We took an overnight train from Lanzhou to Chengdu intent on chilling out once we reached our destination. Chengdu is China’s fifth most populous city, but it has a reputation for being a laid back, relaxed kind of place.
So far in China we’ve had difficulties finding places to just chill out and do not very much. We figured being in a city for a few days would at least mean we’d have easy access to food and Sichuan’s spicy food is famous so we’ve been looking forward to trying it out.
The food has been great, there are lots of restaurants about and like other places in China, people really seem to enjoy eating.
A highlight for me was a visit to the Wenshu temple, a Tang dynasty (618-907) Buddhist temple. We had a yummy lunch in their vegetarian restaurant and then wandered around the temple. Nearly every building had monks and nuns chanting. The smell of incense was a pleasant substitute for more common smells (petrol and drains) and it all made for a really peaceful afternoon.
Chengdu is also famous for its tea houses and the temple had two. We sat in one for an hour or so, watching people and sipping our tea. Some people were playing Chinese chess, some were reading the newspaper, some were having a massage (while sitting in their seats) and the weirdest of all, some people were having their ears waxed. These ear-waxing guys wander around banging tuning-fork-type-things together, to get your attention. Then once they’ve got it, they stick long pieces of wire with bits of fluff on the end, in your ear. Me and Pete were having none of it but we did drink quite a lot of tea.
On our way back from the temple we walked past a bright pink building with a Chinese flag in every window. It really stood out from the grey, flagless buildings surrounding it and it took us a while to work out what it was. After staring at it open-mouthed for a while we realised it was the ‘women’s hospital’ and we guessed that the flags were to encourage the women to do their patriotic duty and ensure they only had one child. We were at this busy intersection, taking photos of it, with lots of people passing by staring at us. We were curious about the building, but they seemed more curious about us.
I got a bit of a shock as we were walking out of the train station after just arriving in Chengdu. I saw a queue for taxis! I was just starting to wonder if somehow we’d managed to find ourselves in a different country when I spotted someone walk around the queue, carefully avoiding peoples’ gazes, and climb into a taxi three cars back. Phew… we’re in the right place at after all…
It still seems strange to me to be coming to a city to relax. Usually we’re trying to get away from the cities. Chengdu seems fairly laid back though and after having spent the last 10 days in small towns it’s been nice to have a bit more convenience.
The other day we were wandering around the park just near our hotel. It’s a bustling, noisy park – but very interesting for that. There was music screeching from speaker systems everywhere, people shouting, the odd horn blowing and always, no matter how loud everything else was, there was the background noise of crickets. We ended up heading for a comparatively tranquil tea house to do a spot of people watching and it was there that we met Mr Tray Lee.
It was refreshing to chat with Mr Lee over a glass of tea. We had a fairly open discussion about China. This was the first time I’ve had a chat here with someone from China that didn’t start and pretty much finish with “China is so great isn’t it”. Mr Lee had some interesting ideas and it was interesting to hear them. Not only that but he offered to arrange a cooking course for us.
I’ve been wanting to learn a little about Chinese cooking ever since we got here – certainly since I ate my first eggplant dish – so we decided to go for it. The next day Mr Lee met up with us and took us to a restaurant kitchen and we each had a go at making some dishes. We made qiezi (spicy eggplant), gong bao ji ding (chicken with chilli and peanuts) and ma po dou fu (spicy tofu). I was amazed at how quickly the dishes are made. Unfortunately it requires the use of a really high powered jet flame to get the wok really hot really quickly but hopefully we’ll be able to approximate the dishes once we get home. In any case it made for a fun afternoon.