Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Five Hour Tour

Yesterday we went on a five hour river cruise originating in the town of Longzhou located near the Vietnam border. We are here for a teacher conference for Thomas and Gretchen. In this town of 70,000 people we are the only foreigners. One of the women who teaches here says she has only once seen another white person the entire time she has worked in this town. So we are a bit off the beaten path.

Our group of 9 people were the only passengers on our river boat. We boarded at 9:00am and had baos (large steamed dumplings) and hard boiled eggs and tiny tangy bananas. After eating we went up top for a better view. The river was a lovely jade green and the banks were rocks that had been chiseled away over time by leaving behind intricate designs. The rocks varied in color from deep ochre to gold and black streaks to sandy neutral tones. Soaring bunches of giant bamboo grew along the banks. Occasionally there would be some sugar cane or banana groves or small terraced garden plots and a couple of farmers and water buffalo.

Once in a while someone would float by on a narrow bamboo raft or a small fishing boat. Other boats and rafts dotted the shore when there was a sandy beach or a rock overhang where they could be tied up. One place on the river there was a noisy, stinky-with-fumes boat cleaning river sand to be used for building or mixing cement. Besides that we had the river to ourselves; no other tour boats at all.

It was drizzling and chilly outside and foggy which made the visibility less than clear for viewing the craggy hills in the distance but created a dream-like experience. Birds chirping in the trees and the steady chugging of the boat were the only sounds besides the occasionally startling blast of our boat's horn as we approached any bends in the river.

The scenery grew more and more dramatic as we went along. The hills shot straight up from the river to dizzying heights above. Fog swirled through the misty mountains and I imagined that it would be the perfect setting for a scene from the Lord of the Rings. In contrast to the green and black bamboo and the banana trees were the red flower trees commonly found in Vietnam. The branches were bare except for the large red blossoms. Birds especially favored these trees and their chirping increased as we passed them by.

Our turn around point was by some ancient drawings on the face of a sheer cliff. The drawings were deep red in color and primarily featured a man bent in a squat with both arms raised at right angles. Supposedly they were thousands of years old and no one knows how they got there. Fueling some skepticism in our group was the huge bamboo scaffolding built up against one part of the cliff. It seemed imaginable that ancient (or not so ancient) people could have erected scaffolding of their own. Regardless of their origin they were really enjoyable to look at but difficult to photograph well with my camera.

Around 7:30 that evening we headed out for BBQ. We walked down the dark wet street in the drizzling rain (no street lights) to the place where their favorite BBQ stand usually is set up. The women who owned the stand pulled up with their cart and said, "10 minutes" to Elissa and then proceeded to pull a few huge umbrellas off their cart and then some small tables. After setting them up they took off with their cart and came back with small chairs and a long rectangle grill. While one women stoked the coals the other took off to get the food. Thomas and Elissa put on an order for us of grilled scallions, corn, beef, pork and chicken wings. We sat in the little chairs around the low tables under the umbrellas and waited for them to grill our food.

The first item was green onions or garlic chives that were beautifully threaded on skewers and flipped quickly back and forth over the flames while being coated repeatedly with an asian BBQ sauce. They pulled them off the skewers and put them on two tiny plates, one for each table. There was a delicious lemony sauce to dip everything in. After awhile they brought some more and then some tasty beef. Some pork (we think) that seemed to be mostly cartilage followed and then fabulous BBQ sauce-spiced corn on the cob. We finished off the meal with my favorite item, the grilled chicken wings. Towards the end of our 1 1/2 hour meal more people started filling up the other tables all down the block. I guess we were on the early side. It was so much fun to eat such an authentic meal. Our bill came to $1.00 a person. What a deal. And the bonus part was that none of us got sick!


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