Weekend Trip to Chengdu
by Michelle Clinton
- Mar 3, 2015
The last time I was in China I made a friend named Tammy. She took us to a break dancing competition that was a lot of fun to watch. She gave us a chance to see the break dancing culture in Beijing, so I thought she was pretty cool for doing that. Since she moved to Chengdu (成都) last summer I thought I could kill two birds with one stone by going to see Tammy and her boyfriend, Jam, and see what Chengdu was like.
The story starts out with me in Beijing not really preparing for heading to Chengdu. Last Wednesday I started thinking about heading to Chengdu, the only problem was that I didn’t have tickets and I was busy that day. The next day I really didn’t do anything to prepare either, so I left on Friday going to the well placed travel agency only a few doors down the street from my hotel. I ended up paying too much for my tickets and had to go to the ATM to get some more cash because I was a little short for my tickets. So on Friday afternoon I got my tickets to fly to Chengdu at 8:00 am on Saturday morning. Right, sounds like a good plan. I get to fly to Chengdu and I won’t miss much of Saturday because of flying. The downside was that I had to wake up at 5:00 am in the morning to get to airport …
Tammy and Jam were gracious enough hosts to let me stay in their nice apartment in downtown Chengdu, so we headed there to drop off my stuff and then went to have lunch. Chengdu and Sichuan, in general, are known for their spicy foods. The spice comes from a small pepper called Lajiao (辣椒). This gets added to most dishes and has a slightly different spicy taste than the spicy you get from Mexican food. I noticed that while I was eating the spicy kick came after I swallowed the food and not while it was in my mouth, so it crept up on me. Fortunately Tammy didn’t order the food with the spicy flavor she likes.
After a little bit of lunch we walked around to Chunxi Road (春熙路) in downtown Chengdu and visited some of the shops where fine products from Gucci, Rolex and other well known names can be found. I won’t mention anything about price, quality or how much they look like the originals.
In the evening we went to eat food even though we probably weren’t that hungry. This is just something we do while traveling. On the menu for dinner was hot pot, or huoguo (火锅, fire pot) as the locals call it. Just try to imagine Chinese fondu without the cheese, but spicy boiling water instead.
After chatting about everything from American movies to smurfs, it was time to see the nightlife of Chengdu. We went to a nice place called Muse Club. From the outside you might expect, or at least I did, that this was typical night club and I thought it would be like the one that Tammy took us too in Beijing to see the breakdancing competition. I was slightly wrong. Imagine, neon lights, a smoke machine, poles, sofas, cheap budweiser and a feeling of the 80’s. I knew it was going to be hilarious. When we got in there were some scantily clad woman dancing around on stage, supposedly in unison, but not so much. The girls figuring out what the next move was by looking the one next to her was priceless. Not only were there dancing girls, but there were singing guys and even comedy. The performances by the guys singing were great to watch because I was reminded of Britney Spears video for Toxic where she was being sexy, but this time it was an older looking Chinese dude.
Sunday was a little more relaxing. I woke up earlier than the rest, so I read more of Cryptonomicon and played some games on my cell phone. Jam’s younger brother was the next to wake up and, as expected, he started playing WoW. During parts of the weekend WoW was a big part of our conversations because I was able to ask about the Chinese gold farmers and I was able to talk about some of my brothers experiences with gaming. We did some laundry and then Tammy made some great noodles, you know, the kind from a plastic bag that has Korean writing on it. Mmmm, so tasty.
Because Jam and his brother had to go to work Tammy and I spent the afternoon together. Our first stop was a well preserved Bhuddist temple called Wenshu Temple (文殊院). We enjoyed the architecture, read some Bhuddist history and Tammy showed me how to pray to the large Bhuddist shrines. My favorite part was the small group of three Chinese kids who stopped at the corner of a building to watch Tammy and me. Each time I would look in their direction they would hide further behind the corner of the building and they went all the way around the corner when I waved and said hello.
After we visited the Bhuddist temple it was only fitting to visit Qingyang Gong (青羊宫), one the oldest and most well preserved Daoist temples in the area around Chengdu. Daoism was started by a man named Laozi (老子). If he existed, the story goes as this. At the location of Qingyang Gong, Laozi invited a friend to meet him there. When the friend arrived he only saw a young boy with two goats, so he concluded the young boy was in fact Laozi. On the grounds there are two statues of goats. If you rub the butt of one of the goats it will make all of your life’s troubles go away, so of course we rubbed it.
After the religious experiences it was time to eat the local snacks of Chengdu, so we went to Jinli (锦里). Jin means brocade, which refers to the large silk brocade industry that Chengdu had in the past. Jinli is a typically well preserved road, but of course with reconstructed elements. There are sections of the road that are enclosed on both side by wooden building two stories high with smalls shops on the ground floor. When night falls the lights are turned on and the area has a beautiful red glow to it. These places are great to walk around and relax. When we were walking around I forgot that I was in a city of millions.
The last stop of my trip was to eat some more local snacks. This snack place was not in the old part of the city, but rather a new part and was less of a tourist attraction and more a place that the locals will go to late in the evening to hang out with friends and drink beer and have snacks. When we were ordering food the choices were the usual choices you might see anywhere, potato, cucumber, chicken, pork, beef, onions and other such fresh ingredients. We picked what we wanted and they started to barbecue it on skewers. Then Tammy took me to another part of the shop where we could choose some food that was already cooked. Everything looked normal until I saw a small skull on a plate. We ordered two of them. The spicy one was for Tammy and the other was for me. I have never eaten rabbit meat before, but now I have eaten rabbit head. Apparently it is all the rage to cook and sell rabbit head now. I can’t imagine what it was like for the first snack shop to start selling rabbit head. Do you think it was hard? Or did people just start eating it without question? Personally, I would not be in the second category. All I could do was keep telling myself that it was fully cooked before digging in. The cheeks were tasty and it was just like some chicken, but unfortunately there was not much there, so it was time for me to break open the head and tear of the jaw, so I could get to the eyes and brain. Watching Tammy eat the brain didn’t give me any idea of the texture, so once I grabbed it in my fingers I became reluctant again. It was so soft, that I couldn’t imagine it would be good to eat. It tasted alright though. The eyes were bad either and Jam’s brother insisted they were the best. The jury is still out on this.
So, that was my weekend in Chengdu. By the time it was over any feelings I had that it would not be worth the price to stay for two days were gone. The way that Tammy and Jam treated me and the city of Chengdu really made it worth it. I am now envious that my friend Alissa got to live there for a year and I am a little regretful that I didn’t join the UW-Sichuan University engineering program when I had the chance. Chinese people say that Chengdu is a city that once you arrive it is a place that you will not want to leave. I am not sure whether it is a place I could stay forever, but it is a place I would like to visit again. Next time I would like to stay longer and see more beautiful places outside of Chengdu.