An American in Chengdu


March 25, 2010

Here’s an email I received today. Although I already have plans for Sunday, the email enlivened my workday with the questions it raised: Who thought up this idea? A clever marketing professional at the shoe factory? A local government official listening to a big-footed foreigner complain about his shopping travails? Speaking of big-footed foreigners, why am I one of only four recipients of this email?

Dear Teacher,

Here comes an invitation from foreign affair office of Sichuan Province.
There is an activity visiting the shoes city on March 28(this weekend). It will show you many beautiful shoes and the process of making shoes, if you like one of them, you can book one and give your size to them, the workers in shoes factory will make one for you.
If you are interested in visiting the shoes city, please reply before 12:00AM of March 26 (tomorrow noon).

Best wishes

[an employee in the foreign affairs office of my university]


In February, there was vacation

March 18, 2010
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Certain people have hinted strongly that I should blog about my month-long February vacation. I’ve been a little apprehensive about starting, though, since last time I blogged a trip, it took me six months. In that case, the trip itself had lasted three weeks. So this time I’m trying this approach: I’ll put up some pictures and this “highlights” entry now, then describe specific episodes in more detail if and when the mood strikes. Here goes.


Kunming (capital of Yunnan Province, China): Kunming is a little smaller than Chengdu, and in February, it’s a lot warmer. A flurry of construction had left it with what seemed like an even higher density of malls and fast food restaurants than Chengdu has. But it’s very sunny there, and breezy weather keeps the air pollution from getting too dense, so it has a bright and shiny look to it. Cecilia and I went to a botanical exhibition garden, a temple, a mountain just outside town, and a few really good restaurants on our way to and from…

Xishuangbanna (the southernmost prefecture in Yunnan Province): We ate a lot of spicy Dai food (Dai people are the same ethnicity as Thai, but their food tastes nothing like the American Thai food I’ve had). Saw lots of jungle, some performing elephants, and an impressive botanical garden. We tried to go hiking in the jungle with mixed success, and stayed the night in the home of some Hani villagers. One day we rode bikes around Jinghong, the capital of Xishuangbanna. It was hot. I loved it there.

Sichuan (the province where I live): We arrived back two days later than we’d planned due to a shortage of train tickets (everyone was headed home for Chinese New Year/Spring Festival. And I do mean everyone). Cecilia went off to join her family. Deano had arrived the night before, so after I did a bit of cleaning I went to pick him up at his hostel. We spent a few days seeing the sites in Chengdu, wandering around aimlessly, and going to see the pandas. On New Years Eve, Feb. 13, we ate street food and watched fireworks through the window. On the 15th we took the bus to Langzhong, a town known for its good feng shui, beef jerky, and vinegar. The old town has appealing cobblestone streets and old-fashioned tile-roofed buildings, and it’s set along a wide river–the Jialing, I think. There wasn’t much to do but walk around and look at buildings, or walk along the river. At night people would light lanterns along the edge of the river. We stayed in a hotel attached to the feng shui museum, which was very cool. I can’t pretend to have learned anything about feng shui on the trip, though, because none of the captions in the museum were in English. In fact, we appeared to be the only Westerners in town.

Sabah (Malaysian Borneo): We flew into Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. Explored a little, stumbled on a dragon dance, and then spent a few days snorkeling and hanging out on the beach on a few tiny tropical islands near the city. We saw lots of coral and colorful fish. Then we took a bus to Kinabalu National Park, where we hiked around in the jungle, though we didn’t climb famous Mount Kinabalu (it’s very difficult, and expensive). We couldn’t even see the mountain through all the clouds. We took a bus to the small city of Sandakan, and promptly booked a stay in a jungle lodge, where we went on several boat rides up and down the river and saw oodles of wildlife: birds, monkeys and more monkeys, and even two orangutans. Then it was back to Sandakan, where we whiled away our last afternoon on Borneo in an English tea garden, followed by a harborside cafe. The next day we saw Mount Kinabalu from the plane, which just goes to show that you should never give up hope.

Kuala Lumpur: We flew Air Asia, which has its hub in KL, so we’d decided to spend a few days there on the way back. Actually it was only I who was on my way back to Chengdu; Deano was planning to go find a nice tropical island. KL was hot and diverse and Westernized. We met up with my sister’s college roommate, who took us to a lantern festival at a Chinese Buddhist temple with some of her friends. The lantern festival was in honor of the Chinese New Year, which just goes on and on. After the temple we went to a Chinese restaurant, and I felt like I was in some sort of alternate-universe version of China–very interesting. The next day we went to a famous Hindu temple in a cave, drove around KL, and shopped. On the last morning of my vacation, we got up early to get in a closer look at the Petronas Towers before my flight back to Chengdu.

    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.


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