Firecrackers are going off down the street in a barrel.
The morning is cold: our breath fogs, and I wish I had gloves as we walk through the empty courtyard of the hotel to the street in search of hot breakfast.
The local specialty is translated “muddy flesh ersi”– a soup noodle dish made with fatty meat and a self-serve selection of red pepper, garlic paste, green onions, MSG, ground star anise, and some other pastes and powders I can’t identify. I add them indiscriminately to my bowl. It’s delicious. We eat streetside, soup steaming into the chill.
This story is the continuation of a series that begins here.
Down the street, we look into an alley and see a man with a huge fire in a metal stove. At his feet is a tarp with easily identifiable pieces of a pig: the head, one eye slitted open. A leg. The tail, pink and uncurled. We approach and see that several other pieces of the pig are charring, fat bubbling out, directly in the fire.
It’s a wood fire, driven to great heat with a blower. The blower’s cord runs across the street and into a window.
The man smiles at us in response to our “zao shang hao” greeting and invites us to warm our hands. We watch a while as he turns the blackening roasts in the fire. Across the street, men wind rebar in a yard. We watch, then move on.
Down the street, Jon wishes “zao shang hao” to an old woman. She smiles and licks her lips toothlessly, turning to watch him as we continue on.
At the edge of the wide sidewalk there is a dead horse. It’s steaming in the morning light. We come around and see that the neck is hanging over a grate in the street so as not to make a mess of the blood. Looking back from up the street, two women emerge with kettles of boiling water and pour it on the carcass to loosen the hair from the skin.
We are headed uphill to a temple. The road switchbacks up, but we take the footpath shortcut. To our right and left, stalks stand rotting from harvested fields of corn. It’s resourceful use of space: the hill gets good sun, and it takes a few minutes before I notice that the crop-covered hillside is dotted also with gravestones.
Two people are coming down the hill. Squinting into the sunlight, it’s hard to discern their forms from the massive loads they carry on their backs.
Closer, I can see that it’s an old woman and man carrying cut eucalyptus, firewood, I think. The woman is in front, and she greets us cordially. We don’t understand her past “zao shang hao,” but she chatters to us in a friendly singsong as she descends until she’s out of earshot.
On the breeze, we hear the music of a wooden flute. It lilts through a scale and a few Chinese songs.
We find the flautist standing at the edge of a pagoda-roofed pavilion on a spur. He nods to us. We sit and listen for a while.
Up the hill, there is a courtyard by the temple. Locals are drinking tea from thermoses at low tables. Several mules are standing saddled with baskets, steam curling from their nostrils. They stand patient and unmoving to be loaded with scoops of red dirt and stacked slabs of flat stone.
The temple is Confucian. Like all the temples we’ve seen, it appears fairly small at first, but there is passage past the altar and up the hill to hall after hall of altars with statues of the panoply, kneeling places, walls painted with religious scenes.
Each hall here has its own solar powered plastic lotus chanting or singing loudly and continuously. Incense smoke curls up into the rafters, whorling white where a sunbeam breaks through a gap in the roof.
In one side room, a man bows a screeching one-stringed instrument. Sometimes he sings a high off-key falsetto with the rasps. He smiles at us magnanimously when we poke our heads in.
There is a trail which takes us through the woods, past red-mud earth covered in bright moss. Mules are being unloaded, red dirt and flat rock piled for use in paving the trail. Men and women “hssht” to herd the mules back for further loading.
We find another temple, Buddhist, up the path. At the base, a middle-aged man and woman are playing wooden flutes. They have hung their music over a signpost and seem to be practicing a duet. She smiles and plays faced away from the music; he repeats a phrase several times until the tone is right.
In the temple, there are great vases, gilded statues, incense (incense always burns at every altar), stacks of fruit and packaged junk food laid before the gods in offering.
In one of the Buddhist halls, a puppy is hiding under a drum on a stand. Jon sits on the lintel and coaxes it out. It licks my hand; I pull burrs out of its fur.
The path continues past the Buddhist temple. We wind down the mountain and pass a temple to Ancestors, where a percussion band plays out of sync. Giant sticks of incense taller than me and as wide around as my arm burn at either side of the gate. A family stuffs paper offerings into an incense burner, which flares brightly. A young man sets of a set of very loud fireworks, presumably also an offering.
Back in town, we weave through traffic with the new practice of pedestrians in China: wait for or assert a break in traffic, then walk steadfastly across. Cars, trucks, carts, and motorcycles swerve around as needed.
Weishan has a higher than average quantity of motorcycle rickshaws on the streets. One parked rickshaw hosts three men, leaning to face each other in the seats, laying down cards in a heated game.
There’s more to see: noodles hand-pulled, more temples in the hills. But we only have a day, so we catch our bus and begin our return.
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