Mr. Wang Qinzhang arrives with Mingli (Cristine, my English translator) and his brother-in-law, Zhang Xi. Mr. Wang is gracious and friendly. We greet and instantly communicate without formal introductions. I can see Wang Yu in her father’s eyes. Dean Li and Xu Xin see us off in the sleek black Toyota. I slip into the backseat next to Cristine. The car has a built in GPS system that has guided them to the campus. Although I cannot understand the voice prompts from the GPSystem, I can follow the indication of time and kilometers to go. Our journey to Huangshan begins smoothly. The first hour disappears slowly as we maneuver through Shanghai traffic. Cristine and I become acquainted in the back seat of the car. As we pass the suburbs of Shanghai the factories and small businesses give way to rice fields. I wonder at the 3 story houses that dot the landscape. It appears that the effort is to save as much land as possible for agricultural use. It is further interesting to see the metal structures that appear on the top of these houses. I begin to wonder if these are Chinese lightening rods but I am informed that they have been put there by the residents to have the tallest home. It is the Chinese version of keeping up with the Jonese!
After 3 hours of driving on expressways, the road begins to curve around mountains and through long tunnels. In the late afternoon light I point out the tea trees growing above on the mountain sides as we smoothly sweep around the mountains. We are approaching Huangshan and I begin to pay close attention to the roadside although it is difficult to see much as it is now dark outside. As we arrive in Huangshan we are greeted by bright lights of multiple colors and shapes. Along the river there are lights not just outlining buildings, but along the walls of the river. It is somewhat like the decorations we might see at Christmas time in the Kansas City Plaza Shopping District. The city is dressed in lights to welcome tourists and to create a fairy-tale vision of a city of lights.
Our car arrives at a local restaurant known for its organic food, Hai cuisine. A young woman springs from the door of the restaurant and I am introduced to Wang Yu’s mother. She is energetic and welcomes me with a bright smile. I immediately feel comfortable in her company. We enter through what appears to be the kitchen with several woks filled with bubbling stews and meats. Live fish, turtles, and birds seem ready to prepare for the pot. We climb the wooden stairs to a private dining room in this small quaint and homey building. I learn quickly that Huangshan cuisine is simple, clean, and flavored with herbs and salt. A few appetizers are brought in to our table almost immediately. One server pours a cup of hot tea. I savor the fragrance of the green tea before sipping from my cup. It is warm and refreshing. My cup is refilled several times before the meal really begins. A large pot is brought in with a soup. My hosts inform me that you can only get this dish in Huangshan as the small creature used in the soup is found in the crevices of the rocks of the mountains here. From the white and black skin and the small bones, I gather that this is stone frog soup. Not one to refuse without tasting, I begin by blowing on the bowl to cool the liquid. The first taste reveals a soothing flavor that is light on my palate. I have not perfected my ability to remove bones delicately so I fear I look a bit silly to them at times. My hosts inform me that this dish is good for your bones, vision, and general health. I serve up another bowl of the soup. Another dish features tender bamboo that is grown on the mountain. It has been flavored with mushrooms and a type of sausage. Delicious. A tofu dish is served that has a strong aroma which at first makes me hesitate to taste the dish. As the dish makes a second round on the spinning “lazy Suzanne” I take one slice of tofu . . . I hesitate for a moment and then steel myself for the taste. The tofu is surprisingly light and delicate in flavor. A large crock of a barbeque type flavored meat is served. This tastes much like Kansas City barbeque and quickly becomes one of my favorite dishes in Huangshan. There are several other dishes but I fear that I was quickly becoming lulled into a food stupor. I graciously extend my appreciation and attempt to wean away from the table. The server replaces my plate and refills my tea several times before the plate of watermelon is brought in to signal the end of the feast. I am ready to slip into a deep sleep after a long day. My hosts take me to my hotel room that has already been readied for me at the Huangshan International Hotel. Without any hesitation, I am quickly fast asleep.