From Childhood To Chengdu Reviews
Nov 03, 2007
In everyday life in downstate Texas, Dennis West has to carry a gun, even when this soon to be retired law enforcement officer is off duty. On the seldom occasions that he has been without a weapon for whatever reason, he has felt excessively ill at ease. Thirty years’ active police experience has proven just how highly dangerous the American cities and suburbs are. Mr West knows what can happen in certain situations, so he is always less anxious with a firearm close at hand.
Here in Sichuan of course, the scenario is altogether different. Law-abiding citizens exhibit esteem for authority. There have been some apparent minor matters, but they can hardly be regarded as altercations. Whilst on vacation, it was interesting to observe Chinese counterparts and the assistant traffic wardens in yellow jackets, pulling bicycles over. Members of the public consistently responded with admirable courtesy and respect. Foreigners can feel 100% safe and relaxed walking the city streets unarmed day or night.
A visit to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, evoked praise that it is a wonderful facility, so attractively and thoughtfully planned. When Dennis was only a pint-sized toddler, his parents gave his older brother a typical brown teddy bear. Be it coincidental or a strikingly unconventional twist of fate, the younger son was given a cute black and white panda bear. This instilled a passionate yearning to come full circle and meet up with the indigenous species in its true home.
The cuddly wildlife was not the only treasured native noticed in the Brocade City. It is well known throughout China how extremely beautiful the girls are, especially with their smooth white skin. When asked how they compare with those in the United States, the gentlemanly guest explained, “Well! We have some beautiful women back home, but they can’t hold a candle to Chengdu women.” It was truly pleasant to stroll down the sidewalk or casually sit, and see so many glamorous ladies pass by.
Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together. However, our lone star state buddy described the mainland Chinese for the most part as being absolutely traditional, genuine and unpretentious, a refreshing change and a far cry from others elsewhere with a preference for indulging in a lifestyle of ostentatious consumption and self-indulgent partying. The local expatriate routines are certainly compelling and the cost of living is very low by western standards. It makes the mind think, “Yes! I could live like this.”
In the good old days, Texans went to Mexican restaurants and ate Mexican food. The food community began referring to Americanized Mexican food as "Tex-Mex," a term previously used to describe anything that was half-Texan and half-Mexican. Texas-Mexican restaurant owners considered it an insult. It was somewhat ironical that the insult launched a success. For the rest of the world, Tex-Mex subsequently gained an international reputation as America's most popular regional cuisine.
In a convivial sense, a similar atmosphere has been ascribed to friendly Chengdu expat hangouts. They evoke images of cantinas where people come in to meet, greet, eat and drink harmoniously. It is delightful and natural to have tables full of local Sichuanese folk with no clear connection with the resident foreigners, sitting playing cards and joining in with everyone else around them; such ambience being richly embellished with a disposition to kindness and camaraderie.
The suburban districts of Chengdu would still be referred to as part of the inner city areas in the USA. The first thing that strikes newcomers to China is all of the pedestrian traffic. In the central business district and suburbs of Dallas, nobody appears to walk on the footpaths. Private cars are used a lot more.. Due to lesser population density per square kilometre, the American suburbs are strictly comprised of single family, free standing non-attached houses, as well as one floor specialty buildings for medical and other professional services.
From the sky, the pretty Sichuan capital looks very green, with a lot of rice paddies all set in surrounding rows. The airport is spacious, modern and clean. The taxi ride along the highway into town, was an enjoyable introduction to the province. Mr West conceded that many of his compatriots, who are fairly uneducated about world travel, were rather concerned about him coming to communist China. However, the message he will take back is that Chengdu and the rest of the nation that he has seen, is much safer than anywhere in the United States.
Already accustomed to eating hot chili peppers, the spicy local cuisine was palatable and easy to digest. The best two meals were home cooked at a friend’s apartment. While the women fussed and chatted merrily in the kitchen, the men were able to put their feet up and savour some cold bottled beer. In a nearby small, family-run street side restaurant, the French fries cooked with garlic and chili, were the best ever tasted. Because the cooking method is so unique, it is probably more correct to refer to this variation of potatoes as Chengdu Fries.
Dennis West had been studying up on China for a number of years. The diverse cultures, geography and rapid economic growth captured his imagination, and also reaffirmed his childhood attachment to his own stuffed black and white panda bear. Planning well in advance, he applied for and was issued a double entry visa, which means a return trip this coming year is definitely on the cards. Chengdu is the first place on the Texan’s priority list.
Next time, retirement should permit an extended visit of anywhere between thirty and sixty days to further appreciate the relaxed pace. It is within the realms of possibility that Dennis might later come and stay on a more permanent basis. He can realistically see himself in the fairly immediate future, residing part of the year in Chengdu and the other back in the States. Right now, he is weighing up options and absorbing as much knowledge that he can.
Expatriate writer Warren Rodwell has been in China since 2002, and teaches university postgraduates in Chengdu. Many of his feature stories, reviews & photographs have been published online or in hardcopy media form. Warren also narrates documentaries and administers various websites as part of his efforts to promote Chengdu & Sichuan culture(s) more globally.
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