Photo: All dolled up to butcher a pig
Photo: Dr. Ho
We were in the town of Lijiang– a tourist town of canals, tourist shopping, and red lanterns. We went on a painful (at least for my ass) bikeride after arriving that took us through some small villages. Along the way men were working in the field plowing with water buffalo….it sort of made me feel like Laura Ingles…just call me Half Pint. The village streets were not croweded, but often a man with a pig or cow would walk down the dirt street as if he were taking his pet for a walk. We also stopped to see a local doctor who was famous. I’m not sure what Dr. Ho was famous for, but he sure was talkative…telling us about his appearances on National Geographic, International Newpapers and books. We also climbed up to the tallest point of Lijiang to see the rooftops of the Old City….a gray, drab collage of roofs. That night we walked around town to see various people dancing in the square – not tourists, the local village people…no, not thee Village People…
Photos: Village life – click to enlarge
One of my favorite places to visit while I’m traveling is local markets. The more remote the better. There’s always something there that never ceases to amaze me….it’s better than watching a movie or television because in addition to the fascination and newness of it all – it is accompanied by smell, touch, and sometimes taste. We asked our tour guide, Jonathon, to take us to the local market that morning before we left town as we had heard that it was a bustling assault to the mind, and eyes – the type of market I love – the kind where you have to get up at the crack of dawn to see all of the real activity. It was a chilly morning and the streets were empty from tourists at the early hour of 7AM. We wound around the canals of the old city recreated for tourists and eventually popped out to an open area free from red lanterns and full of people bustling about with produce and carts. This was it – the local market.
I armed myself with my camera, and opened up my mind and my eyes. There was a large covered area filled with women hawking their fresh produce. A potato aisle, a lettuce aisle, a root vegetable aisle – whatever was in season. Nothing was shipped in from larger cities – this was the food that the locals grew – picked the day before and carted to town to sell. Fresh.
The colors were fantastic – a kaleidoscope of green leaves, orange carrots, brown potatoes, yellow squash, white onions, and red tomatoes. The The bean curd was steaming in their large pales shaped like wheels of cheese. They were being carved into smaller, sellable chunks that looked like bricks. People horded around small trucks delivering more tofu and veggies – auctioning their harvest. The people looked at us, we looked at them – looks of confusion, of happiness, of surprise – a cultural exchange of sorts. I was once again reminded at how powerful a smile is
After passing through the colorful vegetable and bean curd area, I turned to catch up with the rest of our group who had moved on to the meat section – and I was enveloped by a pinkish red hue. My first site was of Chinese ladies placing bright red cuts of meat out on the table. Cuts of meat in China has a different meaning than cuts of meat in the Western world. In China it means the intestines, the stomach, the kidneys, the liver, the head, the hooves – every imaginable part of the animal had been dissected and was for sale. Rebekah pointed out a lady that was busy cutting up and displaying a large side of pork – about half her size. It was quite a site to see as the woman was dressed in nice clothes and painted with makeup – as if she were going to church on Sunday – yet she was butchering up a pig with a pearl necklace around her neck. It was a strange twist on a 1950’s commercial with a lovely dressed housewife hawking a bottle of Palmolive or toilet cleaner.
There was a lot of activity and noise at one end of the meat market so I smiled at the meat ladies and walked ahead. Apparently I was walking the wrong direction in this market – because I was walking deeper and earlier into the butchering process with every step. Soon I came to the noise I was following – a man with a hatchet chopping away at a horn on a cow head. Apparently they don’t eat the horn – one of the few items that aren’t used. Little did I know, but a horn is actually pretty hard to cut off of a large cowhead – as this man was hacking away at it for quite some time without making much progress. Yet he did take the time to look up at me and smile – probably because I was standing there with my mouth wide open in grossed-out disbelief! I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by every imaginable cow part. Next to me in a big wagon was a whole, huge rib cage – reminding me of a dinosaur museum that I went to as a kid.
As soon as the cow was butchered they separated all of the parts and the ladies sold them….heart, stomach, hooves, and head. As I kept walking I was struck by another new noise…a blowtorch sound. I once had a friend give me a little crème brule torch for my avid cooking, but I turned to see a torch about 20 times larger and instead of crème brule – they were torching a cow head and hooves. I don’t even think the French do that! They torch these parts to burn off the fur/skin and then can sell these parts to lucky customers. I was disappointed to not see crème brule – however now I know yet another use for my little torch at home…for when I find a cow wandering around the Upper West Side and I decide to butcher it…you never know.
I left the pork and beef area and moved on to seafood. I had to hurdle over groups of people gathered on the ground scaling fish and then I hovered around a lady that was taking an eel/snake, poking it’s head through a nail on a board – then slitting it’s body and removing the inards…I of course stopped and watched this site for a while. The woman’s hands were covered in deep red blood – straight out of a horror movie. All of a sudden the man next to her pulled out a live eel/snake, took two hands and held it high above his head and then swished it down cracking the snake’s head on the pavement with a mighty force…yep…it’s dead now. Julia and I were a bit shocked and stunned to see this chain of events as it was a bit startling when you aren’t expecting it. The man just looked at our faces and laughed He proceeded to show off his snake execution for us and the bloody snake woman next to him just laughed at our reactions.
Finally Jonathon rounded us up from the market (he basically had to drag me away) as we were late for breakfast. I honestly didn’t have too much of an appetite after our market trip, but I managed to cough down a few steamed pork buns…thinking about how fresh the meat was. I love markets – the grosser and more thought provoking the better. The Lijiang market was one of my favorites in my travels…and one of the freshest!