can’t find my wallet.” I went ahead and paid for hers and we started retracing our steps trying to see if it dropped out somewhere. We knew it was very unlikely that someone stole it because we were always there with each other and I would have seen someone if they tried.

We walked ALL the way down to the bottom of the trail. Didn’t see a thing. Vanessa asked a couple people if they saw a little black wallet. No one did. When we got to the bottom I told her we could go back up to the top and search one more time if she wanted to. She did, just as I would have wanted to if I were in her shoes. Luckily she didn’t have too much in there, about 25 Yuan, her driver’s license and a credit card. We walked back up to the base of Shenlong, who knows how many hundreds of steps. Then we walked up to the grassy spot where we were buying the knickknacks; nothing. We headed back down where someone invited us for a sit.

We sat there talking for awhile. He was asking Vanessa all sorts of questions. After awhile another man came up from the steps and also asked a few questions. We eventually decided it was time to go and started to muster ourselves to our feet. As we were walking away I think the guy we were sitting with told the other guy who recently showed up that Vanessa had lost her wallet. He said that someone had found a purse earlier that day.

Our eyes widened. This was a possibility. I mean there aren’t many people here and what’s the chance that two people lost something like a wallet/purse? We headed down the stairs to a beautiful wood store where they sold furniture and all sorts of beautiful carvings, items that would run in the thousands of dollars. A lady behind the desk fished in one of the drawers and brought out a black rectangular wallet, Vanessa’s. She was quite happy and thanked them many times. Everything was still there. Apparently it was dropped out of her hands/book bag at some point very early on in the trail.

We got back in our taxi and headed back to Muyu. It was mid-afternoon but we were both somewhat tired. We stopped by the traditional little restaurant I went to all the time when I first came and had dinner. SOO many times Vanessa and I will just talk non-stop about American food. We have long discussions about pizza, steak, salad, subway sandwiches. The other week when Emma was still in town the two of them had a long talk about cheese cake. I have determined that IF I were to come home early, it would be because of pizza. I have even had dreams about pizza! About the only cold dish served in China is the cucumber dish, everything else is hot.

21 July

I have been in Muyu for some time now. The sporadic adventures to the places in close proximity to Muyu haven’t revealed much in the way of herps. Vanessa and I are going to go camp out with Emma and Xue on Sunday and Monday, so hopefully we can find something then.

Vanessa’s time is almost up. It seems like she came just a few weeks ago and now she’s leaving in about a week. It’s going to suck for me. Emma and Xue only pop up about once a week. So once Vanessa is gone, I’ll be without another English person for awhile. Though I guess I will have Bramble Phoenix Eagle Jack, but somehow I doubt he’s going to be as much fun as Vanessa.

Well today has been pretty lazy. The weather is horrible and I’ve been busy writing up this little journal thing, so I suppose I’ll close and hopefully the next one will involve a lot more herps!

Missing the sandhills and pizza,
Kevin

Pictures are on Photobucket

Previously in this series:

Snakes On The Plain: Kevin in China
Kevin in China, part 2: Three Kinds of Natural Beauty in Jiuchong
Kevin in China, part 3 – The First Westerner in Town
Kevin in China, part 4 – Snakebites as a Daily Hobby
Kevin in China, part 5 – His Legend Preceeds Him!
Kevin in China, part 6 – The Mystery Snake
Kevin in China, part 7 – Bit By Snakes? Get Used To It!
Kevin in China, part 8 – The Dance and The Snakes
Kevin in China, part 9 – What Really Happened That Night, or, The Night Of Too Many Toasts!
Kevin In China, part 10 – “the poison of that snake, is not dangerous to people?”