After Xi’an, Lynn and I took a night train to Chengdu. Unfortunately, there were no sleepers available, so we took normal seats. And, unlike the trains in Vietnam, where one can usually get a bench to oneself, in China this train was fully booked. That means three girls on a seat. We slept with our heads resting on the mini table between the benches.
Arriving in Chengdu about 8 in the morning, we had both decided to suck it up and enjoy our day, sleep or no, as I only had about 2 days before I had to run for Laos. Thank God for instant coffee. Neither of us had done much research about what to do in Chengdu, I wanted to try hot pot, see a Chinese opera, and go dancing, but with no specific places in mind. We’d elected to homestay with a young interior designer and his friends, but we couldn’t head there until after he was off work, and it was way out in the boonies, so I checked my baggage for the day and we left.
Hilariously, checked baggage is translated into English as “left baggage”, so if you want to leave something, make for that sign. It’s not the lost and found. And it’s about $1 to leave your stuff all day, so I’d recommend making use of it.
Then we boarded a bus trying to head to Jinli Street, which I’d read was supposed to be like the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an. Lynn did all the talking, and we were soon aboard a bus. However, when we arrived, we were at a different street. Lynn called it “Big/Little Street” or “Wide/Narrow Alley”, I’m not sure if that was the real name, but it was full of little boutiques of Far East paraphernalia and even had a Starbucks (I used the bathroom).
Lynn even found a place for us to see a Chinese opera. We paid 65RMB for unlimited tea and show. It was a welcome afternoon rest. First a woman performed on the shamisen, then a man on the kyoto, then a man sat and told “comic stories” for about half an hour, which I really feel I missed out on. There was a Punch and Judy-esque burlesque after that, in which a wife forced her husband to perform tricks with a flaming bowl atop his bald pate. Then a selection of dancers–a woman alone, a man alone, 3 men; and then some singing and dancing.
Then a quick-changing mask-wearer. This is a staple of Chinese drama–a person who quickly changes from one mask to another. The man asked me to touch his face, while, quick-as-a-flash he swapped his mask. I think he had an apparatus like a set of blinds inside his hat, quickly swiping down or up.
A man did long-stem tea pouring and teapot twirling, and then there was a contortionist, which was Painfully Ordinary.
After a few hours, we set out again, looking for the true Jinli street. On the way we passed a market and had a look inside–I bought the most Barely Noticeable sticky-rice filled dumpling and Lynn got a sort of burnt-sugar steamed cake. We did finally come to Jinli, but it was a little less exciting that we’d hoped for, plenty of little shops and lamps and bars though. I had read that food here was cheap and in the local style; it was spicy, but was not cheap. All kinds of spicy skewers and cold noodles, as well as some classic desserts, were served all along with little street, but the prices were much higher than true street food.
After Jinli we went to the People’s Park nearby. The park was beautiful, and just crammed with people. There were three different outdoor karaoke stations in one small clearing, and people were dancing, singing, Tai Chi-ing, everywhere. The park also contained a small amusement park, with rollercoasters, swings, merry-go-rounds, shooting games–everything you would see at a county fair.
There was also a Koi Pond, an Orchid Garden, and two separate tea houses, which, unfortunately, were closed when we arrived. We perambulated the garden and then decided it was time to head for our homestay.
We took had to head back to the train station to grab my stuff, then took the metro almost to the end of the line. By that point, we had missed the right bus, and had to wait for another one to hopefully come. We were so happy to stumble off the bus and find our host waiting for us.
Andy is an interior designer and art teacher, and he and his four? five? six? other interior design roommates shared a small apartment on the outskirts of Chengdu. Seventh floor, no elevator. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and Lynn was ecstatic to have a chance to discuss Chinese interior design. We crashed in the living room on their glassed-in balcony.
The next day, we decided to go to the nearby “snack street” and look for food. We ended up having hot pot and got half-spicy, half-plain. In Sichuan, all spicy foods contain a special type of peppercorn that numbs your mouth. My spicy-side hot pot had a real afterburn, and I had to eat my hotpotted foods so slowly I was full before we had even made a dent in the plates.
Then we set of to find the Tibet Quarter. That took a bit of wandering around. We spent quite awhile in a next-door park to Jinli Street, which had a small forest and several large pools, as well as some special monument-type areas. We asked and asked and asked and finally found that the Tibet Quarter was just one street over. I’d been having bathroom issues since hot-pot and right after we found it I had to run around looking for a toilet, which I found in a disgusting hotel around the corner.
Returning to the Tibet Quarter, we wandered up and down, and I could almost imagine I had gone to Tibet. The shops sold prayer flags, incense, bells, material, etc. and men in long maroon skirts and t-shirts were wandering up and down the street. We pulled into a little cafe and ordered some yak butter tea. It came up in a large pitcher, tasting like weak mac’n’cheese sauce. I was digging it. Then I ordered some butter dumplings, which the waitress explained to Lynn were the size of a hand. Lynn got yak and noodle soup. Everything was good, but so rich! It makes sense in the Himalayas, but I felt weighted down on the way out.
We went home early that day, as we were planning to go out dancing later. Andy had invited us to a variety of things, but timing didn’t match up. We waited around at the apartment until he came home, and coerced him into going out with us, even though he had a work meeting at 9AM the next day. Oh well!
We took a taxi to a bar district near the river, it cost 30RMB and it was too late for the trains and buses anyway. There were a ton of little pub-like bars and then we came upon some clubs pumping jams with lots of mirrors and lights. The music wasn’t too bad, and lots of people were having a good time. Some of the guys got a little excited when we showed up, but we gave them a strong cold shoulder–just like the US.
We walked all along the river, then crossed it to Lan Kwai Fong–a club centre. It was completely deserted, but once you got inside it was wall-to-wall youth. The Most Unexceptional one featured a female DJ spinning heavy house beats and a lot of drunk dudes crammed, dancing, onto a little plinth.
We left around 3AM and walked about looking for a good BBQ. We had some delicious skewers–tofu, fatty pork, veggies–then took another cab home. The next day my train was at 1PM sharp, and Andy recommended I leave about 2 hours early.
I set out, after Lynn had given me explicit directions she’d mapped for how to get to the train station. However, whilst I was on the bus, a girl waylaid me and asked where I was going. I told her I was going to the North Train Station. She said, “Oh, it will be much quicker to take the subway” and told me to follow her.
We trudged about 20 minutes through the streets, after she, looking at my ticket, which was printed at the East Railway Station, told me the ticket said I must go there. We arrived at the station, and I asked if she could check with someone to make sure I was at the right spot. “Oh, it’s fine, just go get in line,” she said. Well, as you probably all assumed, it was not the right train station. I tried to ask several workers how to get to the right train station, and felt like crying/just taking a taxi when people just stared blankly at my ticket, when a girl came over and translated for me, then told me how to take the subway to the proper station.
And what a relief to find it was only 12! In my extremity, I was sure the time was flying by, leaving me without a train to catch. Happily, I arrived just in time. But a word about trains. No one cares about you. At all. You could be carrying a goat on your back and another in your arms and no one would give you a s(h)eat. They’d steal your seat, pull out their phones and smugly play Fruit Ninja all the way to their stop. I wrote a song about it. It’s vulgar. I apologize in advance, but I’d had a very stressful time.
Chorus: If I had a free hand
I would punch your fucking face in
How much does your briefcase weigh, sir,
How about that cellphone ma’am?
We both know you know it’s wrong
Your long looks under eyelids and your happy self-assuredness
Really fucking makes me pissed off.
Wang and Wong and Fong and Chang
If you take that fucking seat
And leave me standing, bag upon my back
And sack between my feet
Don’t look at me askance
And dart a glance of misery about you
When I squeeze my ass beside you
If one can fit, two must fit, too
Now you won’t meet my gaze
A happy accident, if accident it be
My eyes must be blazing with naught-concealed fury
At your prim righteous posturing
Atop your perch
You phlegmatically peruse the news
Upon your tablet, phone, or view screen
“No regrets” your visage seems to say
You stand and barricade my way
I’m having trouble keeping in check ‘cuz
I want to wring your fucking neck
Irresolute you wander to the door–
What are you waiting for?
It appears this isn’t quite the stop you thought
But you don’t care to move
With leisure block
My exit ’til the train
Begins to pull away
You’ve fucked me for the last time, friend
Let me off, this fucking game must end.