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Monday, April 10, 2017

Forget the egg rolls - pass the Gluttonous Bullfrog!

 I’ll have the Gluttonous Bullfrog…

Our next stop is Juyongguan Pass another ‘must see’ destination to see the Great Wall of China. By the time we arrive at our overnight accommodations at the pass it’s dark. Beware when a hotel is advertised as “traditional” or “quaint.” These are code words for “rundown” and “old.”  Our accommodations are part of an international hotel chain that includes the Bates Motel, the Overlook Hotel, Castle Dracula and the always popular Hotel California.

Even though the hotel is empty we are given rooms widely scattered throughout the ramshackle hotel – probably so we can’t hear each other scream in the middle of the night. It takes me ten minutes to find my room down a darkened hallway. I actually have to dig my flashlight out of my backpack to see the room numbers. No problem with key cards here. We’ve been each given an appropriately named skeleton key that weighs about a pound.

In Beijing I’d been upgraded to a very nice suite. In order to even things out I’ve been downgraded to a cell with peeling wallpaper and mold in the bathroom. On a positive note: the room is nice and toasty which is a definite plus after the freezing afternoon on the wall. However my joy at having a warm room is short lived when I discover the reason: the thermostat is only a wall decoration. It only has two settings: “really hot” – or “really cold”.

I don’t have time to muse on my accommodations as I am already late for the “special dinner” that is being laid on featuring local cuisine. It takes me a while groping down darkened hallways to find the “restaurant.” I am the last one to arrive where I discover we are the only diners. I decide not to tell the others about the shouting and what appears to be dog yipes I heard as I passed the kitchen.

My fellow travelers don’t notice me arriving as they are too busy trying to decipher the well-used single page menu. Tonight’s exotic delicacies include:
          Sliced Ox tongue and Tripes
          Marinated Jellyfish in Aged Vinegar
          Mixed Black Fungus

…and my personal favorite:

          Gluttonous Bullfrog 

The menu is bad news for the Brits who look at rice as an exotic foreign dish. In order to be helpful I suggest the mystery meat - I tell them I hear it’s really fresh.

After a  dinner where most of my fellow travellers left hungrier than when they arrived,  I follow the bread crumbs back to my room hoping my batteries don’t die. The thermostat might not work, but the TV does so I catch up on the latest Chinese curling news.

In the morning the adventure continues with another encounter with Chinese cuisine. No breakfast buffet here at the Hotel California – no siree!  We have a choice of about three things on the ‘turntable of cuisine.’ One of them is a plate of white sliced bread which the Brits fight over. They’ve given up, for the most part, on chopsticks and are using their hands when forks aren’t available.

“It took me twenty minutes to pick up one banger with them sticks yesterday at breakfast,” Jane’s mom complains.

But as soon as we step outside everything changes. The experiences of the previous night totally evaporate as we try and comprehend the magnificent view confronting us. The rain has stopped, the skies have cleared and we are in the middle of a valley surrounded by green hills and the Great Wall of China in all its splendor is set out in front of us. The shoddy accommodations and the mystery meals – they were all worth it - just for this moment!  It’s probably one of the defining memories I’ll have of China – that and the Gluttonous Bullfrog.

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