Last week saw my first trip to another city in China, leaving me with plenty of reasons to start planning the next one! Being the rank clown that I often let slip into the public domain, I left my camera battery- but not camera- at home, meaning I have had to beg, borrow and steal photos. If not, you would have had the delights of my iPad photos, which are reasonable as long as under no circumstances do you even look at the zoom button!
In fact, it is the seat of Yanbian, the Korean Autonomous Prefecture. To gauge the vastness of China, we arrived 8 hours later, without even so much as leaving Jilin province. Yanji is principally known for its culinary prowess, cocaine hotspottedness and human trafficking, with roughly 1/3 of the population originating from nearby North Korea. A couple of bizarre points on that:
-The ‘cost’ of trafficking into a legal Chinese marriage on the other side of the border can be as little as 2 bags of rice, according to one local.
-The people being ‘trafficked’ are generally fully compliant and the illegality comes from the prevention of people leaving North Korea, rather than the selling of a human being. The proof? If they are unlucky enough to not make it, they are shot. (A side note to this that speaks volumes is that no one is returned to North Korea after crossing the border).
We arrived early afternoon in time for a local delicacy of bowl of cold noodles- ? – whilst setting about the guidebooks/ websites. After one reviewer described the city as having “all the charm of a snuff film” and trip advisor failing to fill at ‘Top 9’ things to do, we left the surprisingly tasty meal with surprisingly heavy wallets, but with heavy hearts too. Yet, a festival of traditional Korean dance and music coupled with a free bottle of a spirit that could possibly burn a hole in a granite slab, we turned the day around.
The immaculately clean centre quite literally burst into a wave of colour as the sun went down, too, which proved a welcome bonus before evening meal. Barbecue is a favourite in Changchun, but the Korean barbecue rose to another level.
After ordering a selection of the finest Chinese characters, without having a scooby doo what would arrive, we set about examining the charcoal rack placed before us. It seems, we were the chefs, including seasoning and being solely responsible for the outcome.
A series of Tofu-wrapped spinach, vegetables and a healthy smattering of skewered meats** made their way out, each as enjoyable as the last. The final one came out, with us being encouraged to pour our beers into the dish before us- a beer boiled bean stew. Pure excellence.
The following morning, we paid the hotel bill (£5, since you asked) and left content with life… Heading further South towards the next blog, Changbaishan, part of a mountain range which forms the border.
Have a lovely week, and I’ll be back on soon to tell you all about the Long White Mountain!
**= I have been deliberately sketchy of the details for the meat, as we are extremely unsure as to what was there… An entire kidney along with some feet were there, but occasionally the animal was harder to guess. With the connotations linked with Korean cuisine and meats, I can’t be sure that we didn’t have the dodgy one……..