The Kaya bar in Yangshuo touted $1.50 tequila shots and an ambiance that’d rival avocado-harvesting season in Mexico. A local bucks party was rocking on and the crew from my hostel were indulging in a rather wild Saturday night. Naturally, I joined the party.
I woke with a shock on Sunday morning at 8.45. I was supposed to meet some mates at 8 for my 9am Chinese calligraphy class.
I grabbed some coin and headed into town on my bicycle in last night’s dress, reeking of the previous night’s festivities. I’d missed breakfast, of course, so made do with a petite glass of water.
When the ambitious Aussie/French couple had asked me whether I was interested in learning to write Chinese characters with a brush and ink, I was immediately intrigued. I seized the opportunity, but did not anticipate I’d try to master the age-old art with a booze-riddled body.
I did not hold out much hope for the day, but I’d committed myself.
It started off well: with snacks and tea. Our teacher, Lucy, was a kind and generous soul. She sat us down and explained the materials we needed to write for the emperor. An ink stone, a brush, see-through paper and a steady hand was all we needed.
She explained the brush strokes as she was training a young pooch. “Sit, sit sit, sitting, sitting,” she’d say as she moved her brush with bamboozling precision.
Then it’d be “stand, stand, stand, standing,” as she increased the angle of her brush. Each stroke needs to be done a certain way.
I had little idea what was going on and that was obvious to Lucy. She’d try to be diplomatic. “Yes, you have a very interesting style,” she told me.
The others in the class were standing up to write, apparently this is the best position for holding the brush. I was slumped in my chair dreaming wistfully of fried rice and a rehydration sachet, piecing together the events from the previous night. What were the names of the Canadian folk I met, I wondered.
I gave it my best, determined to get my character perfect. We were prqactising fu or luck as it uses every stroke movement. Occasionally, I’d do something well, miraculously.
“Oh, well done. Yes, yes,” Lucy would say, delightedly and hold up my piece of paper for everyone to see. I felt like a kid who’d dressed themselves for the first time and basked in her approval. Still, it was a blur of splotches for me.
The other tutor would often shake her head and laugh at my attempts. Then when I’d do something that would have made the emperor proud, Lucy would gush. “You are improving so quickly.”
Her companion chimed in, “we are very surprised,” she nodded at me, her face grave and encouraging. Clearly, my potential at the beginning of the class lacked some lustre. Perhaps it was my un-brushed hair?
The surprising thing was how calming and meditative the activity was. Gradually, my hangover receded, but my hunger was like an elephant on heat, rampaging.
After we’d completed fu a few times and Lucy had helped me find my “own style – it’s more carefree,” we indulged in some reverse psychology bargaining. She wanted 60 yuan for the class. We insisted on giving her 80 each. Then we debated over who would pay for lunch. In the end a local school teacher shouted our group, as a welcome to the town.
We sat in her loft and drank tea after the class, snacking on dried flowers, taro, exceptionally strong ginger and other local snacks. It was a truly beautiful moment and a highligh, so far, of my China trip.
The local noodle shack she took us to had some strange-looking meat in the window. I thought it was lamb. No, it was goat. And it was delicious. Alongside the pale meat some cubed pieces of slippery red stuff had me confused. “What are those,” I asked, innocently. “Oh, that’s goat’s blood,” she replied, offhandedly.
It was delicious and immediately remedied my nausea.
I was impressed with the goat meal and told some of the folk from the Kaya bar about the strange food. Then, I recalled that we’d snacked on some street food as we marched home at 4am. “What did we eat,” I asked the Belgian and Swiss guys who’d walked me home.
“Oh yeah, you had a few sticks of snails.”
Snails, huh. I was impressed by my tequila-fuelled abandon, but completely revolted.
So, in one day I’d eaten snails, goat, goat’s blood and mastered one of the Chinese characters in my own new style. That’s what I call a good hangover day.