Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Holiday in Manchuria

I have just got back from my annual Spring Festival Travels. This time I spent the break staying with a colleague's friend in a small town called Nanpiao (南票), in North-East China's Liaoning Province.

I had never been to China North-East before (the area which used to be known as Manchuria), and I had never imagined I would go there in the winter, since the region is famous for being outlandishly cold most of the year. The first few days after I arrived were indeed bitterly freezing, with temperatures below -15. Although I did come equipped with much heavy clothing, I couldn't help feeling cold after more than a few minutes outside. What surprised me was the locals' ability to go out with no hat, scarf or gloves and surprisingly light coats at such freezing temperatures. I suppose it is all down to habit. In my last few days in Nanpiao temperatures got much higher, even reaching peaks of -5, which felt like a nice spring day by local standards. It never snowed while I was there either, which at least would have been pretty.

The house where I stayed was far more comfortable than the modest peasant abodes where I have spent some of my previous spring festivals. Although the family I stayed with were not exactly rich, I think they were realtively well off by local standards, with a nice little flat on the outskirts of the town. The town itself was tiny, and it could be crossed on foot in about ten minutes.

I had already heard that the Chinese from the North-East are famous for being heavy drinkers and have a reputation for being big, tough and not to be messed with, at least by Chinese standards. All of this was more or less confirmed by what little I saw during my week long stay. My local friend invited me to a get-together with all his old classmates on my last evening in town. Of course they all drank bai jiu like mad, which didn't surprise me, but what was rather striking is that even many of the girls were drinking and even doing the "gan bei" thing, which in China is less usual. After the meal we all went to a KTV (karaoke) place and sang the night away. I was taken to KTV about three times during my stay, since it is pretty much the only thing the town has to do in the evenings.

The family I stayed with were nice enough. My friend's father used to be some kind of manager in construction sites, but he lost a leg in an accident and now has a prosthetic limb. He was friendly and eager to chat with me, but unfortunately I found it very hard to communicate with him, because his Chinese was quite unstandard. North-Eastern dialects of Chinese are considered to be quite similar to Putonghua, but the local dialect was still different enough for me not to be able to catch much. Although my friend's father did try to speak to me in Putonghua, he would still constantly use local expressions and ways of saying, which were enough to put most of what he said beyond my comprehension, even when he spoke slowly. I found that I could communicate much better with my local friend and people of his generation, since they seem able to switch to proper standard Chinese much more easily.

Anyway, down below you can see a photo of a local street, and me socializing with my friend's friends in the KTV parlour.