I’m back tracking a little here, but the locations I want to talk about in this post are one of countless dotted around the mountains and riversides in Chongqing, and I’ll focus on an example of both settings, and the events that led me to visit them.
Many private villas and mansions are scattered around the Chongqing landscape in prime locations away from prying eyes, and where those fortunate enough to own such properties are kind enough to let out for high profile events and organisors.
They should not be confused with ‘Farmhouse entertainment’农家乐 (Nong jia le) or country resorts 山庄(Shan zhuang). I will cover these in future blog posts, but the main difference is that the villas and mansions are let out for private events at the discretion of the owner, while the latter are open to the public all year round.
Yulangniao Boatyard 浴浪鸟快艇船坞
This was a surprise trip for New Year’s eve 2016. A friend who runs an education agency called Longjiaoxing 龙角星, something like ‘Dragon horn star,’ suddenly invited me and family to attend an event they had planned that very evening.
Nothing pleases me more than to pack my bags, kick away the slippers, and drive off somewhere new to explore. We schedule our schedule and headed excitedly for the unknown.
The instructions were to plug Yulangniao浴浪鸟 into my Baidu Satnav, and drive an hour eastwards, first down motorways and wide boulevards before following single lane country roads down to a Yangtze riverside villa with private dock and boatyard.
Parking space was limited, so we left the car inside the boatyard entrance and went looking for our host for the evening, Helen.
A lush but carefully tended front yard offered panoramic river views, a terrace for whole goat barbecue and a garden with stepstones over a pond. A flight of steps led to the main entrance of the villa and private outdoor swimming pool.
Ground level offered plentiful room to seat guests, for kids to perform song and dance, a screen for projecting a presentation on overseas study, and backroom kitchens to dish out refreshments.
The upper floors were for accommodation. The rooms were simple but perfectly comfortable for a night. We ditched the bags and headed for the first stage of proceedings, which were to be held in the basement.
The event was primarily aimed at entertaining the kids while informing parents about their future study careers. While the youngsters were busy piecing together handicraft boat sets with battery powered motors, I practised my Chinese with the other guests, and took interest in a long wall mounted calligraphy poster that contained the entire text of Lantingxu兰亭序, an eloquent masterpiece of the Jin Dynasty calligrapher Wang Xizhi王羲之, but which even modern day Chinese need explanation to understand the language of the time.
After the model boats set sail in the pool, it was time to experience the real deal. We walked down to the dockside and boarded a speedboat for a return trip on the river. The weather wasn’t great, but we still loved cutting the waves up to Yuzui Bridge鱼嘴大桥 and back, passing by touristy old towns and farmlands along the way.
Back on land, we were led into the boatyard to inspect the progress of their latest orders. There weren’t any near completion, but it was interesting to see the steel hulls taking shape, and looking round the tools and machinery the workers use.
Night was falling, and everyone was invited to whole goat barbecue. This is another subject worthy of its own blog post, but basically, the goats are slaughtered the same day, skinned, gutted and barbecued whole over hot coals. As the meat cooks, the chefs generously sprinkle condiments like chilli and cumin powder.
Everyone huddled joyously round their tables, and after the obligatory speeches and toasts, we put on our plastic gloves, grabbed a carving knife each, and tucked in.
You might want to know the innards don’t go to waste. These are cooked up into a tasty soup called yangzatang羊杂汤. I’m not a great fan of internal organs, but the soup certainly tastes great, and the temperature heartwarming in the depths of winter.
That night, my barbecue companion was determined that we polish off a crateful of Chongqing beer together. Despite alcohol playing a sizeable component of my university days, my booze consumption has watered down to the point I only ever drink to make the insanely hot summer nights more bearable, or whenever an occasion demands I keep up appearances.
Unable to make an escape, I drank, tipped, feigned and chatted until he was too drunk to object when I made my dash.
After a presentation, some dancing and karaoke, the final part of the night was back in the basement where the handicraft activity took place. In a back room was a private cinema, where oddly, the last activity of the night was a party for whoever’s birthday fell around December or January.
Odd, yes, but I know what the deal is.
Teachers new to ESL may well have been thrown in front of up to sixty kids with no idea what to do with them. The classic get out of jail card is to turn the occasion into a short birthday party.
I wouldn’t advise doing this, personally. It can successfully kill off a good portion of the lesson, but you do leave yourself exposed as an inexperienced buffoon for all to see.
In this case, the idea was really just a time filler before bedtime.
Not that anybody cared, really. We all just sang the reruns of Happy Birthday in Chinese and English, gobbled up the cake, finished our drinks, then called it a night.
The show was over.
Just before lights out back in the room, a mother and daughter put out an SOS in the event Wechat group for a ride back to Chongqing. Seeing as they lived nearby, we offered them a lift the next morning. It felt good to begin the new year with a charitable deed.
Next day, we had some good noodles for breakfast downstairs, then sped off back to Chongqing.
Part two coming up
Fast forward half a year in to the raw heat of summer. We recieved free invites to cool off at a private mountain villa in Nanshan南山 to attend an evening performace by the famous Italian musicians Luca Pincini and Gilda Buttain.
This time, an acquaintance who knew of my fondess for music had some tickets spare, and handed them to us a day or two before.
In China, you have to be spontaneous to get by.
Stay tuned to hear about the sumptuous villa and the evening entertainent ………