Back in Baiyin I lay down for a nap.
Jane, the Foreign Administrator not Jane Li the Primary school teacher, had said that she wanted to take me, Mike and Erika out for a meal. I could happily not have eaten anything else but she insisted and I guessed that it would be a noodle bar or a dumpling restaurant where I could just pick at it politely. She had said she would call for us at six. So I lay down for a nap intending to take a quick shower at five thirty and get changed.
The apartment bell rang at five twenty-five. I was still in bed. No time for a shower, just time for a splash of cold water in the face and the clothes from the wedding thrown back on and then out.
In the taxi Jane Li met us, a surprise as I'd been expecting the other one. She directed the taxi driver and we appeared at first to be heading into one of the mazes of streets that are threaded between the residential tower blocks. It didn't look as if there would be a restaurant there but then we turned a corner and in front of us was a very impressive hotel. A broad sweep of steps, wide enough to have a multi-tier fountain in the centre led up to a large entrance. The hotel looked modern and expensive. The inside lived up to the outside's promise. A wide wood panelled reception was sparsely but very tasteful decorated with oriental pottery and silk screens. We were led into a private dining room where a table was set for ten.
It was, I realised, another banquet.
Soon the others arrived. In addition to the three of us and the two Janes, there were five of the senior teachers from our school, only one of whom I knew.
The meal progressed but by now I was struggling to eat. It was all the highest quality. The fish was absolutely delicious, the mutton fell off the bone at the merest touch of a chopstick, the vegetables were steamed to perfection, the duck was crispy and wonderful.
And my ability with chopsticks had finally deserted me completely. It comes and goes at the best of times but this time I couldn't manage them at all. I was suffering from chopstick-fatigue after three days of constant eating I seemed to have lost the use of my fingers. Reluctantly, I asked for a fork.
The meal went on and the company was great. When the food was finished the drinking started with bottles of wine and baijo and crates of beer arriving in great quantity. It was a relaxed evening – perhaps too relaxed as I heard Erika explaining the relative severity of American swearwords to the fascinated teachers. The called me over as the British expert to explain "bollocks".
We discussed all sorts of more normal things too – the Chinese and British education systems, how China has changed over the twenty years that I have been visiting (not everyone there considered the changes to be progress), the death of Kim Jong Il and how it might affect China or the West, Chinese and western literary traditions, different forms of poetry.
It was after eleven when we finally left and took taxis back to out apartment.