Last known location: London, England

Chilled out Chengdu

Arrived in Chengdu early on Sunday morning and got met by Lori of Lazy Bones hostel – our home for the next 2 nights.  She took us to the hostel on the brand new Chengdu metro.  It’s only been open for a month and was a quite pleasant experience; air con, no crowding and English signage!  Our hostel was only 3 stops from Chengdu North station and also centrally located for the Chengdu sites.  It was one of the nicest places we’ve stayed – big lounge/bar area with pool and ping pong table and a nice little outside courtyard.  Most importantly, it had a washing machine which meant we could finally wash some clothes.  There was even a roof terrace to dry them on so our bedroom didn’t turn into a makeshift laundry room!

After successfully getting ourselves and our clothes clean we walked down to Tianfu Square which marks the centre of Chengdu.  There’s a big white statue of Mao looking out onto the square and lots of very impressive fountain displays.  The square itself is enormous and looked particularly so because it had been cordoned off by the police for some reason and was completely empty.  We grabbed some lunch, our first at a Chinese fast food joint, and then headed over to Renmin Park, one of Chengdu’s bigger public parks.  There was a flower festival taking place in the park so we had to pay a minimal entrance fee.  Worth every penny, though, because there was lots going on.  We saw everything from Chinese opera and story of Communism dances to traditional music and some gorgeous flower displays.

We’d heard a lot about the teahouse culture in Chengdu so headed to one of several within the park to sit in the sunshine (first time since we’d left the UK that we were walking around in t-shirts!)  I went for a Chrysanthemum tea and Dan opted for jasmine.  Both really nice, chrysanthemum was surprisingly sweet!  We’d also heard about traditional ear cleaning which tends to take place in the teahouse and sure enough, after a couple of minutes, we were approached by a man who offered to clean our ears.  At first we weren’t sure what he was up to because he was holding several rather severe looking metal instruments and pinging them musically!  But we soon figured it out and he got to work on my ear.  It was a very strange feeling and I was slightly concerned he’d perforate my ear drum or something equally horrific, so didn’t particularly love it.  Dan, however, was a big fan and even got a hearty back massage from the ear cleaner.  He did have a lot more wax than me, so maybe that’s why the poking around didn’t affect him so much!  We bargained hard down from 100 yuan to 70 (about £6.00) for the service, which is still probably more than any Chinese person would pay but not too bad!

We walked back to the hostel, getting a bit lost in the Chengdu ghetto, and then headed out for the infamous Chengdu hotpot.  Our hostel recommended two places nearby to us, and the first one appeared to be in a department store so we thought we’d try the other.  It certainly seemed to be authentic; full of Chinese people all eating hotpot.  So we sat down and promptly had a sheet of paper plonked in front of us, which was in Chinese and, horror of horrors, had no pictures!  After struggling for a few minutes trying to translate from the guide book a waitress came over and started chatting away in Chinese.  We tried pointing to other people’s meals and words in the guidebook but didn’t get very far.  Thankfully a fellow diner who spoke a bit of English came to the rescue and tried to help.  By this time most of the restaurant was looking at us and we had a gaggle of waiters, waitresses and passers by in a circle round our table!

Slightly flustered we ordered what we could and within minutes had a big bowl of bubbling broth with various meats and vegetables to cook in it.  To be honest it wasn’t the best, all a bit plain which was probably down to bad ordering by us, and to top it off I burnt my arm on the hotpot bowl!  Cue mini (very quiet) tantrum and nearly tears before bedtime!  I eventually calmed down and we got through the rest of the meal.  We exited fairly sharply afterwards, and stopped off at a supermarket to buy a packet of Oreos on the way home.  They restored me back to good humour, fortunately.  Had a drink at the hostel bar, which was full of mostly Chinese people and a couple of westerners.  Most of the hostels we’ve stayed at have had mainly Westerners; not loads of Brits, mainly Europeans.

On Sunday we had a nice lie in and then headed to Wenshu Yuan, a Buddhist temple complex.  Lots of buddhas and temples; we even got to see some monks eating lunch.  Wandered around the surrounding area and decided to give the hotpot another go.  We ended up going to the department store that we’d dismissed the previous night.  It was a bit of a cop out – they had an English menu and we were treated like royalty by the staff there.  But itwas really delicious and a far nicer experience than the night before!  That evening we met up with Dan and Sarah, the couple we’d met on our train journeys.  Headed out for dinner at a nearby Sichuanese restaurant which had all the other local specialities like Boiled Beef (which blew our heads off!) and Mapo Doufu (also very spicy tofu). We compared China notes and discussed the finer art of how to use a squat toilet and the reason why Chinese babies have “trap-doors” cut into their clothes to reveal their bums!  (I’m sure you can imagine…!). We stayed up drinking with them, back at the hostel despite having to get up at 6am the next day to get to the Yangzi River where we were due to start a boat trip.  Lots of fun though!

All in all we really enjoyed Chengdu, in spite of the disastrous hotpot!  It seemed to be a lot calmer than most of the other Chinese cities we’ve visited.  Maybe it was because there wasn’t quite as much to see so we weren’t running around like headless chickens trying to do and see everything!  So we were sad to leave but looking forward to the boat trip and heading back east.  Only another week and a bit left in China now!

1 Comment:
  1. Rose 5 Nov, 2010

    Chengdu looks nice. Lovely fountains and flowers. Hostel sounds great. Will you be meeting up with Dan and Sarah again? Hope your arm isn’t too bad Gem and that you enjoy the boat trip and have some time to relax. One of my tennis friends is off to China with an organised tour next week for 3 weeks, but she’ll be flying between cities and staying in hotels!!

    Lots of love,

    Mum x x x

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