Friday, September 28, 2012

WuHou Temple and Chenxi Road

After our "snack" lunch on Jinli Street, we entered the WuHou Temple.  There are stands for burning incense and candles and cushions to kneel on to say your prayers.

But the big draw of the 'temple' is the display of clay statues of the old emperors and ministers of state.

Zhuge Liang--the Martial Marquis of the Shu Three Kingdoms Period.  (220-280AD)  The temple is in his honor.

This one had a black face, some had white, others cream

 A round passage/doorway is a significant emblem in Chinese architecture.

The grounds around the temple were lovely, and had some interesting sculpture and buildings.  There was a stele from 809AD on display with ancient Chinese characters carved in 

We left the temple and returned to Jinli Street to check out the shops.  There were plenty of tourist traps, but it was fun to see the handicrafts and traditional arts.  At one spot was a "shooting booth", like an American carnival, where you could shoot darts from a crossbow into a hay bale!

These gifts are made in China, just like all other tourist stuff!

These are cool--shadow puppets, cut from plastic in intricate designs.

Looks like any Chinatown, huh?

I wonder what you win if you hit the target?
A Chinese marketing technique is to have models dress up and stand in front of the shop.  This is so much more fun that a day-laborer with headphones twirling an arrow sign at the intersection!
For a performance (show) I'll have to come back later to see!

I went up to take a picture from a balcony, and as I came back down, I had a young man stop and ask me, "May I take photo with you?"  He handed his friend the camera while I posed with him and his girlfriend.  He was so happy!  He said, "Thank you.  You make me very happy remember this day!"  People are constantly staring at us and many of them will "try out" their English.  "Hello!"  We always smile and say hello and "How are you?" back to them.  They love it!  We really are an unusual sight for the masses.

Our next stop was Chenxi Road, a huge pedestrian mall area with all kinds of stores and shops, including many American, British, Japanese, Italian, and other shops and stores.  It was like Disneyland on the weekend--jammed with people.  Literally!  You could hardly walk for the crowds.  Here again we saw some beautiful models trying to interest you in their shop. 

The crowds were overwhelming, and there was a street going through the middle where cars were trying to drive--everyone just shoved through in a constant flow and the cars couldn't move!
We lost Kirk--stay together or the cars butt in!
We just walked around in the crowd, looking into a store or two.  A typical day at the mall!  Even Mickey Mouse was here--what a comfort!
Even if I wanted something here, I couldn't get in!  See the "barker" standing up high calling out for you to come in?

Hey Mickey, you're so fine; you're so fine you blow my mind--hey Mickey!!
There were also some larger-than-life billboards that would definitely catch your eye!

Enough of that!  Now it was time for one of the most famous things about Sichuanese dining--the hot pot!  We were taken to a restaurant with a table that had plastic buckets beside each chair.  Vivian took us to the room where we chose our foods from a huge refrigerator.  Thank goodness it was in the fridge!  We chose all kinds of foods and everything was bite-sized on a skewer.  There were mystery meats and unknown vegetables, quail eggs, and hot dogs, sea weed and bamboo.  I admit it--we were terrified!  Just the day before we had walked down an alley with raw meat hanging everywhere that had flies all over it.  I said a silent prayer that I wouldn't have to go on the Chengdu Diet again!
Kirk displays his choices for our hot pot dinner.

So far, we're still smiling--now we have to eat it!
A large pot is placed on the burner in the center of the table.  Our pot had two choices; wei la and bu la.  (A little spicy and not spicy.)  The 'not spicy' was probably a broth of some sort--it had sliced cucumbers floating in it.  The wei la had a spiced oil that was soon simmering and bubbling.  We placed our meats and vegetables in and waited for them to cook.  A little like "The Melting Pot" restaurant in the US, but not with USDA Grade Beef!  Our hostesses taught us that you never place your chopsticks directly on the table because they might get 'dirty'.  Always lay them across your bowl until you are finished with them.  Also, put the chopsticks in the boiling oil for a few minutes before eating your food to "disinfect" them.  Now that sounds like a good idea! 

After your item is finished cooking, you remove it (with your chopsticks) from the skewer into a small bowl in front of you which has an oily, spiced mixture in it.  There is also a bottle of balsamic vinegar and another of oyster sauce on the table if you'd like.  Would I like?  Who knows?  Actually, the meal wasn't so bad.  The meats were boiled in oil--so they must be sterilized, right?  We ate and I hesitatingly tried everything that Vivian insisted I should have.  (Kirk was not so brave.) It actually wasn't bad.  Even the Sichuan hot dog wasn't too bad.  But after a while, the oil became a bit overwhelming and it was time for me to stop.  Our hostesses ate and ate and ate some more!  They have such big appetites for such little girls!  They loved everything and were so excited for us to try it all.  We couldn't help but appreciate their enthusiasm.  The plastic buckets beside our table were where we put our empty skewers after taking off the food.  Later, the waiter came and counted the skewers (the larger ones, with meat, were more expensive) to determine the cost of our meal.  Anything we hadn't cooked (but had placed on our tray from the food room) was returned to the food room for another customer to eat.  Hmmm.  Anyway, I actually preferred the wei la, because the bu la was not very flavorful at all.  Maybe I should have added some oyster sauce?  We were happy to have been "shown how" to have a hot pot meal.  That is the disconcerting part about anyplace new.  You don't want to "lose face" by making any cultural faux pas when dining out for the first time.  What a wonderful day we enjoyed with these darling girls.  And as per the Chinese way, we were not allowed to pay for ANY of the entire day's adventures--taxis, entrance fees, meals, and they even insisted on buying me a cute souvenir on Jinli Street.  We were flabbergasted.  Kirk is going to have to teach them a lot of tennis lessons in order for us to feel like we've repaid them!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Site Seeing

I know, I know.....I've made six or seven posts, and still no pictures of a pagoda!  Am I really in China?  When we arrived, our immediate concerns were with housing and eating.  We had to buy trash bags, a broom, a mop, an iron, an ironing board, hangers, dishes, pots, silverware, utensils, a mattress pad, towels, lamps, a clock, toilet get the idea.  Most of the BYU teachers are going to places where there have been teachers for many years who have furnished their apartments.  But we are the first teachers here in 5 years, so our apartments were stripped bare.  Once we got things semi-organized (although we often feel like we're just camping), we decided to head out and see Chengdu.  First we went to the Jinsha Archaeological Site.

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In 2001, this site was discovered with ancient artifacts of ivory, jade, bronze, stone, and gold, dating back to around 1000 BC, including the famous "sun bird" which is now the official emblem of Chengdu.
Gold foil 'sun bird' artifact
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Interesting, but still no pagodas!  Last Saturday, two of my students offered to show us a tour of Chengdu which we happily agreed to take.  They started at the Du Fu Thatched Cottage.  Du Fu was a Tang Dynasty poet (712-770AD) who built a, you got it, thatched cottage here in Chengdu where he lived 4 years and wrote over 240 poems.  It's now a beautiful park with koi ponds, bamboo, trees, paths, and.....


It is a serene and peaceful place--so different from the bustling city around it  There are statues and stone steles with engravings of many famous poets of China.  It was relaxing to see the people enjoying the beauty of nature.


And here it is...the famous thatched cottage.  Not the original, but a replica built on the same spot.

My students, Wendy (l) and Vivian (r)--their "English" names
The park had some unique aspects--I loved how the men would bring their pet birds (that speak) in elaborate cages with Chinese porcelain feeding dishes, to hang them in the trees and let them enjoy the "fresh air" and the companionship of other caged birds...

Pet birds out for a "walk"--cages hanging in the trees

There were also some whimsical soft sculptures, made of fabric over a metal frame in bright colors.

Vivian & Wendy, our tour guides

There were plenty of "traps" for tourists here.  We suckered into a silly photo, and got an interesting lollipop.  You first spin a wheel to see what the woman will make, then she pours hot, sugar syrup onto a cold marble slab in the design of what you spun, then she puts it on a stick, lets it cool, and hands you your treat!

Du Fu? 

Made-to-order suckers--notice the spinner to see what you get.  

The next stop on our tour was Jinli Street.  This ancient marketplace was trading goods back in 221 BC!  It was the busiest marketplace during the Shu Kingdom.  The traditional-style ancient buildings which line the streets are especially representative of the Qing Dynasty era.  The narrow alleyway is jammed with shops and restaurants and "take out" stalls where you can buy "snacks".  Our guides ordered our snacks for us, and I even tried squid-on-a-stick!  (Kirk wouldn't!) 

Starbucks?----In the Qing Dynasty?

Buddhist Monks like to shop, too!

Mystery Meat on a stick--fish, squid, beef, pork....

and quail!  They eat the whole thing, bones and all--crunch, crunch!

Wendy and Vivian were delighted to share their favorite snacks.
We had meats on skewers (including squid), crystal dumplings, traditional dumplings (like pot stickers in the US, only boiled), meatballs (both gray and white--Kirk made me eat the white one--the girls said they were beef, but you can imagine which part of the cow they came from), a delicious, sweet pineapple and sticky rice pudding served in a hollowed pineapple half, and a rice and beef concoction steamed inside a bamboo cane.  Lots of interesting new flavors.  The girls were very curious about how we liked their favorites, and made sure we knew these were very traditional.

After eating lunch, it is typical in Chengdu to have a rest.  The mid-day break from school lasts 2-1/2 hours!  So we'll take a rest here, too.  Tune in next time for more of our tour of Chengdu with Wendy and Vivian!