Tuesday, December 22, 2009

tiānfǔ guǎngchǎng

One of the first things we noticed looking out the window in Chengdu was that it seems to be quite common to have plants on buildings. We never saw anywhere in Xi'an with so many plants.

As previously mentioned, one of the first things we got to try was Chuàn Chuàn, a hot-pot with skewers, and now with pictures!

On December 19th, our first day off in Chengdu we decided to try some simple taxi directives. We had found a list of phrases for Chengdu locations with characters and pinyin so for the first time we tried to direct a cabbie without first practicing pronounciation with a local. We were delighted when on our first attempt the cab driver understood
tiānfǔ guǎngchǎng (Tianfu Square). There isn't much in Tianfu other than a big Mao but it seemed like such a central location that we should visit.

Just west of Tianfu is the Peoples Park. We'd heard this was often full of locals playing majong, doing tai chi, and also had a number of tea houses so we went to check it out. A short walk brought us there and we discovered it to be a very nice park. The trails inside are very peaceful and green, broken periodically by waterways and little collections of plants.

On of our favorite spottings was a gentlemen calmly sitting cross-legged, shoes off, reading the paper.

A little further through some paved squares open up. These are rather noisier, full of people playing netless badminton, dancing, and in setting up what appeared to be largely unscheduled musical performances often involving a woman impersonating a screeching cat.

There were also a few young super-heroes.

West of the noisy area were some walkways with older people sitting and talking, playing instruments we didn't recognize, playing majong, or just chatting and smoking.

Shortly after we popped out the west side of the park and set off west along the side of a small river in search of the Wenhua Park. Along the way we intended to walk down Jinli street, which is noted as being a novel street, but as far as we can tell we instead walked down streets near Jinli that were not actually Jinli. We stopped a short distance in to have lunch and were presented with our most dreaded adversary: the all chinese character menu provided by a Mandarin-only host. Luckily in Xi'an we practiced "I would like this/that" a fair bit and seem to be able to say it fairly well (at least well enough people understand) at this point. A few quick "w
ǒ xiǎng yào nà gē" + pointing at a dish someone in the restaurant was eating combos and our food was on it's way. Luckily Chinese people all seem to know how to write numbers our way so we can always get the price written down or shown on a calculator. Just down the street from the restaurand people were fishing in the river. It is important to note that pipes of what appear to be fairly raw sewage enter into this river and that it appeared the fish caught in the river were being taken home, presumably to eat.

A little further along we saw a cool pagoda in some little park that didn't seem to exist on our map.

We side-tracked north a little at a cool building that turned out to be a bar.

On a relatively fancy street heading north from the bar we saw a man vending turtles.

At this point we finally located the entrance to the
Wenhua Park, reputed to contain a Green Ram temple. The entrance was somewhat difficult to locate as it was reduced to a narrow pathway through construction supplies that are probably for the future Chengdu subway.

The temple was quite nice, with all your standard issue temple gear.

After the temple we decided to try to find Grandma's, a western restaurant reputed to be quite good. We got a taxi and after a rather confused conversation managed to convince the driver to take us to the big X we'd drawn on the map. We got off at the rather large intersection and immediately noticed a large number of people underneath playing mahjong!

Grandma's proved hard to find. After walking a fair way away from the intersection we identified that there was no bloody way it was that way. Unfortunately we were having some trouble with signage and it seemed rather likely the driver had let us off at a slightly different spot than we asked for so we were unclear on which of the other three directions it was actually at, or if we'd gone the right way and it had simply closed or moved. Undaunted (well ... maybe slightly daunted) we set off another way. This way seemed correct based on comparisons of hotel location in reality and on the cheap street map we bought. Sadly it turned out that either reality or the cheap street map was in error as Grandmas failed to materialize. By this time it was getting dim and we were getting hungry. We decided to try one last path. As we walked past an area blocked off by scaffolding we noticed Zoe's BBQ. This seemed like a good sign so we kept going. Shortly thereafter we passed by an inconspicuous door with no apparent sign (at least not one visible from our sidewalk). It looked kind of western so we stuck our head in and at long last there was Grandma's!!

As promised Grandma's served western food! We got a chef salad to start and it was wonderous. A real western style salad! Pavan mentioned that this felt like a "wine moment" and a second later the waiter wandered over, to announced we had somehow been selected for free wine, and dropped off two complimentary glasses!! A burger and apple pie rounded matters off. We love Chinese but once in a while we get a craving for Western! Curiously the store offered us a ¥10 discount card instead of an official receipt (fa piao). We figured we'd be back so we accepted.

Luckily we got a taxi rather fast when we left. Normally Chengdu is something of a taxi nightmare. At any time that could be considered within 60 minutes of any sort of peak period taxi's are *all* full.

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