Wednesday, May 13, 2009

If I had another chance, I'd Cheng-du it all over again...

As I prepare to leave China tomorrow enroute to Nepal, I thought I would cover some of the highlights of my 2+ weeks here.

- Purchased a host of fake clothing at the Pearl Market. It turns out that wearing Lacoste and Polo shirts is actually recession proof. (Each shirt cost about 12 USD).
-Camped out on the Great Wall. Our local guide, Aseem Nambiar, offered to help organize an overnight trip to the Great Wall in exchange for us picking up a foot-long Italian B.M.T. from Subway for him. Fair trade.

After a 60-minute public busride and a heavily negotiated private car trip, we arrived at Jinshanling, a portion of the Great Wall. We set up shop in an old guard tower just before dark, and did what the guards 600 years ago always did: we ate Subway sandwiches, using our battery-operated headlamps for lighting.

Later into the night, we passed around a bottle of Bai Jiu - literally "white liquor", a Chinese-made concoction of ethanol, baby tears, and Satan's urine, which made our poker game much more entertaining (we used peanuts for playing chips, and Aseem's Bruce Lee playing cards, each of which had some blurfled English quote - "Bruce roundhouse kick inspires for all pretty girl"). Under the stars, with the wall all to ourselves, we all fell into a firm, Bai Jiu-induced sleep.

At 4:45AM, we packed up our sleeping bags, gathered our empty bottles and sandwich wrappers, scratched our bug bites and began the 10km hike towards the Simatai entrance. The sunrise struggled to break through the Chinese pollution, but it didn't matter, we practically had the entire wall to ourselves. (I say "practically" because we did come across two other tourists who had opted to stay overnight, in a different tower. We found them naked in their sleeping bags, facing a camcorder and a giant photo-studio light. Gotta love home movies...)

By 8AM we arrived in Simatai, happy to avoid the flock of daily tourists, and once again negotiated a ride back home.

- Visited a gym for the first time in over a month. I used one of Scott's friend's membership cards to enter Physical Fitness.
-Celebrated Scott's birthday prematurely at an awesome nightclub, right on the Bund, with a view of the Shanghai skyline. I met a bunch of really cool people doing really cool things in China, thankful that our generation is so worldly and adventurous.


There are Cheng-do's, and there are Cheng-don'ts:

-Pandas! Went to the Chengdu Panda Research Base, where I got to witness over 30 pandas living in captivity. I envy their daily regiment of eating and sleeping. I think I could do it with more style (seriously, doesn't bamboo get boring eventually?).

-Celebrated Scott's REAL birthday. In search of the famous Spicy Sichuan Hot Pot, we considered ourselves blessed when a local Huo Guo joint offered both the cuisine AND 1 Kuai beers (1 kuai = 15 cents). Upon sitting down, Scott informed the restaurant owner that today was his 23rd birthday. Immediately she ran to the refrigerator and returned with three beer bottles and took a seat at our table, kicking off what would turn out to be a long - and frugal - night of drinking. Following our initial gan bei (literally "empty cup", it's the Chinese version of "cheers"), the owner had a waitress blast "Happy Birthday", in both English and Chinese, on the restaurant's PA system. As luck would have it, another patron was celebrating her birthday too!

We continued to drink Green Dragon Beer (hey, for 15 cents you can't be picky) and sweat from our food, while the Owner explained a bit about herself:

1) Her restaurant had suffered because of america's poor economic policy-making
2) She had served in the Chinese army for 15 years, based in Lhasa
3) She was best friends with China's national badminton coach (who we spoke to on her phone)

Thirty minutes into dinner, the restaurant patron adjacent to us returned from outside with an 8-inch birthday cake. With little explanation, she lit five candles, sang Happy Birthday to Scott, and promptly sat down, failing to remove her gaze from Scott (her daughter arrived at the restaurant soon thereafter). After blowing out the candles, Scott received yet another surprise when the Owner dug a spoon into the cake, reached across the table, and SMEARED frosting all over Scott's beard. I guess there are some Chinese customs we have yet to learn or understand.

Sixteen Green Dragon Beers later, we settled the bill, and in an inebriated state, hopped into the cab, already reminiscing about how we loved Chengdu. Scott, in a subconscious effort to give something back to Chengdu, left his wallet in the front seat. In the final moments of the night, I can proudly say I saw Scott run down Xing Huixi Lu barefoot, screaming for the cab (and his personal effects) to stay.
They did say it would be tough to leave Chengdu.

I am off for Nepal tomorrow morning. Zaijian, Zhongguo.


Anonymous said...

I think the smearing of frosting t means that Scott is engaged to the daughter...Do you think she is a nice Jewish girl?

Helz said...

This is a great blog, and I found it googling images for Annapurna and got to see you standing nearly butt naked in front of an icelake. Thanks for that as manflesh has been very low on the ground on this trip. I hope you are still writing 2 years on, because if you aren't then you are wasting a talent. I'm going to keep reading.
- Helen Manzano (Pokhara)