Another late morning, starting a little before noon this time. I woke up before Johnson, making my way downstairs for coffee. A bleary-eyed Johnson followed a few minutes later. “Whiskey is very good sleeping pill!” he accurately proclaimed. We’d decided to try to have American breakfast today, so I showed him the wonders of coffee, orange juice and Frosted Flakes. Chinese people tend to eat much more substantial breakfasts (a characteristic shared with Japanese and Korean people) so he was surprised at how relatively little Americans eat in the morning.

Breakfast turned into brunch, Johnson’s uncle inviting us along to the family’s favorite beef noodle soup place. It’s an unassuming place that I would have never found, jammed with people occupying every square inch of the place. The restaurant was so busy that it was impossible for us to sit together, sitting wherever we could. Seating is cafeteria style – you just grab a spot and chow down. The noodle shop sells only one kind of soup in only two sizes, large and enormous. I got the large. The soup is very cheap, costing around $1, and consists of rice noodles around the thickness of spaghetti mixed with thinly sliced beef steak and topped with a hard boiled egg. There is a giant bowl of peppers and spices on each table, along with tea kettles full of soy sauce and Chinese vinegar, and you can add as much as you want. There are no spoons, only a pair of chopsticks. You don’t eat soup the same way here – you’re supposed to eat the solid things out of it with chopsticks, and then drink the broth. Broth is almost universally thin and oily. Still, the soup was very good. It reminded me of Vietnamese pho, which perhaps isn’t all that surprising – Guizhou borders Vietnam. I was dining with Johnson’s 10 year old cousin, and was very happy that my Chinese was good enough to ask her whether she wanted my egg. It turns out she loves eggs, so was happy to eat it.

After brunch, we took a minibus taxi to Qingyan, a traditional walled city about 30km from Guiyang. This is mostly a tourist trap, but it’s free to go inside and is really fun to see. The buildings are all hundreds of years old, some up to 400 years old, and the whole thing looks a lot like my hutong neighborhood. Shops sold all sorts of interesting snacks, and I got to try sesame desserts. Johnson’s uncle bought a bottle of bai jiu that was flavored something like lemonade (think of it as a Chinese version nof Mike’s Hard Lemonade), encouraging me to drink it on the spot but me wisely deferring. Eventually we made our way up to the old city wall, where we could admire the view of the countryside in between explosions. Even though we were well into the Chinese New Year, the fireworks weren’t over – I was informed that they continue for the entire week of Spring Festival.

Back into Qingyan, sampling candies and snacks as I imagine is probably usual when traveling with two girls aged 10 and 16. Candies aren’t as sweet in China (ice cream being the only thing with the same relative level of sweetness), but my palate has adjusted and they taste mostly sweet now. Johnson described the historical sites and explained the inscriptions on various buildings, gates and even a gravestone. Qingyan is clearly a popular place for Chinese people to visit – the whole place was packed like a high school hallway right after the lunch bell. Eventually the crowds were too much even for my hosts and we escaped back to the normal level of Chinese crowded.

We caught a minibus back to town, and Johnson’s uncle took us to a place called Snack Town. It’s a covered but open air market full of stalls selling street snacks. The first place we stopped was a Si Wa Wa store. This is a special dish only made in Guiyang. You start with very thin rice pancakes, pile as many fillings as you want on them (different kinds of vegetables, dried meat resembling bacon bits, and a few kinds of herbs), fold the bottom, pour in some hot sauce, and then – before the hot sauce runs out of the bottom and covers your hand – eat it quickly! These were really good, a perfect complement to the noodle soup we ate earlier. Johnson’s uncle poured some of the drink he’d bought in Qingyan, and while I was bracing myself for the evil taste of Chinese rice wine, it actually wasn’t half bad. We scarfed Si Wa Wa and slammed down shots of hardcore booze, sending the 10 year old and 16 year old girls to buy us beer, which they were able to do with no questions or problems. Ah, China.

After I was stuffed, I thought it was time to leave – but no! Johnson’s uncle and cousins were just warming up. We next went to a small booth that made a potato cake dish, which you could dip in ground cumin and peppers. This wasn’t all that interesting, but then the stench hit me – stinky tofu. The 10 year old grinned at me, seeing my pain. She loved stinky tofu and her uncle liked it too, so he was only too happy to indulge. Noticing my discomfort, Johnson recommended that I move upwind, which I was happy to do. Some Chinese dishes are just too special for Westerners, and stinky tofu is one of them.

A couple of other dishes came together – I don’t remember all of them, but sampled most of them and plenty of Moutai beer. After we had plenty to eat and drink, we went back to the house. It was time for fireworks! Johnson brought out the biggest Roman candles I’ve ever seen, me videotaping the fireballs that might possibly have violated commercial airspace and the kids giggling while lighting sparklers and the occasional cherry bomb. By the time everything was burned up, we were tired – we had an early morning planned the following day, so it was time for bed.