China – Chengdu

Tuesday July 17 We grabbed an airport shuttle bus from the Xi’an railway station to the airport, and then took a flight to Chengdu from Xi’an. They loaded the plane, and then due to an “air traffic jam” we had to wait on the tarmac for about an hour before we were cleared for take-off, and eventually we made it. Mike’s friend Kai, and one of his employees, Weilin picked us up from the airport, which was great. Mike was wondering if he was going to be able to recognize Kai after 8 years, but we found him no problem. They had set us up with a hotel and already checked us in, so we just dropped our bags off in the room and then went out for a delicious dinner with Kai’s wife, and Weilin’s husband Tao. It was pretty cool to meet them all!

Wednesday July 18 Unfortunately, I woke up with a pretty bad cold, so there isn’t too much to report. We had wanted to explore the neighbourhood where our hotel was, but after walking even a couple blocks I was exhausted, so we called it a day early and spent all day in bed eating ramen and fading in and out of consciousness.

Thursday July 19 After a day off I woke up still not feeling too great, but good enough to look around. We explored our negihbourhood a bit, and then took the subway to Tianfu Square, right in the center of downtown. We checked out a fish market, cool water fountains and some neat pedestrian shopping streets. Chengdu seems like a pretty cool city! In the evening we walked around and randomly chose a good looking restaurant. There were no pictures, and no English menu, so the waitress gave us the house special – really good noodles in tomato broth with chopped tomatos, cabbage and a fried egg over easy on top. Yum!

Friday July 20 We spent the morning checking out Kai’s company, Expacta, and then went with him, Weilin and Tao for hot pot lunch. After lunch Kai and Weilin went back to work, after dropping Tao and us off at Jinli Street, where we wandered through the artist’s stalls, took in the sights and smells, and had a few beers. Part of the street is full of snack vendors and I wished I hadn’t eaten so much at the hot pot restaurant! Later that evening, Mike and I wandered onto a street full of restauraunts and bars. We chose a nice looking restauraunt, and chose some enticing looking dishes from a picture menu. Funnily, one of the dishes we ordered had Sichuan pepper in it. It is a very weird pepper that is sort of spicy, but has an earthy (almost metallic) flavour, and also has a numbing agent. Our waitress loved watching our reactions to it, and even called some of her friends over to watch. We thought it was pretty funny too!

Saturday July 21 Kai’s company was having a team-building session and we were invited along. We were taken by Weilin and Tao to a delicious Hong Kong-style restaurant and then Kai picked us up and took us to an archery range, where we met up with the rest of his employees. The archery was with traditional bows, and we both shot a few quivers. I found it pretty tiring after being under the weather, and had a chat with Elsie and then slept on a couch while the boys shot a few more quivers. Elsie and Kai decided a little later on that we should try a foot massage. She came with us, and negotiated a full body massage (at a place called Fuqiao, I believe). It lasted a couple of hours and was awesome!

Sunday July 22 We packed a lot into our last day in Chengdu. We woke up and headed to the Chengdu Panda Base in the morning, and wandered around for a while. The facility is huge, and it was rather cool, so the pandas were out and active! We saw about 15 of various ages.

In the evening, we went with Weilin to the Sichuan Opera, which is a kind of variety show. It was a mix of dance, shadow puppets, singing, some acrobatic comedy and martial arts. The Opera culminated with a ‘face changing’ act, where the performers change their masks in a fraction of a second over and over as they dance on stage. This was accompanied by some fire-breathing, both very impressive!

Monday July 23 Kai picked us up, and we stopped for dim sum on the way to the airport. We got on the plane, and then were told the flight was delayed and sat on the tarmac for something like 2.5 hours. Because of that we missed all the trains to Suzhou and had to hire a car to Suzhou, and then take a cab from there to Wladyka’s place in Changshu. Ended up getting there after 10 pm, when we originally thought we’d get there by 7. However, We still had time to get dinner at a cool American-Italian place, and meet some of Wladyka’s friends in the expat community.