Chinese Women, Asian Women, Online Dating & Things Chinese and Asian
Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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The Old Man and the Turtle    

By Garreth Humphris
2782 Views | 10 Comments | 11/20/2012 4:58:55 PM

An image I found on a myspace page a long time ago!

One of the more interesting sights in China is when ’ancient' clashes with 'modern' and this happened to me today as I went for daily walk to work. Standing on the corner of the street was an elderly man holding a stick, tied to the end of this stick and dangling rather precariously in mid-air, was a very large turtle - a loop of string firmly around the shell front to back to ensure it's snake-like head (complete with vice-like jaws) was safely tucked into it's protective carapace!

And it was a huge turtle - the shell was 30cm across the legs and about 45cm end to end making it at least 50 years old. The man himself was at least 70 years old, with those thin and wiry limbs that are slightly bowed. He has a big bushy hat of twig-like construction, simple clothing, open sandals with bare legs and a broad smile and was staring out at all the people walking toward him! 

They were not so much interested in the old man with the huge turtle but, more importantly, how close they could park their Mercedes and BMWs to the front door of Starbucks, directly behind the old man!

I noticed he ’picked me up’ visually coming towards him from across the street - no doubt I was not the first foreigner who has seen him on this day, but I was probably one of the biggest. As I approached him - he shook his stick a little, the over-large terrapin bobbing up and down, hissing!

“Hey Fatso”, he asked, “want to buy a turtle?”
I smiled, wondering why he would think I needed a turtle!
“Good soup!”, he added, “very tasty! Fill your stomach!”

Well, I am used to this type of banter in China - the common greeting is to (good-naturedly) comment on appearance, ask how heavy you are, ask your height, whether you are married and if you come from America! We did this!

“So older brother”, I asked, “where did you find this turtle?”

“In my pond”, he said, “very lucky!”

“Lucky?”, I asked.

“Can sell, not have to work hard today!”, a full-toothless smile on his face!

“Not lucky day for turtle”, I said.

“True”, he agreed!

We chatted a little more, and he explained in a weird blend of putonghua, local dialect (that I have difficulty understanding), sign language and lots of laughs about how he was walking in his pond collecting the last of his ’devil’s claw roots’ for the year, he stood on the turtle in the mud! It had taken him 3 hours to dig it out, wash it and prepare it for sale. He showed me his finger where the turtle had drawn blood - maybe they were equals in battle!

These ’devils claw’ delicacies are a type of anchor root for the local water-lilies that have a sort of 3 pronged triangular shape. They are washed and eaten raw, after peeling off a slimy, leather-like skin. They are fairly tasteless and have a consistency similar to Clag, but eaten with a certain gusto, could be considered equivalent to ... Clag!

Not easy to harvest, they are collected by farmers walking around knee-deep in water, following down the stem of the lily leaf and then digging the fingers into the soft mud to pull up the root. I have never been able to find out the name that anyone else in China recognises, but I have given them the “devil’s claw” title because they resemble a hideous cloven foot when dragged from the mud!

Given the cold weather recently, I was surprised the old man was still wandering about knee-deep in water, and I told him so! He thanked me for my concern, but said if he had not been doing so, he might not have been so lucky!

“So,” I said, “if I were hungry for soup, how much money would this small one cost me?”

“Not so much”, he said, “... for you!”. A smile crossing his face!

This sounded ominous - the instant application of Laowai-Tax into the price! This is a common practise in China, there are usually 3 prices in cash-bargaining Society...Laowai (foreigner, usually ’non-local’ rather than 'non Chinese'), normal Chinese and local dialect/friend prices!

“Hey”, I said, “I am local person! Not Laowai!”

He smiled, “So you know the price already!”. Old, wise and wily, a negotiation master indeed!

“Have you eaten turtle?”, he asked with a devilish look, almost expecting me to faint at the thought!

“Sure”, I said, “I ate one at my friend’s wedding a few years ago!...I even eat the meat off the shell!”

He seemed suitably impressed, but not fazed! “No problem”, he said, “pay me now, I put him back in pond to wait for your wedding!”

“Old brother”, I said, “it will be a long wait!”

“Maybe”, he said, “maybe not!”

I smiled and left the old man and went to my office, answered some emails and did a few “modern” things and about an hour later, wandered outside to go to the bank and pay some bills!

He had gone from his perch out the front of the coffee-shop. I couldn't help but wonder if he had got his price and been able to return home to enjoy the last if the autumn sun for a few hours before returning to work! I certainly hope so!

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#2012-11-21 12:38:53 by anonymous4782 @anonymous4782

Interesting article.
The logo is more creative, will the Starbucks sue you copyright infringement? hehe...
You can speak Putonghua, even know a few Suzhou local dialect.but you must not know: so old turtl, few people dare to eat. in Chinese traditional thought, it has become Gods, only some buddhists will buy it,then leave it back to the nature.

#2012-11-21 19:34:43 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Interesting! I did actually think that it was 'incorrect' to eat the large turtles so the old man's ribbing was pretty good then!
I actually wanted to buy it and put it in Jin Ji Hu (a lake on the edge of SuZhou city), but there is nowhere for it to get out in the sun, and it's probably illegal! It would be just my luck to get arrested trying to save a turtle!

The logo I found a long time ago somewhere on the Internet - it appears in a few places when I did a search but they are not websites I remember visiting! If anyone knows the original owner, happy to link back! It doesn't look like a SB logo, does it? No mermaids!

#2012-11-21 19:38:38 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Anonymous, Do you know the name of the 'devil's claw' root?

#2012-11-24 15:27:52 by Charles58 @Charles58

Was this turtle actually captured at the edge of a well while talking to a blissfully happy frog at the bottom of the well?

#2012-11-25 14:55:17 by papaya1972 @papaya1972

Water chestnut / caltrop, not sure if this is the one you were talking about.
copy the Chinese charater and find it in google pics.

Its a common nut fruit from the water plant, Jia xing 嘉兴(in zhejiang province)is a famouse place of origin of watter chestnuts.
Of coz, other places too, but all belong to the region of rivers and lakes in South China (江南水乡)

Seems you dont really like its taste?
It's one of my favourite, and i miss it much here in a tropical place.

#2012-11-25 16:10:33 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Hi Papaya, it is a water chestnut - but when I said this name, others have told me no! Maybe a different variety to what I have seen before! Given that ZheJiang, JiaXing is just down the road (about 50km), I expect that it is similar.

I quite like water chestnut when cooked - raw the ones they eat!

#2012-11-26 02:18:53 by downunder @downunder

Had wondered after seeing a similar scenario at one end of Zhongtan Lu bridge over Suzhou Creek in Shanghai. Turtle from a stick, looked decidely past its prime - perhaps it was just tired but it wouldn't move when placed on the ground.

Possibly OSH has taken steps to ensure safety of roadside sellers for the man wore a construction helmet. Don't think he was happy with my taking a photo even from a distance, but he was more worried about what seemed to be an animal rescue service turning up on a motor bike... do they get a discount as 'regulars'?

I'll look for your turtle in Jin Ji Hu over my Xmas holidays.

#2012-11-27 09:31:37 by carber911 @carber911

lol Great turtle and great soup picture! You should have called him turtle soup nazi from sienfield. lol Really like your adjectives and the part where the old man says.. You should know..... pay me now.... lucky for me!... lmfao!

You sounded very wise too by being hospitable.... Now let me tell you about the litte bit I know about turtles.... My friends dad has had 2 african turtles now for about 28 years i think.... they are so cool! they eat lettuce all the time, they like to walk around the grass outside and sit in shady areas... they are about a foot tall, wide, long... (wish you would still speak english length size metric code is only good in mm, anything bigger is like an inch..) So they dont swim much, he hoses them with water... they walk around and never wander off. hawks dont mess with em cause they big now... yea they have that funny claw foot like koopah Bowser... Now those two turtle will probally outlive the master and the sons... prolly make it 125 years old.... Now the ones at my zoo in Philadelpia are huge! and boy does their poo stink! they must be 3 foot by 2 foot by 2 foot.... they gotta be up there in age... the older the animal the more odoriferous the stench... lol even if they just eat lettuce..

I hear and i dont think this is true. but the asians like to eat the small turtles which kinda makes sense like a bull before puberty the muscle is soft and not too hard and leathery... Only 8 percent of all the beef sold in usa is Angus certified grade A meat... So you see the turtle would not taste good if it hit puberty.. testosterone kinda ruins the meat... Not like I know turtle meat.. never had it and i dont look like a turtle... lol So in the end, you are what you eat~ As for me. Im a big onion! soft in the middle with lots of layers... So i will just eat the French Onion soup please!

#2012-12-01 20:03:43 by anonymous4868 @anonymous4868

to aussieghder, its name maybe qianshi (pin yin , 芡实)?

#2012-12-02 13:08:25 by aussieghump @aussieghump

I have eaten 'soft shell turtle' at a wedding ceremony - not sure of the exact varieties here in Suzhou. This one was big and hard-shelled.

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