One knife, two pigs and too many glasses of paint stripper. What could go wrong?

Still in Sichuan. So much to see. All so far away. No trains. Buses every other day. But we want to see more of this special place in China.

Sichuan has long been an iconic place in China for me. Beyond the pandas, it’s the food and the natural wonders that lay within this province’s boundaries.

Asleep. Awake. Concussion. Bruises. That’s right we were on the back seat of a bus. The road… No that’s not right, this can’t be called a road. A landslide with cars on it. That’s what we were on.

This ’landslide’ cut through valleys and wound round mountains to get us to Hailuogou. A glacier park situated, near the centre of Sichuan province. A place we had discovered by chance leafing through a book back in Beijing. We couldn’t wait to see the glacier and walk on its back.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.

As we slept the snow fell. And fell. And fell. It covered the hillside, and over 1000 metres up from where we slept – on the glacier – it fell heavier and thicker.
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The morning brought us short lived smiles as we looked out on the Christmas landscape. It meant the park was closed. A full day in a rickety bus and no glacier. Not to mention (okay, to briefly mention) the rickety bus back. Two days travel and a day stranded at the valley before the glacier, but no glacier.

Needless to say, our spirits were sapped.

Well, no point brooding. We grabbed our swimming gear… ’what’ I hear you cry…

That’s right. Our swimming costumes. You see all was not lost. Next to our abode was a 5-star hotel complete with natural hot springs. If we couldn’t see the glacier we’d spend the day nestled amongst the steam and submerged in the healing waters.

And so, hours were whiled away sitting in all the hot springs on offer, each infused with a different ingredient, condiment, or whatever you want to call it.

From balsamic vinegar hot steam bath. To lemon. To tea. To the so called fire and ice. The ’pretty’ spring. The mediation spring. The aromatherapy spring. Etc, etc, etc.

And then the swimming pool.

We sweated as we sat in the waters. We froze as we ran from spring to spring. Snow falling all around us. The last autumnal leaves clinging to branches.

Then, we could take no more. We fidgeted in the too warm waters. We shook with the whip of the wind.

Dressed once more we took the winding road back to our hotel, past fast flowing glacial waters. From the glacier we would never see. Oh well.
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Metres from our hotel we glanced over our shoulders to see a pig carcass flung on the floor. It was 2 months before Chinese new year, the time the locals butcher and cure pigs ready for that Chinese of Chinese celebrations.
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We smiled and greeted the jovial men. They invited us up. They laughed when I raised my lens. We chatted, well Joyce chatted and translated, and we spent the afternoon amidst the most welcoming of Chinese we have met.
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A second pig was slaughtered and we stood and watched as these men – these real men – effortlessly undertook the butchery of this fine creature.
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Each knew what to do. It was a dance.
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The butcher. A man who three years before was a ’mountain pirate’ who lived far up in the hills and wore no clothes (we think they were winding us up here as raucous laughter ensued whenever the conversation took this turn) was in charge of proceedings.
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His men following commands without question. So would I… Look at that knife. It went through pig like a knife through butter!
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We continued to chat. I continued to snap.
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’Join us for dinner’ they cried. We could hardly refuse. A sprint to the shop for alcohol and cigarettes… Now we could accept the offer.
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Crowded around a small table; almost comical in appearance as grown men became a mass of arms flying across a miniature, wonky wooden table. Chopsticks soaring from dish to dish. Charcoal coated intestine, untainted with anything but raw flame. Fresh liver straight from the pig. The blood speedily cooked.
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Vegetables jumbled in with every piece of pig you could think of.

But something was missing. Where was the drink?

And then. I wish I hadn’t asked. Why is the man next to me filling our glasses from a jerry can?

He encourages me to take a sip…

… JESUS …

One sip. Why do I feel weird? What was that? Are these my arms? Am I dying? No, I must be dead? Where am I?

That’s incredible… More please.

Glass of commercial grade paint stripper after glass of commercial grade paint stripper set the evening’s mood.

Things all go a bit hazy at this point… You can imagine!

The evening started to wind down. No more paint stripper could be consumed… They had made the westerner down too many already!

But I do remember nipping in and out of the house to help bring in the pig. To sit it over the fire and start the slow, methodical process of smoking this glorious meat.
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Then we left. I think?

Then the alarm went. SHIT!

Another bus ride.

I just want to sleep…

… But these are the moments that make travel amazing. They are what make life amazing. The unexpected. The unplanned. The moments you meet real, genuine people.

But next time. No alcohol. I must remember! 🙂

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