Scenes from Laobai, with Wang Yan (Gaoling's friend) and her husband. Yes, these are barbequed bugs.
On Saturday morning I woke to another sunny (hot) day in Chengdu
. I was really looking forward to the day, because I was planning to spend the morning with a woman who is a friend of my Chinese friend at work. Wang Yan and her husband have lived in Chengdu for more than a decade, and were really helpful as I was planning my trip. They came to pick me up from my hotel at 9:30, and we set off for an ancient town about an hour outside of Chengdu called Laobai.
Wang Yan is an English teacher and so is completely fluent, and her husband speaks quite a bit as well. She shared lots of information with me about the city as we drove.
Laobai seemed to be quite popular with the folks around Chengdu. We had to drive around a while to find a parking space. Then we hit the road on foot! First we stopped at a nice silk store. In my brain I really don't associate silk scarves with bugs and cocoons, so it was interesting to see their display of the silkworms and how they change the cocoon into fabric. Next we stopped at a ceramic shop. This was far more interesting than I expected. Some of the pieces they had on display were truly amazing! The level of detail, and the tiny fragile parts, made me afraid even to breathe near some of them. They had everything from jewelry to large sculptures. The shop opened onto a courtyard that contained even more ceramics, as well as some paintings and art installations.
One really strange feature was apparently done by a local ceramic tile company to display their wares. There were several rooms that had tile floors and wall features, but the appliances were all covered in brown shag carpet. My favorite was a toilet that had been covered in this carpet, with a handwritten sign above that said "do not use"! You'd think the carpet would convey that message, but someone must have tried it at some point. There is a photo of that here.
There was also a large sculpture that was created after the 2008 earthquake. It was of a wall that way broken in half, and hands were reaching out of each side in gestures of help. That was really moving to see. Chengdu was one of the cities that felt the earthquake pretty strong, but fortunately there was little damage or injury in the city itself.
The sign says "do not use". Ha!
I asked my hosts about their experience, and they said that while they were extremely scared at the time, they were fortunate not to have damage to their home.
After we left that shop we passed a strange variety of other shops. There were food stalls (including one selling barbecued bugs on a stick--see photo), carnival game stalls, even a haunted house! In fact, there was a stall with bumper cars. Needless to say, not all of the buildings were ancient :) But there were quite a few old buildings and other structures. One of the interesting things about the town was that it held several buildings that were considered meeting places for people from a particular province. (I'm afraid I cannot recall which province.
This sculpture was created after the 2008 earthquake.
) We toured one of them, which held a museum about the local ethnic minority.
While at the ceramic shop we learned that there would be an outdoor performance that afternoon of a visiting opera company. So we decided to get some lunch and wait for that. For lunch we had goose, greens, twice cooked pork, and a type of bean that I've never heard of before. We ate at a little outdoor restaurant. It was great to have some local guides, as it is really difficult for foreigners to eat at authentic restaurants like this. They don't have English or photo menus, because they are frequented by the locals who don't need them.
After lunch we headed to the town square, where a permanent stage structure exists.
The outdoor opera performance.
We got some prime seats and had some tea. Soon after, the performance began. We learned that these performers were mainly volunteers, and most were much older than the traditional opera actors. The sound quality wasn't great, because it appears that they pre-recorded the music and vocals, and then sang along with the recording. The speakers distorted some of the songs. But it was still very entertaining. Interestingly, it was performed in a regional dialect, not in standard Mandarin. So while her husband could understand the lyrics, WangYan could not. But most of the stories were familiar to her, and she shared them with me as each piece began. Instead of doing one entire performance, they did individual pieces from different operas.
The performers were all quite talented. It seemed that all of the stories featured strong women, which my friend said was remarkable. (This type of opera is traditionally performed entirely by women, and this was the case at this performance. I don't know if they selected strong woman stories for this reason?)
The performance lasted a couple of hours. Afterwards, I took a photo with a few of the actors, which apparently pleased them as much as it pleased me :) Then we walked through the rest of the main street of the town and took some photos together.
Once we left, my friends suggested showing me some of the "happy farm houses" in the suburbs around Chengdu. These are kind of like B&Bs for the residents of Chengdu.
People flock there on the weekends and may stay overnight in the houses. The place is packed, and there are no parking spaces to be found if you arrive after 9:00! So it really isn't a break from the crowds, but it is a very different atmosphere. There are 5 crop specialties of the local happy farm houses, lotus, plum, ...and I can't recall the other three. I'll have to find out and then I'll add that info. (I was kind of overheated at this point in the day.)
Next they suggested picking up their daughter and having dinner together. They live in the university, which is basically a separate huge city within Chengdu. As we drove there, they pointed out various landmarks of the city to me. They also bought some local fruit and gave several to me.
These are squishy little toys that kids apparently love. They get bigger when they are soaked in water, and apparently produce eggs?
(These came in handy over the next few days!) We joined their daughter soon after, and drove on to a very nice restaurant that had a wonderful view of the busy street. We had mapo dofu (spicy pork and tofu), rabbit (my first time trying that), mushroom soup, bread bowls filled with chopped pork, and eggplant. The food was all really tasty! I have some photos of all of us.
Once we were finished with dinner, they suggested showing me the local produce market. This was fascinating--I enjoyed seeing all of the vegetables and fruits that we don't have in the US. And the idea of being able to shop locally for fresh veggies every night was really appealing. That is how it is done here--unlike our weekly trips to the supermarket where we stock up long-term.
So I had been expecting to spend just the morning with them, and ended up spending the entire day! They drove me back home around 9:30. It was my best day so far in China! I hope they visit Indy sometime so that I can return the favor and be a great host to them.
Sorry I've been out of touch. It has been an extremely busy few days, and I haven't had time to use the computer. I had a fabulous last night in Dali, a boring bus and train ride to Kunming and then Chengdu, and an incredibly busy time since arriving in Chengdu. I'll update the blog with details as soon as I get a chance. Tomorrow I'm off to see the world's largest Buddha and then to arrive at a mountain full of angry monkeys. Hopefully I'll have internet access (and time) there. If only I could update the blog from the buses, where I have far too much free time!
Gaoling, your friends are wonderful! They took me out for a full day of activities today. Wang Yan and I are going to get foot massages on Tuesday, and then have hotpot :)
Hope you are all doing well. Lots of photos, including many of adorable pandas, will be coming soon. (I've gotta provide something to keep your interest!)