The Friday before we left we had our midterm exam (covering about the equivalent of of one plus semesters of Chinese at Oberlin), a 15 minute slide presentation in front of 3 teachers and 3 students and another 15 minute speech in front of 2 teachers. It was grueling, but before we’d even had time to catch our breath, we were on the train headed to Chengdu.
The vast majority of Chinese people travel by train, so we were not only saving money but were also experiencing Chinese culture by traveling through China’s country side for 25 hours. Yes, that’s right, 25 hours. As you can see above, it’s a pretty small little area to be stuck in for 25 hours- 3 bunks stacked up with a little table in between. To be honest, I didn’t mind the length too much- plenty of time to sleep and read and chat (in Chinese) with classmates. By the last 3 hours or so, though, I was pretty ready to get off the train.
China’s country side. The reason the train ride is so long is because we had to wind through all the mountains which allowed us to see many different climates and scenery.
Terraced hills. There were lots of yellow flowers, which I am pretty sure are safflower, which are harvested and turned into cooking oil.
Chengdu was humid and a little chilly, but no matter, we were excited to be out of Beijing, out of a classroom and seeing green things!
Our hotel was right in downtown Chengdu, near a big flashy pedestrian mall. There were always huge crowds of people there, no matter what time of day it was. Our head director, Zhang Laoshi (professor Zhang) teased that Chengdu people never go to work, they just spend their days shopping and going to teahouses. Sounds pretty good to me. The pace of Chengdu is definately more relaxed than Beijing, regardless.
In the very center of the city is a beautiful plaza with fountains and flowers (unheard of in Beijing) and, of course, a statue of every one’s favorite communist founder.
Sichuan is also famous for “xiao chi” or, basically, snacks. As I am sure everyone will agree, snacks are great. Above is an example of the many, many sidewalk snackeries (?). Hot pot originates in Southern China and at the above establishment you can select as many skewers of vegetables (all kinds of mushrooms, lotus root, bean sprouts, etc) and meat, tofu and then cook them in a broth (usually dark red and therefore extremely spicy). On the street you can also buy Chuar (kabobs), and it’s the same excellent deal- you pick which skewers of meat/ tofu/ lotus root/etc you want and they will boil and then barbeque it for you right there. Delicious. The character for chuar is : 串. Great, right? It actually looks like a kabob! You can also buy all kinds of fruit, including beautifully pre-sliced pineapple on skewers, water chestnuts, mangosteens, mangos, rambutans, pipaw and jujubees. I made sure to try the last three since I hadn’t had them before. All delicious. Jujubees are in the apple family but are shaped like a little torpedo and have a very delicate flavor.
There were beautiful fruit stores everywhere- open to the air and wildly colorful. In the foreground you can see that brown spiky fruit- those are Durian, a really strange fruit that smells a little like a sweet onion. They are so smelly that they have been banned on the subway in at least one Asian country.
This picture is for Viv- a store where you can buy things to use in your store… like manikins, steamers and hangers, haha. I saw at least 3 of these, actually.
Next up, Renmin Gongyuan (People’s Park), a giant Buddha, monkeys and more.