Foot heaven and hotpot
Chengdu Travel Blog› entry 13 of 14 › view all entries
The morning of the 25th I slept in a little later than I intended, and couldn't get a bus back to Chengdu until 11:30. At the bus station I met two British backpackers. We chatted a bit, and I learned that the woman had been bitten by one of the mountain monkeys two days prior. She had to get a rabies shot, which made her ill so she missed out on a full day of hiking. After hearing that I was not so sad about not making it to the monkey zones on the mountain!
The bus ride back was uneventful. Upon arrival I returned to the Traffic Inn hostel, right behind the bus station. I had plans to meet Wang Yan again that afternoon for an herbal foot bath, which I was really looking forward to! After checking back in I took a taxi to the university on the north side of the city, which is where she works and lives.
WangYan had asked around to find the best place in the city, and also the best employee at the business. We arrived and walked up the stairs to the third floor, where there was a reception desk. The receptionist led us back through a maze of rooms, not unlike a US massage parlor. We entered a room with 3 beds and were given glasses of hot herbal tea. Then a woman came in to do my friend's foot bath, and the "best employee", a tall, thin, middle aged man, came in to do mine. (WangYan had requested him for me :) ) They began by bringing in wooden buckets with a sachet of herbs floating in a foot of hot water. We soaked our feet in these for a few minutes. Next they began cleaning our feet with their hands. Then came a couple kinds of lotions, after which they wrapped our feet in soft cloth rolls.
Then came the full body massage. (This was my second in as many days, and my third since arriving in China less than two weeks earlier!) This guy really WAS great. He rubbed my feet so hard that they actually hurt, then went to work on my still-sore calves. Then up and down the rest of my body. He used a variety of different hand positions to create different effects on my muscles. He was all-business, I never felt uneasy about what he was doing. WangYan chatted a bit with both workers and translated their responses for me. They explained that for the work they do, which lasted nearly two hours, they received just 20RMB per client. All of the rest went to the managers who owned the business. (That is about $3.) The guy had been doing the job for 10 years, but the woman was newer. The guy had only seen one other Westerner in the shop in all that time. My friend also explained that foot washing plays other roles in society. It is considered very appropriate for grown adults to wash their parents' feet at times when they wish to honor them, such as before getting married. (Don't get any ideas Mom and Dad, it's not gonna happen.)
When it was finished, we sat and enjoyed the peace for a few minutes, then we left. (The whole 2 hour process cost less than $10 each!) We walked back to WangYan's apartment. She lived on the 6th floor of their apartment building, which was owned by the university. Her daughter was home doing homework when we arrived. They also have a dog, a German Shepherd mix named Tank. The name was kind of funny, because the dog was small for a GS, but it matched her personality. She was really hyper and barked for a long time after she saw me. But once she realized that I wasn't afraid of her, and indeed wanted to pay her some attention, she switched from barking to pushing her toy into my lap repeatedly so I would play tug-of-war. It was nice to play with a dog again. (I have two dogs of my own, and missed them!) We had some tea and some beef snacks from her home town in Southern China. Around 6:00 WangYan, her daughter and I set out for dinner. I was finally going to have authentic hotpot!
We walked to a nearby hotpot restaurant. It was filled with wooden tables that had an electric burner set up in the middle, and various dishes and electrical equipment in the base underneath. The way that you do hotpot is that you first order the soup base. Nearly everyone gets two different bases, in separate pots. We ordered one that is the traditional spicy base-mala, and one that was while and I think may have been mushroom based. (I only had eyes for the mala!) Then you order a variety of meats, noodles, and vegetables to cook in the soup. The pots are placed on the electric burner and heated to boiling. WangYan took the menu and started recommending meats that we could try. This is how I learned the hotpot traditionally uses meats that are considered very unusual to Americans. We ended up ordering some regular beef, some cow stomach, some pork throat, and some "pissing meatballs". (The last gets its name from the fact that they center is filled with juice that leaks out when you bite into it. In fact, it often bursts out, and all three of us got scalded at least once.) Other items that were suggested but we didn't get were chicken feet, goose intestine, and several other random body parts that I have apparently succeeded in erasing from my memory. We also order two kinds of noodles, some tofu, pumpkin, and greens. Each of these was cooked in the broth, then dipped in a bowl of sesame oil before eating. The sesame oil was mixed with salt, MSG, peppers, and fresh cilantro.
I have to say, the cow stomach was actually not bad. If I hadn't known what it was, I probably would have rated it as pretty good. It had a good texture, and absorbed the flavor well. The pig throat I did not like. It was white and slick, and was slightly crunchy to eat. I managed one piece but couldn't do any more. The beef and pissing meatballs were tasty, as were all of the noodles, tofu, and veggies. I loved the mala flavoring. I was pleased to discover that it wasn't too hot for me, either. I did sweat a lot, but that was mostly from the physical heat coming off of the soup pot.
It was a great meal and a great cultural experience. I was the only Westerner in the restaurant, once again. After the meal I bid farewell to WangYan and her daughter, because this would be my last time seeing them. I thanked them for being such wonderful hosts. Then I caught a taxi back to the hostel. The next day would be my last full day in China, which was a depressing thought.