So Much Food, So Little Time
It’s hard to believe that nine weeks have passed and my program is over. I’m still going to be in China for another two weeks before I go back to America, so this will be my second to last post from China. I’m looking forward to being able to use the internet normally, it’s actually quite difficult for me to get these posts out sometimes if my VPN stops working because the Chinese government blocks this website.
Anyway, a lot has happened since my last post, here are the highlights:
On Saturday, July 26th there was a planned excursion to Sanxingdui (三星堆), an archaeological site and museum for a Bronze Age civilization. However, a group of us decided not to go; in my case, I had already been four years before. Instead, we went to a spice market 30 minutes walk from campus. The market was nice because we could tell that it was not really a tourist destination, we were the only foreigners there. It was really incredible to see all the meats on display, just hung up or laid out on counters with no ice or any other method of keeping them fresh, though they were taken out of portable refrigerators/coolers. Below are some pictures of livers, ducks, chickens, brains in a cardboard box, and rabbits (distinguishable by the furry feet). There were also lots of produce stands and prepared food stands, and several tables piled high with spicy red peppers. There was a man by the red peppers with a huge wooden stick and bucket, pounding the peppers into a paste to make hot sauce with (辣椒 làjiāo, quite a useful phrase in Chengdu, where a lot of the food is spicy).
The next weekend we had nothing planned, so I went with most of the fourth year students and their Chinese tutors to Chunxilu, the biggest shopping district in Chengdu. We arrived by bus around noon, and quite a few of us had not had breakfast yet, so the first order of business was food. We ended up going to an all you can eat barbecue place, where you select raw food and grill it yourself at your table. We each payed 58 yuan (which is under $10 US) to eat and drink all that we could. After a while, I was beginning to feel food coma-ish, and I checked what time it was. IT WAS NEARLY 3PM. We had been at that restaurant, almost continuously eating, for THREE HOURS. Even after this discovery, we stayed at the restaurant for at least another half hour, still eating. After that, I didn’t even really feel like shopping anymore, I was so exhausted by eating. At least I got my money’s worth out of that restaurant.
Speaking of eating too much, I did that to myself again the next night when some of us went off to find a steak restaurant that some other students told us about. To get there, we had to go through a narrow residential street, down a very unexpected escalator into an underground shopping center. We had been told that the best part of the restaurant was not the steak, but the all you can eat salad bar that comes with ordering a steak. This was not a lie. The salad bar did not just have salad, but also desserts and Chinese-style side dishes. The steaks themselves were not so bad, except for our mistake of ordering them rare. I was lucky since I ordered a lamb steak and was spared from eating raw meat, but the others all decided they wanted to test the Chinese system of ordering beef steaks cooked by minutes, rather than the Western system of “rare,” “medium,” or “well done.” They ordered the steaks cooked for 3 minutes, which would have been fine if the chef had cooked them on high heat, as a rare steak should be cooked. Instead, the steaks came out completely raw on the inside and they all had to send them back to be cooked longer. Lesson learned, if one must order steak in China, order it well done.
On the way back from the steak restaurant we saw a group of young people with a sound system practicing dancing on the sidewalk. This was in front of the Olympic gymnasium, and the sidewalk was quite wide, so plenty of room. Most of them looked quite young, like they were probably still in high school. Some were really impressive break dancers, but my favorite was a younger looking boy in a sparkly black jacket and fedora moon-walking circles around everyone else.
Part of the reason this post comes so late is that this last week was our finals week. I had to prepare my final portfolio, write the final essay, prepare for my final oral presentation, and study for our final exam. However, now it’s all over, and I get to relax. The day after finals, two other students and I went to the Chengdu People’s Park. I had been to the park three years before, and I either forgot a lot or it’s changed quite a bit. Stepping through the park gates, we were immediately bombarded with the sound of multiple karaoke sessions being blasted from all sides. The park turned out to be a popular place to set up TVs for karaoke sessions, full volume, often only feet from each other. There also were the ubiquitous groups of older women exercising through aerobic dancing, also with music blasting. We wandered through the park, around the lake, until we stopped at a tea shop (茶馆 chá guǎn) to rest and drink chrysanthemum tea. The tea shop was also quite loud and busy (there is a Chinese term for a place that is lively 热闹 rènào, literally meaning “hot noisy”), especially with the metallic clang of the ear cleaning men advertising their services. Ear cleaning (掏耳朵 tāo ěrduo) is a unique tradition of Chengdu, you can pay someone to clean the wax out of your ear and receive a massage as well. I am personally not a fan of having someone else poke around in my ear, but I love massages, so I got a massage from one of the ear cleaning guys. I also would say that the massages are not for everyone; they’re not supposed to be relaxing. In my massage he knew just where to press to cause tingling sensations to shoot down my arm, pounded my back until it was numb, and cracked my neck without warning in a way that made me fear for my life. Afterwards, I felt great.
P.S. I have eaten brain on this trip. Of course, being Sichuanese cuisine, the flavor of the brain itself (which I believe was pig brain) was indistinguishable through the spiciness, but the texture was odd and squishy, so exactly what you’d expect.
Also here’s a photo of Korean BBQ, so delicious!