We arrived back in Guangzhou again yesterday. It was a short flight from Changsha, and fairly uneventful. We are staying at the White Swan hotel, which is where we stayed 2 years ago on our last China trip. All of the adoption groups stay at the White Swan and everyone raves about the place. However, I've never been that impressed. The breakfast buffet is great, but everything else is way overpriced. The restaurants are very expensive compared to the surrounding area. The rooms are small and are in desperate need of a remodel. And the hotel tends to screw up the rooms. We all reserved King bed rooms and everybody got two Twin beds instead. Of course, they no longer had any King beds left. If you try to call up to someone's room, they can't do it by room number. And they don't understand Western names. It normally takes two or three tries to get the correct rooms.
Today, after they cleaned our room, we got our White Swan Barbie. Mattel has a factory near here, and because all adoptive parents stay here, Mattel makes a special 'Coming Home' Barbie that is given to all new parents. In the box, Barbie has on bucket hat and matching skirt with lots of fringe. And she is carrying a Chinese baby. The baby actually looks a lot like Kaya. Well, Kaya when she is sleeping or on Benadryl.
The White Swan hotel is on Shamian Island in the center of Guangzhou. It is about 20 city blocks on a small peninsula in the Pearl River. The penisula is only separated from the mainland by something the size of a moat or canal, but it still feels like a world away from Guangzhou. Shamian has been the consulate district for over a century. All of the buildings are European style and the streets are laid out in a much more familiar manner. Most of the buildings are tourist shops and restaurants with a few government buildings thrown in for flavor. The US consulate moved off the island earlier this year to a bigger building about an hour away. So, I don't know if Shamian and the White Swan will be a destination for adoptive families in the years to come.
During our stay two years ago, we didn't venture off of Shamian due to the SARS scare, but this time we were ready to explore. I remembered the guidebooks had a listing for a restaurant not far from Shamian that specialized in serving snake. It was supposed to be a tourist destination. I mentioned it to Charles, who is the most adventurous eater in our group, and he thought it sounded like a great idea. So, Kathy made a reservation and most of our group went there for dinner tonight. Right inside the front door, they had cages filled with lobster, crabs, frogs, and many cages filled to the top with snakes. Some water snakes in aquariums and some in cages. They all had prices and none of the snakes were more than 10 bucks. Kathy, our guide, is a big believer in eating snake. She said the poisonous ones taste better than the non-poisonous ones. So Charles picked out a big poisonous water snake, and one of the boys standing there opened the cage and pulled one out for our inspection. It must've been about 4 feet long, and pretty thick. The boy put it in a cloth bag with a drawstring, and Charles kept repeating that he wanted to keep the blood from the snake.
We travelled through the restaurant, and it was huge with lots of families in the courtyards happily eating really good looking dishes. Up in our group's room, we sat around a large "lazy Susan" and ate family style. Kathy ordered several dishes for us that were all quite good. Congee, crispy pork, garlic chicken, Chinese asparagus. Not too spicy, but all quite good. Before the snake showed up, they brought out three clear juice glasses, each about 1/3 full of liquid. The first was a clear green liquid with something that looked like an eye floating in it. The last two were definitely blood. Charles made up something on the spot about the health benefits of drinking snake blood, but I wasn't buying it. The thing in the green liquid was a snake kidney. I'm guessing the liquid was bile. Nobody else wanted it, so Charles jumped right in. Kathy interrupted and very seriously said, "Do not bite down on the kidney, you must swallow it whole". I'm not sure what would happen if you chewed on a kidney, but Charles didn't. He swallowed it whole. And then he drank down the glass of bile. It turned my stomach a little bit, but I've seen enough Fear Factor not to be too grossed out by that.
Now the dinner got interesting. There were two glasses of blood. Charles had laid claim to one bloody glass, (after drinking bile, blood seemed like a 'gimme'), but no one had shown any interest in the other. We looked around the table, and no one looked like they wanted it, but Kathy was looking at me. Apparently by saying I was interested in eating snake, that also meant I was interested in drinking a glass of warm blood. I couldn't think of anyone ever starting a pandemic by drinking snake blood. And if I drank it and got sick, at least Charles would be in the emergency room with me. I mean, how often do you get a chance to drink the blood of a poisonous Chinese water-snake? So, Charles and I raised our glasses to each other and in two or three quick gulps we each drank down an entire glass. It was fairly thick and some was left on the bottom and sides. Charles rinsed his bloody glass with beer and then drank that. I just left it and looked at a very shocked Lisa. She didn't think I would go through with it. I've been fighting an upset stomach most of the trip, and this probably won't help.
The actual snake meat was a little anti-climactic. It was battered, deep-fried, and salty with very little meat. And yes, it tasted like chicken. I picked out a large chunk of meat and handed it to Cheyenne and asked her if she wanted some chicken. She normally eats chicken and this was no exception. I'll wait until she is 12 or 13 and then tell her what she ate.