“我找不到房间了!”/ "I can’t find my room!"

“我找不到房间了!”

上周,在博客结尾处曾提到,我刚刚退出阆中超级好奇的群众包围圈,在宾馆等人来接我与县长共进晚餐。

能受到县长的宴请,这确实是莫大的荣幸。这位领导无愧于四川人好客的名声,在晚宴上不遗余力地端出各种当地的美酒佳肴。我猜自己可能是他接待的第一位外国客人。

设宴的房间陈设简朴,但铺着塑料台布的餐桌上摆着很多饰以精美蔬菜雕花的菜肴,还有各种折叠得很漂亮的餐巾。

“I can’t find my room!”

At the end of last week’s post I was waiting in the guest house in Langzhong to be picked up for dinner with the County Chief, having just retreated from the surrounding crowd of hyper-curious towns folk.

Being invited to dinner by the County Chief was indeed a great honor. True to Sichuan’s reputation for hospitality, he spared no effort to serve good food and drink. I guessed I was probably his first foreign guest.

The room was a simple affair, but the banquet table was set with beautifully carved decorative vegetables accompanying many dishes, and gaily folded cloth napkins, set atop a vinyl table cloth.

厨师在为我们的阆中晚宴做最后的准备工作。 / The chef puts finishing touches on our banquet table in Langzhong.

除了名闻遐迩的麻辣川菜和大熊猫,四川还以出产各种中国白酒著称。这些酒是用高粱或其他谷物酿造而成,虽然种类繁多,但统称为“白酒”。或许,它可以被亲切地翻译成“white lightning”(一种美国烈性威士忌,味道与白酒相似——译注)。这些白酒的度数不一,但酒精含量一般都在30%甚至更高。酒劲很大。

县长的级别不算低,但个头儿不高。他肤色黝黑,像个长期顶着太阳在田间劳作的农民。毕竟,这里是农业地区,尤以出产桑虫、蚕丝和丝绸闻名。

大家在餐桌旁落座后,县长非常实在和诚恳地欢迎我来到中国四川的这个小地方参观,并执意请我体验一下当地的风味特产,包括饭菜和白酒。

按照本地风俗,他率先敬酒以示欢迎,然后是无数次的干杯。作为嘉宾,我应当按照相应的频率回敬他,因此,我也举了无数次杯。

那天的菜非常好吃,香辣鲜脆,样样俱全。不幸的是,每上一道菜(应该有14道,我没数过来),县长就会张罗换一种牌子的白酒,好让我能尝遍当地所有特产。

毫无疑问,在这样一个特殊的场合,他这么做就是为了一尽地主之谊。我心里知道,一下喝这么多种白酒不太明智,但如果拒绝又极度失礼。

我们的交谈轻松愉快,随着宴会的进行,气氛越加热烈。身处阆中县城,当时是周六晚上,饱餐一顿后,我们高兴地离开了餐厅,县长提议到城中心的大街上散散步。

这看来是个好主意,我欣然从命。大家高兴地聊着天,沿着阆中县城的主要街道走了下去。街上满是行人,有些人刚刚出来。由于正逢周末,那些卖小吃及农副产品的小商贩、店铺,还有餐馆的生意都很红火。我们不时停下来和各种人等聊天,其中还包括县长的理发师。

我情不自禁地想,下午盯着我看的那些人会不会又跑过来,边盯着我看边纳闷儿这个奇怪的外来客怎么又和县长一起游城了呢?

有段时间,我们身后跟着几百名群众,我们几个人就像在吹魔笛,吸引他们一路跟随。

当好心的县长和他的部下把我送回宾馆的时候,之前喝的白酒已经模糊了我的方向感,不得不靠别人的引导才能回到客房。我睡得很沉,但早上醒来,感觉脑袋就好像被一只大熊猫踩住了。

教训:如果你必须喝白酒,千万不要把好多种白酒混在一起喝。不然等你酒醒的时候,就会感觉有一只大熊猫踩着你的头。

Sichuan, apart from spicy foods and giant pandas, is renowned for producing a variety of clear Chinese liquors, made from sorghum and other grains. There are many different types, but as a category they are known as “bai jiu” which might be affectionately translated as “white lightning” spirits. Proofs vary, but range up to 30% or more alcohol content. Strong stuff.

The County Chief was a powerful man in rank, but short in stature. He had the swarthy complexion of someone who had spent a fair amount of time under the sun, working the land. This was, after all, an agricultural area, especially renowned for producing silk worms, silk thread and silk fabric.

As we sat down to dinner he was very down to earth and sincere in welcoming me to his corner of China and Sichuan, and insisted that I sample their local specialties, both the food and the baijiu.

In keeping with custom, he offered a welcoming toast, the first of countless toasts. As a good guest, it is appropriate to return the toasts on a somewhat reciprocal frequency, which in this instance, was also countless times.

The food was great — spicy but delicious, with a great variety of very fresh, crisp produce. Unfortunately, with each course served, of what must have been a 14-course banquet (I lost count), the county chief called for a new and different brand of local “bai jiu” to be served, to ensure I sampled the full gamut of what was produced in the region.

He did this no doubt in a spirit of hospitality befitting a very special occasion. I knew it was probably unwise to be consuming so many different types of “bai jiu” at one sitting, but it would have been extremely rude to refuse.

The conversation was lively and jovial, and getting more so as the banquet wound on. In fact, it was a Saturday night in downtown Langzhong, and as we exited the dining room after the sumptuous meal, the County Chief proposed we go for a walk down the main street.

That seemed a splendid idea, so I agreed, and off we went, chattering happily down the middle of Langzhong’s main drag. It was bustling with pedestrians and folks just hanging out. Snack and produce vendors, small shops and restaurants were doing a brisk weekend trade. We stopped and talked with various folks including the County Chief’s barber.

I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the same townspeople who’d gawked at me that afternoon were gawking again, and asking themselves just how it could be that this strange visitor was now touring town with the County Chief.

At one point, we had a crowd of several hundred people following us, a bit like the Pied Piper of Hamlin.

By the time the good County Chief and his entourage dropped me off at my guest house, the advancing baijiu had fogged my sense of direction and I required some navigational assistance to get to my room. I slept very soundly, but woke in the morning feeling like there was a giant panda standing on my head.

Moral: if you must drink baijiu, never, ever mix different kinds at the same sitting. Or you will awake to find a giant panda standing on your head.


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