China 3: Chengdu

 

Despite the cramped space, waking up around 5 or 6 times and laying slightly awkwardly on my neck, I didn’t have the worst nights sleep on my first Chinese sleeper train (25 hours long!) A fellow traveller two bunks below me was sick throughout the night, which must have been horrendous, so I feel I can’t complain. Plus, I kept having those wonderful realisation moments of “I’m sleeping on a train that is making its way through China”; the kind that reminds you why you went travelling in the first place 🙂

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Upon arriving we took the metro to Wenshu Monestery and walked 5 minutes to our hostel, Mr Panda (Chengdu is home to the Panda Breeding Research Centre, so pandas are a bit of a theme here!) The hostel was great, actually – clean and cosy with more space than our hostel in Yangshuo, each room holding 4 people. After having some free time to sort ourselves out and have a shower we went to a nearby restaurant to try Sichuan’s most famous dish, Hot Pot; nothing like the British dish of the same name, this involves a massive pot in the middle of the table filled with a broth of spices and chillies, into which you then add various meats and vegetables for cooking. The group split into two tables and ours went for “little spicy”, which was actually quite hot for my standards, whereas the other table went for “medium spicy” and some struggled. We had pork meatballs, beef meatballs (amazing), beef, cow stomach, sausage, lotus flower, cauliflower, potato, seaweed, mushrooms, fungus and shrimp dumplings (also delicious), which we added to the pot in various stages for it to cook and then ate in our own bowls in which we could also add spring onion, garlic, coriander and oyster sauce, alongside bowls of egg fried rice. It was a fun experience but could also be frustrating waiting for things to cook and trying to fish the food out with your chopsticks. I enjoyed it but wouldn’t do it every day!

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An hour or so after eating, Ally and I went round the corner for a Blind Massage; the Chinese believe if you lose one send (e.g. sight) your other senses improve (such as touch), therefore many visually impaired people in China become masseurs. For 45 RMB (5 quid) we both had an hour Chinese Massage by blind masseurs, and with so many experiences I have thus far had in China it was crazy and wonderful at the same time. Firstly, the set-up is nothing like in the UK; there are 5 beds in one room (so Allie and I ended up laying next to each other), there is no music playing, the masseurs chat to each other during the massage, my masseur answered his phone (whilst using his remaining free hand to continue massaging me) and I could hear the woman on the other end of the phone (his wife, judging by the tone of her voice) and Allie’s masseur repeatedly yawned gloriously throughout, much to my amusement. Secondly, I have never experienced a massage quite like it; he managed to get out a stubborn knot in my neck after relentlessly working on it for 20 minutes (at one point I was convinced I would get friction burn), for the first time ever my ear lobes received a massage, and I discovered muscles in my buttocks I had never realised existed! It was the perfect remedy to a 25 hour train journey.

The next morning we took a bus to the Panda Breeding Research Centre – watching the baby pandas play flight with each other, climb up and fall off trees, as well as chase after one of the keepers, was wonderful. A really enjoyable experience that I would definitely recommend.

After a delicious lunch, 5 of us decided to head out to the shopping district for a few essentials, navigating the Metro without a guide for the first time and feeling smugly independent, and after a couple of hours we sat on the window ledge outside H&M in a line. Clearly not used to British tourists, we had approximately 100 Chinese people, during the space of half an hour, do a double take as they walked past, hover nearby us, take “sly” photos from a distance, or excitedly say hello to us. The highlight was when a woman came up to us with her buggy, took her one year old baby out and handed it directly to me. I took the baby, put it on my lap (a lovely, pudgy little thing) and she proceeded to take a photo of me with it. At this point, those whom had previously been hovering apprehensively nearby swarmed towards us and in no time at all we had about 10 people taking our photo a once; of a random British lady holding an equally random Chinese baby. Eventually the police came over to break it up and send them in their way. It was bizarre and hilarious, and I finally understood how Kate Middleton must feel.

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That evening our tour guide, Shau (please excuse my poor attempt at spelling our Chinese tour guide’s names – safe to just assume I have got them horrifically wrong!) provided us with our first Mandarin lesson before taking us on a night out in Chengdu – we hopped into taxis and went to a rooftop bar playing a mix of Electric and Drum n Bass, the made a 3am pit stop at Pizza Corner to refuel before heading to a club that played western commercial music. I haven’t danced until 5am in years and had one of the best nights out in a long time.

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Safe to say I was suffering the next day; we had to check out of our hostel so I couldn’t sleep in all day, and we went on a mini tour of the city on what was arguably our hottest day to date. We visited Wenshu Monstery and wandered round Jinli Street market, both of which were beautiful and interesting but unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked due to my dire hangover; a fine advert for not drinking. When we reached the market I went off in my own so I could take it easy and go at my own pace, stopping for shade when I needed to, and it was actually a welcome bit of down-time within a trip that is fast-paced with lots of people constantly around you.

We were told that, in China, 700 people per day die in road accidents; in Chengdu, I could understand why. Despite having a traffic light system, the pedestrian crossing was practically futile as cars and motorbikes would still continue over the crossing, at the same high speed, even when it was a green man. Therefore you would have to cautiously navigate across the road, often over 4 or 6 lanes of traffic, weaving in between vehicles and frequently coming to complete stop part-way across until there was another available gap. To survive crossing the road without a mark was achievement in itself.

That evening, still feeling fragile, we hopped on the metro to North Chengdu railway station for a 15 hour overnight train to Xi’an. I personally could have stayed longer in Chengdu; as a city with high-rise buildings it had so much life to it and immediately felt more like familiar surroundings for me. Plus, despite language barriers and the “paparazzi”, it is a place that felt liveable. Goodbye, Chengdu, it’s been swell.

 

LS.

[See next post: Xi’an]

[See previous post: Yangshou]

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