One of the main reasons for visiting Chengdu in the Sichuan provence was to see one of my good friends. While visiting we got our taste of Spring festival, had some interesting food, flocked to see the Giant Pandas, and more. The one thing that I know for sure after leaving Chengdu is I will never eat Hot Pot again.
Me and Tyler have been buds since high school. He moved his family over to Chengdu about 6 months ago, so it was great to see his kiddos and catch up with him and Amelia. We decided to visit them the day before Chinese New Year which is referred to in China as Spring Festival. The Year of the Lamb/Sheep/Ram was no disappointment with red everywhere, lantern festivals everywhere, and people EVERYWHERE! Chengdu is a little city of 13 million people. It is less traveled to so when people see white foreigners it’s a little bit of a big deal, especially if they see a white kid/baby! Everyone wanted to take a picture with Tyler’s kids, hold them, and just be around them. It was pretty amazing, almost like being a Muzungu in Africa.
So Katie got sick once again, but a bad kind of sick. When we first arrived in China she was just not feeling well with a cold, but this time she got some kind of food poisoning. So she spent the night in the bathroom and the next day as well. At that point we were ready to never try any new food ever again. We swore to it…and then three days later we found ourselves going out to eat Hot Pot. Chengdu is famously known for this dish. A woman who works for Tyler, husband runs a Hot Pot restaurant that recently opened up. Everyone said it’s hot, can you handle hot food? I have developed a higher tolerance for spicy food in the past years, so curries and such don’t bother me anymore. I thought to myself sure, I can do this, even though I was getting a little bit of anxiety before we went with everyone talking this dish up! When we got there, I looked down at a boiling broth filled with tons of chili and numbing peppers, yes numbing peppers. The thought is that if you can’t feel your tongue you should be able to eat the dish more easily. Basically you dump your (in our case) beef, stomach, and veggies into the boiling broth of peppers and let it cook, then find it somehow and eat it. I just found my mouth salivating the whole time. Usually with Indian food you have some yogurt or something to cool the spice and heat, here we just had hot tea and Baijiu, although they did find a coke for Katie later. I thought if I kept drinking the Baijiu (that was already giving me enormous amounts of heartburn), I would get drunk enough to not really feel the effects of the dish…I was wrong. All at the same time we had an interesting character at our table who wouldn’t stop talking to us about how his kid is making 4.5 million dollars on the New York stock exchange. Even though I wasn’t interested in the conversation, I could not converse one bit. It is a dish that people brag about cleaning them out the next day. And that for sure happened to me for the next two days. It is a dish I will never eat again, but it was great experience.
So Spring Festival is equivalent to Americas Christmas. We decided to head to a lantern festival. Big surprise to us that there were so many people all over the place. It was quite the celebration, red lanterns everywhere, an amazing amount of food, performance stage, and of course people massing everywhere. We had a good time walking around soaking it in, and trying to act Chinese.
Another day me and Katie went on our own to see the Giant Panda bears of Chengdu. This is the staple Chinese animal, the equivalent of the American eagle. We got there around 10am which was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. The rule was push or get pushed, cut or get cut. It was cool seeing the Pandas as they are curious lazy creatures, but the amount of people made us dart for the exits after a while. At one point people started yelling at the Pandas to look at them so they could get a better picture. This is the great rich culture that China has to offer.
One morning we woke up and went to hike around Mt. Qingcheng, the birthplace of Taoism. Katie really wanted to see temples and we definitely got our fix of them here. It was about 1.5 hour drive from the first ring in Chengdu so we got there around 9:30am. Of course there was a line and crowds when we initially got there (to much of our dislike) but thats Chinese culture for you! You can either hike the front mountain with lots of temples or hit the longer and higher trails of the back mountain. We opted for the temples. So we started to climb a bunch of stairs, the Chinese hiking way! After the crowds dispersed it ended up being pretty nice. The views were good, and the architecture of the temples stacked upon each other was really cool to see.
We also got to experience people rubbing the emblem of the door to one of the oldest temples in Chengdu. Person after person would go up to it, rub all over it in some OCD fashion and then rub their face, put their hands in there pockets, and rub their whole bodies basically. In essence they were rubbing the good fortune all over them for the new year. It was pretty interesting to see. In Croatia we found out that only the Chinese go rub certain statues, and we never knew why, but now we do. All in all a good trip.
Its great to re-unite with friends around the world. Its some of the most important times in our travels to see and hang out with friends. I also got to hang out with a special little girl, who maybe changed the way I feel about kids.