Gettin’ Spicy

Day 124 (27th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Last night, I farewelled my first Western friend, Anthony, with a quick drink. My Chinese friend, Todd, also came along. Todd brought along a particularly peculiar but delightful gift for everyone. He had dug through our social media accounts to find a good picture of ourselves, and then printed them out in fully edible lollipops.

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I must say, it did feel odd licking my face the next morning, but it tasted good.

Genius idea I say. I want to bring this business to Australia.

Todd is in Year 12 at a local high school in Xuzhou, and he normally pops by the bar to practice his English with the foreigners. Our language levels are a pretty good match for each other. It’s pretty much exactly 50/50 Chinese/English, if not skewed a bit more towards Chinese. There’s a week of school holidays starting today, and so Todd told me that he was going to Tai’erzhuang to do his first bit of travel on his own.

Without even asking what this “Tai’erzhuang” place was, I asked if I could join and he quickly said yes.

I still didn’t know what Tai’erzhuang was when I woke up at 4:30am for the long distance coach. All I know was that it was in neighbouring Shandong Province, and that we would be back by the evening.

It turns out that Tai’erzhuang is a district of the city Zaozhuang (which I hadn’t heard of either). It is well known for being the location of a major battle in the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1938 fought between the armies of the Republic of China (now Taiwan) and Japan. The Republic of China aimed to encircle the Japanese at Tai’erzhuang in an attempt to foil their plan to capture Xuzhou.

I’m not the biggest history nut, but I must say that even without the history, this place was a marvel. From the minute you step foot upon the main, moat-lined site of Tai’erzhuang, it dominates the horizon.

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The waters surrounding the fort are particularly beautiful. They’re lined with 柳树 (the draping trees you see in some of the photos below). I love them, they add a real lazy feel to the scene.

I think that this shot best conveys the feeling you get while looking over the moat.

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The canals are lined with traditional buildings containing hotels and restaurants.

The streets which lay an organised grid through Tai’erzhuang are filled with tea-houses and traditional baijiu watering holes.

Perhaps my favourite scene of the day was this:

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The streets had an authentic Chinese style – they weren’t exaggerated for tourists. I particularly loved how few people were there. It was the first time in a while that been able to walk in complete silence.

You can see that I was over the moon about this.

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My favourite temple was one which resembles exactly what I’m expecting to see in Sichuan and Tibet next week. The prayer flags were stunning in the sunlight.

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It turns out that Todd is into his guns, so he insisted that we pay some money for some photos dressed as Taiwanese soldiers.

I actually thought I got a pretty decent shot out of the whole spectacle. I’d mistake this shot for the album cover of an indie rock band any day.

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It was fitting to see alcohol being sold in bomb and bullet shaped bottles.

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For lunch, Todd and I ate some thick beef noodles at a local restaurant. They were great – I have no desire to run from routine of eating Chinese for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Afterwards, we jumped in the modern interpretation of a rickshaw to go and see the WWII museum.

After being asked for a picture with hordes of rural Chinese tourists at the entrance to the museum, they let us tag along with their tour group to return the favour.

While waiting for our coach’s departure back to Xuzhou, Todd and I went for a short stroll in another part of the city.

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One of my other favourite shots of the day was taken when we were driving past a primary school at the end of the school day.

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Waiting at the long-distance bus station was a bleak affair.

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I could not work out how the ceiling fans would be effective at such a height.

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Following the long day, Todd and I decided to head to Fusion to see our friends. Todd lives really close to the city centre, so we stopped by there to drop his bags off.

I was warmly welcomed into what turned out to be Todd’s grandparents’ apartment. Todd’s family sends all of the cousins to live together at the grandparents’ place because it’s especially close to the school.

The grandparents were overly apologetic when I first entered because the desks of the children weren’t cleaned up. Standing before me, without exaggeration, was a 2m tower of textbooks next to each of the children’s desks. I can accurately estimate the size of the stacks because of their relative height to me – they were considerably taller. I thought it was great – the kids used it as a mark of pride to signify all the work they’d completed over the years. The older kids had taller stacks. Todd therefore had the tallest.

I spent the rest of the next hour nervously looking over in case one of the stacks collapsed, but they seemed unusually fixed in place.

Seldom am I as warmly welcomed into someones home as I was this evening. Todd’s grandparents cooked up a storm, and I sat on the ground eating a traditional Xuzhou dinner.

Soon, Todd’s parents caught wind of the foreign guest and popped over to say hello. They were equally as nice. Before long, the whole family was fixated on me as I told my stories of the funny things I’d seen in this city. It was great fun.

At one point they asked me what my plans were over the next week. After telling them that I was going to Chengdu in Sichuan Province, Todd mentioned that he’d hardly been outside of his own province. He has never been on a plane, and hasn’t even visited Beijing or Shanghai. It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford it – I got the impression that the family (and even Todd individually) very well could have. It was more of a cultural avoidance of travel and the pressure to study. And so, it was with my insistence that Todd join me on my trip to Chengdu next week. After some discussion and negotiation, it was agreed upon.

Day 125 (28th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

At 6am this morning, I woke to the final zip of Il Kwon’s bag as he farewelled me and embarked on his journey back to Busan in South Korea. He’s returning to Xuzhou after having made a girlfriend here, but he won’t be back before I leave.

After a brief hour of tutoring (my only tutoring for the week), I had the laziest day of my trip so far. It is the first day in Xuzhou where I can honestly say that I did ‘nothing’.

That is, until the evening. After a message from Todd giving me the go-ahead for Chengdu, I began to book his tickets on the same flights as me. After much hassle in translation issues and getting the right information, I booked all the legs of the trip. One by one, I was told from each airline carrier that a full refund would be issued in the next week because I couldn’t book on behalf of a Chinese citizen.

It was with much difficulty that I slowly guided Todd through the process of booking the flights on his own. I couldn’t believe my eyes when, after he’d finally booked the first one, he’d accidentally selected the wrong day. Thank God that it had free cancellation within 24 hours of booking.

Eventually, everything was sorted out and confirmed for the weekend’s travel.

Day 126 (29th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Today’s main activity was heading out to the 朝阳市场 (Chaoyang Markets). This is one of Xuzhou’s famous marketplaces which spans multiple floors of a huge building. It sells your standard fake Chinese goods.

It was only upon taking a few steps into the market when I realised that I had made the same mistake yet again – I don’t like these places. It used to be one of the main reasons I loved China when I was a younger boy. I would spend my term’s savings on dozens of headphones and Nike shoes, selling them and boasting about them when I got back to school the next term. But all of that allure has now gone. I dawdled through the marketplace for a little while and eventually confirmed that there was nothing which interested me.

I still spotted a great ‘Bew Nalance’ t-shirt, though.

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Instead, I decided to shift the focus of my day to finding good food. Funnily enough, the first food stall I came across was selling dog. I didn’t indulge in it this time.

The vendor was displaying dog skulls to notify passers-by of what he was selling.

[TRIGGER WARNING]

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I ended up finding a good, greasy lunch in the form of a Chinese egg roll. I loved it.

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Might have to start revisiting that gym soon.

I spent the rest of the day at a coffee shop working on some more documents which have been on my to-do list.

Day 127 (30th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

After a sleep in, I brought myself to another coffee shop to finish off last night’s work. This brought me through to the afternoon when I was able to collect my exam results and (contingent on passing) my graduation certificate.

My exam results were:

(drumroll)

Summary Class: 86/100
Listening Class: 91/100
Speaking Class: 89/100
Reading Class: 92/100
Writing Class: 96/100
HSK Class: 93/100

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Overall I’m quite happy and glad that it’s behind me. I remember thinking at the start of the semester that the Level 4 Course was a big step up for me, and I’m glad that I was able to meet the challenge.

As a result of passing all my subjects, I received my graduation certificate.

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Here is a picture of me at the graduation ceremony.

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To celebrate, I messaged a few friends to say that I’d shout them dinner for my last night in Xuzhou. I didn’t want a say in which restaurant, only that it had to have good meat, so I was led to this place:

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It was a phenomenal concept – grill your own skewers and kebabs. This would take off in Australia.

I ended the night with a stomach-full of lamb and mooncake.

The rest of the evening was spent packing up my room. My train out of Xuzhou is at 2:30pm. I easily filled up two huge bags and called it a night.

As I lay in my dormitory bed for the last time, it was a weird experience of emotion. I wasn’t crying, although I felt like I should have been. I could vividly remember my first night lying in the exact same position. The only difference was that it was freezing cold and I was rugged up in all of my jackets. I remember how sad and scared I was – everything was so much more daunting than I ever could have imagined. I recall in particular thinking secretly that I wouldn’t make it through to July. I was confident that I’d quietly pull out after a month and go back home. I genuinely believed that – it wasn’t just a tactic of making myself feel more comfortable.

As I write this now, I feel extraordinarily proud that I was able to make it this far. In the grand scheme of things, one semester isn’t an overly long time. But in such an unfamiliar environment, braving it out is one of the toughest things you could ever do. I’m elated that I was able to do it.

Day 128 (1st of July, 2016) – Shanghai, China

I was woken up by my Dorm Master banging on my door. He was met with a shirtless zombie, but pushed past me without thinking much of it to check the state of my room.

“Good”, was all he said, as he ticked and signed off everything, handing my room deposit back to me.

By this point I was properly awake, and so I checked through my to-do list to work out what needed doing before leaving this city. Now that I had my graduation certificate, dorm deposit and nothing to lose, I figured that it was worth taking up a battle which had been brewing for some time.

As some context, the scholarship which I’m on includes a living allowance of 2500RMB (AU$500) per month for food, furniture and so forth. I’ve been budgeting every transaction of my trip very closely, and I had noticed that I never received a payment for my first month of February. I also hadn’t received my payment for June or July (the month starting today). Opening up my contract, I discovered that you are entitled to half of the month’s allowance if you arrive after the 15th of that month (which I did), and likewise if you leave before the 15th of that month (which I am).

So, I figured that I was owed:

February – 1250RMB
June – 2500RMB
July – 1250RMB
Total – 5000RMB (AU$1000)

That’s no small amount of money, and after asking for it multiple times in the past, the teacher in charge had always brushed it off and launched into his local dialect when explaining why I wasn’t entitled to it.

This time, though, I figured that it was worth one last attempt.

The teacher, Wu Laoshi, sits in the corner of the international office which has four desks. He’s somewhat of a dominant personality in conversation, and it always attracts the attention of the rest of the office. So it was to their laughter that I walked in and said in Chinese, “stop being evasive, where’s my money”.

Although this sounds like it’s becoming a Quentin Tarantino movie, I assure you that the hostility tapered off around here.

As per usual, Wu Laoshi used his local dialect to shoo me off.

“No money, no money” he repeated.

This time I stood my ground, arguing my case through the contract which we had both signed. He continued to ignore me.

So, I decided to leave the office and return with a printed out version of the contract with the relevant clause stipulating that I was entitled to the money highlighted.

After coming back to him with the contract, he finally decided to do some investigating for me and went off to ask someone else. While he was gone, the other teachers started gossiping in Chinese. Luckily, I could understand.

“I’m pretty sure he’s taking the money for himself,” was one of the few lines I picked up, but that was all I needed.

Coming back, he gave me the answer I expected.

“Sorry, I just asked the boss. You can’t have the money.” he said.

“That’s not an option, sorry. We both signed this.” I said, flashing the contract at him.

“You’re leaving on the 1st of July, why should you get a living allowance up to the 15th of July?” he retorted.

“I didn’t write the contract, mate” I quipped, feeling more like a character from Suits by the minute.

“No, sorry.” he insisted, more angrily this time.

I banked on him not calling my bluff and took out my phone to ‘call my lawyer’. He looked up, and asked what I was doing.

“A law firm in Shanghai,” I said, “I’m just confirming that the advice they gave me last night regarding this issue was definitely correct before I take this any further.”

The look on his face…

“Wait one second, I’ll just ask the boss again. Hang on.” He shot up out of his desk.

He returned with a wad of money. It’s thicker than my mattress. I didn’t think one corrupt teacher could fit this much cash down his trousers.

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He couldn’t bear to admit defeat.

“Obviously don’t tell the other students,” he said, “we’re just making an exception for you”.

And my Lord, did I proceed to tell the other students. There’s always been rumours from people that Wu Laoshi is corrupt, but it was so good to finally have caught him red-handed. I left the university behind with a line of students at Wu Laoshi’s door asking for their overdue payments to be given to them.

No one, even if they’re in a dire situation, should take money from foreign students’ livings allowances (many of whom desperately need it – much more so than I) for personal gain. There are students at the university on a scholarship from Comoros and Madagascar who are living dollar to dollar (or yuan to yuan, should I say), and it’s frankly disgusting that they would ever be conned into thinking that they weren’t entitled to all of their money.

After the incident, I received a call to say that my tour in Turkey has been cancelled because of the recent terrorist attack. I found it odd that they didn’t cancel it after the last ten attacks – I don’t think anyone goes to Turkey without consenting to some risk. I’ll have to think through my plan of attack over the next week and make a smart decision balancing both my own safety and enjoyment.

I didn’t have time to fret too much as I hauled my two bags to the train station for my trip to Shanghai.

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The train to Shanghai was enjoyable. For what would now be the third time, I was sat next to an elderly Chinese man who shared his lychees with me. We sat and talked about his childhood while he fed me more and more. Eventually, he disembarked at Nanjing and I was left to do some reading for the rest of the journey.

Arriving at Shanghai’s Hongqiao Railway Station is always a hassle. This was compounded by the fact that it was a Friday night. Last time it was here, it took me around two hours to get to the end of the taxi queue. This time, my friend Paul was kind enough to organise his driver to pick me up. After getting in the car at around 5:30pm, it wasn’t until almost 7pm that we exited the carpark. It was a disaster.

Several cars seemed to think that sitting on their horns would miraculously unblock the traffic jam in the carpark, but unfortunately it was to no avail.

After finally arriving at Paul and Sophie’s apartment, I sat down for a nice dinner with them while we talked about the past few months. I thoroughly enjoyed the night, and was the happiest I’ve been in some time. I love Shanghai – particularly this area in the French Concession. I always get an overwhelming feeling of being a part of something much bigger than myself when I’m here, and I find that to be incredibly exciting. Added to all that, it was excellent to be with some great company. Paul and I shared a few beers and watched a great victory by Del Potro over Wawrinka in the Wimbledon.

Day 129 (2nd of July, 2016) – Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

Waking up at an ungodly hour was only the first price I had to pay for my budget flight. Paul once again kindly organised his driver to take me out to the airport. Here, I met Todd who had come from Xuzhou on his first ever gaotie (high-speed train). Now, he was here with me to take his first ever flight. You could tell that he was excited, and I was equally excited just seeing how big of a deal it was for him. We checked in and were told that we couldn’t be seated next to each other, so we planned to just ask someone to switch seats once we were on the plane.

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After arriving at our gate, we were told that our plane was delayed due to problems with flow control. After waiting an hour and a half longer than expected, our ears perked up when another announcement came over the loudspeaker regarding our flight. Unfortunately, it said that there were more delays due to air traffic congestion. After much hassle, we eventually boarded well after the time that we were due to land. It knocked out half of our first day, but those things happen sometimes.

During our time waiting at the gate, Todd mentioned to me that he had booked a tour group for the next day in Chengdu from the advice of a local friend of his for about AU$150 and asked whether I was OK with that. I nodded, not thinking much of it because he’d already gone ahead and done it, and I put off the planning until later.

After getting on the plane, Todd asked the woman next to us if she was travelling alone.

“Yes,” she replied, bluntly.

“Would you mind if we swapped seats?” he politely asked.

“I don’t want to move, I like my seat more,” she said.

Todd pretty much resigned to it at that. He had mentioned in the airport that he didn’t think it was normal in China for people to ask to switch seats. I tried in a last ditch attempt to convince her.

“Please, it’s his first time flying. He wants to sit next to a friend. It would mean a lot to us.” I pleaded.

Eventually, she let out a sigh and stood up. Thank God, because Todd needed a bit of support during the take-off. He found it a thrilling experience to say the least.

The most humorous part of the flight occurred after the seatbelt sign was switched off. The air steward led the whole cabin through a routine of ‘post-takeoff exercises’ which I had never seen before. Todd and the rest of the plane strictly followed the steward by rubbing their temples, rolling their wrists and rolling their ankles.

When we landed in the afternoon, we rushed out of the airport and into a taxi to our hotel. It was at this point that I started thinking about the tour group which Todd had organised, and I realised how much I didn’t want to do it. Not only am I not much of a ‘tour person’ in the first place, but I’ve been in a few of these Chinese tour groups before. You’re stuck in a crowd of one hundred or so elderly farmers from the rural parts of China, and you’re walking at about 1km/h for hours on end. Everyone wears their bright red hats to identify them as being part of the group, and you all follow someone one hundred metres ahead with a tall red flag. To add to the pain, when they eventually give you some value-add to the city, it’s all in incomprehensibly fast Chinese. I didn’t want my trip being hijacked by something frankly didn’t want to do.

I confronted him in the taxi.

“Todd, I’m sorry, I don’t want to do the tour,” I said.

“What?” he seemed shocked, “What do you mean?”

“I want to be able to have the freedom to go where I want. I wanted to go to the Panda Breeding Centre tomorrow. That’s what Chengdu’s famous for after all.”

It was at this point that the first rift emerged.

“Why would you want to see pandas? It’s too far away.” he quipped.

“That’s why I wanted to come to Chengdu – pandas and spicy food.”

Todd didn’t really understand and I could tell that he was trying to change the subject so that I’d just passively accept the tour.

“I’m sorry, I’m not going on the tour. You can do it if you want, but I’m going to do my own thing. Feel free to join me.” I decided to take a stand.

You could tell that he wasn’t too happy. He started to raise concerns about getting lost on our own (to which my response was that we’d just hail a taxi), or that we wouldn’t get to see as many things (to which my response was that we’d move much faster on our own).

“But my friend from Chengdu organised it for us! She told me that she already booked it,” he insisted.

“Wait, ‘she’? ‘She’ already booked it?” I probed into this situation a little deeper. Todd isn’t normally one to just be friends with a girl unless he has an interest in her.

“Do you like this girl Todd?” I asked.

He turned away shyly and replied with “Yes, I want her to be my girlfriend”. I realised that I was being played so that Todd could get his girl.

“Well then I shouldn’t go on the tour anyway. You guys should be together on your own, I don’t want to interfere.” I thought this was a fair compromise.

“No, she’s not going on the tour.”

“WHAT!?” I realised that maybe this girl was in fact playing Todd. “Why doesn’t she show us the city herself?”

“I don’t know, she just booked me this tour.” he said.

“Are you even seeing her while you’re here?” I asked.

“She said she was busy.” he confessed.

“Todd, she’s lying. Tell her there’s a foreigner with you.” I insisted.

“What difference would that make?” he was clearly deflated at realising that she was just trying to shake him off.

“It’ll bring out her hospitable instincts. Trust me.”

Sure enough, after Todd messaged her to say that he had someone from Australia with him, she immediately invited us out to dinner. It so happens she wasn’t so busy after all. Being a foreigner isn’t always a perk in China, but it’s important to learn when it can be.

The girl, Wushan, tried to pressure us into going directly from the airport to her part of the city because it was already getting late. Todd was obviously inclined to agree with her, but I had a big hiking backpack and was more interested in dropping my things off at the hostel before going to meet her. After a brief argument and having to convince Todd that I didn’t feel safe leaving my bag under the supervision of a local supermarket, we decided that we’d rush back to the hostel first.

The hostel was magnificent to say the least.

I think I’ve figured out that boutique hostels are my preferred choice of travel accommodation. Luxury hotels burn a hole in your pocket, budget hotels are dull and dirty and mainstream hostels have too much of a ‘party vibe’. The smaller, more trendy hostels are only slightly more expensive than your bigger chain hostels, but they always attract a much classier crowd and the facilities are always considerably nicer.

I couldn’t enjoy the place for too long, because Todd rushed me into the car to get to his girl.

Todd neglected to tell me this, but Wushan doesn’t actually live in Chengdu. She lives in a nearby city called Chongzhou. So, over an hour and AU$100 later, we arrived in this small town. We met Wushan and she took us into her car where a man was driving.

“This is my husband,” she said.

I looked at Todd confused.

“How old are you if I may ask, Wushan?” I enquired.

“I’m twenty-nine.” I gave Todd the glare he deserved – he’s barely eighteen.

The car pulled over in what seemed like the middle of the countryside.

After getting out of the car and being able to talk more discretely, I asked whether Todd knew that this girl had a husband.

“Yes, I did.”

“Well why are you pursuing her mate? It’s a lost cause!” I protested.

“Well, you never know…”

With perfect timing, a horde of elderly Chinese people emerged from around a corner. Wushan introduced me to her mother, mother-in-law and three sons.

“Todd, she has three kids.”

“You never know…” he continued.

The restaurant was in a stunning setting. All the tables were pitched against the side of a mountain, and the paths between each table were lined with flowers.

We were eating a traditional hotpot. Hotpot originated in Sichuan, and in its traditional form the communal pot has two sections – a spicy and a mild section. Even the mild section has some heat to it, though.

The hosts suggested that they order some more mild dishes for me in case I couldn’t handle all the chilli. I laughed and said that I wouldn’t have come to the spice capital of the world if I wasn’t prepared for this, and told them to throw all they had at me.

I was presented with this.

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Wushan’s son looked particularly keen on digging in first.

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In the picture below, you can see that we each had our own little bowl of flavouring (oil, garlic, peanuts and coriander) to dip our cooked food in. We’d then hold meat and vegetables in the pot and cook it ourselves.

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The spice was bearable, but it was no doubt some of the hottest food I have ever eaten. One beef dish was objectively the most inhumanly spicy thing which has ever entered my mouth. The beef was cut into strips, but it was unrecognisable because it was covered with  an opaque coating of chilli seeds. You’d then dip this chilli-seed coated beef into the chilli broth and eat it after dipping it in your chilli sauce. You can imagine just how intense one bite was.

By the same token, it was some of the best food I’ve eaten in China so far (and that’s a big call). The spice added a whole other dimension to the food. The pot was loaded with the specific spice which you get from peppercorns. It wasn’t necessarily ‘burning hot’ so much as it is a tingling sensation like fireworks going on in your mouth. It adds a depth of physical feeling to eating which I really love.

After the meal the family walked me through the rest of the restaurant so that I could see it at night. Walking past all the tables to the top of the mountain, I realised that this was the most stunning restaurant I had ever seen.

The children were having a ball playing with the natural mountain spring water which was flowing past the tables.

Here’s Todd and I.

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And here’s Todd’s rival (Wushan’s husband) and I.

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The dinner ended with a ride in China’s Uber rival ‘Didi’ (which Apple recently made a huge investment in) back to Chengdu. The memory from this dinner will surely last the rest of my life. It’s another reminder that following locals to places which they’re passionate about is much more rewarding than following just another flag-bearing tour guide.

Back at the hostel, I sat around in the lobby’s bar and met travellers from LA, Bristol and Sydney. Before too long we had all planned a trip together to Ya’an (a nearby city) to see a panda breeding centre.

Day 130 (3rd of July, 2016) – Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

At breakfast this morning, Todd’s dissatisfaction at his lack of success with Wushan the night before was evident.

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Of course, another factor could have been that we were already out and about at 7am waiting for our bus to Ya’an. Ya’an isn’t home to the main panda centre of this region, but Lonely Planet highly rates it and it also has much more natural scenery than the other reserves. It also turns out that Ya’an was the site of the 2008 earthquake which killed around 200 people and injured many thousands.

The bus ride to the city took two hours, and it was a good time to catch a quick nap.

When arriving in Ya’an, we realised that we needed to switch to a smaller bus to go to the Bifengxia Panda Reserve.

After getting to the Bifengxia Panda Reserve and descending the elevator to the bottom of the gorge, we realised that we needed to switch to an even smaller bus to go the the Panda Breeding Centre.

As we wound our way deeper into rural China, we started to realise how difficult it would be to get home, but having a local Chinese person with us helped in giving us a lot of confidence.

The walk between two of the buses was particularly stunning. It involved a half an hour stroll through some spectacular rainforest scenery.

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By the time we got to the Panda Centre, the park had been closed for two hours for lunch. Although the officers told us that it was the pandas who were eating lunch, I greatly suspected that it was in fact a human lunch break. It was coincidentally consistent with the lunch breaks elsewhere in the country.

We went to find some lunch to wait it out. During lunch, I found out that the two British people we were walking with had just come back from Pyongyang in North Korea. They had done the tour that I had originally planned on doing, and said that it was the most fascinating thing they had ever done. It’s not going to make me go, but it was still incredible to hear about the experience from someone who had done it first hand.

Eventually, we made our way into the Panda Centre. There was yet another bus once we got inside.

And then, all of a sudden, pandas started appearing out of nowhere.

See if you can spot this one.

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Here he is closer up for you.

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And his buddy.

This one thought he was a sloth.

There were even a few having a tussle.

This one showed his face for the camera.

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Unfortunately the most iconic shot of a panda eating bamboo (which it turns out they eat 25kg of each day) was ruined by the bars of his cage.

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By the time we returned to the bus station it was late afternoon. Unfortunately it was another two hour wait for the bus, so we went walking through Ya’an to try and find a coffee shop. We found one on this magnificent bridge.

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Before the bus trip, I picked up some snacks for the groups: chicken feet and cucumber chips.

After the wait and then the two hour bus drive home, it was evening. Todd and I didn’t waste any time stopping back via the hostel, and instead we went straight to Wuhouci Heng Street – one of Chengdu’s famous sites.

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As you pass through Chengdu’s city centre, you can’t help but notice that nearly every building retains a traditional Chinese style. This has faded in a lot of the bigger cities, so it’s good to see Chinese architecture remain so prevalent in one of China’s biggest hubs.

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Just adjacent to Wuhouci is Jinli Street, which is a pedestrian street marking the fusion between old and new China.

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I was pretty stoked to be there, as you can see.

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I particularly liked the red lanterns which lined the streets.

I find being in crowds like this to be quite fun when I’m in the right mood. Some people find the density of places like this to be a little too overwhelming, but I think it has an exhilarating aspect to it as well.

Part of Jinli also had a lot of bars and live music venues which was a breath of fresh air. Not many venues which I’ve found in China have live music, but maybe I haven’t been looking in big enough cities.

We ended the night with a dinner of Chengdu Noodles on Jinli Street.

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Overall it was an extraordinarily enjoyable day. I love this province and I love the people. It’s a place I would love to come back to and explore properly considering its enormous size.

Tomorrow, I’ll check out a bit more of Chengdu before ascending to an elevation of 3656m in Lhasa, Tibet. I can’t wait.

Until next time,
Xavier.

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2 thoughts on “Gettin’ Spicy

  1. Xave,
    First of all CONGRATULATION on a fantastic result in your exams 91% average for the 6 exams. Well Done. The edible lollipops is unique, maybe a photo of your elbow or the back of ones head,could be another option, since they a 2 places on your bady which are impossible to lick.You must look up another young entrepreneur from Toowoomba WILL DEETH, who has made the headlines importing products from China and on selling them here. You may act as his translator and negotiator, or conduit between the suppliers in China and his Business.
    Interesting story about the Bomb & bullet shaped bottles, possibly how the saying “after a few shots he was bombed out of ones mind”, came about..
    Proud of your stance on Wu Laoshi concerning your entitlements, he has obviously got away with the not paying many times before. I could not find the mandarin word for a THIEF, but that would fit well with him.
    Great story about your casanova friend Todd with Wushan & her husband. You were lucky to get out of there with only a belly full of traditional Hot Pot. You can tell Todd the old saying is “Never go around with another mans wife if can’t go a round (Fight) with her old man”
    Hope you have a safe journey around Tibet and your trip home.
    Love
    G & P

    Like

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