Xizhou was exceptional in that there were no tourists whatsoever. The town is not geared up for that and it was just wonderful to experience an authentic town. We walked down a street with shops selling pyjamas, slippers or even burial clothes which are the traditional Chinese blue shirts and trousers that people seldom wear on a daily basis, even caught a glimpse of a barber in the midst of shaving someone’s head.
The pretty main square has a few stands selling the traditional local pancake. We ate ours at a tiny restaurant where the elderly owner came to say hello, ask where we were from and shake our hands as we left. I have been struck by how friendly people are in the south. They smile and say hello. I suppose it makes sense, better weather means people are in a better mood. Whatever the reason it is lovely and I am glad I decided to give China another go.
The market was fabulous. Women selling their produce in local costumes, an enormous variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Here “fresh produce” took a new meaning. As I was wandering around I just managed to catch a glimpse of a chicken being thrown into a barrel. Not really understanding what I had seen, I approached in time to see hot water thrown into what can be best described as a washing machine containing the chicken. Shortly after, the chicken was pulled out sans feathers, very dead and was gutted on the spot. Then all the caged chickens made sense, you pick the one you want to eat for dinner…and the same goes for the fish, swimming in small containers, ready and waiting. Of course, what would a market be without the usual insects and grubs on offer. Most fascinating was the chilli stall, sacks and sacks of it at £1 a kilo and the pounding machine at the back reducing the next batch into flakes. People shopping carry straw baskets on their bag and put their produce in them.
It was wonderful to catch a glimpse of real China.