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Sichuan - China - Chengdu - Chongqing - March 2013 - Page 1

Day 1 - Saturday, 23 March 2013

3 flights to get there

I cant think of any ridiculous story to tell this time involving my departure to Chengdu.
There has been no airline problems involving aliens emerging from volcanoes, my roof isnt leaking, and to my knowledge all nuclear reactors in the immediate vicinity of Sichuan province are maintaining containment.
Here in Australia, we have again tried to oust our prime minister, but no one wants the job. A call for volunteers for the top job in Australia resulted in most of the candidates resigning. Basically 'I would rather quit than be prime minister'.
Enough of that, this trip I am going to Sichuan Province in China, specifically 2 main cities, Chengdu and Chongqing. These locations are famous for eating pandas in the form of hot pot. Its a little known fact but the cuddly creatures are a menace due to massive over population. Bear meat is very good for virility though, so I am excited.

I am hoping to meet the divine leader of the middle kingdom, the recently announced mr Xi Jinping whilst on my journeys, his magical powers are legendary, apparently he once grew up in a rural village in poverty and became president. I saw a news story about his impoverished upbringing so it must be true!

Its me, and each trip I take my eyebrows become just a little bit more awesome. Coming up next trip, grey eyebrows!

Qantas have again rightly recognised the awesomeness of my eyebrows and have placed me in seat 1A for free so that I can greet each of the other passengers by raising them in suspicion.

Planes broken

I spoke too soon above about the lack of drama.
After boarding the plane to Brisbane, the pilot announced there was a technical issue that they just needed to report and get a clearance for...
This was followed of course by just needing to get an inspection...
Just need to get a ruling from ops...
Just need everyone to get off this plane cause its busted...
Apparently theres a spare plane here, and it seems possible I might make my connection in Brisbane, but no guarantees!
If I dont make it, it probably means a full day delay, for which I can expect substantial Qantas compensation.

The broken plane. The pilot was quite funny, 'we hope to use the spare plane which I am sure is much better than this one'
To his credit, he was very good at providing info and updates on connections, likely delay, likely plane change etc. As soon as I saw the engineer get off he was back on the intercom to the passengers providing info.

This is the line of people demanding to know if their connection would be met. Each person got the same story, theres only 3 possible connections on this flight including mine, and the guys behind the desk made an announcement about all 3.
Still each of these people remained in the line to hear it again in person and express their extreme anger personally and swear to never fly Qantas again.
However just looking out the window, what other choice do they have really? Theres no planes parked here now at all except Qantas, so I hope they enjoy the slow boat to China or staying home forever.

Not enough air

It surely was an epic journey.
First up, after my various delays and plane changes in Adelaide, I had plenty of time in Brisbane, well about 30 minutes, as the Qantas flight to Hong Kong was also delayed.
The problem with that is, my connection in Hong Kong was already going to be tight.
Having a good seat was nice, the flight all through the day was nice but lacked food after the initial 3 course lunch. I think in business now you are supposed to ask them to make you a snack on demand, they had grilled cheese, some sort of quiche and whatever, but I prefer to wait for the cart to come around to be polite, it never did. Knowing my connection time would be tight I thought this just meant I wouldnt eat until I got to Chengdu.

As soon as we parked at Hong Kong I stepped off the plane first to be greeted by a smiling stewardess in Dragonair uniform holding a sign with my name on it. She expressed relief that I appeared fit and healthy, as we need to run! So run we did, all the way through Hong Kong airport, and then out to the satellite terminal where I had not been to before.
She was quite fit and good at running in heels, I suspect this is her main job function.
We got to the gate with minutes to spare before departure time (not boarding time), but none the less, no one had boarded.

After wandering around the small satellite terminal for about an hour or so, we were allowed to board late. Awesome, I made my last flight of the day.

However, we sat, on the ground for an hour. People were amazingly calm, the flight was totally full, then the announcement came from the Irish accented pilot (who later gets translated into Mandarin and Cantonese), 'Due to the airspace around Guangzhou being at capacity, we have been asked to hold on the ground for another 2.5 hours'.
Thats all he said! I literally prepared myself for a riot onboard, as there was no departing, and no getting off for another 2.5 hours. However, people were calm, and within seconds were out of their seats chatting with random strangers, playing cards, sharing their children with old women etc.
Of course everyone is terrified of me, after 18 hours of travel I looked like a yeti. So all I could do was observe and wait.
Thankfully, they decided to serve a full hot meal whilst we were on the ground, and kept the drinks flowing, until they ran out! What that meant is eventually once we took off, they left the seatbelt sign on for the full 2.5 hour flight so that people knew they couldnt get anymore drinks.

Arrival into Chengdu at 1:30AM (4AM Adelaide time where I had departed from) was very quick and efficient.
I still had to get into town, at this time by taxi, even that went OK, I spoke Chinese to the guy who seemed to laugh at me each time and nod his head. A combo of That way!, Yes that way! Good one! along with some pointing and hand movements whilst I followed the map on my blackberry got us there in good time.

Brisbane airport, I make a point of taking at least 1 photo of each city I go through so this is it.
This highlights the hilarity of having a separate domestic and international terminal, with no air side transfer. Despite being somewhat late for my planned departure time, I have to go out into the street and wait for a bus. Its about a kilometre so no taxi will take you. If I was really in a hurry I would probably run it!

This is my poor suffering Dragonair A320, which had to hold us at capacity for many hours without being allowed to do what it likes best, fly.

And finally, a photo of the inside of the Satellite terminal in Hong Kong. Thats it for boring plane pics, coming next, photos from Chengdu, after I hopefully go to sleep at some point!

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Day 2 - Sunday, 24 March 2013

Numbing and spicy

I awoke to the brilliant pollution filtered sunlight of Chengdu. According to my ipad application todays reading is 157, which is about 'normal', recently when farmers were preparing to plant their crops in nearby rural areas by burning off the weeds the reading went well over 600.
As it is now, its probably much like Beijing or even Hong Kong were on my previous visits, there is no horizon but once you are at street level you dont notice.

Since I had only really been asleep for a few hours and arrived in the very early morning, I still had no idea where I really was in relation to things, so it was time to set out and place myself in the city, which sounds idiotic but I walk everywhere and am always excited to find out what I will be passing each morning and night at the beginning and end of my walk.
Before that, the concierge insisted I have the buffet breakfast, which is included in my room rate. They had no coffee of any kind. They had many kinds of congee and even dan dan noodles. I opted for the only healthy things they had, fruit and make your own salad.

Enough boring crap, now for the challenges of speaking some Chinese instead of all or none. I confidently strode up to the counter at the coffee shop and ordered a large cafe latte after exchanging greetings. This establishes to the person serving me that I at least think I can speak Chinese. Except I cant really.
Now I want to order skim or non fat milk. But dont know how. Determined to speak Chinese where possible, I ask Can I please have that with..... and now I have to speak English. Which leads to confusion. Next thing I am being offered tea and cheesecake. A small conference occurs between the 3 staff, I point to my stomach, make a hand motion that I dont want a big stomach, and out comes the cheesecake agan.
At least I could confidently tell them I dont want the cheesecake, just the coffee please. So I doubt I got non fat milk, it was however delicious.

The view out of my hotel room window. The location is a couple of streets over from the Chengdu version of Tiananmen Square which is called Tianfu Square. Its also 2 streets North of the main pedestrial shopping area, Chunxing Road.
The room is excellent except for one strange thing, no fridge. The wardrobe has one of the doors sealed shut with a mirror over it where a fridge once would have been but now, no. Looks like its hot bottled water for me for a few days. Internet and shower is excellent, and the bed comes with a pillow menu and is very comfortable.
Its a Holiday Inn Express, which is their cheaper brand, but as is usually the case in Asian cities, the cheap brand is nicer than the expensive brand in Australia. Just if you ever come to China, dont expect taxi drivers to know that its called the Holiday Inn express, they will know it only as whatever it was called before an international chain bought it, or by the name of the street it is on.
Also, Chinese taxi drivers cannot and do not read maps. There is an expectation that you will know where you are going. I guess most Chinese cities are massive, and pretty much all taxi drivers are apparently rural people in a transitional job until they can go work for Foxconn.

There seems to be a bridal expo on as well as people getting married everywhere. I suspect its something to do with the season and the moon being full.
I especially like the plastic car decoration of bride and groom.

Then the batmobile appeared. Except closer inspection revealed most of the body work to be made out of chipboard.

Time for some bird flu. This is a very small market that combines fish, pigs, fruit and vegetables and panda toys. Panda toys are everywhere.

The meat does however look delicious. And I am serious. The quality of all the pork seems to be excellent and very fresh...I looked around to see if there were any pigs about to provide even fresher meat, but they seem to have been butchered into halves off site.

Street vendors are plentiful, I forget what these red things are called, they are not strawberries, they are slightly sour but then get glazed in syrup. This particular guy is very persuasive, yelling at small children until they start screaming that they want one.

Tianfu Square, with piped, LOUD elevator music. I have heard that people fly kites here. I also recall that there may be a kite festival on at the moment somewhere nearby.
You may have recently seen on (not) the story about China spraying their grass green, this is where that photo was taken.
The grass is indeed green, and whilst Australia websites might make fun of dying it green, I seem to recall that the same thing happens at the Docklands stadium in Melbourne.

The chairman keeps watch over everyone enjoying themselves. It is very much like Tiananmen Square, only less soldiers with machine guns. Instead there are police who look like school kids dressed in skateboarding gear riding around on segways.

Renmin Lu, the main street that divides the city, resplendent in the pollution haze.

Theres an amazing amount of construction going on, the square itself was recently ripped up and re made and is now on top of the new subway system interchange.
All this makes the city dusty. But thats every Chinese city I have been to. Every city is a large construction site. Thats both exciting and frustrating. Exciting if you are a nerdy tourist that likes looking at stuff being built, but surely frustrating if you live here and everything is dusty and roads are missing whilst being re built.
Can that situation last forever or will it eventually become stagnant like Japan?

This is one of 4 similar entries to the subway in the square. Underneath is a flea market style shopping mall which appears to be an eleborate trap to one day kill a million people in a fire. Its a rabbit warren of vendors selling stuff made of polyester, interspersed with places deep frying things on sticks, with very few exits.

It took me some time to determine this was a real girl and not a doll or wax casting. She stood absolutely still for ages as various children ran up to her and pulled on her dress (which I have failed to capture on my camera)

NEWEST MODERN CASUAL, just check my reflection in the photo for proof. Its about 25C and I havent seen one other guy wearing shorts.
Whilst wandering around a tibetan looking guy was staring at me, so I said hello how are you today in Chinese. He laughed hard. So I reached out and shook his hand. He looked at his hand intently like I had pulled off some kind of trick. Maybe I have! If you are reading this tibetan man, send $1000 yuan to my paypal to break the evil curse I have placed on you!

Just part of the system of pedestrian streets, this isnt the main one, but its photographable (is that a word?) from a street overpass. I will be back at night to wander aimlessly.

This cat does not look thrilled to be tied up. Hes so fed up with this bullshit he has knocked his food over. Dogs wandering by dont phase him, thats possibly because in China the average dog is smaller than a cat and wearing something pink and ridiculous. Cats mock dogs.

I hope I dont have to visit the Rectum Faculty. No doubt they do good business from westerners who cant handle hot pot.

And so I had hot pot, HUO GUO! I did much better at speaking and understanding the language this time. I could ask for beef, confirm I wanted it numbing and spicy, and when asked if I also wanted rice I understood exactly what was being asked. I did however cause confusion by stating I was from Australia and dont like beer when a bottle was put on my table that I didnt ask for.
The flavour was good but the meat had too many tiny bones. It tasted like beef but who knows! I cant eat hotpot every meal, its really a massive meal to share and its basically a litre of oil.

No dinner

After my massive lunch involving a bowl of oil laced with chilli, chunks of garlic and sichuan peppercorns, I decided on no dinner. That means I didnt really have a goal to set out for and achieve. I was truly aimless.
In other news, the pollution levels dropped below 100, and it hasnt even rained yet, some kind of miracle.
In another miracle, the formula 1 race wasnt on tv, and I found a working hi def stream that didnt buffer once for 2 hours, on Chinese internet.

My walk only lasted about 3 hours, as I am still suffering the effects of sitting for 24 hours yesterday, also I am weak and a drama queen. None the less I explored the area in an ever increasing radius.
South of the centre is the luxury goods stores, they are not as prolific as say, Shanghai. Much of the cities tallest buildings are being built at once, many are nearing completion but at night are completely dark. This is kind of unusual when you are walking by.
There are also multiple subway lines under construction, which cuts off access to some areas, but its not too bad.

Now for the story time. In my wanderings I found myself in a multi level carrefour store, which is like a walmart style thing where you have everything in a single store.
This one was quite new and had very few customers. I am wandering around minding my own business, when a trolley flys past the end of the aisle. I never heard it hit anything, and when I got down there, I couldnt see anyone.
I turned up the next aisle, and again, a trolley flew past the end of the aisle, at the opposite end of the store as I had turned 180 degrees.
Again I didnt hear it smash into anything, and again I didnt see anyone!
Could this store be haunted? Was I hallucinating? Both?

The tunnels that go under the road to stop you getting killed by a bus are numerous. This one appeared to be an aquarium, but closer inspection revealed it to be wallpaper and LED's.

First we take a pig. Then we rip out its intestines. Then we turn them into poweder. Then we? Presumably use it for food. I suspect its the basis of hot pot broth.

A great time can be had just watching an intersection. This one is large, but has no pedestrians. I rate it about 7/10 for likelihood of an accident occuring.
Whilst waiting for that to happen, a beggar decided to set up right next to me and go into the rapid bowing routine, so I had to move on.

I have seen quite a few shop cats already. They seem to be mascots for the stores they are tied up to.

The luxury goods area. Valet parking, door men, handbags, watches. Nothing I want.

Nearby is the rollerblading instruction camp, at dusk on Sunday night.
The instructor was enthusiastic, charging about screaming his lungs out at the kids. They seemed to take it seriously and be appreciative that they were allowed to be out rollerblading.
I cant recall being involved in anything like this when I was 3.

Like I said, no dinner. Just this delicious fruit salad from Japanese department store Isetan. Their basement section was great, the ramen restaurant in it looked excellent but the line was immense.

There are currently 2 comments - click to add

David on 2013-03-24 said:

@curious No, its just as it sounds, your bed gets 4 different types of pillows on it, in material and firmness.
If you care enough to request a change you can pick which mix of pillows you want.

curious on 2013-03-24 said:

Is pillow menu a euphemism for sexual services?

Day 3 - Monday, 25 March 2013

The plane

Today I will address the lack of photo overload from yesterday.

First is peoples park, which was very impressive, nicer than peoples park in Shanghai or the park near Temple of Heaven in Beijing. So many people just joining in with random activities.

Here we have one of about a dozen tea houses which are throughout the park. Some you can buy tea and snacks, others seem to be just spots where you can sit and bring your own food, yet they provide tables, chairs, water, power, cooking areas etc.

Mass ballroom dancing, common across China. No one would dance with me. My dance card is empty.

Here you have the fan dancing, but one old lady has a sword instead. There were quite a few people dancing around with big shiny sharp looking swords.

This is a monument in the park to an incident in 1911. Not sure what incident exactly.

Another fun activity is to write your poems on the ground using water. I wonder if these are dirty limericks?

Like most peoples parks, theres a small area of rides for kids. This photo makes it here only because I could totally read and understand that sign, Da (big) Li (strong) Shui (water), Shou (hand), water hand meaning sailor, hence big strong sailor = popeye. I dont need to do any more studies.

Impressively the park even has a rather large bonsai garden (an oxymoron?). I like bonsai. I suspect its looked after by the public.

The goldfish seem particularly massive here. If that kid fell in he might get eaten.

Then I couldnt believe my eyes, this radio controlled lightweight plane was pulling off the most amazing stunts. I had never seen anything like it, loops, rolls, spins, everything. Its power to weight ratio is massive, the pilot was skilled, it can hover vertically and make stupidly tight turns.

Also I have a steady hand and a zoom lense, so you get another photo.

Last photo of plane, to collect it he put it into the nose up hover position, seemingly used the rudder and a bit of thrust to move it towards himself, then plucked it out of the air. Amazing.

Monday seems to be washing day at this nearby poor person apartment block.

And now I am in the ultra modern re constrcuted Jinli ancient street. There were many signs even in English explaining that bargaining was not permitted and that everything for sale must have a displayed price at all times.
This is very unusual for China, there must have been a lot of people getting ripped off and complaining.

Pandas everywhere, you can get kung fu ones as you see here, a soccer team, batman/spiderman etc.

I took a photo of this girl taking a photo of me.

Self loading semi automatic crossbow. You put the arrows in the top, pull the handle back and it fires. This thing was no joke, I am quite sure it could kill you, so I had to have a go.

About a $1 gets your 15 arrows. No one paid attention to locals using it, but as soon as I sat down a crowd formed. Mocking me. Unfortunately I couldnt turn it around far enough to shoot any of them. A few phrases from my Chinese book of vulgar terms fixed that problem.
The first few arrows you line it up and aim it etc, then you realise you can just yank on the handle at great speed and it generally goes close enough to the target.
A very clever ancient weapon!

Instead of padlocks, it seems you buy a red silk purse and tie it to this tree to express your undying love to the girl you met a few minutes ago.

And now for some food photos.
First up bean curd cake (tofu), served with chilli and shallots. I couldnt resist, the old lady serving me seemed mad as hell, at me only. I watched her serve other people and smile. I couldnt understand her at all.
Her bean curd cake was delicious though, served in a bowl full of chilli oil, it was actually pretty hot too.

Second snack, green onion pastry. Very good, but very oily. Oil overload already today.

I didnt intend to have lunch, but nearby my hotel I found a 2.5km long (no exaggeration) tunnel under the road that you use as a shortcut instead of crossing the streets.
Its a continuous shopping mall, and this particular section is the food section, which at lunch time on Monday was a hive of activity.
I ordered the beef noodle soup and confirmed I wanted it spicy. It was $1.20. Thats why I had lunch, who can turn down a delicious meal for $1.20?
Admittedly you get a lot more noodles than you do beef, and the noodles werent hand made in the store like they should be, but it was still delicious. The addition of celery was a welcome one.
OK, thats enough about beef noodle soup.

Never so lost

As the title suggests, I ended up lost, in a construction site, and then eventually unable to get to my destination at all.
Similarly to previous experiences in China, they seem to go to great lengths to prevent you getting to train stations on foot.
Of course I could have taken the metro to the southern bullet train station, but no, I wanted to walk. Eventually I had to give up because it is actually impossible to cross the tracks.

Along the way I passed an area filled with giant KTV's, found myself in the scariest market I have ever seen, explored an award winning retail / residential development, got attacked by a friendly puppy who must be racist, saw 3 car vs scooter accidents, ate a pineapple on a stick and saw a whole bunch of monks shopping for Gucci gear comparing their new iphones and expensive watches.

The traffic here was glorious. You have mainly busses, but then the road becomes footpath, with thousands of scooters parked.
This is the impact building a metro system has on a city.
To add to the confusion theres skyscrapers being built on both sides of the street that require cranes and trucks to be there constantly. It was quite a challenge to walk along there without being killed.

Tragedy struck! Din Tai Fung is not open yet!
Actually I didnt know it was there, but if it were open I would have eaten there because I have been to their locations in at least 10 other cities.

This is the Raffles City development, the same thing as can be found in Singapore and Shanghai. Appparently it won all kinds of architectural awards. The shops were nice but the main feature is the roof of most of the mall has running water over it which if you go out into a courtyard is a shallow reflection pool.
I guess thats why it won awards.

Somehow I ended up here. I dont think I was supposed to be here, but there were a few other pedestrians. It seemed way too dangerous to just allow people to walk through.

Except then it got far worse, and I ended up under the road during a concrete pour. a few school kids and secretaries were wandering through too, on their way home.

But then I got to the finished part, just North of the station which was my goal. Except there was no way to get on that bridge, and no other way to cross the bullet train tracks.
I was defeated, and had to double back!

After a tangent so I didnt have to go back through the construction site I found this rather large, dark, scary, night market. I could hear sheep! I never did see them but I assumed their number was up.
I also saw outdoor hair dressers, what I assume was a stolen bike shop, someone selling what appeared to be glass tubes of mercury, fire crackers, second hand shoes!
All the time lots of eyes were following me.

There are currently 2 comments - click to add

David on 2013-03-25 said:

@mother I can actually read the characters, thanks to which I only started using a few weeks ago. I am sure they have Japanese courses as well, all free. By far the most effective way I have found of learning.
Not learning to read the characters initially was the biggest mistake I made. You cant just speak to everyone as you are wandering about, but you can just read everything, and when you see it in context it gets easier and you start to learn new things just in the street.

mother on 2013-03-25 said:

can you actually read the Chinese characters or just the pinyin?

Page 2 is full of furry creatures.


Day 1 - Saturday, 23 March 2013
  3 flights to get there
  Planes broken
  Not enough air
Day 2 - Sunday, 24 March 2013
  Numbing and spicy
  No dinner
Day 3 - Monday, 25 March 2013
  The plane
  Never so lost
Day 4 - Tuesday, 26 March 2013
  Researching Pandas
  Eastern culture
Day 5 - Wednesday, 27 March 2013
  The waiting train
  I made my own dinner
Day 6 - Thursday, 28 March 2013
  Panda overload
  No panda photos
Day 7 - Friday, 29 March 2013
  Mountain garden
  Down by the docks
Day 8 - Saturday, 30 March 2013
  More brides
  I was wrong
Day 9 - Sunday, 31 March 2013
  Ancient dune buggy street
  Steak night
Day 10 - Monday, 1 April 2013
  Dog heads
  Its like a sauna in here
Day 11 - Tuesday, 2 April 2013
  Barbecue night
Day 12 - Wednesday, 3 April 2013
  Bad science
  Swedish horse meatballs
Day 13 - Thursday, 4 April 2013
  Ocean world where are you?
  Drunken Chengdu
Day 14 - Friday, 5 April 2013
  Lets try that again
  An old street
Day 15 - Saturday, 6 April 2013
  New old ancient streets
  Mapo Doufu
Day 16 - Sunday, 7 April 2013
  Mountain full of temples
  Quiet night out
Day 17 - Monday, 8 April 2013
  Tibetan beggars
  Massive restaurant night
Day 18 - Tuesday, 9 April 2013
  Lets get out of here
  Still 2 flights to go