Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Memories of Chengdu

My memories of Chengdu are vague already. The vast city of Han China feels so distant, so unreal, up here, high on the Tibetan Plateau at Ganzi. It is noisy outside our window at the moment, it's Friday night, in Chengdu it was noisy all the time.

We arrived there late, tired from Emei Shan and the Giant Buddha of Leshan. The bus dropped us at a mysterious station in the outskirts. It was raining. There were no official looking taxi's, only motorised rickshaws and a gaggle of men looking for business. Twice we negotiated price only to have the driver show us to a private unmarked car (normally part of our travel survival strategy is to avoid these characters). The second time we gave in. He took us straight to our destination, Sims Cosy Guesthouse.

Sim's is one of the most highly regarded guesthouses in China, but it has changed. They have relocated and upsized, creating a backpacker barn. It suits some people but not us. The prices for a double room are also twice its competitors. We stayed there for a night in a dorm, then quickly relocated to Mix Hostel, which I recommend highly. From here we explored cloudy Chengdu. Skyscrapers loom out at you like gendarmes on a misty ridge while traffic howls past like wind jammed up into the end of a valley. Despite trying, my mountain metaphors will never be as good as Don McGlashans...,

“Oh and he's still climbing, see him try to cross the street, He tests his footing like he's up 10,000 feet, Above the clouds, halfway down Dominion Road”

But we weren't drunk, only slightly out of place, slowly finding our way in a Chinese city. And we certainly weren't above the clouds. In fact we were getting wet. Even Penny beneath her umbrella. We found our way to the old quarter, then the statue of Mao, before finally the Peoples Park. The home to famous Chengdu teahouses. We did eventually find a great cup of tea, well so Penny says, it tasted all right to me but I'm no connosieur.

The weather cleared up slightly the next day and we headed back into town, first goal to buy our bus tickets (the hostels charge a big commision for booking in Chegdu). Mission accomplished we went and sat by the river and watched men fishing and staring into the murk. What were they thinking? Lost in the limpid, turgid waters. The most desired spot was where one particularly nasty looking sewer emptied into the river. It reminded me of a couple of places. Firstly the Mataura meatworks (rumoured to have the biggest eels in NZ) and secondly a small pool down from my primary school at Waitati, where our little gang speared a big eel which had been feasting on a rotten sheep a flood had brought down. We all learnt our lesson when the maggots spewed out of its mouth.

Throughout the city there were regular exercise areas, with abdominisers, treadmills and any other machine you have ever seen on infomercials, plus lots more which looked more like torture instruments, weird devices for the sexually experimental and buzzy bees. Penny posed for a photo, then I had to drag her away.

We looked around a bit more and tried several types of street food , a convenient progressive dinner, but the final highlight came when Penny needed her cuppa. The lady at the tea shop performed a very elaborate tea ritual with us sitting around like she was about to deal cards. Rinsing, washing, rinsing, washing all with tea, or even the particular type of tea we were about to taste, while maintaining a very correct manner and carefully managed facial expressions. We tasted several types of tea and sat there nervously wondering how much it would cost. As it turns out the tasting was free, our only expense being 9yuan for a big bag of Crysanthemum Tea.

And thats it. Thats all my brain pathways reserved for Chengdu...

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