Me with one of the staff at the Traffic Inn in Chengdu
This was my final full day in China, which was very sad. I was having a great time, and really didn't want to leave. I started the day by eating some jiaozi (pork and leek dumplings dipped in a very spicy sauce) for breakfast, then heading out to another old district of the city that had been turned into a very touristy area. My map from the hostel called it the "Big Little Alleys", though that is not what it is called in Mandarin. Like the Jinli lu area, much of this had been rebuilt so it wasn't clear what parts were really all that old. (This is a trend I've noticed in several cities--areas that are described as "old" or "ancient" have been converted into mass tourist centers selling some jewelry, some small amount of handicrafts, and lots of tourist junk.
Tian Square, Chengdu. This will be the seat of the brand new metro system that is expected to begin operation in October.
It is rather sad to see. I would have much preferred to walk through some areas that had been allowed to remain unchanged, but no one lists those on the maps.) But the majority of businesses here were restaurants. After walking around for a while, I decided to get something to eat. Unfortunately, none of the cheaper restaurants had English or photo menus, and the less-than-friendly staff made me feel too intimidated to try to use my dictionary to figure out the Chinese menu. So I ended up going to one of the fancier restaurants, and spending far more money than I had intended. And that was with ordering the cheapest dish on the menu, which didn't really please the staff. But it was a nice location. I was seated in the courtyard of a large structure, and could see various other seating arrangements in different parts of the building.
Mao statue. I find it somewhat pleasing that he is surrounded by the commercial heart of the city, consisting mainly of Western shops.
A young woman came and joined me. She spoke a lot of English, and apparently just wanted the opportunity to practice it a bit. She helped me to place my order with the waitress, and tried to get me some free tea, since she knew the owner. (The owner wasn't having it though--they really did seem annoyed with my cheapness.) I was a little suspicious that she might be one of the scammers you hear about, who strike up a conversation with you and then invite you to a "friend's art gallery", where you are pressured into buying expensive art. But that was not the case. We chatted while I waited for my food, and when it arrived she left to let me eat. Had it not been for her friendliness, it would have been a rather miserable lunch.
The food was good--I had mapo dofu again.
After that I was feeling a little glum, and decided to treat myself. There was a Starbucks in the alleys, and I splurged on a latte. I may have already mentioned that I generally have a no-western-restaurant rule when travelling, but I make an exception for my coffee. When you start to get a bit travel-weary, it really does help to spend an hour or two in a place where you speak the language and feel like you know the rules and what is expected from you. That's why I allow this little exception and why I'm (guiltily) grateful for this one intrusion of corporate America into China.
Thus refreshed, I started to walk back to the hostel. It was a walk of about a mile and a half, but I got lost a few times again so it took me much longer than I expected.
I passed by the large public square located across from the big Mao statue. (He's actually a good landmark for getting a sense of direction, because he is tall enough to see from a distance.) The square is concrete, and has several water fountains with golden sculptures rising above. I have some photos attached. Chengdu has been building a metro system. It is expected to open in October, and this square is the central station. I was able to take a look around the lower level. (Conveniently, the restrooms were already open to the public.) Hopefully this metro will help alleviate some of the traffic on the streets, because it gets really terrible at times.
Right next to Mao and the square is a massive retail district.
You pass mall after mall, so I decided to stop in one and browse around. I'd been in a mall in Xi'an on my last trip, and this was pretty similar. The setup is different than American malls, as there seem to be lots of small shops set up on the huge floors. There are no walls between them, but it is pretty obvious where they start and end. They are grouped by product type. Most of the merchandise was far too expensive for me--often more than you might see charged for similar clothing back in the US. But I found a pair of rubber sandals in the home goods section that cost about $3, so I bought them to wear on the plane on the way back. (I first checked in the shoes department, but they were all way too expensive.
Starbucks in Chengdu. I was better this trip, I only went there twice!
I spent an hour or so wandering around the mall and looking at all of the merchandise, doing some people-watching. Then I set out upon the maze of shops to try to get back to the hostel, but was quickly distracted by another shopping area. This one was the bargain mall. It was located at and below street level, was packed to the brim with shoppers, and contained some dirt cheap merchandise. This was more my kind of shopping, and I spent another two hours wandering around here, forcing my way through tiny hallways filled with shoppers. I bought a watch set for me and my boyfriend, and paid about $12 for the pair. (The shop keeper accepted my very first counter-offer for the watches, so obviously I didn't bargain hard enough!) By the end of this I was absolutely exhausted, and it was near 6:00.
I finally made it back to the hostel, and had dinner in the cafe there. I had planned to have something a bit more authentic for my final dinner, but was just too tired to go back out.
I had to catch a taxi at 5:20 the next morning to get me to the airport for my flight to Beijing, so I spent the rest of the night sorting through my luggage to discard items I didn't need and to pack items in the most convenient way for my trip back home the next day. Then I went to sleep around 11:00. It was not the most exciting day, for my last day in China.