Spicy, Spicy, Spicy!

Ahh Chengdu. Once known as the Riverlands during the Three Kingdoms Period (200-280 C.E.). Ruled by the Emperor of Shu, Liu Bei, protected by the Five Tiger Generals, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Zilong, Ma Chao, and Huang Zhong, and administered by the genius Taoist inventor and military strategist, Zhuge Liang. It is said that Chengdu is a hot place; it’s got hot weather, hot food, and hot women. I agree.

The famous Lord Guan Yu of the Three Kingdoms Period. Today, people in China revere him as a god.

I embarked on a quick ride from Chongqing to Chengdu on a brand new train. It was fast, clean, comfortable, and quiet. Gazing out the window as the train passed through the countryside, I watched as workers laid bridges and blasted through mountainsides creating the foundation for what would be yet another brand new rail line. I sat facing a young couple; the two of them were going to the girl’s family home in Chengdu to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Their English was very poor for what appeared to be two kids fresh out of high school. Nevertheless we managed to communicate and get to know each other a little bit. “Are you a college student?” I inquired.
“No, I work,” he replied, and in a swift motion pulled out his wallet and smacked it face down on table in between us. A sharp metallic emblem on the face of the wallet said it all: this kid was a cop.
“I work for the police but I am a teacher.”
“What do you teach?” He replied by simultaneously throwing back his right shoulder and raising his fists in front of his face.
“Kung fu.” Wow, okay, definitely not messing with this guy…

We spoke within the limits of our communication abilities, talked about music. He likes Michael Jackson. I swear, practically everyone in this country is crazy about two people: Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. In fact, instead of saying “oh my god,” a lot of young people will instead say “oh my Lady Gaga.”

Our train swiftly glided into the Chengdu train station and before departing the young guy said to me in the most broken Chinglish accent: “good luck, my friend.” Does that mean I have a friend in the CCP now?

Chengdu, what a place. Unlike Chongqing, the city is completely flat and the streets are long and wide. If I were to describe Chengdu in a word it is “new.” Everything in the heart of the city is brand new. I’m talking about everything from street signs and sidewalks to buildings and buses. I took the first, and currently (but not for long) only, metro line in Chengdu from the train station to the stop closest to my hostel. The planning committee clearly took a page or two out of Shanghai’s development plan because I walked into the subway station and instinctively knew exactly what to do and where to go. 非常方便!So convenient! I would even say the sophistication of Chengdu’s metro line surpasses that of Shanghai’s extensive system. And although Chengdu only has the one line that connects the north and south like a spine, within five years there will be more subway lines branching off to the outer limbs of the city making it a supremely modernized metropolis. Somebody call the Chengdu government, they need to cut me a check.

Haha, I love this country.

Above all, though, it’s the people of Chengdu that make the city such a nice place. The people of Chengdu and Sichuan in general are known to lead very laid back lifestyles. And anywhere newbie travelers find themselves lost, they are likely to also find friendly directions from one of the locals. I asked one guy how to get to the street my hostel was on and before I knew it there were three complete strangers who were anxious to make sure I was going in the right direction.

The Traffic Inn Hostel was not the best hostel I have stayed in as far as accommodations go. But the staff are friendly and fun, and location is strategically convenient for anyone traveling by bus as the hostel sits literally right next to Chengdu’s major bus station.
For about five days room 218 was my home. And what a home it was. Also living in the dorm room were members of an all-star international line up. Jack from Australia, Constantine from Germany, Laura from England, and John from Quebec; all twenty-somethings living in China and studying Chinese. They’re great people and we all got along really well and had a fun time together. We would have made the UN proud.

We heard Chengdu has a decent night life so we asked one of the girls at the hostel reception for a recommendation of a good bar. She named a couple and wrote down the addresses on a small piece of paper so we could show the taxi driver where we wanted to go. “The Hump Bar? What kind of bar are you sending us to?”
Well we get there and it actually turned out to be called “The Hemp Bar.” I think either name would suffice, really.
It was a really coooool place man, like, the people and stuff were really chill, and the music was like super trippy. But no, seriously, it was a fun bar and a nice place to relax with my new friends. We returned the next night because they were featuring a bluegrass band from Quebec.

Yes, that is indeed a man in a cow suit, playing the mandolin.

In Chengdu, there is a considerably large Tibetan population that has carved out their own little quarter of the city. I ventured out, camera in hand, hoping to snap some shots of local Sichuan-Tibetan life as well as get a glimpse some of their colorful and ornate architecture. I was on my way to the main Tibetan area, plugged into my headphones, listening to music, when two Tibetan monks, one old and one young, emerged from a little shop on the street I was passing through.

We said hello and the old man looked quizzically at the wire of my headphones. He grasped it between two fingers and turned it over, examining it closely. I reached into my pocket to show him my MP3 player and then pointed to the headphones in my ear. I took them out and gave one to each of them. I believe it was John Mayer playing “Everyday I Have the Blues” at a live concert. I played air guitar as they listened to the music and bobbed to the beat. “Sounds good,” the old monk said, handing me back my headphones. The old man spoke Mandarin so we strolled through the streets chatting about music and Tibet and America, checking out sites along the way. I asked them where they were going and the old man replied “Oh, we’re just walking with you,” or “wherever you are going.”
I imagined the two of them were spending the day strolling through the streets aimlessly, but not without purpose. As if they were letting the Universe guide them, like a small boat pulled along through the shifting currents of a river. And here I was, a new element, a new celestial body pulling them into my orbit. As I walked on, the two monks followed close behind but I felt as though I still traveled alone.

Unfortunately the battery in my camera died and I forgot the spare back at the hostel so I missed the chance to get a photo with them. But they had a digital camera with them and we got a passerby to snap a quick couple of shots. Afterward, we parted ways with a handshake and a bow.

Long rods of incense burning before the shrine dedicated to the heroes of the Shu Kingdom.


Why of course you can take a picture with me. Never gets old.

I decided to venture out into the city a bit and find a good place to eat. I ended up stumbling upon the Sichuan Conservatory of Music and the surrounding district filled with shops catering to musicians.

SWEET. Like any other industry-specific marketplace in China, there were literally dozens of shops selling practically the same exact things. And I wonder: how do any of these places get by?

Next up: Pandas!!

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5 Responses to Spicy, Spicy, Spicy!

  1. Ben says:

    Hey Max,

    Just came across your blog. Brings back a lot of memories for me when I spent about a half year in China in 2005. Keep posting your stories because they are invaluable sources of information for those that will follow your path. Good luck in Nanjing. Make sure you make it to Lijiang in Yunnan province.

  2. Andrew Dearborn says:

    Love the blog. Looks like you are having the time of your life!

  3. Janet says:

    Great Max! What a great adventure. Thanks for sharing, keep them coming. Stay safe! xxxooo Aunt Janet

  4. Kathleen says:

    Love your blog!!

  5. Christina says:

    thanks for your blog. i stumbled upon it looking for blogs by westerners living in Shanghai. you are really hilarious, and following your adventures is great.

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