The one thing you notice when you visit Juhua Island 菊花岛, 9 kilometers off the Liaoning Coast near the walled town of Xingcheng 兴城, are the fishing nets.
They are everywhere; and it seems that the entire population of Juhua Dao 菊花岛 dediate their time to fixing them.
Walking around the island You’ll find yourself tripping over the nets and any photo you take, the nets will find a way of appearing in your photo. Here are just a few of the ones we took.
In the coming weeks we’ll be adding some more photos of the island’s other attraction. The political slogans painted on the walls of the fishermen’s houses like the ones you see at the back of the photo above.
Photo of the week presents the Great Wall at Jiumenkou 九门口长城 in Liaoning Province. One of the only parts of the Great Wall to be have been built over a river.
The Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城 is a majestic sight, one of only a few parts of the Great Wall 长城to have been built across a river. It stands on the isolated border between the northern provinces of Liaoning辽宁省 and Hebei 河北省 and close to the ancient garrison town of Shanhaiguan 山海关.
For history buffsJiumenkou Great Wall is a must. Don’t be put off by the tourist facilities that have been set up to accommodate Chinese tour groups. Hang around a while and any crowds will disappear. We recommend going for a walk up either side of the valley to explore some fascinating unrestored remnants of the wall and wait for the groups to go; you’ll soon have the place to yourself.
Here is the account of our visit taken from the dairy Margie Keeps:
On our previous day at Shanhaiguan we agreed with a lady taxi driver on 150 yuan for the two sites; the Great Wall at Jiumenkou, and the Great Wall at the edge of the sea.
Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城
Though supposedly only 15 kilometers from Shanhaiguan, it takes us almost 45 minutes to reach the site, along a narrow, winding and climbing road. Above us are the remote and abandoned watchtowers perched dramatically on the jagged mountains.
These lonely towers were once the most important defense positions of the Chinese empire. It was in this area where the marauding northern tribes would try to break through and enter the Middle Kingdom. And it is where the Manchus pored over the wall and into China to overthrow the Ming Dynasty and start the Qing Dynasty.
Now, the watchtowers stand abandoned, their purpose for existing rendered obsolete. However, for the visitor, they are a majestic sight.
When we get to Jiumenkou, we find a parking lot, visitors’ reception area and other bits and bobs. Of course, visiting a ‘bridge’ is never just that in China, of course they have developed the site.
Well, this time I can only say that they have done a great job! The restored bridge section near the river is stunning and beautifully reflected in the clear water of the river.
To the left, there is quite a long stretch of restored wall, winding its way up the forested hillside, up to two or three watchtowers, while on the right we can see a glorious unrestored section; its crumbling walls and fading watchtowers stretching as far as the eye can see.
It`s really interesting to be able to see both versions, restored and un restored, at the same time.
We get our tickets and climb on to the bridge first and walk across it: it’s a curious, angular or pointy structure, with interior courtyards and tunnels as well.
Looking down from the wall, you can see straight into a small farmers’ village, dedicated almost exclusively to apple orchards all around the wall, with many of the apples individually wrapped in brown paper bags. Can you imagine how time consuming that must be?
There are ladies with baskets, hawking apples all over the place. The village of one story white-tile houses looks messy – as they all do- but not poor. The apples must sell well. And what a glorious location: imagine having the Great Wall running past your back garden …..
On the right at the far end the wall is blocked, so you can’t clamber up the unrestored bit. We therefore turn left and start climbing: it’s very steep at times, but the wall is broad And well maintained; unscary.
With each turn, or ascent of a watchtower, the views change and we can make out yet another watchtower, or stretch of wall in the distance! It really is a magnificent sight and we have gorgeous blue skies to go with it as well.
Halfway-up, a peasant lady has actually set up an apple and refreshments stall in her orchard, right by the wall and she is doing a brisk trade, flogging apples and bottles of water over the wall.
Closer to the top I notice a young couple stuffing pieces of handkerchief down the back of their little daughter’s shoes.
The poor thing obviously has blisters, so I offer them some plasters. They then take pictures with me. It’s all quite companionable.
watchtower 3 the restored wall becomes less and less restored and eventually
peters out. A sign tells people to stop, though a couple of Chinese men have
ignored this and climbed up the mountain to very end of the wall anyway; leaving
their rather annoyed companions to wait for them.
We head back and obtain a couple of beers from a little stand down below, which we drink on a shady bench, looking over the bridge and the crumbling wall.
It would be total bliss if it were not for the blaring music and tourists dressing up in emperor and empress costumes and/ or taking selfies. However, the setting is beautiful and nothing can spoil that!
As our driver had predicted we have spent over two hours here, having a very good look around, and are now ready to move on.
There are other things here, such as an aviary with ‘rare foul’, but we don’t want to waste time trying to find it. It time for our next destination: Old Dragon Head, this is where the Great Wall once met the sea.
From Our Diary presents Bullfighting in the Gejia 革家 village of Matang: Guizhou Province
The day we visited Matang was a big day for the village. It was the culmination of the five-day annual bullfighting festival, an event held to commemorate the day that rebel leader Zhang Xiumei met his end at the hands of the Imperial troops in August 1873.
Luckily, bullfighting in China isn’t as bloody as in Spain: basically, two buffalo are incited to fight each other by crashing their heads together, until one decides he has had enough and runs away. However, the bulls do get injured and sometimes fatally and that is why we decided to make our exit before that actual fighting got underway.
The Matang festival is a pretty big event and loads of buses from Kaili and all the nearby towns and villages had already begun arriving when we got to the arena, a huge sand- pit about 2 kilometres from the village.
People were getting there early to obtain a good place and with 2 hours to go before the first fight, space was already at a premium. Whole clans of Miao and Gejia sat precariously on the high slopes, overlooking the bullfighting arena.
Meanwhile, the owners of the star buffalos were proudly displaying their huge, well-groomed, shiny beasts to impress the onlookers.
I’ve always looked upon water buffalo as quite docile creatures, but having seen some of these monsters and their aggressive manners, I have come to change my mind.
Heavy drinking and gambling is part and parcel of any local minority event and this was no exception: shady- looking types with Al Capone hats and cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouths stood near the buffalo, waving big wads of hundred Yuan notes.
Many of the punters had that glazed look of one glass (or bottle) of Baijiu (Rice wine) too many. Thieves and pickpockets were also out for a day of rich pickings. However, one unfortunate thief was discovered and pursued by an angry mob who cornered him and gave him a pretty heavy thrashing.
He was spared any further damage by the timely intervention of the truncheon- wielding Military Police, who appeared from nowhere to separate the culprit from his assailants; their truncheons indiscriminately whacking anything in the way.
Though the fighting buffalo were well looked-after and pampered, the Gejia don’t seem to hold their dogs in equally high esteem. When it came to food, it was dog, dog and more dog.
Fried, grilled and most popular in a hot pot, dog meat was everywhere. Live animals, waiting to have their throats slit, huddled pathetically together near the pools of blood from their departed brothers and sisters, aware of the fate that was about to befall them.
Dead dogs lined the road side, under the blaze of blow torches blasting their skin off, and cauldrons full of dog parts bubbled away with the smell of chillies and Sichuan pepper.
Hoards of people gathered around the improvised hot pots, gnawing away contentedly on bits of canine flesh. Not really a place for a dog-loving vegetarian like myself.
Coming and Going
Matang is about an hour from Kaili’s local bus station (not the main bus station). Buses don’t go directly to the village, but drop you at a turn- off from where it is a two- kilometre walk. Any of the regular buses going to Chong’an or Huangping will drop you there. When returning, just get back to the main road and flag down any passing bus.
putting the final touches to a wooden guesthouse near the entrance. Some fancy
toilet buildings were already standing.
Anshun 安顺 is a medium sized city in the western part of the Chinese province of Guizhou.
China has changed so much and so rapidly over the last twenty years that trying to make sense of what has been happening can be almost impossible. In such a short space of time China has been catapulted from a largely agrarian society into a modern industrial and high tech country. While pockets of old China remain, evidence of modernization reaches even the most remote corner.
The Chinese have a saying: If the old doesn’t go, the new won’t come ( 旧的不去，新的不来， jiù de bù qù , xīn de bù lái ). Nowhere is this saying more appropriate than when used to describe the virtual disappearance of the Sunday Farmers Market in Anshun; a quirky barometer to show just how far and fast China has changed.
just over a decade ago hordes of peasants, farmers and merchants, who made make up a vast array of a jack of all trades, would descend upon the Sunday market in Anshun in their thousands to sell their wares and ply their goods:
Some would produce their wares on the spot; basket makers, tobacco pipe craftsmen, chili sauce grinders all jostled for space with sellers of human hair, street dentists and Taoist soothsayers.
Professional pickpockets took advantage of non-too street wise peasants from the countryside to relieve them of their hard earned profits.
It was organized bedlam that now, due to modernization, has been reduced to a few dilapidated streets and left waiting for the final death knell.
Below is our account from our diary of the first of our three visits to Anshun’s Sunday Market 安顺星期七农民市场. Some of the photos are from our later visits in 2005 and 2007.
Anshun 2003 安顺星期七农民市场
The receptionist looked at us with a puzzled expression and asked: “What market?”.
“The Sunday market”, I replied, almost in despair, in my faltering Chinese. My spoken Chinese tends to lose a lot of its coherence when the reply to a question is not at all what I’m expecting.
“There are some good shops
near the bus station, all the tourists go there”, she insisted.
“No not those; we have already seen those”, I responded.
“Oh I don’t know. There is a local market where all the villagers come to buy and sell their products, but you wouldn’t be interested in that one; there are no souvenirs, or anything else for foreigners to buy”.
“Yes, that’s the one!”. I
could have given her a hug. “How do we get there?”
The city of Anshun, a mere two-hour bus ride away from Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, is a pretty ordinary modern town.
Nowadays, its new concrete buildings are encroaching relentlessly upon the few remaining pockets of old wooden architecture.
However, we had been told that Anshun’s Sunday market was well worth seeing and, as it turned out, we were not disappointed.
Compressed into the north-western part of town, the market mostly follows one long street, spilling over into side streets and small squares.
All goods are rigorously divided into sections: there is a square for vegetables and chillies, an alley dedicated to tobacco and pipes, a hairdressers’ and dentists’ corner, streets full of artisans, another square where carpenters work on wooden and wicker furniture, etc. etc.
Watching the artisans at work is fascinating, especially now that so many of the old trades have become redundant and have almost disappeared from the modern cities.
Here, you can still observe street dentists extracting a tooth, see people having their bodies cupped, or watch a bearded sage selling ancient Taoist tracts.
You can try and guess which of the five bamboo poles that the farmer is carefully inspecting and testing, he will eventually buy. Marvel at how quickly the wicker workers can put together a chair or a basket.
Encourage groups of young men pounding mounds of chillies into a pulp. Work out how much that mass of human hair, lying on a set of portable scales, might be worth.
Finally, you might also catch a professional pickpocket at work, using a giant pair of tongs to extract a purse or wallet from his unsuspecting victims.
A sea of blue.
However fascinating the artisans are, the real highlight of this market are the people. Anshun is the heartland of the Bouyi ethnic group, whose origins are Thai, and who are related to Guangxi’s Zhuang nationality.
Many of the Bouyi, as well as a few Miao, come to the market, dressed in their Sunday finest, for a few hours of hectic buying and selling.
Most of the women wear indigo blue tunics over baggy black trousers and aprons. On their heads they wear black or white headscarves, folded into small turbans.
A few of the younger Bouyi girls wear brighter colours, such as turquoise or light-green, and combine their traditional clothes with high-heeled shoes, creating quite a stylish and fashionable look.
The older men tend to dress in blue Mao jackets and cloth caps. Many of them have distinguished long grey wispy beards and smoke elongated and extravagantly carved pipes.
Try and find a quiet spot from which to observe this blue-grey sea of shoppers and traders, pushing and shoving their way through the jam-packed, narrow streets.
Most of the time you will pass unnoticed, as the people are so engrossed in their shopping; other times you might become the actual focus of attention, as many of the Bouyi from further afield have rarely seen foreigners.
What to eat
Food at the Sunday market is not that appetising: fiery dog- meat hot pots and other such local specialities very much dominate the menu. It might be worth waiting for the excellent daily night market to set up its stalls to enjoy a decent meal.
What to buy
Finally, as far as shopping is concerned, our receptionist was right: apart from the delicately carved tobacco pipes and rustic wicker products the market hasn’t got much to tempt travellers with.
If you really want to buy something in Anshun, you are better off going to the shops on Nanhua Lu, next to the bus station.
Here you can find a good selection of Batiks, a Bouyi and Miao speciality, such as wall hangings, table cloths, ethnic jackets and bags at a fraction of the price you will be charged in touristy places such as Kunming or Dali, or around Beijing’s Houhai lake.
Moreover, some 64 kilometres from Anshun is Guizhou’s number one tourist site and China’s most famous waterfall, Huangguoshu. In full flood the waterfall is a spectacular sight, while the surrounding area, with other, smaller falls and little villages, offers wonderful opportunities for walking and exploring.
Update; Anshun is now connect by high-speed trains to various parts of China.
Places to stay:
In recent years, Anshun has been put firmly on the Chinese tourist trail, not for the market but because of the waterfalls, and hotel prices have risen accordingly.
Bear in mind that at weekends and especially during the summer months the city can get quite full and finding a reasonably priced room may take a while. Most of the hotels that feature in the popular guidebooks seem to be eternally full.
We stayed at the clean, bright and friendly Huayou Binguann Tashan Xilu (tel. 322 6020) , excellent value for 150 Yuan. The hotel is in the centre of town, to the left of the roundabout on Tashan Donglu. Unfortunately, it was completely full on our last visit.
In 2007 we really had a hard time finding a room. Eventually we were pointed to the huge Fu Yun Hotel, right next to the bus station on Guihuang Gonglu lu. Light, airy rooms, arranged around an atrium, were 210 Yuan, a modest breakfast included. Staff were extremely friendly.
Other cheap options that may have vacancies are the Ruo Fei Binguan on Nanhua Lu, and the Anju Binguan next to the train station.
There are restaurants all over town, but nothing beats the night market. Try one of the many tents, where you can roll your own pancakes with an incredible selection of cold vegetables, pickles and noodles. The hot pots are good too, though they are not for those with a weak stomach. The food is spicy enough in Guizhou to rival any of its neighbouring provinces, such as Sichuan or Hunan.
For vegetarians there is a real treat, something that seems unique to Anshun: at the top end of Gufu Jie there are two tents that specialise in vegetable pancakes. For 4 Yuan you get ten small pancakes that you can stuff with any of the vegetable fillings, meticulously prepared and attractively laid out on plates. Sauces and chilli are provided for dipping.
Not so long ago Anshun’s Sunday Market was one of the biggest, most vibrant and exotic in China. Kilometers of streets filled with farmers, traders, ethnic minorities, craftsmen and a gaggle of pockpockets. These days the market is a mere shadow of its former self and is restricted to a few delapidated streets.
These photos were taken in 2003 and show the hair seller at the market.
His bags are full of human hair that are sold in small bundles mostly to women who attach it to their own hair, either to cover thinning or to make it look longer. The bundles are sold by weight.
This an updated version of the article and photos of Shalu Monastery that we published on the old holachina.com web-site. Since 2009 Shalu Monastery has undergone massive restoration so it may be quite different from when we were there.
Shalu Monastery: August 2007
We visited the monastery of Shalu夏鲁寺 on the second day of our excursion, as a side trip on the way from Gyantse to Shigatse. Shalu was actually off limits to foreigners and we didn’t have it listed on our permit. Our excursion was a spur of the moment decision.
However, our Tibetan driver nonchantly said there would be no problem. And hey this was 2007! Travelling in Tibet hadn’t been so relaxed and open for decades.
The talk among travellers in China in 2007 was that very soon foreigners wouldn’t need permits to travel around Tibet anymore; such was the optimism due to the up and coming Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Little did people know that within a few months, all the good intentions the Chinese authorities had about opening up Tibet would be shattered by the riots in Lhasa and Tibet would be closed to foreigners for quite a while. Even now (2019), Tibet is still nowhere near as open as it was back then in 2007.
Getting to Shalu Monastery
About 20 kilometres before Shigatse, our van turned left off the main road and went onto a bumpy track full of potholes and puddles.
We passed sturdy farmhouses, some of them still under construction, and large fields full of grazing yaks. Wheat was being grown everywhere and the whole area looked quite prosperous.
The original Shalu Monastery was destroyed by an earthquake in 1329, but it was rebuilt by Buton in 1333 under the patronage of the Chinese Mongolian emperor of the Yuan dynasty.
Many Han Chinese artisans and Newari artists from Nepal participated in its reconstruction, giving it its distinctive architectural style, exemplified by the green-tiled arched roof and steep eaves of the central hall, the Shalu Lakhang.
Apart from the architecture and the many large statues of important religious figures, what mostly grabbed our attention were the incredible murals.
Like in Samye, the tall walls that go behind the main altar are covered from top to bottom by amazing paintings, dimly lit by an occasional light bulb.
Apart from the usual, slightly repetitive, Buddha figures, there are many exquisite and exotic scenes of a non-spiritual nature, such as caravans of distinctly Arabic-looking merchants leading camels, slim Indian-looking courtiers at play, or beautiful young ladies.
The murals in the side chapels, attributed to Nepali painters, mostly depict large elegant Buddhas in lotus position, demons and many-armed gods, surrounded by floral motifs. Given their shining state, they must have been retouched recently.
Not all the murals were so beneign. Gruesome scenes of animals and humans being flayed or disembowled also lined the walls.
During our exploration, friendly monks unlocked most of the smaller, side and upper storey chapels for us, allowing us to appreciate the treasures inside, such as ancient statues and thankas.
The sight of all these precious objects and paintings, clearly venerated by the monks, gave us a real sense of ancient history and tradition.
The monks lead us into the library which is normally kept firmly under lock and key. The collection of manuscripts and scrolls at Shalu is huge and very important for Tibetan Buddhism. Then, as we came out of the library we bumped into a young German who was staying at the monastery studying Buddhism and learning Tibetan. How on earth did he manage to get a permit to do that in Shalu?
Shalu village is completely traditional as well, it’s a warren of towering white-washed houses, protected by walls and intersected by narrow muddy lanes.
Interestingly, while we were exploring, the Shigatse – Shalu bus, an old battered vehicle, turned up, showing us that this is another excursion you could easily do on your own.
Getting there and Away
We had hired a Car and driver in Lhasa to go to Gyanste and Shigatse. Shalu Village lies somewhere between the two towns. As mentioned above, we saw local buses from Shigastse arrivng in Shalu. The only problem will be permits, and whether under stricter control the authorites will turn a blind eye to foreigners visiting Shalu.
The monks in Shalu told us that they had some guest rooms. However, we just visited on a day trip and stayed in Gyantse and Shigatse.
In Gyantse we stayed at the Jianzang hotel which lies on the main street of the modern part of town (Yingxiong Nanlu) and is certainly one of the nicest places we stayed at in the whole of Tibet, or even China. The hotel is embellished with bright, colourful murals and lovely potted plants and flowers, while rooms are large, clean and comfy. We paid 180 Yuan for a double with bathroom, though there were cheaper rooms and dorms as well. The hotel also has its own rooftop restaurant and staff are very friendly.
You will have no trouble finding several places to eat along the same main street. The Yak bar and restaurant, for which you have to go upstairs, is a pleasant, laid-back place with Tibetan sofas and low tables, specialising in western-style food such as chips, pizzas and burgers. We decided to give the guidebook-recommended Zhuang Yuan a miss after one look at their menu, outraged at the idea of paying nearly 30 Yuan for a portion of chips.
Instead, we walked into a large Chinese restaurant, a few doors away and identified by a green sign, where we had an excellent meal.
We stayed at the Shigatse Post Hotel, a new-ish place (2007) right opposite the posh Shigatse Hotel, down Shanghai Lu. Our double room was painted and furnished in Tibetan style, complete with thankas and white ceremonial scarves, all very bright and clean; good value for 180 Yuan.
Going down Shanghai Lu towards the centre we found plenty of food, though restaurants were mostly of the simple, snack food variety. A ten-minute walk from the hotel will take you to the night market.
One of the most popular restaurants in Madrid’s Chinatown in the neighbourhood of Usera, Lao Tou, is an homage to the cuisine of Zhejiang 浙菜, known as Zhècài. Zhejiang is the birth place of the majority of the Chinese community living in Madrid (and Spain).
Not only is Lao Tou popular with the Chinese residents in Madrid, it is also increasingly frequented by curious Madrileños and Chinese tourists visiting the capital.
What makes the restaurant special?
Firstly, the ambience: Lao Tou is boisterous, noisy and chaotic. The combination of Chinese and Spanish having a good time means that noise decibels go through the roof. Added to the animated conversations of the clientele is the clanging and banging made by the to-ing and fro-ing of the waiters as they bring a constant stream of dishes and drinks from the kitchen and bar. And to cap it all, there is the hiss of the wok and the sound of metal hitting metal as the chefs stir the food in the woks with their spatulas.
Then there is the food. Anyone following our blog will know that we love spicy food and our favourite Chinese cuisine comes from Sichuan and Hunan, called Chuāncài 川菜 and Xiāngcài 湘菜 respectively. Zhejiang Cuisine is very different. Rather than using a lot of spice, the aim of Zhejiang cooking is to concentrate on the natural flavours of the ingredients, using only a few spices to enhance the taste. Not much oil is used and the flavours are fresh.
Most of the Chinese community in Madrid come from Qingtian, a town close to the huge, commercial city of Wenzhou in the south of Zhejiang Province. As this area is near the border with Fujian Province, there is a lot of influence from Fujian Cuisine 闽菜, known as Mǐncài. 闽菜. Mǐncài uses a lot of seafood and fish and that is what makes Lao Tou such a great restaurant.
Fresh Spanish seafood, cooked in 浙菜; Zhècài /闽菜; Mǐncài style makes for a real treat. Great fish: seabass and turbot. Wonderful shellfish: clams, razor fish and cockles, to name just a few. For carnivores there is also a huge selection of offal, cold and hot, as well as chicken, duck and pork specialities.
some of the cold dishes we started with.
Wa wa cai 娃娃菜 (Verdura adobada, Spanish translation): a cold dish of pickled cabbage hearts, slightly salty with a tinge of sweetness and a crunchy texture. I’d never had it before and neither had I heard of it, but it’s delicious!
As it’s not on the menu, you have to point to it in the glass cabinet between the bar and the kitchen.
Cold Fish Cake 鱼饼 in slices (Pastel de Pescado): tasty slices of cold fish with garlic and ginger, accompanied by a light soy sauce. It has a great texture too!
Cold dried and roasted fish 黄鱼 (secado de pescado): a really tasty fish that comes off the bone easily.
Pickled Turnip 萝卜条 (nabo encurtido) : similar to the pickled cabbage hearts; crunchy and delicious.
Jellyfish salad 海蛰头 (ensalada de medusa): a generous portion and excellent taste . However, the jellyfish could have been more tender and less chewy. This is usually one of our favourite Chinese cold starters, but this one was a little disappointing.
The other classic cold dishes on the menu include cucumber salad, tofu with black eggs (one hundred, or one thousand year old eggs) and fried shrimps with fresh coriander, among others. For adventurous meat eaters there are duck’s feet 鸭爪, tongues 鸭舌 or a whole head 鸭头 and veal tripe 牛百叶.
The star dish ofLao Tou seems to be steamed fish head (I think it is hake). We haven’t tried it yet. Nearly everybody else in the restaurant was ordering it, but Margie isn’t so keen on fish head, so we went for other options.
The razor fish 蛏子 (navajas) and clams 蛤蜊 (almejas) were fresh and tender and delicately cooked in soy sauce with spring onions and ginger. Most importantly, there was no sand in the razor fish.
However, the cockles 蚶 (berberechos) cooked in Shaoxing wine (Huangjiu 黄酒) were the icing on the cake: fresh, succulent and imbibed with the flavor of the wine.
We also had a huge, mildly spicy pot of fresh seabass鲈鱼 (lubina), which was beautifully presented. The slices of fish were very tender and almost boneless; it could have been a bit spicier for our liking, but – as I said – that’s not really what Zhejiang style’s about. The restaurant does a similar dish with congealed blood.
Don’t miss out on the salt and pepper deep fried prawns 椒盐虾: great texture and great taste!
Finally, there is a good selection of vegetables as well. I’d recommend the sautéed Mange Tout 荷兰豆 and if you are feeling adventurous, give the Chinese Yucca 山药 a chance, or the Jiao Bai (Sun) 茭白(笋), a type of crispy water bamboo.
They also do Okra Qiū kuí 秋葵 Chinese style, in a thick, sticky sauce。
All in all, Lao Tou comes highly recommended. At the weekend you may well have to wait at the bar before you get one of the coveted tables.