Panda-monium -=Chengdu 2019=-

In this journal:

  • pig noses
  • deified strategists, Taoists
  • dams that will interest you, guaranteed
  • also, a cooked brain

[45MIN/LONG READ]

Why the hell not?

It is a strange trip indeed, and if you want to know why I combined a bit of Los Angeles into a lot of Chengdu, you might wanna take a look of the introduction of the other part documenting this trip, as this bizarre adventure is fueled by my need for miles so that I could travel to the north of China for a business trip. Yep, I just spent over 1600 dollars to save 80. This is big brain moment now, all other small brain people begone!

This part: Chengdu and Los Angeles
Other part: Hainan Airlines 787 Mega-review

Welcome, to the marvellous western gateway of China: Sichuan.

成都Chengdu

My domestic 787 business class hop was a great experience, and I landed at Chengdu Shuangliu Airport nearly 40 minutes before schedule. A short metro ride later, I was at my friend Chacha’s house. It is just a normal suburb community near the outer highway ring of the bustling capital of Sichuan Province. Known for its ridiculously spicy food and even more ridiculously beautiful girls, this city is the definition of “out of my league.” So let’s start with the strange act that combines the two, shall we? In Chengdu, it is customary to “打望”, an act of sitting down in a tea lounge found nearly universally in the city, and you can sneak glances of pretty girls passing by the streets. Guys do it, not-so-straight girls do it, and straight girls do it as well. I am not exactly a connoisseur, so Chacha had to teach me. We grabbed two teas at the corner, and sat down under the shade.

teahouse #10986

On an otherwise quiet Thursday morning, the tea house was bustling with energy, and an empty table was the coveted target of many people ranging from pensioners to pension-workers. Strange as it seems, the city had no intention of ever working during the normal day job shift times, just like me. One has to grab a table and then order the tea in a special lidded porcelain china cup. Usually a handful of options are available, and then one can stay as long as he or she wants, refilling the tea with boiled water. So it is a nice way to spend just 15RMB to lounge around till sundown.

entrance

The tradition of tea-drinking here is ancient, so there are many old-brands hanging around town, offering the same service that has been going on for hundreds of years, like the one above aptly named “鶴鳴/Call of Cranes”, which was the gathering place for erudites and professors back in the days, so during the period when the old schools were selecting teachers, it would be absolutely bursting with people as a title in the university would mean an honour of lifetime.

teahouse #10987: 鶴鳴

In these old-fashioned tea houses, a lot of workers walk around chiming their special tools in their hands. These are the traditional earwax-removers, since it was basically a relaxing massage in one’s head and required precision and experience, perfectly suited for a place like this where the richer folks come to relax. The price ain’t cheap, clocking at nearly 10 dollars, but many say these craftsmen are the best of the best.

Wenshu Pavillion

First up is Wenshu Pavillion, a large temple sitting as the major temple of the city. The day we arrived was coincidentally the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar month, which is a significant date in the traditional Buddhist customs, thus the temple was open to public with free admission, and the monks inside handed out incense to every visitor. The masses of believers crowded every corner of this ancient premise like obese Americans in a BestBuy on Black Friday. We were pushed around the temple with the wave of people as well as the wafting of incense.

believers surrounding the chanting monks

A large ceremony was going on as we were on the holy grounds, so we stood by the end and watched. Hundreds of men and women from preschoolers to grannies too old to stand all chanted in unison with the monks as they presented artifacts, which was a unique experience. I also paid a visit to the main halls, one of which housed the parietal bone of master 玄奘, who was the inspiration of the Chinese classic Journey to the West as he travelled to India in order to procure the sacred texts.

Thousand Buddha Pagoda

Before leaving, we took a walk around the Thousand Buddha Pagoda, since it was believed that if you walk three cycles around the tower in a clockwise fashion while holding your hand, your wish harbored in your mind as you revolve around the sacred monolith would come true. After wishing for a lot of food, we continued to the next point of interest: a large park.

People’s Park

People’s Park seemed similar to the one in Shanghai as it also features a marriage market, as concerned parents post and share their children’s details in hopes of matchmaking. Chacha had, reportedly, been displayed here numerous times, but she remained unbent to the traditional ideas. However, I was not there to feel worthless compared to the people my age being put on the “meat market”, I was there to check out a special monument.

保路運動紀念碑/Railway Protection Movement Monument

During the end of Qing Dynasty, the weak imperial government had become the puppet of foreign powers, and let the invaders build their own railroads all around China, but Sichuan province had their own tax-funded railroad that allowed most middle-class to own a share in the project. However, the management was horrifically corrupted, so the railway made next to no progress in a few years, and the Qing government decided to give the railway rights to the foreigners again. To protect the road rights, many local militias formed in Sichuan, ultimately triggering the nation-wide armament against the Peking court. This was the beginning of Xinhai Revolution, a mark of the end to the 3000+ years of imperial rule. Thus, this monument is a marker of a pivotal turning point in modern history of China.

Air Raid Tunnel No.1

By the large lake, there is also an old air raid tunnel built into the small hill. If you have read my Chongqing journal, then you are not a stranger to this sight. Chengdu is not too far from the war-time capital, so this mega-city was also heavily bombed by the Japanese air force. The Second World War basically devastated Chengdu as well, but now this shelter from death has turned into a little piece of tranquility: during the heat of summer, this tunnel would open to the public as a nice getaway from the scorching surface, allowing them to relax and drink tea in peace.

a replica of the DIE flag

A replica of the famous Sichuan division army “Die” flag was featured in the park. Behind this piece of cloth is another heart-wrenching story. 1937, Japan began the full-on invasion of China, hundreds of battles quickly spread the gunpowder smell from Northern Mongolia to the South China Sea. Wang Jiantang, a young schoolteacher eager to fight for his country, decided to rally a bunch of fellow Sichuanese to join the front line. He quickly got over 100 supporters and formed a small expedition infantry; what they lacked in experience, they made up in passionate patriotism. At the farewell ceremony, Wang’s old father sent over a flag with a large word “DIE” on it, saying:”I do not wish you to accompany me in my olden days, but I do wish you to fulfill your duty to defend our country. China is in peril, and sadly I cannot join myself. Use this cloth to wipe your wounds when you are injured, and use it to wrap your body when you have perished. Charge forward, never forget.” This is his father’s farewell, and his words of encouragement for his son to fight till he die for China. Wang continued to serve in the Chinese army until 1950, wiping 4 major injuries with this flag, and was awarded multiple honours for contributing to a few landslide victories. He gave everything for his motherland. Sadly, he was quickly cast away as “Nationalist Army scum” afterwards in the fanatic Maoist society in communist China, never wed or worked a proper job, dying on a social support of merely 23 yuan (9USD in 2019) a month in 1992. Nowadays, this flag is the only remaining reminder of him, a young man who wished to protect his mother country, and a father’s final goodbye to the future hero.

寬窄巷子/Wide and Narrow Alleys

We also paid a visit to the famous Wide Narrow Alleys, which is a neighbourhood full of stores. Like all modern Chinese tourist destinations, this place suffers severely from what I call the repulsive “fake syndrome”. While some may tell you this used to be Mongul rulers’ private quarters that later was used by locals, I tell you do not believe all those bullcrap. These are just a new commercial project hijacking the classic old style in order to sell you souvenirs. All the buildings are renovated to present you more goods and services, and you will find no authentic Chengdu experience in the Starbucks or Burger King here, but you sure will be hit with a fat bill. A lot of cool new things to look at, sure, but do bear in mind that this project kicked out 900 households of original residents in order to open as a cohesive “local economy rejuvenation hit” in 2008. Don’t believe me? Take a walk in the 11000-m² parking lot dug underneath this whole area.

a hot pot shop decoration

However, the most iconic sight for me in Chengdu is not these faux history created by corporate greed under the disguise of the only thing money cannot buy: time. For me, I wanted to pay homage to the OG icon of the city, the mighty Wuhou Shrine. This is the shrine that the people have been worshipping the legendary Tri-nation era heroes, specifically those of the Shu nation.

After the mighty Han dynasty collapsed, the country that we call China split into three major groups. 魏/Wei in the north; 吳/Wu in the east and south (hence the language of Shanghai is called Wu); 蜀/Shu in the west (hence the nickname of Sichuan is Shu). They fought for the dominance of the lands, and all employed incentives to attract the best fighters and tacticians available. Thus it began one of the most interesting periods in Chinese history, immortalized in the must-read ancient historical novel based upon these people, 三國演義/Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The book tells a dramatized version of the history from the Shu perspective, making them look like the good guys in the conflict, and opens with the blood bond ceremony made by three friends: 劉備/Liu Bei, 關羽/Guan Yu, and 張飛/Zhang Fei. Thus, all those who ever served this Shu nation became widely beloved and heavily deified. And this Wuhou Shrine is dedicated to them, especially to the most famous tactician of all time: 諸葛亮/Zhuge Liang.

Entrance to the last pavilion worshipping Zhuge Liang

This shrine is the first of its kind, dating back to the 3rd century, since it is at the capital of the ancient Shu kingdom, and also because the lord Liu Bei is buried in the mounds at the back of the premises. All his retainers have gained varied levels of divine powers attributed by the worshippers. Numerous poems and antithetical couplets from hundreds of erudite since the early days of Tang dynasty populated every corner of this place covered in greenery, and all rulers of Sichuan have visited the hallowed halls to seek guidance from the legendary strategist and his fellow fighters.

Liu Bei

Many now worship Zhuge Liang as the master of inventions, craftiness, intelligence, psychology and tactics, due to the many predictions he made while outsmarting every other strategist in every other nation. It was once said that Zhou Yu, his most revelled competitor and friend died from sheer anger after discovering that he was tricked by Zhuge. While Zhang Fei is regarded as the herald of crude, fearless bravery, in a good way. Liu Bei is generally thought of as a benevolent leader of forgiveness and moral aptitude. Guan Yu has been turned into a full-on god as a guardian of all things ethical and an icon of loyalty. His famous red-ish face is now plastered across the country as a leading figure of many shrines since his stories of never betraying Liu Bei and his fellow patriots are legendary.

Zhuge Liang

Many other minor retainers of Liu Bei are also featured in the large open courtyard between the hall of Liu and the hall of Zhuge, with the warriors and commanders on one side, and the strategists and governors on the other. One of the most famous articles written by Zhuge Liang, Later Chu Shi Biao, was carved into stone by famous calligraphers of all ages, on a dedicated wall. On the front of the final pavilion, a famous doublet aptly named 攻心聯/The Couplet of the Attack on Minds (trust me it sounds way better in Chinese), was written by philosopher Zhao Pan in 1902. It came into public’s eye after Mao Zedong highly praised this couplet after visiting in 1958.

Wuhou Shrine grounds

Sadly, if you think Zhuge’s wit, Liu’s benevolence, Guan’s loyalty and Zhang’s bravery eventually won them the struggle of Three Kingdoms, then your innocence is about to the crushed. Despite latter efforts of Shu and Wu uniting to fight against Wei, the northern empire slowly advanced to dominance. Liu Bei’s son Liu Chan eventually surrendered to the overwhelming Wei invasion, ending the romantic story abruptly there. Do not feel sad, as quickly afterwards, the Wei nation was replaced by a proper dynasty Jin, and many more were yet to come. This is the story about China history, best summarized as the opening line of The Romance of Three Kingdoms: “話說天下大事,分久必合,合久必分/For all grand nations, if divided for long, it will be united; if united for long, it will be divided, thus it has always been.” If you have the time, you gotta take a read of this equivalent of Shakespeare in Chinese literature.

Jin Alley

Right outside the Wuhou Shrine is another Chinese tourist hotspot on the internet. Despite its claims as an ancient road of commercial activities, it was only inaugurated in 2004, so I will spare you the pain of looking at painfully generic souvenir shops. This concludes my brief visit to the inner city of Chengdu, as I was not interested in tall buildings covered with glass or cafes serving sandwiches with a side of guacamole. Chacha continued to show me a local holiday retreat town towards the western mountains, where the city ended, and where Tibetan Himalayas began.

都江堰Dujiangyan

entrance to the complex

We hopped off the bus at the smaller city of Dujiangyan, an ancient choke hold of rivers right at the foothills of layers upon layers of roaring mountains. This unassumingly boring town holds a magnificent remnant of ancient Chinese wisdom. Sitting at the entrance of Min River into the Sichuan Plains, this place serves a crucial role in the flood-control strategy. During summer, the lower Himalayas receive a lot of rainfall, culminating in explosive floods in the massive Chengdu basin sitting 200m lower the riverbed. This had devastated Sichuan’s capabilities to support her people, and Li Bing, the governor during Qin Dynasty, decided to fix the perennial disaster, and by that I do not mean my incapability to find love. He and his son began work around 256BCE, and after 8 years of painstaking work, they finished the miracle that is still in use this very day: Dujiangyan irrigation system.

west gate
looking down to the irrigation system

Instead of building a large dam as people would assume, Li Bing used a clever method to solve the flooding problem, and also allowed ships to continue sail up and down the river as usual. He constructed a levee that splits the river into an inner and an outer part on an artificial island. This special part called 魚嘴/Fish Mouth was made out of rocks locked inside bamboo cages, and here begin the smart parts.

fish mouth

The inner river is on the outer bend, and is made to be narrow and deep; the outer river is on the inner side of the bend, and is made to be shallow and wide. During low water season, the bend forces most of the water to rush into the inner river, maintaining a 60% input so that the irrigation channels have sufficient water. When the water rises quickly due to rainfall in summer, the low-elevation bend becomes submerged and the river turns straight, forcing 60% of the water to rush into the outer river thanks to its wide bottom, preventing the currents from overwhelming the irrigation channels. By doing this, it also gets rid of most of the grit and sand brought down by the gushing river as the inner river, slower during summer, has time to let the impurities settle down.

the inner river

What lies downstream are more precaution measures. The Feisha Weir helps with cleaning out even more impurities by creating a vortex as the inner river splits into multiple channels. The vortex throws any solid out into a side river that merges back into the outer river using centripetal force. And finally the Treasure Bottle’s Neck controls the influx of water before letting it flow into the previously flood-prone plains. Ever since the construction was finished, the entire Sichuan suffered no more floods, and the entire region flourished into one of the most prosperous in ancient China.

Dujiangyan City is the beginning of the basin plains
vortex created by Feisha Weir, and Treasure Bottle Neck to the left
During low water the Weir blocks water to force it into irrigation channels, and during high water the Weir creates a vortex to get rid of the grit and sand

And in the picture above, you can see the temple sitting on a little hill, that is because that was originally connected to the large mountain to the left. Li Bing had to break the mountain apart 200 years before Jesus was born, so gunpowder was not an option. He used repeated pours of hot and cold water on rocks in order to crack them, thanks to repeated thermal expansion and contraction. Now, he and his son were heralded as kings of the waterways, with the added mythical elements such as being able to control flooding. A large temple was set up by the Fish Mouth called 二王廟/Two King Temple, and their method of constructing this unparalleled project is immortalized in it, as well as in every visitor’s mind: 深淘滩,低作堰 (Dig deep channels, make low weirs). Indeed, after 2300 years, the same plan is still in use, and is the longest used, oldest and most influential non-invasive hydro project in the world. Even the massive earthquake in 2008 that originated from a few miles from here could not do much damage to the system.

main hall of Two Kings Temple, note the written words on the roof ” 深淘滩,低作堰 “

This has led to a massive change in the role of Sichuan. It turned from a hot potato that nobody wanted to govern during the Warring States era to the pivotal strategic location during Han dynasty. Zhuge Liang was the first to recognize that and put down the first military camp nearby. Now it is a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as a popular school trip destination. Many people even say the laid back attitude and lifestyle of Sichuanese people has to come from the irrigation system that made worrying about next meal a thing of the ancient past! Thanks to Li Bing, we now have Chengdu tea time.

effigy of Li Bing
panorama from the tower!

There are many other buildings around the area, mostly serving as vantage points to take a look of the gigantic project. As usual for any Chinese touristy place, it was filled to the brim with people, making it difficult for me to take a photo without a few kids sneaking inside my frame. We bid farewell to the lone-dog city of Dujiangyan, and proceeded south towards another ancient village where Chacha’s family has a vacation house to get out of Chengdu’s scorching summers.

a mosque in Chinese style!

街子Jiezi

We arrived at Jiezi Ancient Village after a lengthy cab ride. This little quaint spot technically belongs to Dujiangyan city, but is so far out of the area that it barely counts. Chacha and I settled down in the holiday house and proceeded to take a walk in the deserted town designed to handle thousands of tourists.

entrance to the village
village plaza

This village started over 1000 years ago, and got the name Jiezi, Street, from the fact that most of the time there was just a street of people living inside. It was devastated by the earthquake in 2008, and finally rebuilt into the current format. In the above picture is the 字库塔/Word Storage Tower. Locals believe that it is immoral to taint or throw away paper that has words printed on it, so they gather all the paper with words underneath this tower and burn them in a frequent ritual. The top layer of the tower features painted panels from the famous ancient novel 白蛇传/Tale of the White Snake.

a street

This town is also luckily sitting beside a slow-flowing river, which is also supplied by multiple springs that flow through the streets, giving people here natural water on demand. Nowadays it is made into a tourist destination, but since we visited on a weekday, it was practically the wild wild west. Most tourists here are from Chengdu, so it only gets busy during weekends, as the 50km trek from the metropolis can only be done with bus.

an old playhouse

Thanks to its distance from crowds and the source of its tourism, Jiezi remained relatively local even after the complete reconstruction, serving up cheap food with authentic taste. Chacha’s family and I retired to slumber in the quiet countryside after enjoying some real local treats.

Panda Conservation Center

Chacha feeding a panda

For my last day in the region, we visited a local panda center. There are quite a few dotted around the greater Chengdu region, and this is one of the lesser-known ones so we could enjoy the pandas in peace. According to my local host, it also allows us to get really close to the pandas, as in the most popular conservation center north of Chengdu you would barely see a panda’s butt with binoculars.

What we refer to as panda normally is the giant panda, famous for the black and white fur, as well as the ridiculous diet consisting of mostly bamboo. However, the equally cute small pandas are also very endangered, so this conservation center also has a bunch of them well fed and well petted. Look at their large tails, and fluffy heads, and oh oh the BIG eyes!!! AWWWWWWWWWW this one is lazy! :3

breakfast time!

But of course, the star of the show are these goofy evolutionary oddballs that roll around the hills as if no such thing called global warming is threatening their very existence. Some of the enclosures have more shy pandas, so they stay a bit far from the observation deck, behind a large wall of glass, which makes it particularly difficult to appreciate when the lights are hitting from the wrong direction. However, without even looking at them, we were sure that these guys were doing one thing and one thing only: eating. They consume so much bamboo that they were practically perpetually sitting on a little mountain of leaves supplied by their human servants.

fibre fibre fibre fibre

In some other enclosures, however, we got real close, just a few meters away from the national treasure. These guys seemed to not give a fuck at all, casually exposing themselves as they ferociously yet clumsily consume bamboo sticks thick as wood. Hearing the crackling sound coming from their jaws as they ripped the plant apart sent chills down my spine: even though they are probably as shameful a bear can become, they still possess that kind of raw power, as a vegetarian most of the time!

munch together!

We were glad to see the mistake of natural evolution bouncing back in numbers here under the care of humans simply because they are fluffy and cute, so we took our leave. (haha, get it? we took our leave, where is my comedian certificate?) We headed for our last and most daunting destination, a mountain so lush that its name has the word “green” in it.

青城山Qingcheng Mountain

#1 mountain of west Sichuan

Welcome to 青城山/Qingcheng Mountain, literally meaning Green City Mountain. This is the epicenter of Chinese Taoism activity, since its earliest branch, 五斗米道/Five Bushels of Rice Taoism, started from this place, as its leader, Zhang Ling the Heavenly Master settled here during early 2nd century. He was responsible for creating the rules and beliefs of this branch of Taoism, and the name comes from the fact that anyone who wishes to join the religion has to contribute five bushels of rice.

Jianfu Pavilion
front gate

After paying a hefty 90RMB/13 dollar entrance fee, we were welcomed into the crystal green heaven of the mountain. The mountain is over 1600 meters/4000ft tall, and climbing all the way up was definitely a long chore. Chacha was a bit more advanced in age, so we decided to head for the cable car towards the higher complexes.

After climbing a few hundred steps made of rock planks, we were finally at the lake at the official foothill of the main peak. From there, another 60RMB/9USD whisked us up to the Shangqing Pavilion in the upper terraces. The mountain boasts a large amount of Taoism temples, as there had been 2000 years of development all surrounding the very first cave that dwelled the Heavenly Master, Tianshi Cave.

going up

From the cable car station, it would be another 700 steps towards the peak, where Laojun Pagoda sits. We slowly made our way through the ancient building of Shangqing temple, completely mesmerized by the hundreds of couplets written by believers and non-believers of various degrees of literary mastery. The title of the temple, 上清宫, written by Chiang Kai Shek (take a look of the Chongqing journal if you wanna know how important he is). He has an incredible handwriting in my personal opinion, and it only survived the Cultural Revolution thanks to the Taoist monks who admired his writing too.

Shangqing Pavilion

From there we climbed all the way up to the peak, sweating profusely like me during a job interview. We came across quite a few Taoist temples on the way, all propping up effigies of obscure characters, even though this branch worships Lao Tzu as the main deity. I am not allowed to take pictures of these altars, so sadly I cannot show you photos of some hilarious ones that I came across. Just think of a plastic guy with 3 feet long of artificial beard, squinting so hard that he might ascend to the next realm of existence like he was constipated.

interior of Shangqing Pavilion

You can actually stay in these temples for a modest fee of 100RMB/14USD a night in a simple room with no showers, and you can view the breathtaking sunset a few hundred steps up the mountain. However, food might be a big problem as you need to descend a few hundred steps in order to get some pricey tourist trap restaurants on the main ascending route. However, being able to hear the chants in the morning as the glorious sun rises must be worth it I assume.

praying candles

Finally, after 2 solid hours and a cheat session on a cable car, we finally reached the peak at the Laojun Pagoda, piercing through the heavens into nirvana itself. With such a commanding view, it was only possible to sit down and take a long break, and eat some corn that we purchased on the way in order to reward ourselves for doing such hard work.

Laojun Pagoda

Sadly, we could not ascend to the top of the pagoda as it was forbidden, so we just sat down for a good view. Thankfully, life is not too difficult when the most daunting thing you have to face is carrying a corn up a hill. I love the simpler lives that I get to lead sometimes, as I am definitely not a guy used to alarm clocks and punch cards.

view from the top
narrow gorge paths

We began our descent by foot, and within an hour, we were crossing gorges between large chunks of twisted rocks that evidenced the traumatic geological pushes that formed this mountain eons ago. Many smaller shrines dotted the way, and one that especially caught our eye. It is Chaoyang Cave, a large cave that faces east, hence its name in Chinese 朝阳/facing the sun. Inside it two Taoist priests gave Chacha a reading of her palms for nearly half an hour, after getting paid for nearly 10USD of course. This is communism at work, folks! They basically told her that this year, her Chinese zodiac sign, pig, is having a rough time, and they taught her ways to avoid having bad luck such as wearing red underwear and praying to the gods more often, and also do not pet cats. The last one is a deal breaker for me: I would rather be on a noose than not petting cats for a year!

Chaoyang Cave
Roots of Wisdom

After another lengthy descent, we were finally in the main Taoist temple of the mountain, Tianshi Cave, where Zhang Ling was rumoured to practice. Though the cave was small, the entire complex came sprawling far and wide from it. Dozens of temples spread across the multiple floors thanks to the steep incline, and a large ginko tree dominated the center, and people say it was planted by Zhang himself nearly 2000 years ago.

Tianshi Cave

We were exhausted when we reached the cave, as the humidity combined with heat sapped our strength out like a preschooler with a coolaid. Slowly slogging downwards, we reached the last major temple before exit, Natural Paintings, which has its name from an emperor’s experience when he saw the looming hills combining with the rocky buildings. Thanks to being close to major roads, the temple had been converted into a large collection of souvenir shops, and along with those shops came the shopkeepers and their families. These all made the little pit stop look more like a village that sat in the greenery.

C H O N K at Natural Paintings

Finally, we were liberated from the grasp of overwhelmingly nice air, and back to the roadside pollution that is normal for China. I loved inhaling some nice nitrogen oxides after a long hike, really gets my lungs going you know? You gotta tell your body who is the boss by reminding that they are frail and easily dominated, otherwise they might just get bored and pull up a random prank like asthma, allergy or something.

YUM

Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention, Sichuan region is famous for one thing over anything else: FOOD. And that strange absence of any edibles on your entire read so far is not a coincidence. For the first time ever since the beginning of this blog, I am forced to put all the food in a different section of its own since I took way too many photos about the abundant offerings. Hey, those brain dead Rick and Morty fans rioted in McDonalds’ stores looking for Szechuan Sauce had a reason okay?

rice dumplings

During my visit, it was just before Dragon Boat Festival, which has devolved into a nation-wide rice dumpling eating fest nowadays. It is easily one of the most iconic food in this street as it is only set up during this period of time to sell hundreds of thousands of rice dumplings. About 100 shops, completely oblivious of the economics concept of product differentiation, sat side by side and sold authentic Jiaxing dumplings since most of the old ladies making the dumplings are immigrants from the eastern area.

making rice dumplings
freshly wrapped rice dumplings

Of course, as technology advances, they also offer vacuum packaging of any dumpling of your choosing, and they can be mailed to anyplace in the country for a modest fee. Immediately after the festival was over, this entire street turns normal, finally giving all the pedestrian walk space back to its rightful owners: illegally parked cars.

OH BOY LOOK AT THE AMOUNT OF CHILI

Right across from Wenshu Shrine, a simple old store sits quietly waiting for its raucous customers to finish their food so they could finally give space to the long line waiting outside. This shop offers two things: 凉皮/cold mung bean jelly, and 甜水面/sweet chili noodles. And yes, they are definitely worth the wait as the price is cheap and the food they offer is on point.

sweet chili noodles

One bowl of this noodle, barely a dollar, has only a handful of noodles, each thicker than your chopsticks. The texture of the noodle is a chewy doughy one, and the seasoning, on my fucking lord Arceus, the seasoning! In the beginning, I was kinda taken aback by the strange combination of sugar and heavy chili usage, but later, when the peanut crumbs kick in, wow, just wow. It was so tasty since unlike many spicy foods here as the sweet taste soothes out the punch of the chili. I definitely recommend the food to anyone who wants to see a new dimension.

mung bean jelly

The mung bean jelly was also pretty good, but it cannot compare to the saucy goodness that is the sweetest noodle I have ever seen. Alas it was okay, and we move on to the next shop, a large hole in the wall that practically has a crowd perpetually buzzing around its slightly smelly food that is being peddled.

can you guess what it is?

And this is probably the most repulsive food you will see in this journal, so do not fret, it is not like my Swedish adventure in the aptly named Disgusting Food Museum. Still, this ain’t pretty. You are looking at a pot of bubbling, churning, white, gooey, tied up, swimming, pork intestines. The popular local delicacy calls into question the sanity of Sichuanese food, especially if you can remember that they also eat rabbits’ heads as I witnessed in Chongqing. The sweet potato noodle has to be freshly made to add into the intestine soup, along with plentiful of spices of course. And Chacha demanded me to get it with a classic cold jelly dessert that I always loved to slurp. Why? Why do I have to enjoy some love with a disgusting bowl of noodles? Life is so unfair? Can I just get the jelly?

jelly dessert

As it turns out, the combination is… really good! Yes, I was shocked myself when I typed this line too. The fowl smells of intestines are dramatically reduced when it is boiled for this long, and the fatty insides actually boosts the texture of the smooth noodle, and the hyper-spicy broth can be washed down with a refreshing slurp of cold fruity jelly. Unbelievable, I, I, actually enjoyed intestines! What kind of goatfucker am I turning into? Oh no! I am gonna become one of those people who live off the land and actually fully utilize their kills? I am a wasteful carbon positive North American! Throwing food away is in my potty training program! NOOOOO!

pork intestines with pork blood

Shamefully, this trend continued as we later tried out the other famous local dish involving pork intestines, but much bloodier, literally. The mixture of blood clumps and pork intestines make a strangely dynamic duo, creating a flavor profile unlike any other and a combination of texture in one’s mouth that is hard to describe. And yes, I can hear you, I will stop now.

bbq skewers

We also got to try the barbeque that they have from the nearby city of Leshan. Despite the demand that I made to make sure they only cover them with half of the spices, I still choked hard on the chili powder plastered with ample peppercorn oil. I could also hear the chefs joking around for serving a “pussy” today in the kitchen. Nevertheless, I chowed down the entire plate mixed with my tear drops of pain.

chaoshou shop

Chacha also took me to one of the more local secrets, a small chaoshou shop sitting in the middle of an old neighborhood. Chaoshou is basically what they call wontons, except they do not innovate on the fillings inside like we do in Shanghai, but do a lot of neat tricks outside on the way they serve them after the wontons are boiled. However, the menu seems to indicate that they go in only 2 directions: either clear soupy wontons that is designed to heal your stomach and soul, or nuclear annihilation with a thick layer of chili powder just like the fallout.

what have you guys done to wontons?

The spicy version is as usual, stomachache inducing-ly delicious, and I swallowed so many of those down with my tears. The inside filling of this shop’s newly innovated chaoshou has crab eggs and medicinal herbs, so the taste was milder than what I would expect, and much more umami exploded in my mouth with each bite. Nice!

triple shot

This is a local streetside snack called 三大炮/Triple shot. It is served as three palm-sized glutenous rice balls covered in peanut powder in sugar sauce. They serve it by hitting a large bell three times, toss the balls up and let it fall onto the bouncy bamboo pan full of peanut powder before collecting them. Strange sales tactics indeed, but the taste is unmistakably good.

baked pancake tacos

This is another classic. 蛋烘糕, or as I like to call them, pancake tacos, are a local favorite amongst students on their lunchbreaks. Costing barely 3RMB/0.5USD each, these pancakes are served wrapping around a bunch of fillings available. You can pick the normal cream or nutella, all the way to unholy abominations like spicy beef or pork floss. Think of them as Chinese mini crepes, and they are not too shabby compared to their French counterparts as well.

fried sugar doughs

In a tiny alleyway, Chacha bought me this little stick of carbs. Famous amongst older folks, this 糖油果子(literally sugar oil dough) is a dying tradition. Deep fried hollow doughs are coated in slightly burnt sugar and white sesame, and costs 3RMB/0.5USD, as the price was mostly stuck in 1975, the era it came from. Taste like any normal carbohydrate covered in carbohydrate as you may expect, albeit a bit stickier.

what on god’s flat green earth…

Yes, you are right. Sichuanese eat pig noses. On this blog, I have taken you to the southern edge of Antarctica, the loneliest island in the world, touched a mummy in a highland desert, and saw four men carrying a guy down the hill in a unicycle, but this is the first time for pig noses stuffed with green onions to appear. You have now officially seen everything, and let me award you “I Have Seen Shit” medal, wear it with pride, and fear. I never got nosy enough to try it, because these probosces were actually pretty expensive delicacies. I guess if you sniff around hard enough, there might be some cheap places that offer you this smelly treat.

oh HELL nah

Oh yeah, completely forgot, Sichuanese are sickly fucked up. You are not gonna even remotely guess what food this is, so I will not bother asking you what it is. Also remember I said that those pork intestines are gonna be the most disgusting food we have in this journal? Scratch that. Forget about it. Burn it away from your brain, overdose a bit of methamphetamine if you can. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what all Chinese bow and kowtow to Sichuanese for. This is an array of bowls of pig brain. Yeah, forget about big brain moments, this is pig brain moment now. I unfortunately got to try it, under Chacha’s multiple attempts to call me pussy if I don’t try it. I will spare my words, and just telling ya: it tastes powdery and creamy. Yes, you have my permission to take a break from this journal and go to the bathroom.

Ye Er Pa

These bad boys, ignoring my one strand of hair, are 叶儿耙, literally meaning plumps with leaves. It is basically steamed rice balls with oily meat inside, done on top of a piece of herbal leaf. It tastes sticky and smells very nice, but I guarantee you will get digestion problems if you try more than 3. The oil took me nearly 30 seconds to drain from each of these white balls, and those were some clear high quality pig fat right there that I did not want to end up as another ring in my belly.

The 狼牙土豆/Wolf Teeth Potato, as its name suggests, contains a few teeth from wild wolves harvested from nearby mountains, and as usual are covered in heavy chili oil. I am just messing with ya haha, it just looks like teeth of a canine but does not contain any, since most wolves had already been hunted to extinction for Chinese medicine. This Leshan dish recently had gained quite some internet popularity so has been popping up around the country actually.

bean curd

Of course, Sichuanese have to make “improvements” on the perfectly bland and fine tofu curds. The version here employs a huge amount of chili oil and green onion, and you gotta dip the tofu curd in the sauce in order to satisfy your already-destroyed sensory buds. They say Sichuanese do not joke around when it comes to spicy food, they are serious.

bo bo chicken

钵钵鸡/Bo bo chicken, has taken over Chinese local scenes by storm due to its ease to customize. Hundreds of kinds of items are boiled and skewered, and dunked in one of the sauces when one finishes collecting all the skewers he or she wants. You get to choose simply saucy, peppercorn burn, chili annihilation, and whole shabang sayonara package. (the names of the flavors may or may not be a Young creation) The food is originally from Leshan, a few dozen kilometers from Chengdu, but now it has gotten so popular that people have begun to forget, probably due to their brains getting melted off by the spicy flavors.

if you find the fresh, pinky, jiggly pig brain in this picture, you have my permission to go vomit

I saved the best for the last. Yes, another skewered dish, but this one is probably the most magnificent. (ignore the brain sitting on the table next to the skewers please.) Chacha took me to a restaurant serving this 串串香, literally meaning skewered fragrance. Thousands, I mean literally thousands, of skewers lie around the dozens of fridges in the store, and are marked from broccoli to beef intestines. You grab hundreds, and I mean literally hundreds, and dunk them into the large boiling pot that you chose. The broth inside cooks the contents and you just bite the food right off! The coolest part, however, is that you are billed at the end by the weight of all the skewers you got, each kilogram is 80RMB/12USD, so it does not matter what kind of item you grabbed.

I eventually got over 400 skewers, and I hope they recycle these sticks one way or another, because it can be quite costly to keep replenishing all the bamboos used to make them! I have never seen anything like this, and found it absolutely hilarious while having no idea how much I would end up paying. It turned out that 400 sticks are just barely under 2kg, so we paid in total about 190RMB after all the drinks and side dishes, like the pig brain Chacha ordered. *shudders*

cooking hot pot!

Sadly, we did not get in time to try the signature dish of Chongqing this time, hot pot. Above you see a chef preparing the incredibly good smelling hot pot broth. Here they use chunks of butter instead of normal oil for the broth, and the fragrance, oh my fucking god, cannot be beat. And yeah, of course, put in literally hundreds of chili, or it would not be Sichuan food.

more jelly of course!

Los Angeles

After all these incredible experiences, it was finally time for me to leave. I hopped onto the high speed bullet train that is marked as intra-city, and headed towards Chengdu airport. It was pretty incredible that all these stuffs took place during the span of 72 hours, and just riding on trains, airplanes, buses, bikes, and metros took more than 10 hours within it. I was treated with one beautiful sunset at Qingcheng Mountain as my train slowly moved out of Qingcheng Mountain station. Pretty nuts that China is now rich enough to build glorified metro lines using bullet trains!

train station
view from the train

I had a great flight to Los Angeles, despite it being a bit disappointing due to a last minute aircraft swap. (You can read more about it in my review in the previous part.) I met up with my favorite angel from city of angels, Sara, and she even got a kitty cat! Awwwww~! So cuuuuuuute~! Please come home with me to Shanghai! Oh and Sara you can come too if you want.

hello babyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!
UCLA campus

For those of you who are new here, I spent my college days in Los Angeles, so I am not gonna detail you the 20 hours I spent there. It is a bit nostalgic to see all my old friends graduating and finally becoming a bit wiser, and the entire university running out of friends I know. Everyone is scattered around the globe now, and only I, the most uncertain location-wise, was at the place where we were once together. I thanked Sara for her incredibly green and fibre-rich fruit shake, and went straight back to China.

happy 100th birthday UCLA!

Epilogue

Wow, what a ride! Chengdu was definitely more than I expected, in every way, and I had pretty high standards to begin with. Coming from Shanghai, I just wanted to get a slower life here, and oh boy did I get one. Not only did I managed to run away from concrete forests and hyper-capitalistic shopping malls that had become a constant in Shanghai, but also did I manage to find a trace of authentic China before corporate Disney and Starbucks took over the middle class consumption charts. I got to see ancient temples and shrines, tried local food, and also got to experience what a good’ol Chinese countryside life felt like.

an old Chengdu community
Laojun pagoda

I had some tea while watching people rowing down a slow river looking for the best fishing spots, but I also got to climb a mountain to see the most impressive Taoist temples that have ever been constructed. Do not forget about the history lessons we got to learn on the way too, as well as an engineering marvel those ancient Chinese managed to build over 2000 years ago. Oh, and definitely do not forget: pandas, and food! What else can I possibly want? Okay you may say girlfriend but let’s put that aside, what else can I possibly want?

Also a big thanks to Chacha, who had been nothing but patient and degrading to me when I was choking every time food entered my mouth, oh and also showing me around for 3 days and letting me stay in her houses. This trip would not be the same without you, thank you. Woah this is just a few days in this capital of Sichuan province, imagine what it would be like if I ever go back? So many things happened, so many sights seen, and so much food devoured. Absolutely bonkers! Pagodas, pandas, pancakes, you can surely say, this, is the panda-monium.

-=ForeverYoung|Chengdu 2019=-

<— introduction & Hainan flight reviews

<— Travel History & MasterPlan

FIN

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