Dandong

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Ji’an

We were in Linjiang having just rode a boat along the border. A friend’s uncle had offered to take us out to dinner since he lives in the area. Our plan was to join him for dinner and then go on to Ji’an. I hadn’t eaten that day so I was looking forward to trying out some local cuisine.

This is always a small risk as there’s a good chance I may not like the food on offer. But being in a city it’s always easy to find something you can eat: fast food or street noodles.

Our friend’s uncle was waiting for us on the bridge to Huandao Island. He took us to his van and told us to get in. Our driver was nearby so we had to figure out what to with him and his van. We said we could come back but our friend’s uncle said it would be better if we followed him.

So we set off following him along the road. He drove us out-of-town. Huh. Guess he lives in one of the outlying villages. We passed the first village. Guess it’s not that one. Then we passed the next one. When we passed a third we started wondering where he was taking us. We were driving in the opposite direction to Ji’an.

Our driver asked seemed to be getting frustrated. We understood why – we hadn’t paid him to drive us out here. He asked us where we were going. We told him we had no idea. He signalled our friend’s uncle with the lights and stopped the van. Our friend’s uncle stopped his van and the driver called him over. He asked him where he was taking us. The driver seemed to get angry at the response. Our friend’s uncle insisted that it wasn’t that far, and the driver disagreed. They went back and forth shouting at each other while we sat in the van waiting. At one point our friend’s uncle fetched a map. They carried on arguing over the map. I suggested we head back. My friend got out and lit up a cigarette. Eventually our friend’s uncle agreed to pay the driver extra money to take us to his place. He really wanted us to try the local food.

The rest of the drive took 2 hours. It turned out the place he wanted to take us was over 90km away. And in the wrong direction. I was starving by the time we got there.

We got out at Fusongzhen. We invited our driver to join us but he wasn’t interested. I don’t think he liked this guy. Our friend’s uncle took us to show us the local delicacy that we were about to eat. It was river lobster. Which I’m intolerant of . If I ate this I would spend the rest of the road trip running back and forth from the toilet. Or the bushes depending on where we were. I watched as they poured the still-living lobster into a grinder. They would make soup out of the resulting mince. My stomach grumbled.

What followed was an awkward dinner with his family. I had to decline all the food offered to me for fear of having a reaction. We were annoyed at being 90km away from where we were supposed to be. Yet we were totally British about not wanting to insult their hospitality. We had a few small conversations, but we just wanted to get out of there and back on our way. We had been delayed 2 hours already. We were also looking forward to another 2 hour delay to get back where we started.

After dinner we took some group pictures and then headed on our way. Our driver threw away the cigarette he was smoking as we returned. We now had a 4 hour drive to Ji’an which would be our next chance to eat. We said our goodbyes as we drove off then apologised to the driver once again. We then asked if there was anywhere we could stop for food.

We couldn’t, but we did drive past someone selling honey. A lot of people in the Chinese countryside do this. They run small hives and sell the honey to passers-by. We got out to negotiate the price of some honey. When we figured out what we wanted our driver sent us back saying he’s got this one. He bartered a really good price for us. It was an amazing thing for him to do for us completely out of the blue. It put us at ease because we knew now he wasn’t angry at us.

We didn’t get to Ji’an until after dark. We didn’t do much as we didn’t have any time left. We got ourselves booked into a hostel and went looking for food. The KFC round the corner was tempting. But then we found a Korean barbecue place closer to the river.

There was a weird ginseng based spirit for sale here. My friend decided that we were both going to do a shot. By shot he meant a full half-liter glass of it. Being the pushover I am I couldn’t say no. I was instantly drunk after downing that disgusting beverage.

We stopped at an import beer store on the way back to the hostel. It sold several imported beers from places like Belgium and Germany. The store had a little seating area in the back where we could sit and drink. After a few more beers we were done and headed back to the hostel. I fell asleep with a beer in my hand and covered the bed sheets in beer. This was why my girlfriend slept in the other bed. It was also why I had to pay a 1000 RMB fine the next day to cover the cost of cleaning the bed sheets.

The KFC was impossible to resist that morning so we ate breakfast there. Then we set off to do what we had missed out on the previous day. We would drive along the Sino-Korean border.

Published by

Bok McDonagh

I am Bok, a British-born expat living in China. I was born in Lancashire but identify as a ‘plassie-Scouser’. I spent my youth growing up in Cumbria. Here I developed a great taste for exploration, climbing mountains and camping in the wilderness – a taste for travel that has defined my life.